Once tagged as copyist Goth merchants, Fields Of The Nephilim release their third album, 'Elizium' having transcended such pigeonholing. John Aizlewood trekked out on the road to Middlesbrough and Bradford.
Middlesbrough (or Middlesborough for purchasers of Fields Of The Nephilim tour t-shirts) is a cooler Beirut. Unarmed militias of partygoers patrol the streets at night, pausing only to photograph each other and infiltrate the next fun pub. By day (Saturday even) the place is deserted. Fields Of The Nephilim don't fit in here much the same way as they don't fit in on Top Of The Pops next to Big Fun.
The Neff are playing a short tour in suitably splendid venues. Middlesbrough Town Hall, patently more used to pantomimes, is grand, Victorian and, whisper it soft, gothic.
Food is consumed and it is discovered Fields Of The Nephilim have scrawny Stevenage accents, cheery demeanours and a fine travelling cook.
The good burglars of Middlesbrough have given The Neff a miss in the main. Dry ice belches forth for ten minutes (that's water based dry ice, environment fans), six shadowy figures take the stage and launch into a blistering 'For Her Light'. This is all too much for the fire alarm and 30 seconds later the Neff are off. They return, but it's that sort of night. There's even a fight in the crowd. Sensibly the band take their bus back to the hotel although it's only 300 yards away.
Oh manna from heaven, The Neffs' hotel has a pool table. Singer Carl McCoy hotfoots it to bed as he's off alcohol for six weeks. "Too many hot curries," he explains. Bassman Tony Pettit meets an Irishman who does the same job as Pettit Snr and they chat by a tacky fountain. The real action is at the pool table, where the smart money is on drummer Nod Wright who's a member of his local pub team. Nod is eclipsed by his guitarist elder brother Paul who manages the remarkable feat of getting drunk and then simultaneously smoking, jabbering away incoherently, impersonating Norman Wisdom and thrashing everyone at pool.
The Neffs board their small tour bus, which has a video player destined to remain unused. Guitarman Peter Yates confides a band who shall remain nameless (or they would have been nameless had they not settled on 808 State) caused £12,000 worth of damage to the very same van recently.
Bradford is the destination and most people fall asleep, mouths open in a very un rock'n'roll sex god manner. Carl is oblivious to the heat and wears a leather jacket whilst tucking into Aqua Libra and Ryvita with sesame seeds. There's a stop for photos which involves much good natured goatlike bounding up hills and wearing of Neff coats. Bradford looms through the heat haze.
A building site in West Yorkshire. Bradford is the adopted home of The Cult and several lesser bands of that ilk. It's also a tested hunting ground for Fields Of the Nephilim.
The Queen's Hall is sold out, nothing goes too wrong in the show save some messy introductions, Carl behaves like Robert Plant and through the mesmeric groove, two words, 'Pink' and 'Floyd', spring to mind.
All is not well. The atmosphere post concert is somewhat tense due to what obiturists call 'musical and personal differences'. A few fans pop by and the air lightens. The Neff sign records for a woman they signed the very same records for last night in Middlesbrough. "I'm not signing her stuff again," declares Carl. Another group shuffle around nervously on the sidelines. "I'm dreaming," gasps one girl, "I can't believe it." She proffers a concert ticket round for the Neff Xs.
Paul is in his element. "I used to be a painter and decorator, me," he explains as he signs a huge poster after expertly securing it to the wall. The poster falls on top of him. "I was never any good at it, mind." Even Carl laughs.
They have been given a supermarket trolley of beer and eye it lovingly.
Outside more fans, this time from Canada, politely offer bits of their body for ritual signing. In the meantime Bradford sleeps. The Neff of course wind down. Carl goes to bed. Nod is unseen, and the road crew are sneaking into Neff manager Steve Brown's hotel room for an illicit shower. Paul Wright is looking for a pool table and cranking up his Norman Wisdom.
Tales Of The Nephilim
When Carl was a little boy, "I had pretty big ideas. My father made records so I saw it as something I could do naturally. I wanted to do this for a while and I was also into film special effects. I wanted to be a writer or a poet but nobody makes any money out of that."
He's a professional mystic, somewhat apart from the rest of the group. Sensibly enough he sees no reason to explain himself. He has long fingernails and wears his battered top hat in the bath (probably). He acted in the recent Hardware film.
"I read occult stuff and ancient history particularly Babylonians and Sumerians."
But not Nubians?
"No, not Nubians."
Carl plays most of the keyboards on Nephilim records but lets Paul Chousmer (it's Russian) do the business live.
Norman most resembles: Conquest
When Peter was a little boy, "I wanted to play for Leeds United. In fact I wanted to be Peter Lorimer. After that I wanted to be a journalist. I've still got a reject letter from NME on my wall. I'd sent in a review of my own band. We were great."
Peter is from Retford and thus a Northerner. He ended up in Stevenage via Worcester. His first ever concert was Be-Bop Deluxe many years ago.
He sympathises with Carl.
"The thing I really enjoy is that he really really does mean his lyrics 100%. You can't ask for more than that from anyone. Nobody goes into it as deeply as he. Anyway, I couldn't be in a band with someone whose ideas were completely different to mine."
Peter is calm, friendly and sharp.
"We can't be hyped. We've earned this. We've done our apprenticeship."
Norman most resembles: Barry.
When Nod was a little boy, "I wanted to be the snare drummer and bugler in the Royal Marines Band, but I didn't write to Jim'll Fix It. I was a mascot for my sea cadet band and didn't get in until I was 12. That's how I picked the drumming up. It all seemed very simple to me."
Nod is only 24. He wasn't christened Nod of course.
"I was in my perambulator playing and my grandad called me Nod after Noddy and it stuck as a family thing because they weren't having any of that Nod business at school. My real name is Alexander but that's not very rock'n'roll is it?"
Nod is noticing little things.
"This week I've noticed we're not half in touch with the crowd as we used to be. They used to sleep in the van but now they're following us around in bed and breakfasts."
Norman least resembles: Tebbit.
When Tony was a little boy, "I always wanted to be in a band but I never got round to it until I left school and had trained as an electrician."
He takes his customised skateboard on tour with him and goes skating around Knebworth when at home. He is the only Neff vaguely political.
"I'm really interested in politics, especially both World Wars and if I write lyrics they'd reflect that. Unfortunately I'm no good at it."
Tony knows Fields Of The Nephilim are not just Carl.
"We all do our own jobs. When we're writing it's totally a group thing and if someone's not happy we'll change things. But in any democracies there are those with strong personalities."
Tony is quite tough. A decent haircut, a non-Stevenage accent and he'd sprint past Carl in the acting stakes.
Norman most resembles: Hunter.
When Paul was a little boy, " I wanted to be a big boy but I didn't actually achieve it. You can't afford to grow up in this game but I suppose I'll have to eventually."
Paul is 30 years old and, as noted, an ace pool hustler. He turns from a tin dishevelled type by day to an axe wielding guitar wizard on stage. There lurks much ambition behind the nonchalant exterior.
"The last year we've taken off just to step back and look at what we're doing. We know we can't afford to muck around so much because there's so much at stake. I just want to play really powerful music that nobody else is doing. If people see some of our influences like Floyd or Zeppelin in there, that's fine by me but there's still nobody quite like us."
Paul is a fine human being, although whether he should have ever been let loose decorating people's homes is another matter entirely.
Norman most resembles: Wisdom.