Harmonica.

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Prior to July 2012, I had no knowledge of the music of Nic Jones. In fact, I had no idea the man even existed. In the run-up to the 2012 Cambridge Folk Festival all that changed.

If, like me, you’re not all that familiar with the folk scene, it’s pretty likely you won’t have heard of at least half the acts on the line-up in any given year. So a great way to build the excitement in the run-up to the festival is to pluck a few unknowns from the list, fire up the computer, and get trigger happy on Spotify.

I did exactly that last July, discovering such delights as Lau, JuJu, and The Pine Leaf Boys. And I discovered Nic Jones.

I discovered Nic Jones.

Worth repeating, and italicising while we’re at it, because the moment I discovered Nic Jones will ultimately go down as being one of the defining moments of my life. Life before I discovered Nic Jones, and life since, are two very separate things. His music has had an immeasurable effect on me, and since last year’s Folk Festival I’ve taken great delight in gradually tracking down his albums, one by one, and becoming totally obsessed with each and every one.

Anyway. I was meant to be explaining how it was that I came to discover Nic Jones, courtesy of the festival line-up and Spotify. I logged on, typed his name into the search bar, and found an album called Penguin Eggs. ‘Odd name for an album…’ was my initial thought, which was reasonable. Until I listened to the album and realised why, at which point it became a brilliant name for an album.

I clicked play, Canadee-I-O hit me like a freight train, and  my life entered the stage I now refer to as After I Discovered Nic Jones. Even today, approaching a year since I first heard the opening track on Penguin Eggs, the first note instantly sends shivers through my entire body. In fact, just sitting writing this is having precisely that effect.

There are some truly incredible albums very close to my heart, all of which have had a huge influence on my musical tastes. But Penguin Eggs immediately surpassed anything I’d heard before, and I now regard it as my favourite album of all time. And I’m pretty sure it won’t ever have that title taken from it.

And so to the Folk Festival. Given that Penguin Eggs had moved me as seismically as I’ve hopefully managed to convey above, you can probably imagine how much I was looking forward to seeing Nic play at Cambridge. It also happened to be his first full performance since the car crash which cut his career tragically short in February 1982.

As I was strolling round the festival the day before his performance, I suddenly walked past the man himself. It didn’t require a double take. Nic Jones looks unmistakably like Nic Jones. I plucked up the courage to turn round and go and say hello, and asked if I could have a photo taken with him. To which, brilliantly, he replied ‘Why…? Are you famous?’. I got my photo, and chatted with him for a couple of minutes. He was one of the nicest, funniest, warm people I’ve ever had the privilege to meet.

The following evening I was on the front row of the audience to see the great man himself sing. As a result of his accident in 1982, Nic is now quite frail, his voice very different, and he can’t play the guitar. None of this was of any significance, and I witnessed the best performance I’ve ever been lucky enough to see at Cambridge.

Fast forward 10 months or so to yesterday, June 6th 2013 (not my actual birthday). My dear friend Catherine presented me with the most incredible birthday present I’ve ever been given. She had contacted Nic and his wife Julia before my birthday to tell them how much of a fan I was, and what Nic’s music meant to me. She was also cheeky enough to ask whether they would send something for my birthday, such as some old guitar strings. She expected nothing. But Nic sent a wonderful Hohner ‘Marine Band’ harmonica, and a lovely hand-written note addressed to me.

I was completely blown away, both by the fact that a friend would go to such lengths to try to get hold of such a priceless and meaningful birthday present, and that Nic and Julia were willing to make such a kind and thoughtful gesture towards an unknown fan.

Penguin Eggs will forever have the ability to send shivers through my body from the very first note. Nic’s harmonica will forever be one of my most treasured and valued possessions. And I’ll forever go on and on and on about how great Nic Jones is to anyone who will listen.

Check him out. You won’t regret it. If the word folk puts you off, have a listen to what Stewart Lee said on the subject, and feel free to thank me when you find yourself looking back on the day you discovered Nic Jones. 

http://www.nicjones.net/home

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