Nick at Preston Guild Hall (opening for the Levellers),
Saturday 15 March 2003 - by Phil Widdows and "Big" Chris Moxon

Phil's review (with thanks to the Lancashire Evening Post):

The Levellers are a great festival band, so when they come to town they bring their own festival with them.

The bar of the Guild Hall before the show looked just like any summer rock event, with all kinds of people there for a few drinks, a few tunes and a bit of a dance with friends. And in the hall itself, there were three bands for the price of one.

The problem with booking a support band from the headliner's point of view is that they have got to be good enough not to be annoying to your fans, but they must not be so good that they blow you off stage. The Levs got the mix just right with the first of their guests, young punky-pop-rock outfit Kovak, who did a good job of being bouncy and full of energy and entertaining the few hundred who tore themselves away from the bar to check them out. An interesting-yet-retro mix of guitars, keyboards, drums and bass, they sounded pretty good.

But the second act on the bill did not fulfil the support band's criteria. Nick Harper, son of the sublime Roy Harper was just far too good. Standing solo on stage with his acoustic guitar, he filled the Guild Hall with more stunning energy than many full rock bands can muster. Harper doesn't play guitar: he attacks it. He strums at lightning speed, his left hand running up and down the neck with abandon. The effect is electrifying - as though The Who were playing flamenco! Add to that amazing vocals, and long, long hypnotic songs and the result is stunning. His song* in which he sings in his own voice, that of the Devil and of a young woman, has to be heard to be believed!

When The Levellers took the stage, they were always going to struggle to top that. As good as they were, and they were rather excellent, they never managed to do it. Not that the 1,500 or so in the hall were complaining. Right from the off, they exploded across the well of the hall, dancing and jumping and jigging to song after song. The band was immediately at full throttle, too - dreadlocks flailing, the fiddler spinning on the spot. The set was perhaps a little too samey, with little contrast, but when they announced "this song's for you all" and launched into the anthemic One Way, the Guild Hall became one seething, boiling pit of bouncing humanity - bikers in their leathers, punks with magenta mohawks, those in jeans and trainers and sensible haircuts, a couple of young girls with fairy wings sprouting from their shoulders, dads with seven-year-old daughters on their shoulders, and of course the "crusties" in their painted boots and colourful home-knits - all proving that as the song says, there's only one way of life and that's your own.

Video cameras captured the whole event for a future DVD release, and Preston did The Levellers proud. But it was Nick Harper who will stick in my mind.

* note: this could well be called Titties & Beer, and is quite, quite brilliant.

"Big" Chris's review:

Following on from [Phil's] review of the Levs/Nick from Preston, he did sum it up very well ... well, I guess he did as I didn't actually see or hear any of the Levellers set as we were all in the bar having a beer or ten! You couldn't take your beer into the hall where the gig was - as the venue is famous for its snooker, they probably wanted to keep things clean and dry!

Now Nick's set was 1000000x better than last week's Aylesbury gig. He was absolutely brilliant and was loving every second of it. We may have travelled 220 miles and paid 15 for only 4 songs but it WAS worth it!

We thought he was going to play his usual set for this tour:
Building Our Own Temple (which started off with someone throwing some knickers on stage at him... pretty decent throw as they landed on his guitar (!!). He then put the knickers on his head, as you do?!?) / Titties And Beer / Song Of Madness / Love is Music

However, he missed out ...Madness which kinda peeved me as he didn't sing it in Aylesbury either (due to broken strings and naff sound). But what he did instead was just superb! He finished off Love Is Music and gave the impression that that was it, but then he shouted out something that I didn't really catch (it sounded German to me). Then suddenly the stage was full with a band (of sorts)! The band was made up of the Levellers' roadies, including their chef and the Levellers' keyboard player on guitar. The latter didn't look like your normal "Ready Steady Cook" chef - he had his shirt off and a slogan written on his chest about "Chefs" and "Iraq". Apparently the chef is famous(ish) as he was one of the roadies in a UK Horizons documentary series about Roadies that was shown last year!

I think there were about 5 or 6 guitarists in all. I can't remember what song they played [but I can - it was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's Spread Your Love - P.] but the sound was brilliant, VERY loud and fast, with Nick singing the chorus and playing his guitar using a slide. I just hope that the folk filming the levellers gig had the foresight to film that song as I just can't describe it to give it any justice... just chuffing ace! [I'm hoping to put up a video clip of it soon! - P.

Anyway, after Nick's set he told us about various things that has happened to him and what he has up for the next few months [all of which we know now - P.] Finally we talked about his gig at the Pit on 5th April, and I mentioned that in my humble opinion it was by far the best gig of 2002. He'll therefore try and supersede it this year... can't chuffing wait!!

Updated 9 August 2003
© PW/CM/PLC 2003