Colin Harper wrote professionally on music from April 1994 to September 2001, for various national magazines and newspapers (The Independent, Irish Times, Irish News, Q, Mojo and others) in Britain and Ireland. He did something else for a living from 2001-2011, but returned to full-time writing in January 2012. Since then, he has written or co-written three books, has acquired a PhD in Cultural Studies from the University of Sunderland (2014) – previous qualifications include a BA Hons in Modern History (1989) and a Post-Grad Diploma in Information Management (1997) – and has enjoyed various musical adventures. He has also been heavily involved in academic proofreading.
Since returning to the fray, Colin has focused on books, but has written the occasional newspaper or magazine feature when asked (Guardian, Irish Times, Mojo and Record Collector) and has thrown himself into a few substantial CD reissue projects, principally for RPM and Hux Records. His contribution to RPM’s 3CD box set Turtle Records: Pioneering British Jazz 1970-71 (2014), for instance, was 17,000-word perfect-bound book with multiple interviews and extensive research.
Colin is also a creator of music, as well as being one of those behind-the-scenes sort of people who somehow get involved in other people’s musical adventures. In the mid-90s, he was the driving force behind two multi-artist live albums that documented Belfast‘s live scene: Alive In Belfast: The Warehouse Sessions (2CD, 1995) and Live At The Belfast Empire (1996). Similarly, he co-ordinated the 2CD tribute album People On The Highway: A Bert Jansch Encomium(2000) and two wildlife charity albums, The Wildlife Album (2004) and Live In Hope: The Wildlife Album 2 (2005) – all three released via Market Square Records. He has been actively involved in much rare music finding its way onto commercial releases, with artists’ involvement, and has occasionally been able to help vintage musical heroes, such as Duffy Power and ex members of Quintessence, in finding platforms for new music.
He has been an occasional recording artist himself since the mid-90s. Janet Holmes’ Road To The West (2001) includes a number of his songs, while Freedom & The Dream Penguin, credited to the Field Mouse Conspiracy (2008), is a collection of music spanning 1995-2008 with various guests and collaborators. Titanium Flag (2010) and Rust (2011) were new limited-edition instrumental and songs-based collections, respectively. Sunset Cavaliers (Market Square, 2016) is Colin’s first nationally released album.
Memorable interview subjects for newspaper or magazine features during the 1994-2001 period include John McLaughlin, Peter Green, Jan Akkerman, Anne Briggs, Altan, Chris Smither, Andy Powell (Wishbone Ash), Ralph McTell, Roy Harper, David Gates (Bread), Emmylou Harris, Richard Thompson, Shaun Davey, Jimmie Rodgers, Leo Kottke, Arlo Guthrie, Clannad, David Gray, Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Davy Graham, Andy Irvine, Sean Keane, Martin Carthy, Gay Woods, Steve Tilston, Ashley Hutchings, Sharon Shannon, Jez Lowe, Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill, Paddy Keenan, Stockton’s Wing, Frances Black, Something Happens, Eleanor McEvoy, Paul Brady, Gary Moore and Colin Reid.
Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British folk and blues revival (Bloomsbury, 2000; revised 2006; 2nd revision 2010) – a history of the bohemian end of the ‘British folk revival’ in the 1960s, swirling around the narrative of influential guitarist/songwriter Bert Jansch.
Seaside Rock (North Down Borough Council, 2001) – an affectionate monograph on pop music in the North Down area of Northern Ireland in the 1960s, exclusively available from North Down Museum.
Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History (Collins Press, 2004) – a ‘patchwork narrative’ on selected pioneers of Irish music in the rock era, co-written with jazz and blues expert Trevor Hodgett and based on previously published journalism along with pieces written specifically for the book.
Bathed In Lightning: John McLaughlin, the 60s and the Emerald Beyond(Jawbone Press, 2014) – a 215,000 word epic on the history of pioneering jazz-rock guitarist John McLaughlin, covering his career up to 1975 and including rich detail on the myriad musical scenes through which he passed in London during the 1960s. The book is available as a 215,000-word print edition, or an expanded eBook, with nearly 100,000 words of extra content (bonus chapters and appendices).
The Wheels Of The World: 300 Years Of Irish Uilleann Pipers (Jawbone Press, 2015) – a 250,000-word history of an extraordinary instrument told through the lives of most of its key players from the 18th Century to the present, going back in time from co-author/professional piper John McSherry through his formative influences (Finbar Furey, Liam O’Flynn, Paddy Keenan) and then back through their influences (Séamus Ennis, Willie Clancy, Leo Rowsome, Johnny Doran, Patsy Touhey) and beyond.
Eyes Wide Open: True Tales of a Wishbone Ash Warrior (Jawbone Press, 2015) – co-written with Andy Powell, mainstay of Wishbone Ash, this is his story of growing up in the great days of British music and surviving, with his positivity amazingly intact, as a keeper of the flame of ‘classic rock’ in the present day.