HOME ON THE RANGE
What is Goth and what is Goff? And why are Fields Of The Nephilim the biggest Goffs of all? On the eve of a British tour and with a new magnum opus, 'Moonchild,' about to be released, the Nephs meet The Stud Brothers to iron out a few mysteries.
"It's not as meteoric as you might think. We've been going for four years," says Tony wearily.
"When it happened though," interjects Carl, "it was a sudden rise."
The depth of Carl's spoken voice - a depth that, from others, would naturally suggest a depth of experience, a worldliness, a brooding - sounds a little too inquisitive, a little too na´ve. Freed from the rigours of metre and melody, he lacks pace. His songs led us to expect he would employ a more measured tone. But Carl, even pitched, bowel-deep, sounds overly earnest... in a way, his ponderous Stevenage cockney mirrors the elocutionary decline of the Gothic form. From Goth to Goff.
Nevertheless, Fields Of The Nephilim continue to fascinate. They may, as we once said of The Mission, seek to replace the rule of light with the sparkle of baubles. They may even believe light and sparkle are much of a muchness. What's certain, though, is that Goff, even at its most illiterate and puerile, even when it deliberately curries favour with the very ungothic Eskimo-Yob-Brotherhood Of The Nephilim contingent, like Goth, is still impervious to deflation by irony and overfamiliarity.
This is basically because goth, having formulated a coherent iconography by going to primary sources - Lovecraft, Poe, the Stones circa "Let It Bleed" and Byron - built a theatre in which all participants were expert costumers and choreographers as well as performers in a drama all the more exciting because it was "forbidden" to "ordinary" people. And Goff, even though it relies unquestionably on the secondary source (Sisters Mach 1), and imitates the calligraphy (a descent into taboo) without understanding the words, still shares the same costumes, the same paraphernalia.
"I dunno," says Carl, the worlds most famous Goff. "We felt we had a pretty uncool image, to be honest. We used to wear a lot of things that were associated with the western myth so we found it quite uncool. We chose those clothes purposely because they were practical so, in a way, we didn't feel like it was an image. I don't think our success is due to that, I Think what our music represents has still got a feeling that appeals to the black haired spiky audience."
Fields Of The Nephilim's music is both prudent and idealising. Prunent because it's essentially and necessarily morbid and idealising because not only do the Nephs cling tenaciously and somewhat nostalgically to the idea of "The Song" and its ability to move, but also their lyric, morbid as it is, implies an ideal eroticism only to be found in some illicit emotion beyond.
Their songs, like the new single 'Moonchild', begin slowly as if lubricating the passage through which revelation will later follow. They don't so much accelerate as gather momentum, the sound growing, the tension pointing invariably towards some climax. This they hold off for as long as possible within the context of the verse-chorus song (actually not that long). But, when it comes, it does literally come, a great ecstatic orgasm from Byron's own bollocks. At this point, Carl's stentorian tone is near breaking with the sheer euphoria of it all.
They are, of course, immensely silly. But that, true as it is, doesn't explain their immense appeal, why they are the world's leading Goffs.
"I suppose it's just another alternative," says Tony, who's obviously been reading too much Steve Sutherland. "I mean, you've got the other side of Indie - the pop bands - and you've got the normal everyday people into Bon Jovi and all the chart stuff. We're just another alternative to that, I suppose. There's not many people doing what we're doing."
"I think," says Carl, "the people who follow us are pretty much into the same circle of bands. And I think all those bands were honest when they started out, they were really just playing for themselves, you know. The Mission and all that clan. I suppose they found us because we're doing a similar sort of thing really. Our music's not pop, it's not music to dance to. There are a lot of different feelings in our music, it's got extremes, you know - sadness, violence and aggression."
"When we're playing live," adds Tony, "we can see it all just watching the audience. It ranges from people really fighting down the front, blood everywhere, to people dancing, to people standing."
The world's leading Goff group are sitting in a Kebab house just off Berwick street, Soho. Being Goffs, the Nephs look perfectly at ease sitting in a Kebab House.
We're talking about fighting which, though a very ungothic pastime, is very, very Goff. In fact, when Goffs aren't sitting on one another's shoulders, raising their arms aloft, wiggling fingers and making funny snakey movements, there's nothing they like better than clenching their snakey fingers into a less than snakey fist and driving it with commendable force and accuracy into another Goff's temple.
"I don't mind it personally, " says Carl.
"It doesn't seem to bother the people getting smacked about either," adds Tony. "You see them drinking in the bar afterwards with their nose wrapped round their ear, but they're all friends anyway."
"I think they enjoy the competition between rival factions, their pecking orders."
Do you enjoy violence?
Well, say, images of violence.
"Images of violence, definitely," says Tony.
"Watching violent films definitely."
"If it really gets perverted then it's not so much fun, " warns Carl. "Revenge and that sort of thing, that's good though."
"Films like 'Lethal Weapon' or 'Taxi Driver'," explains Pete, "have a lot of violence but thought's gone into them as well. Gratuitous violence is another kettle of fish."
Of course, fighting and snakedancing aren't the only things Goffs get up to. Having successfully prepared a cult for themselves that, to all intents and purposes, works on a fortress of confinement (which is fine by them, they want to remain inside, under siege), the gigs they attend - all About Eve (not Goff), The Mission (not strictly Goff), Rose Of Avalanche (Goff) and naturally Fields of the Nephilim (strictly Goff) - are by no means simple gigs. They are events, vital entries in a social calendar compiled from the music papers' news pages. Because Goffs, in their desperation to find some rock community in the confusion of the Eighties, to free themselves of the overwhelming tyranny of freedom of choice, to kick against and eventually transcend rock's current unbearable degree of individuality have quite literally created a community. When Carl talks about a pecking order, he's exactly right. It's a pecking order dictated by how much or how little time you spend perpetuating the idea of the community. The hierarchy is, like so many hierarchies, based on spending-power. Those who can afford to see The Mission in Budapest or Belgrade inevitably wield some authority over their peers. And anyone fortunate enough to know Carl, Wayne, Julianne or that bloke from Rose Of Avalanche on first name terms is somehow thought to be 'better'. (Remember, not everyone thinks Wayne's an asshole.)
Though it's certain many, if not all Goffs have chosen to remove themselves from the chaos of English pluralism, it's not so certain why they should have, in such large numbers, elected Carl McCoy as their leader-figure as opposed to, say, that bloke from Rose of Avalanche. Carl reckons it's to do with his feelings and the way he communicates them.
Unfortunately, when pressed, even in one of those contraptions that turn motor vehicles into small steel cubes, Carl will not talk.
Come on, Carl.
"I always tried to delve into other areas, you know. I had a quite odd upbringing. My mother was religious, Christian, and my other parent was quite opposite, more interested in the occult. When I was younger, I had a few experiences with that and it opened my mind right up. I think my childhood made me very independent."
We, having mislaid our car-crushing contraption, instead have to rely upon stimulating the imagination.
You'll be onstage tonight and you're going to be looking out into the audience and some particularly beautiful girl is going to catch your eye...
Let's just presume yes. What would you like her to think of when she sees you? What fantasy would you like to induce in her?
"Well," says Carl, "I don't pick people out. I just look straight through them so I can't imagine that."
"What? Fantasy?" asks Pete.
Yes. FANTASY. What would you like them to go home and dream about,. You can be very precise about this.
"I'll get a punch in the face off my girlfriend if I say that. I would, I tell you," says Tony, with a laugh.
It's a hypothetical question, Tony. Oh dear, that's normally such a good one. We normally get such dirty little stories from people. Still, we'll try another tack.
What makes you sad, Carl?
"What makes me sad?"
"Living in the world as it is. I don't like it. I don't like people."
What don't you like about it?
"I don't like nothing about it. Nothing at all."
But there must be moments when you enjoy yourself, dontcha? Otherwise you'd die of depression.
Is suicide an option?
"No, that would be selfish."
Do you enjoy being and being seen to be depressed?
"I don't like to be seen depressed. I'm not a depressing person, I don't think. But, when I'm on my own, I am more, I suppose."
It's a romantic idea though, isn't it? The idea of robing yourself in...
"What? Feeling sorry for yourself?"
"No, I don't feel sorry for myself."
Well, not just feeling sorry for yourself, but the sort of Raymond Chandler "down those mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean." That sort of stuff.
"Sounds a bit like a film fantasy to me."
Precisely. But that is, in a way what you do isn't it? You take emotions and attempt to give them a cinematic context.
"Yeah," interjects Pete and our hearts leap, "but I don't know if what you're saying is we play on those emotions," and our hearts sink, "because we don't. We don't just conjure it up. There has to be something there in the first place."
What we're really getting at is whether you see yourselves as the heroic protagonists in a drama of emotional extremes.
"We have to think about that kind of thing," says Carl, "because we make videos and you do start imagining the visuals in songs. But, before that, we didn't think that so much. I mean, that sounds like totally escaping into a fantasy world."
It is. But when you were nailed to the cross in the 'Blue Water' vid, wasn't that a bit...
"Well, that video went out of our control anyway, it went out of our hands. That wasn't our fault. It was very dramatic, cheap, if you like. Hammer horror."
Tony looks dolefully up from his lager. "We had a lot of ideas for that video. We was gutted."
At this point we should say we rather like Fields Of The Nephilim, one reason being that very same video. We liked it because it was so absolutely out of control, it had a megalomanical quality that seemed to suit the Neph's feelings for Ennio Morricone's music. People might accuse them, because of trivial matters like the famous crucifixion scene, of a vicarious escapism. We see it differently. The sheer sadism that provoked the scene suggests s wallowing in life.
"Well," says Carl, "a lot of people might wanna do that. But I don't wanna wallow in life because I don't enjoy it at all. I genuinely feel lost."
When was the first time you felt lost, Carl?
"I've always felt a bit lost. I've never felt totally lonely with people or anything like that. I've never wimped out and sat in the corner. I always get on with people but, inside, I feel quite lost."
Do you all get along together.
"We're all friends," says Tony, "and we need each other. I don't think we'd ever be able to get anyone else in."
Yes, but is it a familial relationship?
"Yeah, because we've lived away from everyone else for a long time."
An endearing vision of the Family Nephilim floats momentarily before our eyes. Carly, Petey, Pauly, Tony and Noddy, dressed raffishly in dusty, black jim-jams, queue neatly outside the bathroom, each patiently awaiting his turn to scrub the baccy juice off his toothipegs.
Alternatively, we see them tucked up in a king-sized bed, a mud-caked blanket drawn snugly up to stubble, their malevolent yellow contact-lenses almost hidden beneath dirty black night-caps.
So who plays Daddy?
"No, it's not like that," says Carl. "Everyone lets everyone get on with what they wanna do."
You don't say much do you, you're not very precise.
"Well, a lot of what I might say would sound corny talking about it now. Whereas in a song, I can impress on somebody my true feelings. I think I become my real self onstage,."
How much ego is there onstage?
"I don't think there's a lot of ego really."
Isn't there even that arrogance that goes along with being a white-faced rock'n'roll gypsy.
"I hate that," says Pete. "I've never really liked that Keith Richards attitude and I don't think any of us have really. You know, you go on stage looking wasted and everybody likes you because you are wasted."
"We stay straight, you know," Carl adds forcefully.
It's this kind of thing that makes the Nephs quintessentially Goff, the punky anti-ego posturing, the post-punk need to stay straight. Goth was about as egocentric as rock comes; the pallor and red eyes suggested an almost neurotic indulgence in the self; the depth of the voice implied a barrel of baritone experience, a sensual and cerebral dimension of terrible proportions; the dry ice, so reminiscent of graveyard fog, suggested an alchemy only those onstage were a party to. And, of course, the Goths were laughing, because so much of that is ridiculous.
Goffs employ all the signifiers without knowing what's being signified. Goff replaced Jack Daniels with dust, speed with spurs, Shelly with Sergio Leone, irony with dirty jokes. Goff is pure humourless image.
What are you like inside?
"Dirty. Filthy. I'm just, uh... this is when it gets personal again, isn't it?"
"I'm a person... I do a hell of a lot of being on my own and thinking. I think I'm probably hard to live with because I've got some strange interests."
As we vainly push Carl towards something more specific, for the second time in the evening spectres of what might float uncertainly before our eyes. What is it, we ponder? What diabolical, filthy thing is it that provokes this silence?
Is it that Carl, the shadow on the edges of bourgeois culture, the black, socially-deprived deviant who, as his mother shrieks prophetic verses from Isaiah and his father sits silently and studiously over The Necronomicon, is tortured by the eternal dichotomy of good and evil?
Or is it that Carl's silence hides a displaced sexual anxiety that, in its turn, masks an uneasy meditation that is nothing less than a rehearsal for the inevitable encounter with death? Is it that he reads Knave? Or, worse, Razzle?
Or is it that Carl, the survivor, who many believe contemplates, even contacts, those tenebrous creature perhaps lurking at the rim of the Universe, also enjoys standing on the edge of Platform Thirteen, Clapham Junction, clutching a jotter bound in human skin, ready and willing to record the best Network South East has to offer?
Whatever it is it's unspeakable.
"I just like to do what I wanna do. I'm selfish about giving my emotions away."
Fields Of the Nephilim are the compensation that some 18 year old pop fans rewarded themselves with at the level of imagination for what they lost at the level of faith. Choice has a tendency to disinherit us of faith.
Fields Of the Nephilim are not The Young Gods, they're to do with inventing an "other" pop, neither are they particularly revivalist in the way, say, Kingdom Come, are. They are, in fact, to do with inverting elements of pop, recombining its constitutive features to produce something that, to some, appears, strange (but not difficult), unfamiliar (but time-honoured and therefore not estranging) and, some, absolutely "other" and "different".
"Most people go through some pretty hideous things," ends Carl, "but they don't feel the need to stand up onstage and sing about them. It's a good way to do it though, it's easy. It's probably the only way to do it without people thinking you're a lunatic. Even if, when you are up onstage, half the people don't understand anyway."
Fields Of the Nephilim are touring now under the banner of "The Mark Of The Watchman". In case you didn't know, "The Watchmen" is a comic written by Alan Moore tracing the rise and fall of the costumed adventure. It was all over in 1968.