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Train Driver In Eyeliner Preview: Earl Brutus & Nick Sanderson Remembered
Roy Wilkinson , October 23rd, 2008 16:07

In advance of Monday's Nick Sanderson tribute concert, Roy Wilkinson remembers the man and the legend that is Earl Brutus

Earl Brutus

On Monday October 27th, The Jesus And Mary Chain, British Sea Power and Black Box Recorder will all play in London. They will be celebrating the memory of the late Nick Sanderson - occasional Mary Chain drummer and full-time mob orator with the exhilarating MIDI teds of Earl Brutus. You wonder why more bands won’t be playing at this show. But, as Earl Brutus pointed out, “Pop music is wasted on the young.” In an era when the young man from Razorlight can rule the boards while manifesting Aaron Spelling’s idea of a convincing rock frontman, Nick Sanderson’s wonderful and strange memory radiates all the more powerfully.

Earl Brutus were rock’s most high-minded petty criminals. As Nick once observed, they were “like Kraftwerk caught having a wank by their dads”. They were both ancient and modern, a band who aligned the silicon chips of today’s pop apparatus with the age-old allure of the chip shop. They seemed to achieve this combination largely by hitting things and shouting. British Sea Power’s guitarist Noble recently mused on Nick Sanderson’s approach to things: “In six years touring in a band, Nick is probably the most inspiring person I’ve met. He just had this rare ability to make everything better - usually by breaking it.”

Earl Brutus - 'Come Taste My Mind'

Up until 2006 I managed British Sea Power and we were lucky enough to have Nick and Earl Brutus feature at a few BSP events. They came to DJ at some Club Sea Power nights - usually turning up with a sum total of two CDs to work with. For example, a Van Der Graaf Generator live bootleg plus a compilation of punk hits. Nick and Earl Brutus also once appeared ‘in conversation’ at Club Sea Power. This consisted of them sitting around a table on stage shouting about East Germany, the band Genesis and Clara Petacci, Mussolini’s mistress. The audience was both engrossed and scared. There was also an undimming, evanescent evening with Nick in Amsterdam.

BSP and Nick had both played at a event at Amsterdam’s Paradiso. Well after midnight there were perhaps six British bands drinking at the backstage bar. Nick decided it was time to instigate a singalong of Manchester United songs. Nick was a keen Man U fan. But, of course, to the wider world there is scarcely anything less appealing than the rotten Reds. But Nick not only got people singing, he also made the whole thing seem charming. This, perhaps more than anything, was testimony to Nick’s powers of everyman inclusiveness.

Nick Sanderson’s speaking voice was that of a charismatic northern English rascal. It was only at his funeral wake I realised he actually came from posh stock. He’d been to Clifton College in Bristol, a public school also attended by Field Marshal Douglas Haig, John Cleese and the writers LP Hartley and Henry Newbolt. Yet, Nick’s northern burr didn’t seem like some off-putting affectation. Rather it made you think of Eton lad Humphrey Lyttelton. As with Nick, Humph seemed oblivious to his class roots, consorting on equal terms with Louis Armstrong, steelworkers and Lord Carrington. Besides, Nick would probably have relished his school’s heritage of history and the arts. Alongside ornithology, he embraced history with enthusiasm - something which became a key part of Earl Brutus.

Earl Brutus sang of many things and sang of them with wind-tunnel vigour - Tudor-bethan mansions, the SAS, old buses and Eastern Europe. Leading hair-design professional Nicky Clarke. Sexually confused sailors out on the lash on Union Street in Plymouth. Through it all, Nick approached things with the mad vision of another Humph - the great Cornish Romantic-era chemist and polymath Humphry Davy. But where Davy let his mind fly wide, writing books on fly-fishing and philosophy alongside his chemistry treatises, Nick compacted it all into rock. Perhaps this is why Earl Brutus shows were so desperately exciting - a whirring mix of glam rock, synthesisers and lager-situationist sloganeering. All occasionally blasted out to a backdrop of seven wreathes arrayed to spell the phrase ‘FUCK OFF’. Here was drunken abandon to the utmost. Yet, apparently, Nick never drank before an Earl Brutus gig had reached its conclusion.

Watch the trailer for a football documentary Nick Sanderson was working on at the time of his death

Nick was killed by cancer in June this year. But, before that, he did get to exercise another great interest. He drove trains on the mainline between London and Brighton. This, in turn, gave him the unreleased Earl Brutus song that provides the title for Monday’s show - Train Driver In Eye Liner. So, Nick’s inspiringly boyish enthusiasm was mirrored by achievement in two realms that boys dream of - fronting a band and driving a train. You can get to Monday’s Nick Sanderson tribute show by train, foot or plane. You would be a fool not to. The night will sell out, but as we go to e-press there are still a few tickets available. Roy Wilkinson

Train Driver In Eyeliner

A Tribute To Nick Sanderson London Forum Monday 27 October

Featuring full live sets from: The Jesus And Mary Chain British Sea Power Black Box Recorder

The last few tickets can be purchased from the Kentish Town Forum website, or by calling 0844 8472405

For more information on Nick Sanderson’s life and times please see the following obituaries:

An excellent piece by one of Sanderson's school friends on the Caught By The River blog

The Times

The Guardian