Nick Cave in conversation
Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
June 20th 2019
Ian Corbridge is enraptured by the event Conversations with Nick Cave in Manchester this week.
The whole Conversations with Nick Cave concept was borne out of Nick’s desire to extend himself beyond his existing limits, which have felt more comfortable in recent times with the magnificent Bad Seeds behind him. It builds on his on-line blog, The Red Hand Files and allows him to continue his pilgrimage towards a much closer relationship and understanding with his audience. He described this tour as nothing short of terrifying, a feeling for performance he hasn’t experienced for some time. Once he crosses the boundary of the stage entrance he becomes a different person and totally absorbed by the art form he has created. But on this tour he is stripped back to the bare bones and cannot even guess what lies in front of him, something which has clearly excited and motivated him again in a way even he could not have imagined.
The evening started with the beautiful renditions of God Is In The House and West Country Girl on the grand piano, allowing the audience to gather their thoughts, and strength, to start the questions, with Nick recognising and relishing the fact that it was also a terrifying prospect for the fans and not just himself.
Many topics were covered throughout the evening, but one common and inevitable thread was the tragic death of his son in 2015 and how he had responded to the events surrounding that and then managed both his personal and professional life subsequent to that.
We heard some very emotional stories from around the theatre, all of which will remain there, to which Nick responded in a very empathic and intelligent manner, always building on that common bond that was so evident throughout the night. And whilst Nick clearly loves Brighton as his hometown, it is also evident it now holds such bad memories for himself and his family and he has not spent a lot of time there in the recent past. Nick certainly did not consider it brave to allow the filming of the magnificent One More Time With Feeling to continue throughout this whole difficult period as this was something that he had agreed to do beforehand, but he just took a step back from the project and had total confidence in Andrew Dominik to capture the essence of his work and creative process. Clearly, he could not have been happier about the outcome of the film.
Early on a question was asked by a lady who clearly labelled Bob Dylan as her all time hero, something which Nick clearly accepted “so long as it isn’t Morrissey”, a comment which generated significant laughter. This prompted his tale of the day he met Dylan at Glastonbury. Standing outside his assigned caravan looking across a mud drenched field, Nick was initially apprehensive as he saw a man walking directly through that mud towards him with a hoodie on, thinking it may well be a roadie with something to say. Only as that man approached and he saw beneath the hoodie did he realise it was Bob Dylan who stopped in front of him to say “hello” and “I like what you do”. Nick admitted with dismay that, given his total respect for Dylan and the huge number of questions he would really like to ask him, he was for once dumb struck and could offer little more than saying he liked what Bob did. And it was that point the meeting ended and Bob returned to his van! I think we can all remember times when we have missed opportunities like that.
The subject of fellow Australian Michael Hutchence was raised, someone who Nick had clearly spent a lot of time with. Nick noted his envy of Hutchence’s fame whilst also noting the fact that Hutchence envied Nick’s creditability! Notwithstanding that, Nick recognised that he would have happily traded the two. This kind of wit was displayed in many forms throughout the night as Nick once again demonstrated what a truly outstanding performer he has become as he prowled the stage always seeking that close encounter with his people, something that we have all become accustomed to in Bad Seeds live shows.
As Nick counselled a lady who had clearly lost the will to perform but was seeking a way back, the whole question of the importance of collaboration was raised. Nick recognised that without collaboration with so many of the Bad Seeds over the years, he simply would not be where he is today. But Nick also recognised how corrosive collaboration can be as a process, especially if the art of friendship gets lost amongst it all. This has clearly affected so many of his previous collaborations with the likes of Mick Harvey, damaging relationships to breaking point. This was certainly something he now fully recognised, and he was not going to allow it to damage the relationship he has with Warren Ellis, someone he clearly loves and reveres on both a personal and professional level. He cites Warren as a catalyst to so much of the Bad Seeds success but also someone who fully understood the difference between empathy and compassion. It is apparent that they have both provided tremendous support to each other through difficult and challenging times.
When it came to the topic of Manchester icons Mark E Smith was clearly top of Nicks list. He recalled how they used to read NME from end to end in Australia; in spite of it taking 3 months to reach them and they envied the whole London scene that was going on. When they finally made it over to England Nick described their initial experience as “epically disappointing” as none of what he was hoping to see and hear seemed to be happening anymore. However one of the shining lights was the Fall and he described Mark Smith as one of the most original songwriters of our generation. They struck up a strong friendship and had many nights out together, although left it entirely to our imagination as to what they got up to on those nights out, which is probably just as well!
The Bad Seeds Manchester Arena gig was referenced several times, Nick noting that it was the first rock’n’roll gig to take place after the bombing, describing it as “incredibly powerful” and clearly recognising the event as a defining moment for so many people. From the audience feedback it was evident that it wasn’t just myself who regarded it as one of the most intense and moving gigs of my entire life.
Brompton Oratory was cited as the one song he would like to leave us all with above all others. Electric Warrior by T-Rex emerged as his favourite album of all time with Cosmic Dancer as his favourite song, which he then proceeded to play. He even ventured to suggest that Marc Bolan was a finer songwriter than Bowie which was met with a mixed response from those gathered. And the significance of Leonard Cohen was evident, noting how his first hearing of Avalanche from the Songs Of Love And Hate album, which he then played for us, was a life changing experience for him. Having enjoyed an idyllic childhood surrounded by freedom and love, yet still having this inert sense of unease that all was not right, it was this one song that seemingly unlocked so many emotions that had remained below the surface for so long and suddenly everything seemed to start making sense.
Another key point of reference in Nick’s work is the place religion has within it. He conveyed how atheism is bad for song writing and it was irrelevant whether God exists or not, merely the fact that we should reach out as if he does and ultimately we may get what we believe. It is that searching for what lies well beyond what we can be really sure about that creates a mystique that provides such a rich source of material for his creativity.
Many more classic songs interspersed the conversation, including The Mercy Seat, Jubilee Street, Stagger Lee, Into My Arms, the Grinderman song Palaces of Montezuma, and a finale of The Ship Song and Skeleton Tree.
In common with any event in which Nick Cave is involved these days, there was an intimacy which belied the size of the venue. And whilst Nick was the focus it felt like we were all a part of this event and it was a huge privilege to be apart of it. It proved to be an evening of laughter, tears, darkness and light but above all else honesty, sincerity, great intelligence and a considerable amount of humour. Who knows where this crusade will take Nick Cave in the future, but that connection with his audience is stronger now than it ever has been and with a new album in the pipeline, there are more exciting times ahead for sure.
Find the Red Hand Files here:
All words and photos by Ian Corbridge, this is his first piece for Louder Than War.