I’m writing as I think, this will probably contain some bad language, so if you are offended by curse words, you might want to skip this!
Over the next few days, weeks, months and hopefully years a lot of words will be said about Nicholas Harris. Most of them will be full of praise, some will be controversial, some will make people laugh. I’m not going to sit here and talk about his achievements in tone as they are obvious, but I am going to talk about my friend.
I first met Nicholas at Winter NAMM a few years back. I was (obviously) fully aware of who he is and the company he built – his reputation had proceeded him… But, I was surprised at the softly spoken, quiet and unassuming man I was talking too. We discussed a few things about the industry but it was obvious that neither of us wanted to talk about pedals so we went our separate ways, politely and professionally and without incident. I was quite surprised at how uncontroversial he was and that I came out with all my body parts intact. My first impression was that the persona that other people attributed to him was well off the mark.
Fast forward a couple of months and I’m at our distributors booth at MusikMesse and I’m playing with either the BelleEpoch or EchoRec (I can’t remember) and just having the BEST time with it. When I got home a few days later I pinged him a friend request on Facebook. After a few days a message appeared in my PM from Nicholas basically sounding me out and my intentions of asking to be his friend on social media… He explained how boring he was (!!!), how all he talks about is golf and his real friends and that I won’t find it interesting. I responded that I digged his work, I hate the politics of business and I just wanted to be able to connect with him. There are a lot of people in this industry with their heads firmly up their own backsides and I liked the person I met and just wanted to get to know him better. He finally relented and we became “friends”.
It quickly became obvious that we enjoyed each others (virtual) company and made each other laugh. I would often wake up to a drunken PM in FB from him (he was 8 hours behind me in terms of timezone) which was hilarious – often wildly offensive and TOTALLY honest about another manufacturer, a distributor we share, a dealer or about something irrelevant… often it was just a chat about nothing and everything… quite often about something specific to our business and their business, a path smoothed, a problem avoided. He quickly became one of my favourites in the industry because there was no bullshit with him, he was a very real person who took me at face value and allowed me to take him as such. He worked out that most of my online presence is a front, I am socially awkward and just allowed me to be me. Really quite refreshing as he had no interest in my online persona.
When it comes to products I am in awe of the way Nicholas led CatalinBread. I often called him “the f***ing Rock star” of our industry, that I’m pretty certain slightly annoyed him (which is why I kept doing it and because there are people who like to think they are a rock star when they are anything but… you need more than a beard, hair, vinyl and some well placed artist endorsements to make you that) because he didn’t pander to customer expectation or market trends. He designed and built pedals based on what they thought was cool and what inspired them to play. Basically, the true essence of artistry. I am so jealous of that I cannot begin to tell you, but I am wired up differently. I am constantly looking at the market and what we need to do to be successful in it. He saw this in me and quite often made some wonderfully cutting remarks to me about it. We butted heads a couple of times about some things I’d said… it never ended bad though, just two guys who are basically the opposite ends of the spectrum with a common goal. I think we liked to remind each other often about those differences.
I last saw Nicholas at Winter NAMM about 4 weeks ago. I went in early one morning to catch up with some faces before doors opened as once the people come in, you’re tied to the booth for 8 hours flat. Being him, he wasn’t in yet so I left a message and I hoped to see him soon… A couple of hours later he came up to our booth with Howard and we caught up. We talked about our eye sight (I had the same operation he did about a year before he had it so it was a conversation we often had), we talked about Hipsters and Portland (again, just to annoy him as I liked to poke him with a stick when I could) and loads of stuff that I wish I could remember. Later that day I saw Howard at the pedal builders social gathering and we chatted for bit, and that was that, we went our separate ways. Between then and now we chatted a bit, he popped up on a couple of my threads on social networks which ended up with us deciding (about a week ago) that I should go to Portland and go drinking and jamming with him. We thought it would be great fun and lots of laughter would be had. I last spoken to him on Wednesday, the day before he died – I asked him about getting wider HiWatt tones from the RAH and WIIO pedals and if they could be Gilmouresque. Looking back on it, the most disappointing conversation ever considering it was our last.
Mortality is a bitch. I’m 42 now, 5 years older than Nicholas will ever be. I’ll never be able to have that drink with him. I’ve lost a valuable friend with whom I can compare notes about dealers and distributors with (yes, you should all be really scared as we talked openly and honestly about you ALL) and most importantly, someone I can make laugh and who made me laugh. Fortunately, we have have his legacy, his company and the circuits he designed with the team and I, as a simple guitar player, am thankful for that. I spent a long time in PM on FB, in several threads, with some other guys from the industry yesterday, talking about Nicholas and our memories of him. I laughed a few good times as I thought about conversations we’d had about these very same people before. He saw us all, with perfect clarity, I don’t doubt there were some incredibly accurate perceptions about me floating around with his name on it someplace.
I have no doubt there will be the usual charity auctions pop up soon to give financial aid to his family in this horrible time. I don’t doubt for a moment we will contribute and promote it fully. However, I’m kinda leaning towards this opinion – Just go to their website and buy one of their pedals. Direct from them. HERE. I’m pretty certain he would hate a charity auction in his name, would hate the concept of financial assistance so if you want to help. Go buy a pedal from them direct.
Sleep well my friend, I hope one day our paths will cross again someplace else and we can have that beer. I’ll miss you, your quiet confidence, your humour, your wonderfully different to my own brain and your insight into this wonderfully diverse and complex little industry. I’ll leave with this picture that sums how I feel for Nicholas, this was taken at NAMM 2016. Here I am displaying all my levels of social awkwardness, and here’s Nicholas putting his arm around me for a photo. I liked that about him, most would sense I don’t feel that comfortable and retreat from me, I like to think he did it just keep me on my toes. Or because he was just a down to earth nice guy.
UPDATE (11th March 2016, 19:39BST) A gofundme page has been set up to assist the Harris family in these horrible times. If you don’t spring for a pedal from them, please give generously here.