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Nigel Powell: Attack the Blog!


Puritan - Introduction

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 different to being a member of a band, which is somewhere near the crux of this little piece of writing. Even if it is an illusion (which it almost always is), every member of a band has their say, tied to their stake in the success or failure of the group as a whole, although, as we shall see later, even-handed democracy is never a true option. For a backing band though there is no grey area. Whoever you're playing for is the boss, the big numero uno, El Jefe, head honcho; and whatever they say goes.

Such is the way it has been since early 2007, when I first started playing with Frank1, and now. So why has it particularly exercised me tonight? Let's rewind a couple of days and contextualize a little shall we?

We flew in to Austin, Texas to begin our tour a few days ago, on 9th October. By Frank's standards it was not actually too bad a journey. Frank controls his own finances and co-manages himself with the verve of the true control freak, and consequently scours the internet for the very very cheapest flights for when we come out to the states. This is actually the first time we have come out at the same time as him (before this he has already been in the country playing solo shows or doing press prior to our arrival), so the unkind could suggest that this is the reason that our flight leaves Heathrow at a very reasonable 1.20 p.m. rather than the usual 7.30 a.m., but I'm confident that this is not true. To give the man his dues, if there is £4.50 to be saved on something he's quite happy to put himself through some kind of stupid inconvenience right along with everyone else.

However, despite the friendly departure hour it hasn't been the most relaxing of flights - we spent 3 hours and 10 minutes on the tarmac at Heathrow while engineers apparently expended their efforts fixing an unspecified fault on the plane before finally leaving; we had pilots who plotted a course through apparently every piece of unpleasant turbulence in the sky; and, when we finally arrived at our connection hub of Atlanta, we were prevented from leaving the plane for a further perspiratory 15 minutes by a faulty jetway, meaning there was a scrum of nervous people whose onwards flights, instead of being the humdrum wait that they had anticipated, had now become a desperate run and pray.

We made our connection, however, arriving in Austin just after 11 p.m. at night to meet tour manager Casey and be taken to our bus for the tour. As will later clearly become a theme, I'm first into my bunk on the bus. Bass player Tarrant, guitarist Ben and keyboardist Matt have a quick trip to a nearby 24 hour store and then follow. Frank, however, goes out and stays out, finally showing up at the festival the following day to perform an effective but somewhat tired show. Not a particular problem - everyone is pretty jet lagged. Conversationally later I ask Frank about his previous evening's activities, and he claims a quiet one, but Frank has a large sliding scale of this kind of thing - sometimes a quiet one means two beers and a night of convivial company, other times it means that he chose not to inject stuff into his eyeballs when everyone else was. After we perform Frank heads into town to drink with friends Fake Problems.

Due to the festival headline band and local laws, despite being done playing by 2 p.m. we leave the festival at close to midnight, being driven through the night by Craig up front while we all sleep in our tomb-like bunks in the back. Frank, to give him his due once more, returned early from the Fake Problems / Rival Schools show and is tucked up well before we leave. After a long and boring journey we arrive in Albuquerque about 8 p.m. The bus door has a busted lock so someone has to stay on board - I run out and get a sandwich and return so everyone else can head out for food and frolics. I'm in bed first.

Jet lag always seems to affect me more on the second day, so I'm waking up every few hours. Frank is in the bunk below me, except he isn't at midnight, or 2.30 a.m., or 5.30 a.m., or 7 a.m. He is there when I get up at 8 though. Jolly good.

So finally we finish rewinding and get to the fucking point, eh? We play our show in Low Spirits, a bar on the edge of a part of Albuquerque that locals tell me is called the war zone. Which is the kind of place gigs always are. It's not packed by any means, but the crowd makes up for numbers with enthusiasm, a couple of them having made the 3 1/2 hour journey from El Paso in Texas. Frank, as he often does, has been keeping an eye on his merch2 throughout the evening, but this particular night this has involved sitting at the bar being bought a steady stream of drinks by well-wishers, who have clearly taken his songs of wistful hedonism to heart and want to be enablers any way they can.

We hit the stage and the two nights of minimal sleep combine with the evening's indulgence to produce a desperately sub-standard show. Bloodshot Frank rambles, from time to time almost incontinently, between songs; he fails to notice his guitar constantly drifting out of tune and I have to nudge him to check it; and worst of all halfway through his voice, battle hardened as it is through the most intense gigging schedule that anyone has undertaken over the last few years, gives up. The dramatic high note in Long Live The Queen is the trigger - it comes out as a squeaky rasp that doesn't even share DNA with the correct pitch, and in the manner of a buzz bomb lays waste to all of the notes surrounding it. From then on I can hear the increasing inaccuracy as Frank pushes his voice harder and harder to try and make the end of the show, but the fatigue won't allow his usual Henry Rollins / iron man push through to the end.

Is the show bad? Do people not enjoy it? That's not the case at all. I'm happy that, as a professional band, nowadays our worst show is still delivering money-worth to an audience. But it could have been better. Not to put it all at the door of the Turner though; everyone could have done better. But the show is all about him; the audience focusses on him almost to the exclusion of all else (I'm confident I could come on naked from the waist down and no-one would notice), so his failings have a more marked effect than if I'm playing slightly off piste.

I'm reading a musical memoir on the tour3. That and the evening's events rev the thought engine. I've been on the road with bands in various capacities since I was 18, and I've been a teetotaler since I was 13; this means that throughout my professional life I've felt somewhat like an alien in the permissive world of rock and roll. There's no place for anyone to be judgmental out here, so that's not my position. But being stymied in my desire to do the best show possible this evening through the actions of the band leader; not having the authority to say anything about it (I'm a backing musician, I'm just supporting his career, and if his favoured approach is to sink into high-functioning alcoholism I have no input to that); and the onset of the sense of tour dislocation makes me want to put it down and analyze it. As much as anything it's an excuse to tell my own history, and try and make sense of why I feel so comfortable in the business of music, but at the same time so alienated and like a skeleton at a wedding. How does, essentially, a puritan fit in to the encouraged permissiveness of rock and roll? Or, more succinctly, what the fuck am I doing here?


Mandy , Mon 6th May 2013, 03:45:43 AM
Hi Nigel,
Reading your blogs and really liking all of them.
Angus Young, AC/DC is a teetotaler. Look to be honest, IMO when people think of rock bands the sex drugs/alcohol and rock n roll are just a given. We only have to watch you perform for the night, if your rubbish and we are disappointed the online world will know about it. Having said that, being an artist not involved on that level, or saying it is not your character to be ‘that’ person would be bit shyte at times. When you get to perform with your musical instrument in front of people you want to be the best you can, it is an adrenalin thing, performance I suppose. The thing is, we fans are just normal people too, just like you rock stars ;) we can relate to different musicians because of who we are as people and if you as the artist can sell your soul to us by the way you play, this will be noticed (if the musician is distant and not all there we can tell a mile away). Personally I have had no real interest in a drumming sound or persona as my background dictates otherwise for sound, but like I said before, you are mesmerising to watch so that captivates the listener to relate to the music. Then all of a sudden you can only here that part in the song, the drums. IF that makes sense. Cheers
 
Mia, Sat 16th March 2013, 01:05:55 AM
Great read. I would definitely be willing t o read more if you wanted to share. I am finding that the older I get, the more I find myself drinking. I'm finding that it is an interesting habit that I have, and unfortunately, I can pin point the exactly what is causing it. The problem isn't going to be solved anytime soon, so the drinking probably won't either.
 
Bella, Thu 14th March 2013, 08:52:56 PM
Hia, I used to drink, but never lots - for two reasons, I could never afford it, and I hate the lack of control. Now I can't drink when I'm out because alcohol does not mix with tablets I need to take every day. I hated it inthe past when people assumed I was being weird for not drinking, when I either just didn't want to, or had no money (hate being in debt too) but its just as bad now. Some people don't understand that you can have fun with freinds without having to drink... Anyway.... this is good read, you write well. Looking forward to seeing more if you are comfortable with it. (And please don't leave the sleeping souls! as much as I like the skinny kid solo, I LOVE full band gigs!!!!!!) x
 
erica, Mon 11th March 2013, 11:00:19 PM
excellent read.. its amazing.. keep writing please
 
Polly, Mon 11th March 2013, 05:05:18 PM
great read Nigel, I can assure you that if you came onto the stage naked, it would be noticed. backing band or no, you are essential and we look forward to seeing you soon!
 
Richard Johnson, Mon 11th March 2013, 03:32:59 PM
Slightly reminiscent of the rock 'n' roll wife meltdown. It is a fact that FT is a truly incredible force of nature and possesses the marketable skills and personality. As a supporter of his I am sorry to say that everyone around him is expendable and he surely knows this.
 
Sally, Mon 11th March 2013, 09:55:24 AM
Interesting read, Nigel. I'm not going to so I don't drink, I do (and sometimes far too much in ridiculous situations), but I watch my friends go out, get totally shit faced, then sit and complain the next day about being hungover. Leaving me wondering regularly 'why do you do it to yourself? What exactly is it achieving?' It must me incredibly frustrating to have to play with Frank when he's hungover. You definitely deserve more credit than you get. In my opinion, anyway. You're such a big part of Frank's music. You and the other Souls put on just as much of a show as Frank, the shows wouldn't be the same without you! And yes, I think people would notice if you came on stage half naked! You're a wonderful drummer (you make it look so easy!) and the Sleeping Souls need you.
 
Ida-Malena, Mon 11th March 2013, 07:30:46 AM
Interesting read but also scary because from time to time I find myself thinking "what if one of the Souls would leave the band?". I´d hate for that to happen because you´re such a big part of Frank´s music and I love seeing you guys live as much as Frank; Ben´s crazy dance moves, Tarrant´s bass-killing, Matt´s cheekiness and you always with a smile and looking happy. And most of all, you´re all amazing musicians who I enjoy listening to as much as Frank. So please stop thinking that last sentence of your blog!
 
Wendy, Saratoga Springs, NY, Mon 11th March 2013, 02:36:59 AM
I'm 42 and haven't had alcohol (on purpose anyway) since I was 18 -- my personal attempt to end the legacy of alcoholism that runs through my family --, and sometimes I have a hard time understanding the need that people have to be drunk at shows, and other times when they're out for a "good time." I thought I heard Frank say something the other night about not drinking lately, but I didn't get a chance to follow up. I hope there was some truth to that. And we would definitely notice if you came out naked. I strategically place myself on the rail right in front of you, because you're so damn entertaining to watch (and Frank spits a lot when he sings). I love the way you can flip those drum sticks! I'd drop them every time.
 
Alex, Mon 11th March 2013, 01:42:57 AM
Don't be so hard on yourself, Nigel. You're just as much a part of the composition as any other. I for one consider your onstage exploits and musical skill beyond comparison. Keep up the good work, sir. Regards, a real Nigel Powell fan.
 
Shelley , Mon 11th March 2013, 01:06:49 AM
Great blog Nigel. I do however think you're selling yourself a bit short. Frank Turner wouldn't be Frank Turner without The Sleeping Souls sitting comfortably behind him (or stood at the sides!) As for, "What the fuck am I doing here?" You don't need to be told that! Enjoy the rest of the States! Love from a fellow Oxonian :-) x
 
Barry, Mon 11th March 2013, 12:59:28 AM
I really like your writing style. Thank you for offering a look inside yourself and a look inside a touring band.
 
Ben, Mon 11th March 2013, 12:12:51 AM
In the first installment you've already hit upon something that always fascinated (and irritated) me when I was playing lots of live shows. I'm no teetotaler by any stretch *swigs sherry* but I never drank when I played, even half a pint would throw my time out the window. I always felt a strong responsibility to the other members and the crowd (often of ten sots at the bar) to give my best every night. So I found myself in the odd position of being stone cold sober playing smoky pubs while the rest of the band (whichever band it was at that moment) and the crowd got progressively more rat arsed. It's an odd feeling for a musician, particularly a drummer as I think we tend to be perfectionist and quite hard on ourselves and others. Fascinating read, please keep them coming!
Analisa, Mon 18th March 2013
I'm a bit late to this blog party, but just want to echo those who've said you shouldn't be so hard on yourself. (Coming from someone who doesn't know how to take her own advice sometimes.) As long as the positive parts of being on tour are still outweighing the negative, then keep doing what you're doing. Live FT shows have always been (in my somewhat limited experience) hugely enjoyable for me, and you are most certainly a valuable part of that dynamic. As for the not drinking, I can imagine that that might make you feel somewhat disconnected, but even though I indulge myself occasionally, I still believe anyone who can't have fun without alcohol is sorely lacking in imagination. I fear this reply is a bit scatterbrained, but I also want to say that you're a fantastic writer and I'm glad you're moving past the paranoia of sharing (which I have as well) to give us this glimpse into your world! Much respect.
Analisa, Mon 18th March 2013
Okay, that wasn't meant to be a reply to Ben, but rather to the blog post in general. I clearly fail at this technology thing.
 
 
 

Footnotes:

  1. Although I had recorded with him during 2006, both on his first solo release Campfire Punkrock and his debut album Sleep Is For The Week
  2. T-shirts, CDs and the like for sale on the night
  3. Stuart Maconie's Cider With Roadies - excellent

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