Ännu en kortintervju från Sweden Rock Festival. I ett varmt och soligt rum backstage språkade vi med Nigel om bland annat hans tidiga influenser, när Lemmy bad honom dra åt helvete och eld:
– He´d hand me the sticks in the dark, but the thing was we had cloth wrapped round with wire and the cloth came undone and it came down around my wrist and I was like “Get rid of this!”, because it was on fire, so I just threw it back and it hit the towel and the whole lot went up and I have a vision right now where I can see his face and the flames.
My first show was Saxon in Lund 1985. I was 14 years old. You played with your sticks on fire, didn´t you? Where did that idea come from?
Yes, Innocence is no excuse”. I think the first person I saw do something like that was Alex Van Halen. I thought “Yeah, I´d do that too, why not?” because everyone was taking stuff from everyone else. We were playing two nights at Newcastle City Hall, I think. Alex had the gong you know, so my tech said “I will do it with plumbing pipes.” We were trying it outside and the whole thing just collapsed. (laughs) One night I actually set him on fire. (laughs) What happened was that he used to sit behind the drumriser a bit lower down and the flaming sticks were used during my solo. While I was doing the rest of the stuff, he´d be there with the lighter fluid and he had a towel to catch the drops and what happened was… he´d hand me the sticks in the dark, but the thing was we had cloth wrapped round with wire and the cloth came undone and it came down around my wrist and I was like “Get rid of this!”, because it was on fire, so I just threw it back and it hit the towel and the whole lot went up and I have a vision right now where I can see his face and the flames. (laughs)
I think the first Saxon album I listened to was “Power and the glory”, but “Innocence is no excuse”, though being a bit more commercial, I absolutely love that album. How do you look back on that time in Saxon where you were aiming more for the American audience?
I mean, we were being sort of pushed towards that and we were listening to it a lot. We wanted to break America, so whether good or bad, that album was more commercial and a bit more polished than the other albums, but you know, there are great songs on it.
I also think it´s one of your best-looking album covers.
(laughs) Without our faces on it… (laughs) No, I know. We brought her on stage in Birmingham I think.
When you started out playing drums, who were some of the drummers that inspired you?
I started drumming when I was seven years old. In those days we had… I think in Sweden you had a band called The Spotnicks, which were kind of guitar based and I had a Spotnicks album, “Out-A Space The Spotnicks in London” (1962). We had an English band called The Shadows and Tony Meehan was their first drummer and then they got this drummer Brian Bennett and Brian´s solo was on the second Shadows album (Out of the Shadows, 1962) and I was like “Wow!” I have to tell you a story about this because I think it was about ten years ago or a little less, I went to a London drum show… and the other guy at the time was an English session player called Clem Cattini who played on so much stuff, so I´m at the London drum show and who should walk in but Brian Bennett and Clem Cattini. I was like “I´ve got to have my picture with these guys!” and I was in heaven. I mean, I was just listening to everything, but I´ve said this before in interviews and Bill Ward (Black Sabbath) was a big influence on me and all the usual people like Neil Peart (Rush). I´m still getting influenced now by people if I hear something. It was also, because I´m a bit of a prog head, I was listening to a lot of the Italian prog bands because I loved them, like PFM. He (Franz Di Cioccio) was definitely one of my favorites and I used to play along to all the PFM albums when I was still living at home, driving my parents and my dogs mad. It was funny. We had two Jack Russell dogs and they used to come up to my bedroom where my drumkit was and as soon as they saw me go to the drumkit, gone. Before I even hit it. They knew what was coming. (laughs)
Going back to the 80´s which really was a different time. Do you miss it? You knew nothing really about a new album and you hadn´t really heard anything before you bought it.
Yeah and I bought loads of stuff without having heard anything. I think it was Melody Maker… I´m a big Stooges fan and MC5 and I always remember Melody Maker gave the second Stooges album “Fun house” (1970), which is their best album both song wise and production wise, and they gave it such a shitty review and I just thought “I´ve got to go listen to this.” and I bloody loved it. And the same with MC5. Lemmy actually said “Back in the USA” (1970) was the greatest rock album ever, but the funny thing was, when they were mixing it there´s no bass EQ on the album, it´s very trebly. I think they forgot to put any bass EQ on it or something. There´s bass guitar on it, you can hear it, but there´s just no bottom end on it.
I guy like Lemmy, there´s got to be some stories and memories?
Lemmy was great. I had a break from Saxon for about seven years or something and when I rejoined, Lemmy was the first person I rang up, because he kept saying to the guys “Get Nigel back! For god´s sake, get him back!” I rang him up and said “Lem, I´m back in the band.” and he said “Fucking great! Now, fuck off and let me go back to sleep.” because he was in LA and I woke him up. (laughs) He was great. In 2014 you probably know I had a brain aneurysm and on the last tour with Lemmy you could see he wasn´t very well. He was very frail, so I always used to go up to him and say “How are you man? Are you ok?” and he was more interested in me saying “Yes, but how are you?” That´s how he was. He was always inquiring if I was ok.
Having a scare like that. How do you react when you find out something like that? What does that do to you?
Well, the thing with me was that it just happened. There was no warning. It happened. Bang, that was it! I feel for people who get told they´ve got something incurable. It must be awful. For them and their family. I feel so much for these people. There´s a girl in England and she got told a few years ago that she had incurable bowel cancer and she outlived what the doctors said, but she´s now back home and she´s stopped treatment and it´s just so sad. She´s got kids and she´s only in her late 30´s or something and it must be so hard for her husband to see that. Dreadful.
You´ve been doing this for a long time now. Is it just as much fun now as it was when you started out?
I just love playing, and on every album and stuff, I always try to push myself. As I said, I still get influenced by players now. It´s not like “Yeah, I´ll just play that old beat and just get through this.” I´m always trying to push myself. I just love it. Some people go “What do you prefer, live or studio?” and I love them both. You get the vibe and the interaction with the audience and it keeps you really good and then going into a studio, it´s like you´re creating another creativity.
What was the pandemic like for you?
Frustrating, because I couldn´t see friends and I couldn´t go out. I love going to the pub and meeting friends and stuff like all that and have a good old talk about stuff. That´s sort of drove me mad. Plus the fact that we couldn´t do any shows, so that was frustrating. Last year, thank god, I managed to blow the cobwebs out and did three album sessions and it was great. That sort of warmed up for when things would start again. My brother lives in Colombia and you were only allowed to go out to go shopping at the supermarket every three days. There´s a funny story. There´s a little supermarket near where I live when I stay in Brighton ad this woman went in to get some stuff and the girl at the counter said “Sorry, you can´t come in without a mask.” and this woman went absolutely mad. She was swearing and F this and that and said “I want to speak to the manager!” and the girl went “I am the manager. Now get out!”
Didn´t you use to live in the US, or do you still live there?
I used to live in the US and I moved back just before the pandemic, so I was stuck in Hove again. We were renting a place in Hove and now I´m back in the US again, in Dallas. I was near Austin before. We were in the US for probably three years and then we came back and we were in the UK for all of the pandemic and then I moved back two months ago.
What was the reason for moving in the first place?
I love America and my wife´s American. I just love touring over there and the vibe of Texas. I just really enjoy it over there. We had a house near Austin and we decided to move house, but everything we saw we missed out on. I had to come over here anyway, so I said “Let´s put everything in storage. You come over as well.” Then the pandemic hit and her parents asked if we would mind moving in with them because it means they can stay in the house and having to go into the city. I get on with my wife´s dad. It get´s to five o´clock and he says “Come on, where´s the beer?” We watch a lot of sci-fi movies and stuff. The women go to bed and we sit down having a beer watching “Star Trek” or something. It´s great.
Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen
Foto: Björn Olsson, Therés Stephansdotter Björk