10:35 AM GMT 25/04/2013
Earl Brutus frontman and rock’n’roll lifer, eulogised by MOJO’s Ian Harrison
NICK SANDERSON, WHO HAS DIED aged 47, played drums with a succession of mighty and respected groups, beginning with industrial enigmas Clock DVA in the early eighties. Thereafter, he did the same for Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s Gun Club, Madchester-era pop subversionists World of Twist and, from 1993, The Jesus and Mary Chain. For many, this would have been achievement enough. But Sanderson also fronted a band that, to their admirers if not the wider world, got very close indeed to rock’n’roll’s golden elixir - Earl Brutus.
They were all in their thirties when they formed during the first stirrings of Britpop, and their recording life was not long (just nine singles and two LPs, 1996’s Your Majesty We Are Here and 1998’s Tonight You Are The Special One). But a lack of hits only seemed to strengthen the integrity of the concept. As raw materials, they used glam rock, synth pop and a kind of confrontational absurdism that was ripe with meaning. On 1999’s single Larky, for example, chief orator Sanderson fiercely condensed popular phrases both old and new into a fierce all-purpose denunciation: “…Don’t mention the war, loadsamoney, I’m free… give us a twirl, I said give us a twirl, I’ll get me coat, alright at the back, that’s you that is.” Or there was 1996’s Navyhead, a moment of School’s Out-alike third-eye dilation inspired by a real-life Plymouth landlord whose pub had a Falklands War theme. The mournful synthetic chimes of On Me, Not In Me suddenly gave way to a crazed, cod-Elizabethan rock climax. Writer John O’Reilly termed this kind of twisted aesthetic “thwarted Englishness”.
Live, they were regularly unbelievable, often terrifying and always thrilling. By 1997 Nick, co-frontman Jim Fry, “keyboard Warlock” Gordon King, guitarist Rob Marche and declamatory Japanese vibesman Shin Yu were playing in front of a stage set of circuit-boarded fantasy Mellotrons with Kraftwerk-style neon signs bearing their names. There were samples from Mike Leigh’s Nuts In May film, a spinning forecourt sign (variously reading MUM and DAD, MUSIC and CHIPS, and PISS and OFF), explosives and smashed gear. In fact, the gear was made to be smashed, and Earl Brutus always obliged. These were folkloric events, and when you went to see them you were guaranteed a night that transcended all norms. For his part, Nick was a frenzied, Dionysian figure, raging and glaring as he delivered such lyrics-as-terrace chants as “You are your own reaction!” (The SAS And The Glam That Goes With It). One online mourner captured just how out to lunch, and inspiring, these spectacles could be: “My life would have taken a very different path had I not seen this band in ’96.”
But for all his onstage derangement, offstage Nick was the warmest and most convivial of men. “I’m the most pathetic fighter in the world,” he said once. “Verbal scrapping is what it’s about.” A faithful Manchester United supporter, in conversation he might touch upon his impatience with insincere birdwatchers, weigh up the enduring appeal of Demis Roussos’s hit Forever And Ever or fondly recall a trip to East Berlin before the wall – or the ‘Anti-Fascist Protective Rampart’ as he identified it – came down.
Suitably for the son of the former Freight Director of British Rail, since 2004 he’d worked as a train driver on the London-Brighton line. Earl Brutus didn’t release any music after 1999, but their live grandeur was undimmed, as unforgettable shows at the Austrian Embassy and London’s Garage in 2001 and 2003 revealed. There was meant to be another album, variously titled 20 Brutus Greats and Edwardian Wanking Machine, but though the splenetic Teenage Taliban was played live, more records were not to be.
He faced cancer with remarkable bravery, and will be greatly missed. MOJO’s sympathies go to his wife Romi and son Sydney.
Nick Sanderson; born Sheffield April 22 1961, died West London June 8, 2008.
The originality of Earl Brutus, as encapsulated in the video for Come Taste My Mind.
And here’s Nick saying something poetic about the FA cup…
Photo: James Fry
Posted by Danny_Eccleston at 8:00 AM GMT 26/06/2008