Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

Gold Gold Gold Gold Fire Fire Fire Fire: Douglas McCarthy’s Favourite LPs

As Nitzer Ebb gear up to play Helsinki's Flow Festival, Douglas McCarthy talks Luke Turner through his favourite music, from listening to classical while eating offal on Canvey Island through David Bowie, Killing Joke, Brian Eno, JJ Cale, Thelonious Monk and more

"Music for me has a symbolism around the weekend," says Douglas McCarthy, frontman of Nitzer Ebb and since 1980ish a master of shouting and pointing over fierce electronics. "Dad and I were twitchers, I had my Young Ornithologists Club enamel badge, and we would get up super early, go out, cut samphire on the mudflats of Canvey Island, and go home. Dad would play Elgar really loud and cook samphire and offal. On a Sunday he’d go into a more Bach and Strauss; classical would transgress into Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, a bit of "Fwank", then Sunday night telly. It was a routine. That’s where I got the idea that music was there to set the mood for everything you were doing, you can dictate the atmosphere by the music you’re playing… as a six-year-old listening to Elgar on Canvey Island."

Douglas McCarthy spent his early years on this low-lying area of marsh in the Thames Estuary. Like many others, his family had arrived there as part of the movement of working class communities out of the East End in search of space and a better life. His father was a sheet metal worker, an autodidact socialist who, during one flying picket at the Isle Of Grain power station across the water in Kent, ended up photographed brawling with a member of the Metropolitan Police’s notorious Special Patrol Group. Sitting in his trademark black aviators, shirt and slicked back hair in a café in Hackney, McCarthy recounts the story today: "My dad had this story that someone had just had a brawl with a cop and they dragged him off," he says, "one of the Scottish guys on the flying picket asked ‘how much is that going to cost him?’, the policeman said ‘about a fifteen pound fine’ and the Scottish bloke said ‘I’ll have some ‘o that’ and nutted him." He cracks up into raucous laughter.

"Raucous" is one of the words that crops up frequently in McCarthy’s Baker’s Dozen. Though he now lives in LA, the Essex humour and love of a wind-up has never left him. It’s something that, I suppose, you could call the acceptable face of banter, and is a wit that runs through his work, from Nitzer Ebb’s early years at the forefront of 80s EBM to more recent, still-pumping collaborations with Terrence Fixmer, Phil Kieran and Black Line.

As well as the classical music that soundtracked the post-birdwatching offal sessions, McCarthy grew up with the pop music of the late 60s and early 70s. "We always had a record player and one of my earliest memories was Sgt Peppers, me and my sister playing with the gatefold vinyl with the moustache cut outs, which we cut out – thankfully my parents didn’t give a fuck," he recalls. As Douglas got older he had his mind blown by Showaddywaddy, Slade and Roxy Music before the tougher sounds that would shape Nitzer Ebb came to the fore. The various members of the group – McCarthy, Bon Harris, David Gooday and Simon Granger – coalesced around Parrot Records in Chelmsford where hurling abuse at each other was merely the Essex way of starting to share music. Now, McCarthy says, he spent two days whittling down his Baker’s Dozen list from 60 or 70 albums to the 13 here. They’re largely from his formative years but stretch into the 90s. Later on, McCarthy says, Transatlantic life has kept him out of touch with what’s going on in his homeland. "What was happening in England was background noise," he says; "I remember coming back when Blur vs Oasis was everywhere and thinking, ‘Blur? They were those fucking jokers from Colchester who used to play the same venues as us."

To begin reading Douglas McCarthy’s Baker’s Dozen collection click the photo below. Nitzer Ebb play the Flow Festival on Friday 9th August, for more information here. Nitzer Ebb feature on Mute Records’ forthcoming album of interpretations of John Cale’s 4’33" and McCarthy’s collaboration with Phil Kieran, Fall Rise, is out now

First Record

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