Nine months since the last update – must do better! A fair amount has happened since then. The vintage Martin Carthy CD The January Man: Live In Belfast 1978’ was released in January on Hux Records, followed a couple of months later by two Quintessence-related CDs – all of which I was proud to have had various levels of involvement with. The Quintessence releases are Rebirth: Live At Glastonbury 2010 (a lavishly produced and packaged record of the one-off reunion of Phil ‘Shiva’ Jones and Dave ‘Maha Dev’ Codling along with original Island Records-era producer John Barham) and Only Love Can Save Us: The Anthology by ‘Shiva’s Quintessence, being a set of recent recordings by Phil ‘Shiva’ Jones and Swiss keyboard/production wizard Ralph ‘Rudra’ Beauvert, including fabulous reinterpretations of vintage Quintessence material. All three are highly recommended, as will be a forthcoming CD of 1970s recordings by the late James Griffin, which I’m also loosely involved with for the same label. Hux can be found here: while a splendid 10 minute feature from BBC Yorkshire on Quintessence at the Glastonbury Festival can be viewed here:

Titanium Flag, my instrumental album released last summer, has enjoyed a quietly remarkable amount of European airplay. It’s really very gratifying indeed, and a very pleasant surprise, to find that people seem to like it. Within the next couple of months I hope to be completing – with the aid of one of ace design maestro Mark Case’s associates at White Noise Communications – video representations of several of my instrumental pieces for uploading to youtube and vimeo. I’ll post links as and when…

In the meantime, an album of vocal pieces which were recorded during the same period as the Titanium Flag material is on the cusp of release (also via CD Baby – link to be posted when ready). My good friend, producer, multi-instrumentalist and all-round wizard of sound Cormac O’Kane (the secret of whose success is baffling*) was adamant that the vocal and instrumental pieces were two separate projects, best heard on two separate pieces of plastic. And he was absolutely right. Having said that, the content and feel of the vocal album, which is entitled Rust, developed significantly over the past few months. Several tracks were ultimately dropped and edits of two of the more winsome pieces from TF were added – the effect being to lighten the overall mood of the record. A small group of musicians were involved – Cormac O’Kane, Ali MacKenzie, Late-Night Tony Furnell, Karen Smyth and myself – with a trio of guests: Carol-Anne Lennie aka ‘Carol From Luton’ on vocals on the lead track, ‘Squirrel’; jazz maestro the one and only Linley Hamilton on trumpets and flugelhorn; and the legendary Andy Roberts on Beatle-esque electric guitar, also on ‘Squirrel’. In fact, a delightful home-made video for ‘Squirrel’ – featuring a bunch of squirrels – can be viewed here:

More news on the Titanium Flag videos and the Rust CD Baby link in due course. Finally, some recordings I was involved in back in 2001 with the fabulous and under-appreciated British jazz/blues vocalist and songwriter Duffy Power are due to appear on Market Square Records fairly soon entitled Tigers. Myself, Janet Holmes, Ali MacKenzie and a few other friends were involved in three or four tracks on the album – which will be the first album of new material Duffy has released since the ‘70s – and here’s hoping it gets the airplay and attention it deserves.

(* he swears it’s all down to the quality of one’s moveable sound-proofing equipment)

Well, it looks like I’ve just released an album.

Titanium Flag is its name and its an all-instrumental album, including the seven-part Ice Museum Suite inspired by two books on Arctic travel and history: Joanna Kavennas The Ice Museum: In Search Of The Lost Land Of Thule (Viking, 2005) and True North: Travels In Arctic Europe (Polygon, 2008) by Gavin Francis. Joanna was kind enough to allow the use of her title, and kind enough to say she liked the music too!

You could describe the album as Mike Oldfield-esque. Mike, though, wasnt an influence on the music. The direct inspirations were Dutch guitarist Jan Akkerman, the Mark 1 Mahavishnu Orchestra, the ambient music of Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, British folk icon Martin Carthy and Estonian faith minimalist composer Arvo Part. The American Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron was also important in a more general sense during the creative period.

If theres a journey associated with the making of this music, its only a very small one. I was unwell for a long period – not in a life-threatening way, but in a way that put life on hold for a couple of years. At Christmas 2009 I took a friends advice, borrowed some money and bought, for the first time in my life, a really fine instrument: a handmade Avalon acoustic guitar. Its been a revelation and a catalyst. Having created no music – barely picked up an instrument – for two years, the instrumental pieces for Titanium Flag and also a host of vocal pieces (which will appear on CD soon) came really quickly. It was quite a cathartic experience, but thats only on a personal level – the music stands alone, failing or succeeding on its own merits.

In terms of previous instrumental work, Ive recorded duets with Duke Special, Martin Hayes, Brooks Williams, Jan Akkerman and Bert Jansch – although Ive kept my name very low in the credits, and off the sleeves, of the bits of plastic those pieces appeared on. Having been involved in writing about and reviewing music for much of the past 20 years the poacher/gamekeeper paradox held me back in terms of pursuing music-making more fully, and from using my own name when doing so. But, as Im now more or less retired from writing about music – certainly, from reviewing music in any way – and as the landscape and values of the music business have changed so radically in recent years, it really doesnt matter any more! Titanium Flag is consequently the first CD release under my own name.

Titanium Flag will be available physically from mid August 2010 via where there are audio samples of each of the nine tracks.

Digital downloads are also available from CDBaby – and, I believe, from iTunes, Amazon and other people.

Three tracks can be heard in full at:

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Most of the text for the site has been transferred the new platform and you can read it all here.
However, only a very few of the links work and there are only a smattering of photos and graphics, but we are getting there.

Please bear with us for a couple of days while we update our website software.

If you need to contact Colin in the interim please email him at

Those people who say, ‘That Colin Harper fellow – he certainly keeps webmeister Uncle Spike’s nose to the grindstone with his unrelenting barrage of news updates…’ – they’d be wrong. Still, five months of a gap is better than the wait before the last missive and a number of things are happening…

There are several CH-associated CD releases on Hux just out or out soon. Firstly, a set of previously unreleased Davy Graham material – a 1963 acetate of demos plus a 1973 live set from the Geoff Harden archive – titled From Monkhouse To Medway: 1963-73. Cormac O’Kane has done his usual splendid mastering job, as has the legendary Phil Smee on design, with sleevenote from myself.

Following on from last year’s deluxe packages of vintage Quintessence concerts, the next in the series is After Quintessence: The Complete Kala Recordings 1973. This is the rare self-titled 1973 LP from ex-Quintessence vocalist Phil ‘Shiva’ Jones’ short-lived band Kala, which also featured ex-Quintessence colleague Dave ‘Maha Dev’ Codling on guitar and erstwhile Quintessence producer John Barham cameoing on string and brass arrangements. The reissue – with notes from myself and Phil – adds two live tracks from a 1973 sampler album plus two previously unreleased live tracks and two LP tracks with added vocals from Phil, recorded last month and sounding terrific! Ron Geesin has done a great job on the mastering, while Phil Smee is once again on the case on the design front. In further Quintessence news, I’ve been involved in helping a one-off version of Quintessence towards appearing at the Glastonbury festival in June – Phil Jones flying in from the US to front Dave’s splendid band ‘Maha Dev’s Quintessence’ – 40 years after they performed at the very first. Hopefully some of the show will appear on BBC4’s coverage, and certainly a recording for future CD release is envisaged. The great John Barham has recently made contact with Phil and Dave after a few decades and here’s hoping they can craft some brand new creative endeavours!

A further gem from the Geoff Harden archive – Martin Carthy live at Belfast’s Sunflower folk Club in 1978, with fabulous sound and a typically fabulous performance – has been mastered recently by Cormac O’Kane for release on Hux. Graeme Thompson will be providing the sleevenotes.

After putting the word out in December, a fair amount of material from the Harden archive is now being funnelled back to the artists or the estates of whose music was recorded. Among those receiving either professionally digitised copies of the material, via Tony Furnell, or simple mini-disc copies, via me, are Harvey Andrews, Dave Burland, Bob Pegg, Nic Jones, Ian A Anderson, Gordon Giltrap and the estates of Ewan MacColl and Cyril Tawney.

Happily – for me – my own muse has returned in force since Christmas. I’m currently mid way through recording an album’s worth of songs and instrumental pieces with my good friend and Wizard of Sound (TM), Cormac O’Kane. It doesn’t help that he’s on the 11th floor and the lift’s broken, but such is the price one pays for being able to work with such a genius! Joking aside, Cormac has brought out some performances that have surprised – and delighted – me. A new ‘Millenium Oak’ guitar from Avalon really helps, too. Aside from Cormac on keyboards, bass and production, a small number of friends will be helping out on the project – the great Andy Roberts on lead guitar, Carol-Anne Lennie and Phil ‘Shiva’ Jones on a guest vocal each, ‘Ulster Scots’ Jim Cuthbertson on drums, regular cohort Ali MacKenzie on bass and jazz personality Linley Hamilton on trumpet/flugelhorn. Some strings will be involved too. Although, to my mind, it’s very much a collaboration with Cormac, without whose production skills and encouragement it wouldn’t be happening, it will seem to the casual listener (should such a creature exist!) much more of a ‘solo’ album than any previous CH projects/collaborations, with a cohesion of sound throughout. I’m particularly excited about a c.30 minute instrumental suite based on Joanna Kavenna’s Arctic history/travelogue The Ice Museum, which is roughly two-thirds recorded at the time of writing.

Finally, despite years of telling people I’ve retired from writing about music in newspapers and magazines, I was arm-twisted into writing a review of Jude Shiels’ trio gig at Whelan’s in Dublin last night (Tuesday 23rd March) for a local music magazine. I should mention here that Jude had previously arm-twisted me into writing a sleevenote for his recently released, and splendid, debut album Without Silence. Check him out on MySpace – and check out the various Hux releases at I might as well print the review here while I’m at it:

Jude Shiels Trio Whelan’s, Dublin

‘If anyone’s awake during this there’ll be trouble,’ says Brush Shiels, introducing a lullaby – and a grin – midway through son Jude’s good-natured, gently shambolic but nothing less than exhilarating album launch, of sorts. One says ‘of sorts’ for although this was a chance for the masses to hear the songs from Jude’s exquisite recent debut album Without Silence, with Brush as MD they have already been radically reworked. Keys, tempos and instrumentation have all changed. From an album coccooned in the New York cool-jazz sound of Chet Baker we now find a sonic butterfly cascading around a hitherto unknown territory between King Crimson, flamenco, Hank Williams and gypsy jazz. It’s a whole new genre that we might call progressive-rock skiffle. And, like any unknown pleasure, the discovery is a joy. With Grant Nicholas on snare drum and cymbal (a combination on which something akin to Ginger Baker’s ‘Toad’ was nevertheless still possible) and Brush, seated throughout, on rhythm guitar, Jude fronted the band with an amplified nine-Euro nylon string guitar – on which he soared, like Django Reinhardt careering on the cliff of Coltrane-esque atonality without ever falling off it. The sound was visceral, left-field and utterly joyous – and for two thirds of the gig, before resolving the high-wire musical tension into a run of brilliantly-timed, incorrigible comic interjections and a few wacky encores, Brush gave his most disciplined performance for years. His was the bedrock on which Jude built his fantastical tower of song.

Colin Harper

Having now won the prize for least-updated website, I might as well make an effort to update it. Actually, the truth is I haven’t done much in the past couple of years of note (at least not in the sense of commercially available stuff).

Having said that, in May 2008 I slipped out an album of own compositions, pseudonymously credited to The Field Mouse Conspiracy and titled ‘Freedom & The Dream Penguin’ . Roughly half new recordings and half recordings made during the previous 10 years, it features 48 willing and talented associates, including several terrific vocalists, mostly recording artists in their own right – namely, Susie Young, Alison O’Donnell, Sarah McQuaid, Tina McSherry, Judy Dyble, Janet Holmes, Brian Houston, Paul Casey, Joe Echo. Peter Wilson aka Duke Special also features on an instrumental track.

The tracks can all be sampled and the CD ordered here:

There’s more info and links to each vocalist’s own sites here:

And four tracks (including an otherwise unavailable version of ‘Underachievement’ with Joe Echo) can be heard in full here:

More recently – in fact, this very month – Hux Records have released two previously unheard Quintessence live albums which I was very closely involved with: ‘Cosmic Energy: Live At St Pancras 1970’ and ‘Infinite Love: Live At Queen Elizabeth Hall 1971’ (the latter a 2CD set). Despite having apparently retired from this sort of thing, I nevertheless got sucked in to contributing an 18,000 word sleevenote and 1969-72 band chronology split across both releases and oversaw the mastering (with the excellent Cormac O’Kane) and booklet design (with the legendary Mark Case). The discs are sumptuously packaged with great sound and I’m thrilled that both Dave ‘Maha Dev’ Codling and Phil ‘Shiva’ Jones from the original band – who have been great fun and very supportive throughout – are delighted with the end result. The albums are available now from amazon and other standard web retailers. There will also be further Quintessence-related projects on Hux next year, which I’ll be involved with to varying degrees, including an expanded first-time reissue of the sole 1973 album from Phil and Dave’s post-Quintessence band Kala and a compilation of more recent tracks from ‘Shiva’s Quintessence’ – a fabulous project involving Shiva, Swiss studio wizard Ralph ‘Rudra’ Beauvert and Maha Dev guesting on a few numbers. Ralph also runs the splendid Quintessence website:

On a more trivial note, having not myself created any music at all, or barely picked up an instrument, in over a year I was touched to be gently arm-twisted last month into writing a pseudo-baroque piece for mixed-ability oboes and bassoons by the Woodwind supremo at the music school I work in. I must admit, it was fun… And last week I wrote a surprisingly upbeat guitar/vocal piece loosely about the end of the music industry. Cormac O’Kane has very kindly offered to record it, so that should be happening soon. I’m hoping that my friends Ali MacKenzie (bass), Chris Probst (guitar) and Joan McEldowney (voice) will be up for contributing to it. With the Tina McSherry project which Ali and myself were involved with stalling on logistical grounds a couple of years back, and Ali subsequently ensconcing himself in yet another degree course for a while, the time is now right for a MacKenzie/Probst band with yours truly acting as cheerleader in chief. Having seen my old pal Joan performing at a pub in Killyleagh during the summer, the penny dropped: here was a great vocalist/guitarist with bundles of energy and fearless charisma just waiting for some meddling day-dreamer (that’d be me…) to form a band around her – if only for pub gigs and a bit of fun. If I can get them all into Cormac’s studio for a crack at the song I mentioned, that’ll kick start it. As I type, we’re only waiting for diaries to converge…

Meanwhile, do check out Joan’s lovely song ‘King Winter’ on youtube: