Harpist busks it on way to the top

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The Independent Online

A busking harpist who publicised his privately recorded first album by giving concerts in shopping centres will realise his ambition this month by playing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, on London's South Bank.

Rupert Parker, 35, was struggling to make an impact in the music world when he tried to find an affordable new harp in 1987. In a London showroom, the classically trained musician's eyes came to rest on a 45-string, stereo electric harp and he asked to try it out. It was so rare that interest was shown in the instrument that its creator, Victor Salvi, asked to watch Parker play. He was impressed and loaned the instrument to him indefinitely.

"The trouble is that a harp is regarded as a totally classical instrument, and some people regard it as sacrilege to have an electric harp such as this," said Parker. Even with Mr Salvi's backing, he was shunned by record companies and had to record his own album. Five years later, Parker began to tour shopping precincts to demonstrate his newly-perfected sound: "In 1992, I managed to get a four-week stint in Harrods' music department to launch my first album and I sold 1,000 tapes and compact discs while I was there," he said. Disappointed by the performance of his distribution company, Parker arranged his own publicity. At Christmas he toured shopping centres and sold over 500 copies.

"The first time I was at Lakeside shopping centre in West Thurrock, WH Smith kept coming back to ask for more and more tapes," said Parker. "They started off with 20 cassettes and then asked for 600 more." His was the top-selling album at their Lakeside store last year.

He said that he now had a mailing list of 4,500 people and had sold more than 100,000 cassettes and CDs.

t Rupert Parker's new album, Original Works, will be released on 18 September and officially aired at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 25 September, the first date of a national tour.