I was once asked to describe Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds to a friend who knew nothing of them but who I had lured to the festival field they were playing in.
“Imagine a cruise ship that is sailing for eternity, but also sinking for eternity, and there is a house band playing on it, and they never stop playing and their beards are getting longer and longer and entwined in the instruments, yet the music that comes out becomes more and more beautiful, and the band are led by a chimpanzee that has recently become sentient and declared himself a preacher.” After the gig, my friend turned and said, “I see what you mean.”
Last week, I prepared to watch Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds at All Points East in Victoria Park in London (pictured) by listening to Nick Cave in his Own Words on BBC 6Music. I don’t mourn the loss of my ability to listen to Morrissey now he has become the bitter uncle spoiling the family party with his On the Buses nostalgia of an England that’s all powdered eggs, tinned ham and light and bitter sneers, because any possible void is filled to the brim with the fecund imagination and remarkable artistry of Cave.
For a career that is close on 40 years, there is no hint of decline. His last live tour saw him turn arenas into vast hangars of incredible intimacy, the walls moved in. When I saw him, everyone found a moment to weep, and everyone found a moment to pogo.
In His Own Words took us from the early days in his native Australia with The Birthday Party to The Bad Seeds via his two albums as Grinderman, a similar line-up to The Bad Seeds but with a different process of working.
In an Eighties interview, Richard Skinner asked him if he was preoccupied with death. There was a pause, as if uncertain to reveal morbidity, but he confirmed that death played on his mind and took centre-stage in his songs, songs of murder, hope and redemption.
At each excerpt of music from each stage of his career, I find myself thinking, “Oh, I must listen to the whole of that album right now… oh and that one… and that one”, his back catalogue has not faded and the excitement for each new work, whether film soundtrack, novel or song, is undimmed.
At that time, Cave saw himself as a lapsed Anglican, wearing a gold cross because “it goes with his chest”
One of the most delightful conversations in the programme was the slurred discussion between Shane MacGowan and Cave after they recorded their pub troubadour version of What a Wonderful World. At that time, Cave saw himself as a lapsed Anglican, wearing a gold cross because “it goes with his chest”. MacGowan adds that he is also scared of the vampires that are everywhere and Cave gives a precis of his disappointment at Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula.
Cave also talks of being wary of asking the London Community Gospel Choir to join in with Stagger Lee, an interpretation of a well-known murder ballad, but he reports that they still joined in with gusto.
“We have the freedom to do what we like,” says Cave, and that freedom has led to a body of fans that has swelled and continues to swell because he never seems like a faker or a charlatan. When leaving a Cave gig, the audience look like they have gained solace and hope on top of the sweat gained from hurling their bodies around to tunes about the devious and the deviants.
In my godless universe, the humanity of Nick Cave gives me something to rejoice in.