SHOOT IT UP
There are some that claim this town ain't big enough for all the Goths. Fields of The Nephilim disagree. So does David Stubbs.
The Fields Of The Nephilim - hardly a moniker you can shoot from the hip. They wear Stetsons and describe their music as "Spaghetti Metal!" They come from Stevenage. The name may suggest a Tommy Vance nightmare, but persist! Live, Nephilim are rock-bottled, a headful of post-punk that spikes the beer and backstrokes down the spine. They're as ludicrous as George Clinton's orange ski-pants, as fluent and airborne as mid-period Bunnymen - and they sink that unwashed Sputnik, Zodiac Mindwarp!
Trouble is, I'm not sure how far Nephilim themselves are prepared to go along with this version of their drama-cum-comedy, how far they share the joke. What's the crack with all this Desperate Dan stuff, boys? Is it the real cow pie, or just so many bangers and beans in a tin?
"I've been a cowboy all my working life, boy!" spits Paul.
"I'd just be dressed like this, anyway, even if I wasn't in the group," adds singer Carl.
Tony, "Yeah, it's all part of the high spirits when we go out on stage... We don't treat what we do as any great test, but it's not a big joke either."
The British cowboy does not have a very distinguished snap-history, usually serving to supplement the comic British Landscape, like all those vicars on "Nationwide" indulging secret John Wayne fantasies at weekends, Mike Harding's hapless Rochdale Cowboy...
It's difficult to regard this whole trouble-shooting bit as anything less than a hoot, a Goth conceit of Munster proportions. But it's a cartoon indulgence to which they felt driven by the greyness, the Hades-with-Pelican crossings that is Stevenage.
"All those neat and tidy strips of green... it's like they take nature and sod it up!" complains Carl, who apparently massacres rabbits for a hobby.
Tony: "Stevenage is a concrete mess. All ringroads, no character, plastic people. The clubs are full of casuals who start drinking and end up fighting... that's all."
I'm drinking with three of the Nephilims. Good guys really, naive and stoic by turns, eyes sparkling beneath the stubble.
Their new single "Power" has just been released on Beggars Banquet and after years of supporting the likes of Chelsea on tour and selling their own records at concerts, they're at last beginning to feel that things are tilting upward. Apprenticeships had to be given up, hair ruined, sacrifices made, just to get this far and maybe for a little plot of pop territory they can call their own.
This is it, now. There's Carl McCoy, vocalist. If he were just a little heavier, a little gruffer, he could be the new cock of the Goths, ditch Eldritch. Tony Pettitt, bassman. He's an affable, reliable sort from whom the others can fly off at tangents... and Paul Wright, whose guitar work is occasionally reminiscent of Keith Levene, like silvery, flying-fish. He himself talks with a slight tremor as if his nerves are hanging from his fingertips. This is the band's first "proper" interview, but already I like the suggestions of Paul's fine meandering line: "I keep my own aquarium... they're nice, peaceable animals, fish, I could sit and watch them for hours... who do I listen to? Myself. I'm not being funny, but I listen to myself playing - quite simple, quite powerful, says it all, doesn't it? Driving music - something that's really driving, really goes. I look forward to it so much, going on stage. It works well - I don't think we'll ever be short of material..."
Really Nephilim could take this vague drive a lot further, in any direction they pleased. There's remarkably little malodorous bluster about them (in spite of a few, unwanted dramatic flourishes). The basic noise is purgative, post-punk, half off its chain, wandering and scouring as it goes. If I shut my eyes I could imagine... Men in a trance, deaf to the world. Open them, however, and such seagull thoughts soon crap reality in my face. We're always back to the problem of those cowboy hats. Nephilim's dab-handling of rock dynamics tends to get lost in the dust when hitched to the back of the Wild West wagon, a distressingly unambiguous image in which it's impossible to invest any awesomeness. It's a grand method for a mediocre madness.
For now, though, Nephilim make for a good photograph and enough awful cowboy jokes to make Mel Brooks eat his heart out. Go dip your head in their trough!