Nick Penny grew up in many different parts of the world before doing an arts degree at Oxford University. He then set up his own workshop making musical instruments, as well as writing music and playing the Paraguayan harp. After moving to rural Northamptonshire four decades ago, he became fascinated by the birdsong in his local woods, starting to record it and use the sounds in his own music. He also began to watch and photograph the kingfishers on the River Nene close to his home – experiences captured in his nature-writing debut, Call of the Kingfisher. Although not a trained naturalist, Nick is an inspiring speaker about wildlife and birdsong, and writes with a deep passion and concern for his subject. Always curious, always with his musician’s ear to the ground, Nick is keen to learn about nature – and delights in passing that knowledge on to others.
Nick has had an interesting and varied career in music. After university he trained as a guitar maker with John Bailey in London. He then set up on his own making guitars, lutes, and harps. After many years absorbed in his workshop he eventually felt the need to get out into the world and do more performing and music workshops. He still makes all the stringed instruments used in his recordings and workshops.
His passionate interest in stringed instruments from around the world led naturally into his World of Strings workshops for children, as well as giving musical talks to adults. He’s worked in over 2000 primary schools, performing and making junk instruments with children, and was a founder member and designer of the Utterly Butterly Ukulele Project. He also presented a schools’ TV programme on the science of sound for Channel 4.
Nick first heard the Paraguayan Harp in the 1970s and immediately fell in love with the sound. In the late 1980s he went to Paraguay to have lessons with Lorenzo Leguizamon. He discovered the therapeutic effect harp music has on people, and began to create a distinctive musical sound using harp and guitar together in new ways. Since composing and recording his first Harp CD, Out of the Woods, he has brought out twelve more, including Calling up the Dawn, which features music accompanying his recordings of local birdsong. He has also made recordings of windharps and four CDs of birdsong
He has written two non-fiction books about music for children, and contributed musical poems to an anthology which was shortlisted for a Blue Peter book award. His first book of nature writing, Call of the Kingfisher, was published by Bradt in July 2023.
He is currently creating workshops for older people in Care Homes and those with dementia, and has designed a small therapeutic harp to use with the elderly.
He has recently acquired a handpan and recorded Peaceful Playing, an album of music for handpan, harp, guitar and natural sounds.