ONCE UPON A TIME IN STEVENAGE
Mr Spencer lends an ear to the sultry spaghetti western soundtracks of Fields Of The Nephilim.
From the mists of the Great Gothic Gaggle came five strong men in dark shirts and dust caked cowboy hats.
Gnarled and stubbly, looking mean, they clink across the floor and lay their cards on the table. The bar falls silent.
First to speak is the stranger with the beard. "Anybody fancy a dry roasted peanut?" He opens the packet to unanimous approval, hands lash out and soon fistfuls of spicy niblets are being shoved gratefully into hungry mouths.
It's just an ordinary day, an ordinary snack in the lives of Fields Of The Nephilim, who've had no choice but to get tough over their four year existence, simply in order to be able to stave off the critical attacks which are guaranteed to fly like bullets whenever they're in town.
People love to lay into the Nephilim, be it because of the group's penchant for edge of the seat melodrama - denounced by their humourless detractors as self-indulgent twaddle or just because of their shrewd utilisation of the remarkable Carl McCoy (a man with an identity problem), whose voice sounds exactly like the lid being pulled off a drain.
The critics complain that Carl's sleaze vocals are carbon copied directly from the voice of Andrew Eldritch - one-time-singer with near legendary goth outfit The Sisters Of Mercy. The antis whinge and moan and - no doubt encouraged by the clouds of smoke which virtually engulf Fields Of The Nephilim during their live set - they dismiss the band as faceless Sisters copyists. No more, no less.
What the detractors fail to realise is that any resemblance is genuinely co-incidental, and what's more it vanishes once the music - and dry ice - of the Fields has been looked into just a little bit deeper.
The Sisters were about starvation diets, stormy nights and napalm. Fields Of The Nephilim, heavily inspired by Ennio Morricone's epic movie 'Once Upon A Time In The West', are more to do with heat and solitude and wide open spaces, and going for days without water.
The beginning: Stevenage, England, 1983. A band called, oddly enough, The Mission splits up and Tony (bass), Paul (guitar) and Nod (drums/iceskating) are suddenly in need of work. The trio chance upon singer Carl and, with the line-up further enhanced by Peter Yates (also guitar), they find that this new group is potentially a successful one.
They begin rehearsing, in the back of a deep-freeze lorry, gigs are played, and soon an EP, 'Burning The Fields' is released on the band's own Tower label. The disc is snapped up by fans at gigs and a reputation starts to spread.
By 1986 the Fields are packing venues and mystifying unhip observers of black leather jackets as their logo begins appearing on backs from Land's End to John O'Groats.
A fast-growing cult band now, The Nephilim sign to Beggars Banquet and release two singles 'Power' and 'Preacher Man', and follow these with a slower, far moodier but equally gripping LP, 'Dawnrazor'.
Tony (ant torturer as a child): "When we first got involved in this we thought, What are we going to say to the papers, because you've got to have something, but I think the rule is to just be yourself. We don't give interviewers no big bullshit, people will always suss you anyway.
"I think it's alright to take the piss because a lot of people take themselves too seriously, y'know? And I think they're going to look back at themselves in a few years and go, What a jerk!"
Carl (sniffer of ladybirds): "Even some of these bands that try to give the impression they're rough and tough and really don't give a shit - a lot of them do actually give quite a lot of shit."
Tony: "I must admit than when we get onstage it does feel different, obviously, from how it does when we're just going down the pub."
Carl: "We have to put ourselves in the right frame of mind, like when the lights are on and the dry ice is billowing, that's when you see that we do have a serious side too."
Tony: "This is why we don't go for all the little banter between songs, it's not because we're a moody bunch of guys, we just want to get on with the music. But nine times out of ten we can't see the crowd anyway, there's so much smoke and light, and so much general atmosphere.
Fields Of The Nephilim are a cross between the sultry soundtracks of their spiritual mentor Morricone's movies and the voice of the demon in The exorcist. The group's spaghetti western flavoured devil rock is a revelation. The tension is unparalleled, riveting, and Carl McCoy's vocals freeze the blood, so ominous is their range.
At a Nephilim performance all you can see is smoke and grot covered ghosts of men in hats and cloaks; all you can hear is the crackle of flames and the dry rustle of the wind.
Here is where the band excel themselves and prove their worth as purveyors of stunning and evocative guitar music. When they get going you can taste the dust in your mouth and feel the sun beating down on your back. It's uncanny.
Tony: "Right from the word go we thought it'd be nice to use a bit of smoke, but we didn't know how to get it to begin with, so we got this bloke we knew and he said, if you take these two chemicals and mix them together you get loads of smoke. So we mixed them together during rehearsals and we nearly died; we were choking to death, it ripped our bloody lungs open, y'know? But if we do a gig now without the smoke it feels really naked."
Carl: "We don't really care if anyone sees us or not, so long as we're having a good time amongst ourselves in the smoke, because we can hide, we can have a crack with each other and nobody knows it."
Paul (who was once shot in his head by his own brother): "We have no scruples about annoying people."
Carl: "I went to see The Sisters Of Mercy; people were saying we sounded like them so naturally we became interested and started listening to their music. I'm not stupid, I could see that Eldritch's vocals were in the same sort of tone as mine, I think the guy's okay but he's completely different to me."
Tony: "Another thing people say about us is that we're trying to get on some kind of bandwagon, because at the moment there's supposed to be a bit of a 'rock revival' isn't there? But when we started we didn't foresee any of that shit. It's going to be like any other fad, like power pop or something. As soon as there's a little germ of excitement people will always jump in and blow it up out of all proportion; they'll soon get sick of it."
Fame at present for Fields Of The Nephilim is arriving in short, sharp, bursts. So far, their most prestigious appearances have been on the soundtrack of crap horror film Demons 2 and, more impressively, as the culprits in a scene of domestic strife at the home of Amos in television's Emmerdale Farm -'Preacher Man' was heard crashing through the floorboards from the room above and grumpy old Amos reacted angrily, banging on the ceiling and cursing at the noise.
The setting at least, was appropriate, since the Nephilim - presumably after they'd finished with the deep-freeze lorry - used to do a lot of rehearsing in a farmyard barn. They loved the smells, the open air and the sense of freedom, perhaps, therefore, it's not surprising to learn that Carl McCoy's dream holiday would be a long trek through the desert with a good hat and a sturdy pair of boots. This is the real him, it's no image.
Paul, on the other hand, prefers the majesty of the ocean to the awesome spaces of the desert when it comes to getting away from it all. He even joined the navy at one point.
"Don't ask me why," he says, "it was bloody ridiculous, all these grown men crying at dawn every morning. I couldn't take it seriously but I really like sailing so I thought, This is the place to get some sailing in. These things happen."
Carl (who is often freaked out by his own lyrics): "I've come from somewhere and I don't know where, I'm still trying to find out. As the band's progressed I've written a lot of lyrics that at first I hadn't understood but, as time's gone on, I've begun to come to terms with them. Really. Most of the words relate back to medieval times, I think. I honestly don't believe I belong in this time at all, it sounds a bit silly but I really don't."
Carl is nowadays given regular mystical guidance by a spooky lady who, together with the Fields' self-named hardcore following, The Bonanzas, is present at each and every one of the bands gigs. The strange sounding lady is said to be in her 40s and easily distinguished by her liking for bizarre tribal face make-up. The group talk of both this lady and the devoted Bonanzas with genuine fondness.
Carl: "The thing is, most of the press seem to not write about us too much and they take the piss because we're not hip. They automatically assume that we want to be hip, but we don't, we just do what we want to do."
And deep down, you're dead normal?
"Oh yeah, I like to think so."