I am incredibly shocked to learn of Nick Sanderson's death. Some of you may be familiar with his work as a drummer for The Gun Club, Clock DVA, World of Twist, Freeheat or the Jesus and Mary Chain - but I'll always cherish him most for his role as the lead singer of Earl Brutus.
I would probably have remained ignorant of the band if I hadn't taken a chance gamble on a bored, rainy day in South London in early 1997. Pissed off with most of the new CDs I'd purchased which critics had mistakenly referred to as "modern classics" (they were usually lifeless, tail-end-of-Britpop duds) I decided to buy the first CD by any band who I'd read a review about, derogatory or otherwise, who sounded as if they might be interesting rather than mindlessly derivative or commercial in a knowing, cowardly way. In the end, I plumped for a copy of "Your Majesty, We Are Here" by Earl Brutus in the Clapham High Street Our Price, largely being enticed by the bizarre tales I'd heard about the band and the humour which seemed present in the sleeve design.
This is one of the few times in my life I've ever impulse-bought a CD by a band without having heard anything at all by them, and in these Internet "preview before you buy" times, it's unlikely I'll ever do it again. It would seem in this case, though, I was right to trust my instincts. The noise the CD contained sounded exactly like all the descriptions of the band I'd heard, and exactly the way you'd have expected the band to be from their cover art. It was the work of people who had swallowed a wide range of influences and burped them back out again - it was repulsive in a punkish way, and in love with its own filth, but also witty, wise, and adventurous as well. It sounded like Kraftwerk, The Fall, The Prodigy, The Glitter Band, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Art of Noise, Depeche Mode and Can put through an industrial mincer... and by that very process, ended up sounding like nothing else on earth.
Live they were fantastic, treating the audience to spinning garage signs with "Music" written on one side and "Chips" on the other, a shouting Japanese man who would hurl insults at the audience in broken English, and Nick himself, who always seemed like a brilliant, debauched lead singer.
I had the pleasure of interviewing him once, although the magazine I was doing bits of freelance work for at the time never ran the final piece, and I've unfortunately since lost the original document. I do remember him as being an amusing interviewee though, who was happy to indulge my more ridiculous or bland questions with good grace. He informed me that he despised the late nineties music scene and that his main inspiration came from "motor racing" and, at a push, The Manic Street Preachers. Otherwise, he declared it was all "useless end-of-the-millenium weary bollocks".
All the information online so far seems to point to the fact that he had lung cancer and lost his battle a couple of days ago. I always wanted Earl Brutus to be recognised as a completely original, forward-thinking band within their lifetimes, in the way that perhaps overlooked sixties bands like The Monks have. It seemed only fair to me that they should get some pleasure in return for the material they gave their small but dedicated army of fans. For me personally, it was music which restored my faith in the idea that rock and roll hadn't come to a dead end and could still go to some weird and wonderful places. Nick Sanderson will now clearly never get to see the band getting wider acclaim, but it shouldn't stop us from listening, marvelling, and maybe (in some cases) learning. He's left behind a hell of a legacy for us to admire.
Or, in short: Rest in peace, Nick. You were fucking brilliant.
The final Earl Brutus single "Larky/ Teenage Opera" is available here: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=1NBN9586
And my original blog entry about "Your Majesty..." is still online (with the download of the album seemingly still intact) here: http://left-and-to-the-back.blogspot.com/2008/05/earl-brutus-your-majesty-we-are-here.html