Tom Clarke: The Chronicles Of Nigel
When the final notes of Last Goodbye faded away in 2016 in Leeds, the last time I saw The Enemy live, I wondered how long it would be before the band got back together again. There just seemed so much more to give. The crowd still wanted more, the passion in the room was no less, the band still gave it everything, that final gig didn’t have the sense it was over for good. Was it really goodbye or just a temporary hiatus before the inevitable comeback gigs being announced.
I knew the reasons that were made public were mainly down to the dying art of indie music, and the lack of radio airplay which made it not financially viable anymore, what is the point of making records if nobody gets to hear them. But after speaking to Clarke and hearing about the problems behind the scenes, it is apparent that the split happened at the right time. End the band on a high, not outstaying your welcome, everything has to end at some point.
A band has it’s time, when it is over don’t hurt the memories of what came before. The Enemy had their moment, and you sense Clarke wanted it to end long before it did. The love for the business had gone, so much so that Clarke was prepared to leave it all behind until a certain anniversary tempted Clarke back into the fray:
“This started in 2018, there was a bit of a gap between the end of The Enemy and starting the solo album. I think two guys deserve a mention in all of this, Ian and Ben, the people behind the O2 Academy who got me gigging again. I was so done with it, the wife and I were in the process of getting our Green cards to go to America. I hated the music business so much I just didn’t want to be a musician anymore, I wanted to go over there and do my other passion which is cars, mechanics and engineering. I was ready to never play another note but Ian and Ben got me gigging again for the acoustic tour on the 10th-anniversary of We’ll Live and Die in These Towns.”
Clarke very nearly waved goodbye to the music business, the end of The Enemy was a bitter experience and it sucked all of his will and passion away, love gave way to hate, thoughts of writing again non-existent. But the solo tour for the 10th anniversary tour in many ways rekindled what was missing. The frustrations with the music business pushed further to irrelevance, and the seeds were planted for a solo album:
“So whilst we were doing that tour, and that grew really quickly and we ended up in really big venues, I was thinking about writing but I was also thinking about all that trauma with the previous few records. I just didn’t want to just dive in and make that commitment to record an album. In 2018 I found myself working with a genius called Geoff Thompson, a BAFTA award-winning writer on a musical he had written called We’ll Live and Die in These Towns which featured music from the record. He had weaved this storyline throughout the musical and made all the songs make sense in a coherent story.
“Geoff got me thinking what if I did it the other way around, write a story and then write an album around it. So the seeds for Nigel was sown. I had visited Nigel as a character back in 2009 on the second Enemy album on the track Be Somebody, and I always thought I had wanted to resolve the story. It is originally from an XTC song called Making Plans For Nigel, he represents how different the world is in 2009 compared to 1979. In 1979, Nigel is off to get get a job for life with British Steel. At that time we still made stuff, we had a skilled workforce, we still had professions you took pride in. But in 2009, he is working in a department store just going out getting drunk every weekend because he has got nothing really to be proud of. So I wanted to revisit him and see what he is up to 10 years on. So I started exploring who he was today.”
Once Clarke had established the source material for his debut solo project the writing process began. A full album based on one specific character must have been a daunting prospect despite the obvious interest and intrigue into what Nigel could potentially be up to in the modern world. Any writer will understand the problems around what goes in and what is left out, the phrase less is more applies to most written content. Clarke found this the most challenging aspect of putting together The Chronicles of Nigel:
“It is hard writing an album based on one character, but in some ways, it is easier. The bit that you would think would be hard, coming up with all the details was actually the easy bit. When I started imagining it, it all kind of started to fall into place. I find it easy to build a character, I thought what does he do now, does he still work in a shop, no he is not, he has probably gone into something like teaching. He’s probably not that good academically, because the schools were crap then, so he’s probably a PE teacher working his way up to Deputy Head or something.
“I thought he would be doing alright, he’s married, so with two incomes he’s probably got himself a house. With his lifestyle back in 2009 he’s probably got himself a couple of kids that were not necessarily planned. So you start building up this picture really quick. But then comes the challenge, the difficult bit, how do I get all this across using as few words as possible. You can’t sing all that information I have just said, then the tricky bit of painting the picture with as little imagery as possible.”
Fans of The Enemy might expect much of the same, and while there will be some remnants of the past on the album, it promises to a completely different listening experience to what many will be expecting. Clarke could have played safe, at least for the debut album, and deserves credit for daring to be different:
“It is all over the shop. There are some really nice considered piano moments with really heartfelt vocals. Then there are some big raucous guitar moments. There there is one track that is just an accordion and a glockenspiel with some singing over it. There is another track that sounds like a soundtrack to a western, another that sounds like a 60s epic. There is another track that is basically just a string arrangement that sounds like a full orchestra. I tried to make it without any restraints because I know it won’t go anywhere near radio so it might as well be the best thing I could make.”
Clarke needed his time out to reflect and rediscover what made him turn to a life in music all those years ago. We saw on It’s Automatic, the final album of the band, the growing maturity of Clarke as a songwriter and his time away from the spotlight seems to have paid dividends and his growth as a writer looks to have continued. The writing and producing aspect has been difficult but one that Clarke seems to have embraced and risen to.
“It’s been really hard and challenging but I have relished that challenge. Where I started in music was as a 4-year-old playing the violin and I played in orchestras until I was about 16. After The Enemy, I have done bits of music for documentaries and for a film and I loved that soundtrack sound of it and I wanted to be able to use that because it is a tool in my box. So I have enjoyed the process, one because I have had this freedom of artistic expression that I have never had before. Also, the project has been self-funded so I haven’t had anyone from a record label saying so you can’t do that I have had nobody to answer to. It’s been really enjoyable, stressful because every decision is ultimately on my shoulders.”
Without any restrictions placed on Clarke by either a record label, management or compromising in search of radio airplay, The Chronicles of Nigel is his most personal piece of work too date. Having creative freedom is so important to any artist, and thoughts or aspirations for chart positions appear to be long gone. But that does not mean there is a lack of ambition on the record, the whole concept of the album is an ambitious one that looks set to divide a lot of people. But while the sales are unlikely to match what came before, the success of the album won’t be defined by how many copies it sells:
“I think success can be defined in lots of different ways. If you define it on the number of records sold, then We’ll Live and Die in These Towns I will probably never top. This a record that won’t appeal to everyone, but it is the record I really wanted to make and is a record I am super proud of, and that kind of is the most important thing. It is an uncompromising record, so for me, it is already a success.”
Track Listing: Release Date: 11th December
1. Remember When
2. She Don’t Leave The Lights On
3. I’m Looking At You
4. Partners In Crime
5. Ooh La La
6. Don’t Need Nobody Else
7. Back To The Box Room
8. Readers Wives
10. Oh Sue, What Did You Do?
11. The Best Laid Plans
Written by Tom Clarke.
Produced at Vada Studios by Matt Terry & Tom Clarke.
Engineered & mixed by George Perks.
Label Services & Distribution by Infinity Music Group.