By Alex Kadis
Well, I'd seen it for myself hadn't I? The Fields Of The Nephilim live, in action. Beyond the haze there was something... definite... a grandeur prevailed as the only tenuous link between this band and the what is generally thought to be the rock and roll stage ethic. Aloof or spoof? Should it matter which?
I'd seen the picture too. You know the ones - moody silhouettes adopting macho stances, piercing eyes through billowing smoke screens.
Of course, I'd heard the rumours. Only the evening before the day in question I'd found myself sequested in the corner of one of London's less celubrious night spots with a bubbling hackette in possession of inside information and a rife imagination. Be wary of those Fields - God! Are they touchy or what!!? And soooo weird - in fact they probably won't even talk to you. That was the general message but that's one of the problems in journodom; it's full of people who've done it, seen it, heard it all before, usually by proxy! One of the other problems is that while the rumours are there to be heard people will listen, consequently the nicest things can happen. Like anticipating the Bad and the Ugly and finding only the Good. That's pretty much the happy moral to this tale. Ironic isn't it? Then, all the best stories are.
I'm in the presence of Pete, Nod, Paul, Tony and Carl. Five musicians dressed in mock cowboy regalia, speaking in Southern English accent! And despite those rumours they happen to be polite, accommodating and cheerful. They have a right to be. Their recent 'Dawnrazor' LP released on Beggars Banquet's independent subsidiary label, Situation Two is still doing nicely after some months of healthy indie chart show and now they're about to embark upon their most significant British tour to date. Things, as they say, are undeniably looking up, yet as more is known about the band and the personalities around which it revolves, still the mystique grows and it's perhaps the greatest irony of all that these down to earth realists are becoming something of an enigma.
It starts at the focal point. That cowboy image. It's bound to attract attention but what lies in between the stetsons and the spurs? What is it that's so attractive about the cowboy image anyway?
CARL: "The clothes are practical and comfortable. You could wear them anywhere, I could never wear a suit so that's what attracted me in the first place. It's something we slipped into. We didn't just say 'Right, let's have an image and don cowboy hats and leather trousers!' It came together over a few years."
PETE: "It's not just a straight rock and roll image, it's part of the whole atmosphere, the lights, the smoke..."
TONY: "The nice thing is they're the sort of clothes that it's easy for other people to wear and get hold of." Is that what attracts the average punter to the image?
NOD: "Maybe. I think we do provide a certain amount of escapism as well, but it's escapist with a realistic attitude."
TONY: "We've noticed the odd cowboy hat floating around at gigs over the past six months so I suppose people are catching on a bit."
I'll grant them it's a powerful image alright and like the man says, it's catching on, but we're back to the ironies again! It seems like only yesterday that those Bronson/Eastwood renegade were saluting the enemy, braves following in the vein of a certain Indian Chief Astbury!
CARL: "Well, there you go, Cowboys and Indians! It wasn't intentional. But it's nice because some people do come and see us first because of our image but then they realise that the music is our real strength."
So, let's talk music then. Anyone fortunate enough to have heard 'Dawnrazor' will know that it is as much an exploration of sound as it is an experimental project in which the Fields seem to be either showcasing or trying to define what it is that they do. It's a real emotional storm, sadness and melancholy sit alongside threat and rancour whilst Carl's distinctive vocal acts as a common denominator.
CARL: "We wanted that; one minute to bring the listener up then to drag him down and be able to pull him straight back up again. It was a deliberate experiment, there were lots of things that we'd been wanting to try for a long time and fortunately they worked."
The album was proof of at least one important thing. It's very nature suggests that FOTN aren't a sound which developed around a look. It was a sound that they had taken as long to evolve as the image. For a debut album it's search was surprisingly confident.
TONY: "We've worked together for so long and know each other so well now that it just seemed to low together into one pot and came out sounding exactly as we wanted."
NOD: "It's like there's five separate sections and we all do what we want with our own section."
PETE: "In an uncanny sort of way we each know what the other wants and we get inspiration from one another."
NOD: "If we lost one of us the band would be knackered for quite a while I should think."
CARL: "I think it works because we have a friendship which is very important. We're really good mates. I couldn't be in a band any other way."
PAUL: "We have our ups and downs like anyone else but nothing serious."
And what about that characteristic vocal style? Despite its insistent peculiarity it still acted as a successful conductor for the themes on the LP.
CARL: "I sing from down there. (That's somewhere pretty low readers!) I used to sing from the throat but I found that I had more range and could sing more powerfully the way I sing now. I know that a lot of people don't like it, they say it spoils the music."
NOD: "But we like it. It's right for us, we wouldn't want some piercing vocal cutting through the music. His voice suits our music, it's like another instrument."
CARL: "The way we look at it is if it sounds good enough to us then it should be good enough for people who want to listen."
Of course, it's all very well to talk categories, music, image, voice etc. But where it all comes together for the Fields is on stage which takes us back to where we started and even I won't point out how ironic that is - I promise! It's where the enigma started and it's probably where it'll end. Hidden under the artificial mists and cultured dust there's Carl who communicates with his audience through an oblivious silence rather than ostentatious remarks and self-styled advertisement. Is this an essential part of the creative mystique or do FOTN simply have a flair for the dramatic?
CARL: "No. It's just exactly the way we are."
PETE: "We're not a miserable bunch of fuckers like some people seem to think! We do take our music seriously but we're having fun too! Carl doesn't talk a lot on stage - "
NOD: "- But I could never imagine him talking to the audience - it's just not him."
CARL: "We don't try to do anything that isn't essentially us."
TONY: "That's why it works."
Unfortunately this simple philosophy isn't enough for some of the critics. Any entity which creates an uncompromising ambience is bound to stir a feeling. And like anything which commits itself to a style FOTN have caught the eye of the cutting crew apoise with knifelike witticisms and a cheap laugh at the expense of the band. Amongst the numerous good reviews came the bad. One John Wilde was so moved by a FOTN performance that he felt it necessary to write a scathing account of the evenings events which came very close to, if not, spot on personal abuse!
CARL: "I suppose we're extreme so the criticism is going to be extreme too. We've certainly noticed how personal some of it can be though, but people can be very trivial at times. I suppose it makes good reading."
TONY: "But there's no basis for that, it's bullshit."
PETE: "We'd like to meet John Wilde just to see what he has against us - to find out what motivated that."
NOD: "Mind you, if we offended him that much we must have been having some sort of effect! It's almost as good as getting an over the top good review!"
Talking of reviews, it was your very own House Of Dolls who predicted that FOTN would never break away from the club circuit. Who's laughing now?!
PAUL: "Yeah, we remember that! It didn't matter though because we always had a feeling, hoped it would come to something more."
CARL: "We're quite strong minded, we've always had limits to what we would do. That's why we were very wary about signing a record deal in the first place. We were worried about being swept off our feet. We've got the right deal though, we've been given time and space to get things right and although it's been gradual it's been strong. We haven't done anything so far that we've regretted."
NOD: "We set ourselves goals along the way and we've achieved them all so far. Once, we never thought we'd be playing the Clarendon, that was an ambition and now we've done that. Our ambitions are growing. It's just one big creative project for us, the image, the lyrics, the music, it has to have variety. We'd like to do more that was expressive of the band really, maybe we'll do a live soundtrack or a short film even."
CARL: "So you see, it's not just an image, it's far more than that. It reflects the way we think and feel. The music is part of it and the look is part of it."
How do you think and feel then? FOTN have often been presented as something of an anachronism; a posse of cosmic cowboys out of time and place and ill at ease with 20th century suburbia.
PAUL: "I like the times we live in now. There's a lot to be said for it. There's a lot going on and I think people have more freedom now than they ever had before."
TONY: "I agree but I think we'd all like to get away sometimes - escape. Where would we like to go? Well, I think it would vary amongst the band."
CARL: "I like the times we live in I just wish I didn't live in Stevenage! I wouldn't mind popping back to the medieval age for a bit. It's the mystical thing that attracts me to it, I just like the way they used to live."
And how do you live now?
CARL: "Well, recently we've been stuck in town boxes but we're really interested in the outlands where you've got space to think. We don't get much of a taste of it here in London but a few of us have had the taste and we quite like it!"
NOD: "We get a lot of inspiration from films, that's why we like them so much. You can watch a film and it just takes you right out of yourself."
Is that where the Spaghetti Westerns come into it?
PAUL: "Yeah, sometimes when we were recording 'Dawnrazor' we'd all watch a good Western then go off and record because it gives us such a good feeling."
CARL: "They have a good, drawn out atmosphere, lots of vast areas - a real epic landscape."
Devoid of people too:
CARL: "Yeah. It's good to get away from everyone sometimes but here we're all living on top of each other and the only way to do that is to lock yourself in the house."
Lone rangers equate their lust for freedom with their love for a trade that throws individuals on the mercy of others and crowds them together in manufactures friendships and obligatory relationships
CARL: "The thing is we've always been out on our own. We've never really been hip to interview. We're not really an interview band. We don't have a particular message that we want to put across like some bands do and we've never been friends with any of the hip bands either. Most bands have got their own circle of bands that they're friendly with, we've never had that."
It sounds lonely out in the Field.
CARL: "I wouldn't like to do it any other way. I wouldn't feel so good about it if I was riding on someone else's back. And we've still got friends we've known for years, before we got popular - they're friends."
PAUL: "A lot of bands get on by sucking up to the right people but that's just shit."
CARL: "Basically we like the record industry, it's just a shame that you have to get involved with all the awful shit that goes with it. We've avoided most of it so far."
TONY: "I think you have to get away from it and it does have it's compensations. When we're touring especially when we go to America, we'll be traveling across the desert in a van - you couldn't wish for more space than that!"
CARL: "Yeah, but you're going to be stuck in a van!"
PAUL: "We could always get out of the van."
PETE: "We'll have to keep stopping on route!"
NOD: "We'll never get anywhere. 'Excuse me, stop the van, stop the van, we need some space!!"
TONY: "Yeah, I KNOW but at least we get around."
CARL: "It's a better way of seeing the world than joining the army."
TONY: "Yeah! It was either this or the army!"
I know which uniform I'd prefer - someone pass me those chaps!
So, now I've heard it straight from the horse's mouth - and so have you - so there's no excuse is there?!