What's this touring business all about then? Gigs, hotels, smelly feet? Chris Mellor goes on the road with the biggest post-Cult cult group FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM and meets their infatuated fans.
Fields Of The Nephilim have just finished a ten date tour of the UK. By their standards that's short. They have been going for four years. In that time they have released one LP and three singles, and played hundreds of gigs all over the world.
Live music used to be fashionable in the '70s. now of course it's not. But it is still a sure-fire way of building up a dedicated following, and sneaking up on radio producers and music papers, apparently from nowhere, with a hit record. The Neph's latest offering is 'Moonchild' a striking, powerful slab of noise, their best track yet.
What's touring all about? Hotels and motorways, smelly feet, soundchecks, wearing sunglasses indoors, a fag stuck on the end of your guitar, and that's it. Like the Neph, it's a misunderstood phenomenon. It's not a very glamorous thing to do. There's no time for sex for a start.
Tony (Bass): "I've had my eye out every night, but haven't even come close. In Birmingham I saw this really nice girl and started talking to her. Then she told me she'd come to see the support band, so I got the message."
And even thinking about drugs is out.
Paul (Guitar): "Some geezer in the hotel in Nottingham found some flour on the bar and thought it was cocaine. He called the police, they did a field test and it came out positive. So at 11am we were pulled out of bed, handcuffed to officers, and dragged down the station. They found three more bags of flour in our van and thought they were on to a big haul. Of course when they tested it again they found it really was flour and had to let us go. But that's why we're so tired now.
Nod (Drums): Paul's tired because he's the token rock 'n' roller. At four am last night he was sitting in our room with his pants round his ankles waving a bottle of vodka at me, going on about a swimming pool full of lager, so I hit him."
So all you are left with is an hour a day of that rock stuff, which is what it's all about, and what The Neph do very well. It's presumably why all the dates on the tour were packed out and why 50 people feel the need to follow then around the country to every gig. What's the point of that?
The boy by the t-shirt stand: "It's more of a get-together than a gig, we all know each other. It started off when they didn't have many fans and a few of us would travel down to London to see them play, and because there were so few people we just made friends."
The original fans call themselves the Bonanzas.
"We chose that name because of the cowboy image. It was the worst western series on TV we could think of. For a long time Carl (Vocals) was too embarrassed to say the word on stage, so he just used to say - 'thanks to those beginning with B, you know who you are.' "
On the latest tour a new set of fanatical fans have appeared; they have all made their own t-shirts, and they are called the Dawn Warriors.
"It's all getting too big now, there used to be only about 20 of us, but this time there's so many new faces, it's hard to keep track."
But what makes someone trundle round from town to town, sleeping in bus stations, hitching rides with no money, just to watch the same band every night?
"It's the gruffness factor, the way Carl uses his voice like an instrument and the whole atmosphere of the gig. That, and a chance to see your mates."
Carl: "20 or so followed us round Germany, bunked off college. It was you know, exams or the Nephilim tour."
Doesn't that make you feel guilty what you're doing to their lives?
"No, I just wish we could have arranged the tour so it didn't clash with exams, then everyone would be happy."
The Neph put on their leather trousers, cover themselves in flour, and hit the stage. They sound ten times better live than they do on record. They send the crowd into a frenzy by just playing, no pointless talking inbetween the songs to spoil the atmosphere.
It's got nothing to do with Goth because it's not pompous or gloomy or silly or like a horror movie. Of course there's plenty of dry ice and the five dramatic, wind-blown silhouettes, but they are just five ordinary blokes blasting out this incredible, atmospheric metal rock.
Everybody knows the songs and their hands wave in their air in wild abandon. All the waiting and driving suddenly seems worthwhile. This is a happening, a communal event. People come together and share the sweat and the atmosphere.
I don't think anybody really knows why they like it but that doesn't matter, it makes them feel something, and it's certainly not an everyday feeling, and you can't get it from the TV or the radio. The Neph have the live power, no hype, no bullshit, just music.
Five horsemen of the apocalypse bashing out a noise that parents will never understand because there's nothing to understand. I suppose "Move back, step outside yourself" is just as inane as "I should be so lucky" but it seems to mean more.
It's for everybody who doesn't earn a lot of money and wouldn't want to spend it on clubs and clothes even if they did. For everybody who hasn't got the perfect figure and wouldn't want to be a pouting glamour puss anyway. For everyone who doesn't want to be part of the loadsamoney, style obsessed late '80s, but doesn't really know what they want to do instead.
Afterwards Carl says in all seriousness: "Was it like a religious experience at the gig?"
And I almost know what he means. Yes Carl it was.
Time to go back to the hotel and drink some beer and unwind and drink some more beer and get serious.
Paul: "We have to take it seriously now, there's so much at stake. We could lose that crowd overnight, they go and see so many bands, they don't just follow us."
Nod: "The last four years have been a real struggle, but now we've become a really big cult band. We're an alternative to the alternative bands. We are a Fields Of the Nephilim type of a band, and that's it."
Carl: "We've been doing this for four years man, and it seems like a long time now. Some of it's good but some of it is f-ing shit. I wouldn't be happy if we were the f-ing biggest band in the world. We haven't changed a bit, we've got the same clothes, we still cover ourselves in flour before the gig. I looked in the mirror the other day and thought, god, my hairs grown a lot in four years, it's getting long."
And what about the flour-power?
"We've used it since the beginning. It gave us a look, a band identity, cheaply, without having to have the same haircuts, or pink sequined leotards."
And what's the point of being in a band anyway?
Carl: "We want to make our mark in history, write some real timeless music, everything from classical to heavy guitar stuff, but all emotional, beautiful, disturbing and sad. A lot of it's depressing, but I'm not a very happy person.
So why inflict your unhappiness on other people?
"We hope that, like us, they will get something positive from the power of the performance."
The Fields Of The Nephilim are the biggest cult band around, and a great live experience. They don't want to be over exposed, to be hyped up too quickly.
Peter (Guitar): "Those two minute wonders. I don't call them bands, they can't even play live."
The Neph are old fashioned. Don't they know that nowadays you can have a career without ever leaving the recording studio?
"We may be old fashioned, but we haven't got any false pretenses. Our development is a natural progression, we don't think we're more important than we really are, so we'll be around for a long time."
Anybody with money can hype a record into the charts, but that doesn't mean it'll sell. Everybody's looking for the next big thing, the new U2. But usually they just creep up from behind. Its the people that decide and people worship Fields Of The Nephilim. They're on their way.