With their live album, 'Earth Inferno', fresh in the shops, Fields Of The Nephilim and resident shaman Carl McCoy are hoping to bring their own brand of mysticism to the masses. Roy Wilkinson treks down to their local to debate the virtues of flour power.
The Neph at Knebworth! But the band's fans needn't rush the box office just yet - for the group's appearance at the rock dinosaur's favourite meeting ground is restricted to a photo session.
Frontman Carl McCoy lounges demurely in the open door of his plush V-12 Jaguar XJS (registration 666), then joins his comrades for a suitably moody shot 'neath the leering gargoyles.
Fields Of The Nephilim may never have rocked out at Knebworth, but one of their number has played here. Back in the early '80s the resident chief toffs punky son was in the habit of promoting alternative gigs at the stately home's skate park. On such an occasion, Fields bassman Tony Pettitt took his place in an early incantation of Smiling Phil Parfitt's Perfect Disaster.
"Yeah, it was a funny old day," says Tony as he remembers cutting his musical teeth alongside Parfitt. "It was strange in that band, cos Phil was always having a go at the audience. Yeah, Smiling Phil Parfitt's just about right."
But we're not here to discuss the Perfect Disaster's cruel run-ins with fate - the Neph's live album. 'Earth Inferno' is fresh in the shops. It's an event that begs a full account of the band's live history - this lot have achieved their success nowhere if not on the boards.
It's a heart-warming story that stretches from support slots to OAP punks like Chelsea, to a Brixton Academy full of their own devoted fans. From surviving a pogo assault from a legion of ageing punk fans to piling on the atmospherics in front of a sea of spooky hand jives and darkly garbed followers.
Back at the band's habitual local interview location - the cheerfully mock rustic Pig And Whistle - they recount their adventures with hearty guffaws and many a dropped aitch.
Placing his dusty black Crowman steson beside his pint, Carl recalls that first blast of Neph night action.
"Well, we got ourselves a few gigs at the likes of the Rock Garden," he croaks in his Sarf London shaman drawl. "But before that we played a few warm-ups in pubs in the sticks. Mad nights, they were. Back then the band was me, Tony, Nod (drums) and Paul (guitar). But, funnily enough, Pete was in the support band at one of those gigs - Swallowdive they were called."
Pretty soon Peter Yates found himself mysteriously transferred from Swallowdive to add second axe to the Neph sound.
"Yeah," says Tony. "For a while we had a saxophone player, then Peter joined and we were a six-piece for a while, then this sax guy went off on his own way."
With the band's line-up stabilised these five cowboys of the acrockalypse found themselves trudging all manner of crap London gigs - trial by Italian tourist at the Rock Garden, audition night at Dingwalls, five-groups-for-a-quid night at Le Beat Route. But worse was to come. After negotiating their way past the dreggy end of London life, they ended up propping up the bill as various punk bands turned themselves into focal points for bouts of sad nostalgia.
"Yeah it was always us on fourth on the bill at the Clarendon," recalls Peter.
"It was a funny old time," says Carl. "We played with 'em all - 999, The Vibrators, Tenpole Tudor. We had a couple of mates who were in Chelsea and that's how it started.
"Funny thing is, " says Peter. "All those venues have closed now - the curse of the Nephilim."
The Band's first useful live break came after they'd put one record out on their own label and signed to Beggars Banquet subsidiary Situation 2. It may not be the stuff of everyone's dreams, but a tour supporting Gene Loves Jezebel did wonders for the Neph.
"It was good." Says Tony. "That was the first thing we ever did that was of any use in terms of getting a bigger audience. That was the first time we were able to play to a big band of people who we could convert."
"I remember it well," says Peter. "One pound a day to live on."
It wasn't long before the band had come up with their initial visual trademark. Cleverly, they decided to try for that elusive Homepride sponsorship by coating one another in flour before each gig.
"That was pretty near the beginning, weren't it?" wonders Carl in eerie rhetoric fashion. "It was just a way of identifying us as being in the same band. We were a real mixed bunch back then - Nod looked so much younger than the rest of us. His drumming was fine, but his dress sense was a bit funny. So, at least for photos, we had to make it look like we were in the same band. It wasn't just flour we used either. It could be dust, dirt, anything. We used to roll around in the dirt so everything'd go the same tone of grey. The flour was like a portable version of that. It was a theatrical thing really."
"At the time," says Tony. "There was a lotta poncey goth bands about, all wearin' make-up, so we decided to go the opposite end of the scale."
"Yeah, we'd always brush up against the other bands," chortles Carl. "Leave handprints on their backs, all kinds of larks. It was a good crack and since then it's become a bit of a ritual. We still get floured up, so to speak. It's all part of the gig."
With their crusty togs and moody headgear, the band were soon tagged as wild west wassailers.
"Yeah," says Carl. "It was also because we did a version of some music by Ennio Morricone, from one of them spaghetti westerns. People thought we were gonna base our whole career on it. In America they even advertised us as the good, the bad and the Nephilim. It was terrible, really tacky."
"As the Neph show has moved from its origins to its current mix of portentous atmospheric and hi-fidelity sound reproduction, so the band's audience has evolved. In the early days their keenest fans were tagged The Bonanzers, but they have since been replaced by a new and more ferocious breed.
"The hardcore section of the fans are really fit, really athletic," says Carl. "They're the ones forming the pyramids and stuff - we call them the Psycho Vikings.
"I'd say that, nowadays, we feel further away from the audience - and that's not just because of the size of the venues. That feeling's definitely noticeable in the quieter passages. At the start we were right on top of our audience. We were in reach, so you had to be quick on yer feet. The gigs used to be more intense, but we're showing different emotions now."
The Neph obviously do inspire a pretty devotional response in their audience, but they insist they aren't plagued by any particularly esoteric requests after shows.
"There's always gonna be the minority that force their way backstage," says Carl. "The sort of people who want to ask you a thousand and one questions but..."
"We've always thought," interjects Tony. "That the most interesting people go home after a show. I've never felt like bargin' my way past security to wait outside a dressing room for two hours."
"Yeah," grunts Carl. "Every band gets these people what hang about backstage, but you look at these people and think. Nah, not for me."
As Jim Morrison, the original rock 'shaman', is shunted back into public view, McCoy maintains his own interest in the subject. Carl's heavily into shamanism and reckons the rock concert is a useful arena in which to explore the calling.
"I think bringing shamanism into a modern context is a really good thing," says Carl. "The state of mind and the perception you can get being on stage is amazing. The feeling between us and the audience is definitely like experiencing another level of consciousness. I'd say it has the potential for mass ritual, really. The audience doesn't have to be aware of that - they can be there just for the music.
"I'm experimenting with shamanism and I always have been, but it's not something you can force other people to do. It's either born in you or it's not. You can be interested in it but, unless it's born into you, you wont have experienced any of these... paranormal events or anything like that.
"I've never really discussed shamanism with the music press, because I never thought it was a good idea. But it is where I draw my inspiration from and my whole life is based around that and occult philosophies in general. I spend a lot of time reading other people's philosophies who're interested in similar subjects and try to carry on in that tradition. It'd take a lifetime to sort of figure it out."
Carl's interest in this mystic realm is brought out on the new album's sleeve. Alongside the sepulchral tones that surround Carl's photomontage of a naked female torso and an animal skull is a suitable mysterious quotation: "The strangers came and they were not like us. Something else, but wearing the skins of men, the eyes of men, their hands... We convoke the Nephilim and they come to us, strangers with the eyes of men..."
The above's a severely abridged version, but it gives some of the flavour.
"The quote's from a friend of mine," explains Carl. "She's called Storm Constantine and she uses similar inspirations to me when she writes her stuff - she writes novels, science fiction and horror. She's quite interested in the whole mythical roots of the creation of the Nephilim. Roughly translated, the Nephilim were angels that occur in ancient mythology. It's something I'm always looking into and now I've been doing some stuff with Storm, so that could come out in her book sometime.
"The jawbone is from a fox. I collect things like that - dead things bits and pieces, really. The girl in the photo is a friend of mine - she's interested in similar things to me. I took that photo - my girlfriend helps me with that kind of stuff. I don't find that just writing lyrics is expressing enough, so I get quite a lot of satisfaction from doing the visuals."
But, away from Carl's more rarified interests, the band are getting back to the nuts and bolts of rock and roll - rehearsing for some gigs in Tony's cellar. Not by a long chalk, the band's most bizarre rehearsal space.
"Nah," says Carl. "We've rehearsed in some weird places - like a barn with all the pheasants running around."
"Oh yeah," says Pete. "The first ever rehearsal space we had was in the back of this container lorry parked up in a scrapyard. Really cramped it was, and Carl kept getting blisters on his lips from electric shocks cos it was difficult to get a good earth."
With blisters on their gobs, callouses on their hands and a raging mist of mystic intrigues up their sleeves long may the Neph continue to rock.