John Harper has been singing and playing guitar in folk clubs, festivals, theatres, bars and just about anywhere else for over forty years. His introduction to folk music was back in the late sixties/early seventies in his home town of Chester. In those days of course there was a very healthy folk club scene, ranging from singaround clubs such as Jones’s Ale to The Black Diamond Folk Club run at the Cross Foxes Hotel which, together with the Bull and Stirrup Folk Club, booked guests such as Paul Simon and Ralph McTell, the Ian Campbell Folk Group and the Johnstons. Meanwhile John learned his first few chords and songs from Ian Chesterman, who sang with a well known local trio called The Cousins and Rosemary made up of Ian and his cousin Ken Chesterman and a talented singer called Rose Price. John later formed a duo with Ian and they founded the Cellar Folk Club in City Road. The club ran for several years and, after Ian joined a couple of Irish lads, Sean Gilligan and Paddy Nagle, to form the Wild Geese, John started playing as a solo performer. He got together with John Evans, who was also in a band called Yardarm, and played some gigs with him, as well as solo. On occasion they were joined by a wonderful double bass and cello player, Geoff Jones, whose musical talent was only outstripped by his ability to eat two chicken vindaloos in one sitting!
Moving to Brighton in 1974, John quickly established himself on the lively music scene there. Playing fewer folk clubs and more wine bar and pub gigs, he developed a wide repertoire of songs by British and American songwriters such as Ralph McTell, Tom Paxton, Harvey Andrews, Jim Croce, Allan Taylor, Paul Simon and many others. One night Woodie’s Wine Bar in Hove double booked John and another guitarist, David Charles. John played the basement bar and David upstairs but the sound leakage was such that they played the second half together. They played as a duo for a couple of years until David moved to France in 1977. After five years in Brighton John travelled for a couple of years in Morocco, Andorra and Greece, working with a holiday company and playing guitar almost seven nights a week.
In 1980 John settled in Cumbria and has played regularly in the Lancaster and South Lakes areas ever since. With Steve Black, a fine traditional singer, he founded Arnside Folk Club which ran for almost twenty years before changing venue, name and organiser until it evolved into the Hale and Hearty Folk Club at the Kings Arms at Hale, ably run by Frank and Sheila Lewis.
John also became a regular at the Kendal Folk Club and the annual festival at the Brewery Arts Centre, headlining some gigs and playing support to such names as Isaac Guillory, Harvey Andrews, Whippersnapper, Ashley Hutchings and many others. He has also played support at The Platform in Morecambe to Cara Dillon, Lau and others.
John has been writing songs for most of the time he has been playing and these days he includes some of his own material in every set he plays. He released a new CD in 2014, Hold On To Your Heart, eleven tracks out of twelve being original compositions.
John can be heard regularly at the Apothecary in Lancaster and the Lily Bar in Ambleside, as well as other venues in the area.