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Puritan Chapter Two

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 playing guitar, his best friend (in fact to this day) Rik Pennington on bass, John Thompson playing some very new romantic keyboards, and with a lack of decisiveness, two singers sharing the larynx duties - Jason White, big brother of my best friend Darren and possessed of a fabulous voice but almost no charisma, and Chas Waymark, a very serious minded young man who had stage presence by the bundle but whose voice left a fair bit to be desired. It was still all cover versions although we were working towards some slightly more involved ones including Hallowed Be Thy Name by Iron Maidenlisten on spotify and Forgotten Sons by Marillion.

By this point I'd fully absorbed my brother's taste for the new wave of British heavy metal, but taken his side interest in prog rock right to heart. Marillion were for some time my favourite band, and I think at that age quite understandably so. For early teenagers of a more alternative bent there was nothing but the Smiths, but for those of us who wanted our morbid navel-gazing intellectual verbosity shot through with the guilty pleasure of lengthy guitar and keyboard solos there was no other game in town than Fish and his version of Marillion. He spewed words like a depressed Chambers dictionary while his compatriots managed to just about balance an old fashioned fascination with Genesis with a very modern (for 1983) frosty emptiness that the more downbeat end of the new romantics (Japan and some Talk Talklisten on spotify for instance) had popularised. But while Adam Ant and Marillion were bands I loved and listened to and analysed, it was once again down to Darren White to provide me with the first group that could capture my passion and obsessiveness.

Overhearing me prattling on to Darren about Marillion, and liberating his tape of Genesis's live album Three Sides Livelisten on spotify (which would be my first exposure to them), his dad gave me a copy of the first release on his new label, Tales From The Lush Atticlisten on spotify by IQ. Thirty years in the future now I count myself incredibly lucky that I had this as a counterpoint to Marillion's debut Script For A Jester's Tearlisten on spotify (they did love long album titles these prog rockers) and its follow up Fugazi (OK, not always). Marillion were signed to EMI and had a landfill of money pumped their way; the albums were produced by Top People in the best studios at great length, with every bass guitar note falling precisely on every kick, and all the other precision of production that money can buy. IQ's debut was recorded in 3 days in a cheap 16 track in Surrey, and entirely mixed on the 4th day. The sound quality is just above a demo, and much more reminiscent (I was to later discover) of the crunchy reality of late 70s DIY punk than the smooth productions of Yes and their ilk. The mix is even cooler. The second side is almost entirely taken up with the 20 minute track The Last Human Gateway. Apparently they only had time for two mix passes at it; first time through they got all the sounds for the different sections, figured out when the different channels should be on or off; the second time they committed it to tape. It's good but a long way from perfect - you can hear the vocalist cough between takes, and the most enormous keyboard gaffe in recorded history is left on.

But it transported me. Had I not heard this I fear I would have been condemned to a future of only accepting high quality major label production values and not being able to see beyond their tight confines. But this was home made DIY to the max, and absolutely no worse for it. Musically they were a hell of a band. The songwriting was wonderful and introduced me to the concepts of re-iteration of themes in a way that many of the meandering Marillion pieces (much as I loved them) didn't hint at. The lyrics, rather than the avalanche of words that I needed to look up in a dictionary (and then a thesaurus) before I could understand them, were a whole load of perfectly ordinary words in orders that made them strangely meaningless and meaningful at the same time, paving the way for a later fascination with Michael Stipe.

And they were my first proper gig. I didn't have any desire to see Nazareth, much as I enjoyed it. IQ I was totally berserk about though, so when I got the opportunity to see them at the old Marquee club on Wardour Street in London I jumped at the chance. They had done a gig there that went down in their own personal history, on New Year's Eve 1984, and I would love that to have been my first proper show. I've told people it was. Sorry to you guys. That was a total lie. It was in fact their first show of 1985, in February or thereabouts. Again knowing Darren was my lucky break. The Marquee was over 18s only and I was not far over 13, but Adrian, Jason, Darren and me were on the guestlist, and after a little humming and harring they let us in.

After Hammersmith Odeon this was something quite different. A room painted entirely black that was about the size of two living rooms knocked through, with a Martin P.A. bolted to the ceiling amongst a haphazard selection of Par cans. No seats. And it was really quite smelly, being full of prog throwback hippy types. I remember the support band used a Korg Poly 6, but that's it. Sorry guys. I was stood in the middle of the crowd when IQ came on fully expecting to remain there for the entire show. But the moment they launched into Awake And Nervous the whole place went bananas and I was catapulted into my first mosh pit. Yes, moshing at a prog rock gig. As a tiny 13 year old everyone around took special care of me, even popping me out of the top of the pit and onto the stage when things got really rough. I remember being at the guitarist's feet looking somewhat apologetic before hurling myself back into the action.

And that was it. I was lost. Thankfully IQ seemed to play at the Marquee about once a month, and I was at all of them. Awake And Nervous was immediately added to the Nightshade set, along with some Genesis, Def Leppard and Ultravox. And we booked ourselves a proper gig, almost. Eltham College gym had a stage, Jason got his dad to pull in a favour and provide a P.A., we invented a flimsy charity gig pretext (Amnesty International, you got lucky that night!) and boom! a gig.

A drain blocked outside the fire exit, and it rained torrentially; the combination meant a cascade of water chose just before the start of our set to come pouring in by the side of the stage.


Not many pictures from this period. Here's me at my first 'proper' gig ever. I am obscured by a microphone.

Not many pictures from this period. Here's me at my first 'proper' gig ever. I am obscured by a microphone.
It's quite possible my memory is doing that self-aggrandising thing that we are all so good at, but I'm pretty sure I was the one that waded out into the minature lake forming outside and pulled the mass of leaves out of the drain, meaning we could go on without fear of massive electrocution.

As I linearly reminisce on my past I'm waiting to find the moment when I became so caught up in music that it ended up being what I had to do, no matter what. This gig wasn't it again; it was fun, and, setting another future habit early, I enjoyed listening back to the tape we made of it, but it was just another night. I don't even remember talking to girls, dammit, although I know my brother's mate Seb, who was guitarist in one of the other bands, had a sister who was there - she's in the photos. Stewart Copeland happily claims that he lost his virginity on the occasion of his first show, but that wasn't on my cards. It didn't even seem to be in my pack.

In fact at this time, I wanted to be a stunt man much more than a drummer. I spent hours hurling myself off the small wall by the car park while waiting for my or someone else's mum to pick me up after school.

It was about this time that I stopped drinking. I know, I know, I only just started, but hanging about with my older brother and going to house parties with him meant that I had managed to fit a lot of activity into a short time. At any given opportunity I would knock back as much as I could possibly find of anything alcoholic and would be retrospectively amazed at the fact that it allowed me to talk to and, on one occasion that I can recall, dance with girls older than me when I couldn't even look a female in the eye while sober. The last time I remember being drunk was at a party around the corner from our house at the Arulambulem's. Suren, the older brother, was Adrian's friend and his sister Dhili was my age, so they tended to be our local playmates. At this particular party of their's I remember installing myself with another guy in the room where the drink was, and not leaving for the entire time until I was unable to do so. I giggled much and had to be dragged back the 60 or so yards to our house by Adrian.

So far so typically teenage (although at the time I was only 12). So why did I stop? The answer is I don't really know. I have a feeling it was as I was turning 13 and I wanted to seem more grown up. Since I had been drinking excessively at every opportunity as a 12 year old it seemed that one of the things I could leave behind as I became an official teenager was alcohol. A part of me also felt exposed and stupid when drinking. As much as it was an enabler of larking about and talking to girls, I always craved control and would look back on things I'd done and said when not in control (either through drink or immature over-excitement) with terrified embarrassment. Whatever the reason, once I turned 13 I never touched alcohol again, except for a couple of times that we will get to in due course.

By this time I was also teaching myself piano. I had hammered away on the upright that we had acquired not long after the move to Highfield Road for hours on end with no discernible talent. Really, my parents, especially my mum who was there the whole time, were superhuman in the patience department; between the drums and the atonal piano the aural atmosphere of our household must have resembled some kind of Dante-esque psychological torture. To try and provide at least some harmonic structure to the noise they enrolled me in piano lessons with a very nice asian lady up the road. I struggled my way through to a grade 2 pass over a couple of years, but as I did so the amount that I played at home dwindled away until I was barely playing at all on my own time. Seeing this I was removed from the lessons; and inevitably my home playing recovered until I was back to hammering away for hours, although now with at least sufficient basic knowledge to try and figure out all my favourite IQ and Marillion songs. So I guess my parent's plan worked.

Their revenge for all my noise was coming though, in the form of a nuclear blast to the life. My dad - did I mention he was real smart? - had an opportunity that couldn't be turned down, an offer of a Professorship and research fellowship at Oxford University. The decision was made - Adrian was to see out his last year of school boarding at Eltham, while I was to move with mum and dad to Oxford and go somewhere new.

I was very resistant. Most of my friends I had made at my primary school of Bickley Parva and then moved up to Eltham with, knowing them since I was 4 years old. I didn't relish the idea of suddenly having to deal with the social nightmare of being an early teenager and having to make a new set of friends.

In the run up to all this Nightshade began writing songs, the first original material that I had been involved in. I wrote some bits of keyboard, but the meat came from other people, mostly Adrian. The head of music at our school knew someone who ran a small studio built into their house and organised for us to go and record there (not for free, I might add, and I remember noticing early on how parts of the industry worked financially). We recorded 3 songs on our first session (Married Yesterdaylisten to an mp3 of this track{Married Yesterday - Nightshade}, Waiting, which unashamedly nicked a part of a christian musical called Daybreak for it's middle section, and our big rock number Setting Sun) and went back some months later for a second two day session that yielded another 3 songs none of which I now remember. This second session we took along Roger Nunn, the big brother of Rik's friend Nigel Nunn (or big Nige as he was known to distinguish him from me), as a producer. I don't remember exactly what he did, but Roger was certainly a working drummer by that point and thus about 2000% more knowledgeable about the industry than us.

There were a couple more shows at our school and a smattering at other schools of people we knew coming up to the summer of 1985, but then it was time for our family to move away.


Our second proper gig ever, in the same school gym as the first. I have hair!

Our second proper gig ever, in the same school gym as the first. I have hair!
Because he only had one year left of school Adrian stayed on at Eltham - he was doing very well there, head boy, captain of the athletics team, high flying academic over-achiever; I had just about managed to accrue some detentions and a reputation for being able to dive off a small wall without significant injury - but I was enrolled at Abingdon School near Oxford to continue my studies. I had made house-hunting a nightmare for my poor parents because I was so resistant to the idea of leaving all of the friends I had grown up with, but eventually we found a place in a quiet village called Marcham that I relented and didn't object to.

We moved on Sunday 14th July 1985. It's easy to remember the date, because the previous day the removal men had come and taken everything away except for some sleeping bags and, on my insistence, the TV which we would bring in our car the following day. Why the insistence? So I could watch Live Aid, which I did, from beginning to end, sat on the floor in a house with no furniture, no curtains, in fact nothing at all. I still vividly remember many bits of it - Queen and U2 at Wembley being utterly transcendentally brilliant, Phil Collins playing drums with both Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton at the Philadelphia show, and seeing INXS for the first time, doing Don't Changelisten on spotify from Australian Live Aid - but it was shot through with contemplation about the fact that I was an awkward uncomfortable and ugly 13 year old who was going to be hurled into a new school and have to make a whole new set of friends. Bollocks.


Andy W, Fri 6th September 2013, 10:52:05 PM
 
Andy W, Fri 6th September 2013, 10:47:06 PM
 
Andy W, Fri 6th September 2013, 10:46:40 PM
 
Mel, Fri 26th July 2013, 07:42:01 AM
OMG you love Fish, too? I knew you were awesome! He's such a nice bloke, too. I interviewed him for a job I had some years ago and he was terribly patient with me as his Scottish "r's" confused my American ears. Why he had to be signed with Road Runner Records at the time, I'll never know!

You're just a little younger than me, Nigel, but I remember LiveAid so vividly (although from America, alas.) I loved Queen and seeing that show - my god, that electrifying, spectacular set, it changed my whole life.

You have made me nostalgic.
 
Yvonne, Thu 6th June 2013, 07:00:01 AM
I have to pass a compliment here. I really enjoy to reed your blog. All the different things you have to say shows what kind of colourful person you are. You called it “puritan chapter” and I thought about how I would call my blog if I had one... “more boring chapter” ?
I'm not actually sure why I'm so riveted to your stories, maybe because I can relate to some of your experiences (my dad as well leaved me on a playground, while being busy with my older relatives. Not sure if it was my first sunset but positive that it was going to be very dark), or just because I'm basically interested in people.
I love music (playing the recorder as a child was obviously not a pleasure to my parents and clearly not a start to become a prominent musician). However, as I read your blog I was astonished how passionate you were about music and how it accompanied you through your whole life. There are not many people out there who have the stamina to follow a passion, most of them don't even have one. So, what do I actually want to say ? I started with a compliment and it end in a novel. Just go ahead with writing, it´s wonderful and charming in every way.
 

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