Album review: COLIN HARPER – Titanium Flag (Remastered & Expanded Edition)

COLIN HARPER - Titanium Flag

Market Square Records [Release date 24.04.17]

The sad thing about this album is that most punters will be drawn in primarily by Track 3 which features legendary Dutch guitarist Jan Akkerman.  In fairness, back in 2010 when this was released in slimmed-down form as a 100-only private pressing, it was dedicated to the Dutchman for whom Colin Harper has had a quiet admiration for many years.

The warm reception to his first “proper” album – Sunset Cavaliers – released in 2016 evidently encouraged the genial Irishman to resurrect his earlier project which was inspired by the history of Arctic exploration.

The project has been reimagined in collaboration with original producer and occasional pianist Cormac O’Kane and remastered by Denis Blackham, an industry veteran who worked previously for Polygram and RCA.

“Sunset” was characterised by a chilled out, infectious cool jazz vibe.  “Titanium” on the other hand is a little more pastoral and benefits from some very effective violin contributions from Alan McClure as well as Harper’s own acoustic guitar ground.

Akkerman’s contribution – ‘Greenland: East To West” – was not on the original release.  It starts with Scott Flanigan’s piano figures propelled by Ali MacKenzie’s bass and punctuated by one-time Mahavishnu Premik Russell Tubbs’ flute-y Focus tones before the Dutch fretmeister cuts in with a typical solo.  I would imagine Harper wet himself when he received Jan’s audio file just as the Akker-fan will do when he or she hears the playback and adds the album to their almost-complete collection.

This early musical orgasm shouldn’t deter the uninitiated from further (Arctic) exploration even if the album never again quite reaches the early dizzy heights.  For the rest, the album is ambient, spacey and jazz fused and would repay a late night listen in a darkened room whilst nourished by a glass of robust Red and some nibbles.

And like its successor, ‘Titanium’ majors on repeated motifs and consummate noodling.  This is perhaps best displayed by Harper’s own acoustic pieces which, evidently inspired by another hero Bert Jansch, are nevertheless somewhat introspective and rambling.

The tempo quickens for ‘Novaya Zemiya’ but this is just a speeded up version of the earlier ‘Six Days North’ with crunchy guitar additions and Phil ‘Shiva’ Jones (Quintessence) on didgeridoo.  No, I’m being serious here.

The same riff is reprised for the twelve minute ‘Titanium Flag’,  an extended jam with Harper’s crunchy, mangled guitar pitted against O’Kane’s Hammond organ.  As the fulcrum of the album this should be tasty and definitive but frankly exposes weaknesses and, to be honest, sullies an otherwise acceptable overall offering.  Where’s Akkerman when you really need him?

It’s perhaps not  surprising that O’Kane preferred the vocal tracks to the original album’s instrumentals and these tracks are now added back in to this new edition for completism.  Whilst they don’t figure in the “arctic” theme they do reveal Harper’s more blatant acoustic psychedelic pop sensibilities and a direction that could have been followed away from the jazz noodling.  However, the cod-American vocal may be an impediment to that.

As a companion to ‘Sunset’, definitely a worthwhile investment.  As befitting of a professional musicologist, the liner notes – and the attention to detail generally – are comprehensive and Harper has included a fold-out pair of vintage maps for further exploration if needs must.  ***1/2

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.

Album review (Sunset Cavaliers, 2016)


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