Does the release of their new live album, 'Earth Inferno', mark the end of an era for Fields Of The Nephilim? Why does Carl McCoy want to take his band down the Amazon? Carol Clerk tries to unravel the many mysteries behind Britain's best-loved flour children.

Up until now, the conversation has been taking a quite normal course by Nephilim standards, occupying itself by the day-to-day matters of spirituality and the soul, the cycles of life and the powers of magic, apocalyptic visions and ancient traditions. But now things are taking a more unusual turn.

Carl McCoy has just proposed a group outing to the South American jungle, and bassist Tony Pettit is issuing a few stern words of advice to his prospective fellow-travellers: whatever you do, don't piss in the Amazon.

"There are these little parasites that live in the river," he warns. "And they're attracted to the smell of ammonia."

"Urine," explains Carl, matter-of-factly.

"If you have a piss in the water, these parasites get attracted to you," carries on Tony. "They go right up into your knob, and they open up into an umbrella. And the only thing anyone can do to save you is to cut your dick off. So we'll all be wearing our cricket boxes."

Nod, who was previously enthusiastic about the excursions, suddenly looks as though he might be changing his mind.

"Why the jungle?"

"That's the reason for going," says Carl. "Not to have that done to yourself, but just to see what happens there. I fancy that, just for the experience. You get things that sting you bite you, suck you..."

"Sometimes everything's so safe. The jungle's out of control. I'm not going to be able to control anything there, but at the same time, it's not people that are going to be affecting me. It'll be nature.

"I'd like to take the band there to an odd location and do some writing, but I don't know how realistic that would be. It would be nice to pay my way on to an expedition, especially with some people who have spent heir whole lifetimes studying in these parts of the world. It's just gotta be done one day. I think that's something that's coming up."

More immediately, Fields Of The Nephilim are about to release a live LP, "Earth Inferno", and it's this which brings us to Stevenage for an afternoon with Carl, Tony and Nod in their usual pub, the Pig And Whistle. Guitarists Peter Yates and Paul Wright, Nod's brother, are otherwise engaged.

Carl's still on halves of shandy. He picks up the first as he considers the album title.

"It comes from a book by Austin Osman Spare," he says. "He had his own magical philosophies, and he said he was possessed by the spirit of William Blake, who's someone I've admired anyway. I'm just trying to follow on in that tradition in a completely different way, expressing the same kinds of feelings as some of the work by Austin Osman Spare.

"Also I was brought up around Brixton. My first memories are of the Astoria, which is now the Academy. It was the first cinema I ever went to. I saw '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' with a big rubber squid in it, with my grandma. And Fields Of The Nephilim ended up playing Brixton Academy. Austin Osman Spare died in Brixton, so it all kind of ties in nicely. It's gone round in a big circle.

"'Earth Inferno' sums up all our material as well, just because of the apocalyptic kind of visions, all my ideas of the journey of the soul and the kind of shamanic inspiration which I've always drawn on, so therefore I think it's a nice title to round it off."

The Nephs could hardly have chosen a better time to record a live album than during last year's autumn tour. Guaranteed free of overdubs, "Earth Inferno" captures much of what was exhilarating about the set, an inspired blend of long-standing favourites like "Moonchild" and "Preacher Man", the outrageous dramas of "Psychonaut" and the powerful atmospheres and soundscapes of the newer material from "Elizium".

At the same time, there's something about the LP that suggests a grand wrapping up and casting off of the past. "I can sense that this is the end of a cycle," nods Carl. "It's something you know inside yourself, not something which is there in black and white in front of you. The album is a summary of events leading up to this particular moment in time."

So what would the Nephs consider to be their greatest achievements so far?

"Being able to see it through as far as we have without being detoured into day jobs," replies Carl.

"Not having to do it anyone else's way except for our own," says Tony. "That's almost a rare thing these days, you know."

"And bringing this tradition of shamanism up to date," concludes Carl. "I used to feel I was well out there on my own. That's why I started talking about it more. But obviously I'm not the only one. I've met a few people who are genuinely inspired by the ancient methods of shamanism and shamanistic rituals, journeys of the soul."

"It's coming around again. Not all this new age shit which is being based on lots of salesmen selling crystals which is absolute bullshit. They're not likely to be capable to achieve healing powers without occult knowledge. But in general, the world has got to look to shamanism for the future, especially in the areas of healing and medicines."

The LP accompanied by a second summary of events, a live-at-Brixton video called "Visionary Heads", or "Nods Workout Video", as Tony would have it.

"I think we should get Nod in one of those drum cages and roll him around a bit onstage", says Carl in splendid Nod Corner tradition. Nod sips calmly on his pint.

"We could pack him away at night and take him out every day," enthuses Tony. "We thought of getting a flight case with a little bar and an armchair to lock Paul in as well".

"I'll have my own box, I suppose," sighs Carl.

"An isolation tank," offers Tony.

Carl isn't impressed: "There are lots of other ways of achieving the same state of mind, but I've never been in a watery tank. I don't like water. That's my big thing. I can swim, but I don't like it.

"When I was a kid. My father used to run a sub aqua club, and I used to find myself sitting at the bottom of swimming pools, but as I got older... I'm not into water."

As the frontman of a band whose reputation is based on live performance, Carl McCoy remains a reluctant public figure. He still insists that his touring duties begin and end on the stage, obscured from view for most of the set by clouds of dry ice.

"We like the atmosphere of it," he declares. "We like the taste of it, the smell of it and what it looks like as well. It's just part of the whole ritual of the live performance, like the participation of the audiences and the atmosphere that they create just by being there, the chemical reaction between us and them."

"You feel like you're giving an hour and a half of freedom, you're free for that amount of time and so are they. You reach this other level of consciousness, and everyone else does as well.

"My mind just becomes open. Whatever par of me inspires all the words just take over; a part of my personality or a God form or whatever way you want to represent it. It's just one big experience, for the audience and for us."

And that's where he would prefer the live experience to end.

"I don't enjoy meeting people after the gig. I find it embarrassing, intrusive. People come backstage and stand there with bits of paper, and they ask you loads of questions - 'Where did you get your hat? Where did you get this? Where did you get that?'

"But obviously, not all of the audience is like that. The fans that are important, the ones who are genuinely interested in what we're doing, know that we're going out there and playing for their sakes as well as our own. Nod likes to socialise and I don't, but each to his own. I just don't feel it's necessary to meet anybody."

Especially since Carl has become what Tony refers to as a "crank magnet".

"I seem to get more of the cranky ones than most," says Carl. "It makes you wonder sometimes. I've been asked to heal people. One woman rang up our manager and said her daughter needed healing and would I do it. And it was put in a way that made me feel guilty at the receiving end of this message.

"Then there are people who try and set up meetings at symbolic sites at certain times of the year and tell me I've got to be there.

"There are a fair share of people in England who are totally obsessed and they try and get into your personal lives. One woman moved from Newcastle to Stevenage, and she's still here now. She used to write fan letters twice or three times a week. At the beginning we did talk to her, but then it would go on and on, she would try to go a little bit further. She's turned up at my house before in tears on the doorstep. I wasn't there at the time.

"I stopped talking to her because she was a nutter and she was tedious and I wasn't interested in putting up with the questions. So she didn't like me any more. She started slagging me off. She thinks I'm arrogant now, so that's really good."

"My dad went into hospital for an operation," adds Tony, "and she was working on the ward. Oh no it's her! I couldn't believe it."

By comparison the fans who turn up to camp outside the Nephs' hotel bedrooms present only a simple problem.

"Oh," says Carl, lighting a cigarette. "We just get them chucked out."

The key word around the Nephs at the moment is change. All five members, according to Carl have been beset by a number of private and professional upheavals which have conspired to complicate the way ahead.

On a personal note, Tony's split up with his girlfriend of six years. Nod's moved house. Carl "packed up and stayed where I was", and is still in search of the elusive secret of contentment.

"I've always got dark clouds around me," he shrugs. "I've had to accept that from when I was a kid and started experiencing these bad vibrations. Any progress in my personal philosophies is just all experience for me at the moment. I've still got no answers. I will not be able to tell that tale until I'm a few years wiser."

The fact that the Neph's individual traumas have been accompanied by a series of band problems insists upon a reaction, dictates a change of circumstance, gives weight to the feeling that they've arrived at the end of an era, a crossroads.

"Over the last few months, everything's really changed for us without us wanting it to," says Tony. "It's all forced itself upon us. When it first hits you it can be a bit daunting - "I didn't want this to happen" - but at the end of the day it's good for you."

"Our lives have been turned upside down," agrees Carl. "But it's gotta be for the better. A couple of doors close, but they open a few more."

The group unfortunately, are unable to go into detail about these mysterious doors. I suppose their location to be in business areas.

"There's been this big weight on our shoulders for a few years, and it's going to disappear soon," says Tony, guardedly. "I can't say any more because it's not resolved yet."

Carl reassuringly declares that "there will always be Fields of the Nephilim."

"A few barriers have come down on some path or other," he continues. "it's knowing where to tread and which way to go, really. But you have to put yourself in a low to appreciate the high when it hits you in the face, and I'm not talking about smoking a chillum...

"There's this little saying which always sticks strongly: the root of every emotion is always the opposite. If you can invoke some of these bad influences in your personality, often they manifest themselves as something quite bright and uplifting. And the other way round.

"It seems to work like that for me. I've got a formula, a way. It all goes back to magical philosophy again. I design my own rituals for whatever purposes."

On one aspect of the professional struggle, Carl is prepared to be specific.

"I got ill for a little while from taking on lots of pressure about things I used to feel were very important.

"As far as plans go, I never want to make any plans for my life, keeping to schedules. Obviously in reality, you have to do it to a certain extent, but this whole business we're involved with is art to me. It's making a nice piece of art. People expect you to turn on and turn off and fit into schedules and it's a load of bollocks.

"We came off tour at the end of last year, and someone's giving us restrictions right away by saying, 'The next gig is not booked until this or that time; you've got this amount of time to get the writing done for the next album. These people are not artists, they're businessmen.

"As far as I'm concerned, we're ready when we're ready. That's how we always did it when we had nothing else apart from ourselves, and that's when we always felt better. You can take anything away from us as a band, but we've still got our ideas, the ideas are there now, and getting them down will happen in its own time.

"I don't think it's a very good thing to consciously make an effort to do something for the sake of doing it. It's not natural to the flow of the inspiration that I acquire. It'll have to be a natural progression, and I think we can move up to a higher level that way. We don't want to get caught in a rut, a big wheel where you have to do one thing to achieve the other, to generate money to live, to do this, to do that.

"In a real world, you obviously have to, but at the same time, in this kind of world, in the world of art, it's just got to flow."

So how will you balance the real world with the world of art as far as deadlines are concerned?

"By changing some of our surroundings. You've got to do it in a very relaxed environment, just do what you feel like doing when you wake up. Your mind's got to become free again, like what it is when you're onstage. Deadlines are OK if you're given room.

"There are ways. In the end. I'll just go away. I'll have to. Just have a break and see different scenery, go to a country where you can't speak the language so you can't be bothered by people. I've always been fascinated by the Middle East, especially now they've just had a war. That's somewhere to visit.

"And I like South America. I've been to a few different environments, but never a tropical jungle..."

The double LP, "Earth Inferno", is released by Beggars Banquet on March 28. The video, "Visionary Heads", follows later.