Monday 22nd April, 2013
1971 - 1982: It's Cold Outside, But It Gets So Hot In Here
Oh shit. That's mum and dad. Keep your head, don't giggle, just keep tidying up the bottles and cans into the bin bag in the garage. I think they're angry, but I'm finding it curiously hard to read these people who I've known since I emerged into the world. My brain feels like it's got a kettle element in and the whole thing has turned molten and boiling like mud, big bubbles exploding on the surface making it hard to focus and converse and recognise. My big brother Adrian is here as well, and another friend, but I feel like I'm in one of these mud bubbles possibly floating a few inches off the floor. Hold it together. It's the night of my first gig. And it's the first time I've been drunk.
I don't know about you but in any book like this, this is the chapter that I skim. Surely you know the one - "I was born to Jill and Michael Sousaphone on January 15th 1967 at Sister Mary's Hospital in County Armagh... Jill's father, my grandfather, was a bull of a man who had been at Paschendale and would proudly show his neatly stitched row of 8 bullet wounds to anyone who didn't find the sight of his buttocks nauseating... Michael was a carpenter by trade, so naturally my go-kart was the best of anyone's". That's not going to happen here. I'm the fucking drummer, not Barack Obama or J K Rowling, so who, frankly, gives a shit about the minutae of my upbringing?
However if anyone is going to give the remotest flying twat about this anyway (and if you're going to write you have to at least pretend to yourself that someone will), then maybe context is important. If I were to have an editor for this, I would imagine them saying "stick to the spine of your story", the spine in this case being "how and why I became a musician", "why don't I drink" and "what has this meant for my life on the road". So some bare bones of how it all began is regrettably inevitable.
I was born 1st October 1971. I've noticed that 'professional' biographers at this point will research interesting facts about the time of their birth (who was Prime Minister, international events of note, who won the big sporting events of the time), but frankly you've got access to google, so fuck off and do it yourself if you actually care. It doesn't mean anything to me - like everyone else I don't have any active memories for at least 3 years after that, and even then it's patchy and terminally irrelevant. In terms of what we're talking about there's nothing much of note until 1980, when we moved from the terraced house behind Bickley1 station that I was born into to a larger detached 5 minutes down the road.
Me and my big brother Adrian. Yes, he was the neat and organised one.
But maybe I'm being disingenuous. Maybe I should sketch in the background a little more so you can make up your own mind about things, say "aha, he can't see it himself because he's too close, but clearly he has issues here". For those of you who just want the meat, I'm foreseeing at least two paragraphs you can skate or skip across.
I was always middle class. Even though the first house I remember, at 2 The Pantiles in Bickley, was a tiny terrace with only two bedrooms it was still in a quiet little cul-de-sac, with the peace only somewhat shattered by the presence, just over the fence at the end of the close, of Bickley train station. The tracks themselves were in a deep cut keeping the noise of the passing trains minimal, but for many years afterwards my older brother (and only sibling) Adrian could recite the platform announcements confidently. In fact I'm sure that to this day if you needed to know the stations that trains would call at going from Bickley up the line to Victoria Station in Central London (the commuter path my dad took daily), or the other direction to St. Mary's Cray, he could rattle them off without hesitation. The only musical disappointment connected to the size of the Pantiles house was, as I discovered later, that when my great Aunt died she left my parents her Steinway grand piano, but since it would have taken up the entire ground floor of the house, leaving only about 6 inches around the edge, they had to sell it.
Later it began to seem that my middle classness was by combination rather than birth. Dad came from lower down the caste list - a twin born in Chippenham, Wiltshire to stoutly working class parents - but he dragged himself out of it by dint of his unnatural intelligence. I've no idea if being cleverer than everybody else, both in his school and most likely his town, was a burden - I've found it difficult enough throughout history to get him to enthuse about what he did earlier that afternoon, let alone hear about his childhood. But I do know he exploded out of his small town low aspiration comprehensive, went to medical school and subsequently began collecting PhDs (he's up to 4 and a professorship now, if you must know).
And at a certain rung he bumped into my mum traveling down the social ladder. She was born into a well-to-do Blackheath family but seemed to be possessed of a determination, that she shared with her two elder sisters and eldest brother, to do things for herself. She trained as a nursery nurse, and met my dad when she was being secretarial around Middlesex University. He employed her to type out his PhD (the first one!), and clearly some shocking shenanigans ensued since they married a mere 9 months after meeting. My brother beat me out of the womb by 3 1/2 years, and I turned out to be something of a surprise after pregnancy complications subsequent to my brother seemed to put paid to the prospect of any further Powells. But yay dad's sperm; I made it.
Sorry skipping gang, that was 3 paragraphs of exactly what I was taking the piss out of earlier. But for the amateur psychologists our there, here's one more childhood story for you to sink your teeth into. For my brother's 8th or 9th birthday his party was to go down to the park and play football with his friends. Mum suggested that since she was preparing the meal my dad could take them, and maybe toddling little me could tag along so I didn't get under her feet. Good football was played, and sometime later a sweaty team of boys returned all glowing to the house. "Good game?" idly enquired my mum. And, "where's Nigel?". Not being of a sporting bent I had been placed on a swing in the playground while the important manly competition took place. I hadn't really noticed when they left, although I do particularly remember the incident - I think it was the first time I'd seen a sunset, as I sat motionless on the swing, my momentum long since spent. A somewhat flustered dad appeared just as visibility was dropping away to nothing to return an apparently totally unconcerned me to the bosom of the family.
I don't particularly remember music being a massive part of family life early on. Bob Dylan got spins on the household turntable, and I know my parents owned many Beatles platters, but they didn't penetrate my consciousness at that time. I much preferred "I Tawt I Taw A Puddy Tat" by cartoon characters Sylvester and Tweetie Pie, until my brother smashed the record over some childhood tantrum. I do remember being upset by that, and slightly unable to believe that music could actually break. I can also put down the beginnings of a later predilection for prog rock to my parent's passion for a French pop instrumental composer called André Gagnon, whose pieces in retrospect all sound like After The Ordeal by Genesis2 played at 33 rpm instead of 45.
But somehow my brother and I caught the bug. Or perhaps my brother caught the bug and I followed him in the way that younger siblings are wont to do, even when said older sibling had abused his position in the shared bedroom of their first house to cause untold suffering (by the application of, for instance, Dutch Ovens). Naturally one of the memoir motives for anyone has to be revenge and redress in print.
The house in Highfield Road. Not pictured - racket of drums emerging from room above garage
I digress. Won't be the first time you hear that. By the time we moved to Highfield Road in Bickley in 1980 (I left one house to attend school, and walked back to a different one) Adrian had already been taking classical guitar lessons for some years, and by all accounts excelling - I really enjoyed listening to him practicing John Williams' Cavatina in the house - while making some forays into electric guitar playing with friends from the church we attended, Central Bromley Methodist. Both of us joined the church folk group, The Bridgebuilders, me just as a cute widdle singer, Adrian adding yet another acoustic guitar to the mix. We had a uniform of blue jeans and a bright red collared shirt, and we played during services at the church, including a special service invented apparently just for us called the Folk Communion. We also managed to get ourselves pimped out to other associated churches around the country - possibly my first experience of touring. My strongest memory of that group is the other cute widdle singer Amanda Whalley vomiting apparently unchewed and undigested spaghetti out of her nose after a rehearsal. The things a 10 year old mind chooses to store. The Bridgebuilders came to an abrupt end when it was apparently discovered that the willowy leader of the group was apparently having an affair with the Reverend of the church, resulting in the overnight disappearance of The Bridgebuilders, the Reverence, and his daughter Claire, on whom I had had a profound and long lasting pre-pubescent crush.
The Bridgebuilders outside the church. Me front and centre, Adrian looking moody in the back
My listening tastes had moved on to Adam and the Ants, with Antmusic being the first 7" single I ever bought, followed by the Kings Of The Wild Frontier album not too long after. Many things from childhood you return to in later years and discover that they were, not to put too fine a point on it, shit. I'm sure I Tawt I Taw A Puddy Tat is not up there with the best of Springsteen. But, along with a generation of other people, having your first pop sensation be Adam Ant, and more particularly that first album for CBS, is no bad thing. I listened to it recently, and not only is it not shit, it's actually far far better than I gave it credit for at the time, with Marco Pirroni's ear for a killer riff and penchant for unusual key changes making the whole thing the perfect balance between pop and rock.
This was still idle young dilly dallying with music, though as Adrian's interest in music grew I did become more involved. Quite early on we had a hi-fi with a microphone input, and also a second portable tape cassette player. I constructed myself a snare drum from a catering size margarine pot with a hundred or so pieces of cut up wire clattering around in the bottom. I don't recall having any special yen to be drummer, although like most kids I was more than happy to hit things with wooden spoons at any and all times, but Adrian needed a drummer, so that was that. Adrian would play guitar and I would wallop the snare as we played a song into the hi-fi (usually something from our Bridgebuilders repertoire but rocked up), and then we'd take that cassette, put it in the other player and play along, Adrian on a second electric guitar part and me singing. I do remember doing lots of these kind of sound on sound recording experiments, including messing about with speed, and getting a small hint of interest in the process of recording things.
Adrian's music taste was also to have a profound effect on my later development. While I was idolising, and occasionally dressing like, Adam Ant, Adrian's taste was heading rockwards. Saxon, Rainbow but most importantly Iron Maiden were the diet of the day, and it couldn't help but seep in when it was being played at supersonic volume throughout the house. But it was to be my best friend at school who was to plant a seed that would have unfortunate future consequences.
I moved from my primary, Bickley Parva, to my first ‚'proper' school, Eltham College in Mottingham. Dad, obviously stricken with terror that Adrian and I would slide back down the greasy class pole that he'd dragged himself up, was insistent that we would have a private eduction, but finances being what they were the upper echelon was never an option. Eltham, as far as I have an understanding of it, was considered just a hair's breadth above a comprehensive - class sizes were smaller, facilities were somewhat better and we HAD A RUGBY TEAM, but it was rough as fuck and not a place for the fey or faint-hearted. I struck up a friendship early on with Darren White, possibly mostly predicated on geographical convenience, since he lived a convenient 5 minute walk from me on a posh street across from the station. His house seemed vast to me and, with a later knowledge of property values, was probably extraordinarily expensive - leafy street in the close commuter belt, at least 6 bedrooms that I remember, with a massive garden containing a succession of greenhouses and outhouses where fun (which at this time mostly involved destroying ketchup-filled Action Men with smuggled french fireworks) could be had.
I spent huge tracts of time around there, mostly playing on Darren's Dragon 32 computer, and I didn't give a rat's arse what his dad did. Who does? He was some heavyset bloke who wore satin jackets and slightly tinted glasses and told us to wipe our feet when we came in. But he was friendly enough, and invited Adrian and me to his work one day. As it turned out he managed the hard rock band Nazareth, and inviting us to work involved going to the final night of their Shapes Of Things tour at Hammersmith Odeon.
I imagine most people's first experience of attending a gig is using the ticket your mum bought you to furtively gain entry while underage to your favourite band's nearest show, then hanging about at the back feeling nervous until getting up the courage to shove your way forwards to get close when they actually play. Not for me such prosaic experiences, oh no. I was picked up by a stretch limo from my house and whisked to the stage door of the venue, where we were escorted by a satin jacketed flunky to front row seats on the balcony to watch the show, with it's high decibels and flash pot 1970sness. Then to backstage, where we drank bucks fizz with the band and they signed copies of the live album that someone had given us. Then a limo back to my front door. My young brain went - gigs, y'know, they're pretty fucking cool.
It probably wasn't long after this that our house on Highfield Road was burgled while we were on holiday in Chippenham. Insurance paid out (my how times have changed), but there was a great number of irreplaceable items amongst what was lost - mum's engagement ring, jewelry handed down in the family, that kind of thing. So my ever enterprising brother, who had started a band at Eltham where he was 3 years my senior and was in need of a drummer, convinced the parents to buy me a drumkit. My memory of this was that I was pretty much "yeah, sure, whatever" about it and Adrian was the driving force.
Me unconvincingly pretending to play my first drumkit
So it came to pass that our house was the recipient of a white Rogers R360 5 piece drum set, and a flimsy book entitled ‚'Teach Yourself Rock Drums' which I worked my way through. A couple of the things seemed tricky for a couple of days, but I was confidently holding down beats before too long. We got together in the spare bedroom to rehearse cover versions with friends from church, named ourselves Cassiopea (which I painstakingly spray painted onto a large piece of wood to make a backdrop) and it all seemed like jolly good fun. And then mum and dad, who had clearly no idea about my brother, suggested that they go out of an evening and that Adrian could organise a party for him and his friends. Even without the benefit of myspace, messiness was almost bound to ensue.
Adrian and I worked all day clearing the furniture out of the connected dining room and living room, then setting up the band equipment on the ‚'stage' (the dining room) pointing towards the ‚'audience' (the living room). We had two drummers, not wanting Sean from church to feel left out, Adrian on guitar, a guy called Nick playing bass and a collection of different singers for different songs. Sean and I also traded places playing keyboards as well.
Once The Authority headed off for town at 7 o'clock about 2 billion of Adrian's friends, plus Darren White to keep me company, descended on the house. Church group bollocks - this was more like the hordes of mongol. Beer, wine and cider (I don't remember spirits being a big thing) started appearing, bought by bigger brothers or lifted from parent's stashes, until there was a pile in our garage not unlike the Devil's Tower Roy Neary constructs in Close Encounters, except Bulmers and Skol instead of dirt and mashed potato. Even at this earlier and more impressionable age though I was setting the beginnings of a pattern - though tempted there was no way I was drinking anything before my first ever gig. I needed to be the best I could be. What a twat.
I had a tape of this show for many years, now sadly disappeared. I don't remember the full setlist, but it certainly included 11 O'clock Tick Tock by U2 and He Knows You Know by Marillion . I enjoyed it, but it wasn't a Damascus-style life changing experience. Getting drunk afterwards was totally boss3, however.
My first ever gig. Note the backdrop spraypainted onto a piece of chipboard. That's dedication!
Having never touched a drop of alcohol, I did as everyone else was doing and launched into the cider with aplomb. I have no idea how much I had, no doubt it was a tiny amount, but it was still plenty to turn my skinny alcohol-virgin body into a semi-solid mass of blubber. Everything looked distinctly different, the rooms heaved this way and that as if I was on a boat and I talked to girls older than me without a hint of embarrassment. Appealing stuff for a 12 year old.
When mum and dad returned at midnight I can still recall their almost total shock and lack of comprehension of what faced them. The music in the lounge was loud enough that they probably heard it as their Vauxhall Viva turned into our road. The house was full of half-functioning 14, 15 and 16 year olds; I particularly remember that the stairs, which faced the front door, were impassable, containing as they did 40 or so ruddily woozy teenagers. Empty cans and bottles (large cider bottles, in these pre-Sol days) covered every horizontal surface, and some of the vertical ones. And, most distressingly of all for them, the parquet floor in the hall was almost invisible beneath a couple of inches of liquid effluvium. What it was I don't know, and I didn't care because I was pissed and happy.
Kids were ejected, black bin bags were filled and mops were repeatedly wrung as Adrian and I put the house back together under the baleful gaze of my not-to-be-crossed mother, but whatever; in the back of my mind that thought was there again: gigs, y'know, they're pretty fucking cool.
Saturday 23rd January, 2016
It's been a long time since my last blog. Yeah, sure, I know. Sorry. Just leave it. OK? Something came up yesterday though that seemed worthy of talking about. Apparently it's 10 years since Milow's album The Bigger Picture was released, and album that I produced and played on. I thought it be... read
Saturday 20th September, 2014
Been concentrating on updating the site to include contact links for hiring me as a session drummer. But over the summer I did a couple of shows with my old pals in the Genesis tribute band Los Endos. Here's a couple of drum views of songs from those with... read
Wednesday 18th June, 2014
1989 - 1992: Once Around The Park My dad, still with his eye on solid academic achievement, insisted that I at least consider university. Out of respect I applied for places on a number of courses, but the interview process was somewhat unusual, since the hardening of my ambition to be somehow with... read
Monday 12th May, 2014
Sorry it's been so long since the last time I blogged here. I have been busy, that much is true, but it would be a lie to pretend that was entirely the reason. Many days I wonder the worth of adding to the ever-growing mountain of unsolicited writing out there, of my... read
Friday 25th April, 2014
Hello everyone. Sorry, this blog has been long neglected. My next thing to post was the next chapter of Puritan, but I was waiting until I could get some relevant audio tracks into the computer world, which involved borrowing a DAT machine and finding time between tours to record it and blah... read
Tuesday 29th October, 2013
I was intending my next blog to be another "Bloggin' The Shuffle", but something happened that took me elsewhere. A friend who is studying screenwriting asked me about musical structure. Most screenplays follow a three act format, roughly akin to sonata form in music, and her thought was to compare other forms... read
Thursday 10th October, 2013
Been a while since the last blog. I guess I've been putting this one off because... well it's odd. For starters I'm aware that I would suggest to others not doing this - you let people take what they want from music you make, and your opinion doesn't matter so much it's... read
Friday 6th September, 2013
I said over there on the albums page that my next blog would be my own self-assessment of my solo work, but I think I'm going to postpone that. It's something I struggle with in a way - I want to talk about it, but I would encourage anyone else away that... read
Sunday 11th August, 2013
1985 - 1989: Sentimental Mercenary In A Free Fire Zone After a summer of unpacking boxes and trying to make the new house a home I started at Abingdon School in September 1985. With the determination for morbidity that only a teenager can muster, I hated it and was depressed in a I... read
Thursday 25th July, 2013
Just got a little while in the middle of the night before we leave for Heathrow to start another tour. Although they never stop. It's one continuous tour. But I was having some thoughts about work and working and who does what. I've been both sides of the touring fence multiple times being... read
Thursday 11th July, 2013
As many of you here may know apart from being a drummer I was once a lighting designer, the guy who makes the lights do their thing at a rock show (there's many other kinds of LD of course, but rock was what I did). So with that in my background have... read
Tuesday 4th June, 2013
1982 - 1985: Above The Riverbed The World's Run Dry More gigs, better gigs. After the party we started to get a bit more serious with the school band, or as serious as you can be when you're 12 years old. We called ourselves Nightshade and had a stable lineup of Adrian guitar,... read
Sunday 26th May, 2013
Some things are curious to me. Things which appear to be a lack of analysis, opinions not properly thought through. Then again that sometimes is just me and my Spock-ness, not appreciating the random foible of desire. I read about the band that I play in on the internet. There, I've admitted In... read
Monday 29th April, 2013
Hello from Hamburg! Ich Bein Eine Hamburger. Or something. Got an hour after breakfast on the bus before we have to travel to record a German TV show called Ina's Nacht, so what better way to make GOOD USE of my time than another quick session of bloggin' the shuffle. This off... read
Monday 8th April, 2013
So here's another in what I anticipate to be a series. Jeez, what a lot of series we have running - Puritan (to be continues when I get access to my old photos and a scanner, so I can make it a bit more visually interesting), Blogging The Shuffle (which will when... read
Sunday 24th March, 2013
I'm writing this from Shanghai in China, my first visit to this country. I'm not going to give you my impressions. I'm not Michael Palin, nor indeed Bill Bryson (although I can recommend all of Mr. Bryson's travel books as some of the most amusing writing I've ever had the pleasure embarrassingly... read
Thursday 14th March, 2013
This is the original reason that it occurred to me to start blogging. I'd find myself on the tourbus with my iPod on having memories and thoughts triggered as shuffle offered up various tidbits that I wouldn't have put on of my own accord. So I'm going to give that a at... read
Sunday 10th March, 2013
Introduction October 12th 2010, Albuquerque, NM, USA I'm 39 and 11 days old, which is clearly much too old to be any kind of musician on the road with a rock band. I'm playing with English musician Frank Turner as a member of his backing band. The distinction is necessary, since things are to... read
Saturday 9th March, 2013
So, the thing is, when I was on tour a couple of years back I wrote a 'book'. It's definitely a 'book' and not a book though. It's an autobiography with the initial intention of a certain angle on the subject, although as it went along the focus drifted a bit. I... read
Monday 4th March, 2013
We started a tour in Northampton, MA on 2nd March and, being as it was not far from his hometown of Springfield, I had the pleasure of hanging out with my friend Mark Mulcahy. His name is not familiar to many, but anyone out there who knows him or his work probably... read
Saturday 2nd March, 2013
I don't really talk about myself much. Not just on the internet, but in life. I have an English paranoia about being seen to complain, or about troubling anyone else ("a friend troubled is a problem doubled", as someone once said to me). But I don't think that it's healthy. Don't me... read
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