Cult psyche / spacerock / folk / acoustic songwriting genius Nick Saloman talks to lifelong fan Swag about his very English lockdown, some of his favourite bands, how he still loves noisy songs with long stretches of feedback, Queens Park Rangers, record labels, running a record shop in a pandemic, writing new songs – and, how many t-shirts you need to appear on iconic TV quiz show Countdown.
INTERVIEW BY SWAG
Let’s get the first ubiquitous question out of the way – what’s an average day like for you, with the current lockdown situation?
Well, lockdown has passed down here in Hastings, but while it was on, I did a lot of overdue sorting out at home, and also at the record shop. I went into the shop one day and part of the ceiling had come down as the people in the upstairs flat had flooded their bathroom. Fortunately, none of the records got damaged, but it took some time to get it fixed. I did quite a lot of reading, and we went for some nice country walks.
Have you had more chance for songwriting, and if so does this mean we can expect an even bigger increase in future albums released?
I wrote a lot of material during lockdown, some of which I’m currently demoing. I’m very pleased with how it’s all sounding.
I guess this life of yours all this started with a guitar?
I started playing guitar when I was 7. My Mum was a great pianist and tried to teach me piano, but I was always listening to pop music on the radio, and I really wanted a guitar. My parents split up when I was very young, and my Dad re-joined the RAF. He brought an old German acoustic home for me from one of his trips to the Continent.
I discovered you when Mark Radcliffe had a radio show on Radio One called Out On Blue Six and he played 2 or 3 numbers from Any Gas Faster. Did it feel like your profile was bolstered because of this, or if not, at what stage did you feel more people were finding out about you?
I don’t really know. I’ve never been terribly bothered about stuff like that. I suppose that if my music gets played on the radio, then more people will find out about me. But really, I just make music for my own enjoyment, and if other people like it too, then that’s a great privilege.
I can’t wait for the Record Store Day reissues of Valedictory Songs and What Did For The Dinosaurs in October – my BF vinyl LP collection will almost be complete. Has it affected you much with RSD being split into 3 separate days in August/September/October instead of the April date? Any plans for further reissues?
No, it hasn’t affected me at all. Fire are just re-issuing the back catalogue, and they decided to do a couple on RSD. I didn’t have anything to do with it. I haven’t even seen them yet.
Looking back, why do you think Reckless Records weren’t happy with the London Stone album? To me it’s up there with the previous releases of yours on the label, with the likes of Living Soul, Still Trying, Well Out Of It and so on. I take it you’ll always release stuff on your own (Woronzow) label now?
I couldn’t tell you why Reckless were less than enthusiastic. I was really pleased the record, and it was a real kick in the teeth when they told me it wasn’t ‘up to my usual standard’. But listen, there’s no rule that says your record label has to like your latest record is there? I guess they just didn’t think it was much good. After that I just issued stuff on Woronzow. That way the record label always likes what I do. However, the last album ‘We’re Your Friends, Man’ came out on Fire. They really wanted to do it, so I thought ‘why not’?
I was interested to discover your appreciation of The Wipers. I love ’em, but not many people seem to know them. Even less would know them if it wasn’t for Nirvana banging on about them back in the day. How did you discover them?
I heard ‘Youth Of America’ at my mate Alan’s place way back. I think he’d got the Psycho reissue, and it just blew me away. I loved how it was punky and angry, but still had 12 minute songs full of feedback and guitar. What can I say, it’s a masterpiece, and it came out at a time where if you dared to contemplate a guitar solo you were immediately branded as a boring old fart. So it was really liberating, and a great influence on what I did subsequently, in that it opened my eyes to the fact that you could play long guitar stuff and still be kind of acceptable.
Despite your prolific release schedule, there were no releases between 2004 and 2011?
Yeah, I came back from a European Tour (which had gone very well), and I put my gear in the music room (the back bedroom), and told my wife that I was going to take a break. I just felt like I was doing the same old thing over and over again, and I’d stopped enjoying it. I thought I’d take a year off, but it ended up being 7 years. My Mum, who’d raised me on her own, was slowly dying of cancer, and I just had my mind on more important stuff. Then when she died, we decided to move to Sussex, and really it was only after we got settled in that I felt like I wanted to do some more music. I’m still enjoying it, and I’ll keep on going till I stop having fun, or I die, whichever comes first.
When did you open your record shop, Platform One, in Bexhill, and has it been a struggle for it to survive since March? Is there any meaning behind the name?
I opened the shop about 8 years ago. No, it hasn’t really been much of a struggle to survive. Obviously, I’ve lost four months of income, but we’re going through an international disaster, and you just have to deal with the adversities that come with it. It was called Platform One because it’s first location was in a disused railway station.
A question from Big Phil Cowan, a mate of mine and also a big fan….Do you plan on using the sitar again soon?
Well, who knows? I never make plans for my music. I tend to let it happen when it happens, otherwise you’re giving yourself unnecessary restrictions and deadlines. I guess if I write something that the sitar would sound good on, then I’ll use it.
Obviously your appearance on Countdown is well known, and there for all to see on Youtube. You look pretty relaxed apart from when the clapping is going on. Did you find it easy to cope with? I was trying to work out what T-shirt you were wearing. Was it easy to decide which one to wear? I imagine like me you have about 50 to choose from….
Blimey that was a long time ago. I was pretty nervous, but I kept my cool, and did okay I think. I only went on it because I’d met the producer, Mark Nyman, at a QPR game and we got talking, and after giving me some conundrums at half time, he suggested I go on the show. I told my Aunt Hilary, my Mum’s sister, who was a huge Countdown fan, and who was also slowly dying of cancer (there’s a rather unpleasant pattern emerging here), and she persuaded me to go on. I could hardly say no. We recorded the shows in October or November I think, and they got broadcast in March, by which time Hilary had died, so it really took the shine off it for me. They tell you to bring several changes of clothes in case you keep winning, so I just stuck some Ts in a bag. They record 5 shows in a day, so I seemed to be changing T-shirts all the time.
Last time I saw you play was in Hackney. Great gig and a nice little venue by the station. Your daughter was down the front with some of her mates. Does she get to many of your gigs? Care to relate the story you told on the night about the house you grew up in and what happened to it?
My daughter Deb, gets to as many shows of mine as she can. She’s got a 2 year old daughter and a 37 year old husband, and they both need looking after. I have no idea what story I told, sorry. I grew up in a small flat, so it definitely wasn’t about a house.
I know you are a big Queens Park Rangers fan. Is it fair to say that Phil Parkes was the best QPR player ever?
Well, he was easily the best goalkeeper The Rs have ever had, and he played in the fantastic 1975 side. That team was so good. They really should have won the league, but Liverpool pipped us at the post. But my favourite player of all time is/was Stan Bowles. Not only the best player QPR have ever had, but the best player I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been going to football since I was a kid, so I’ve seen a lot of great players. Bowles was just peerless, and he only played for England 6 times!
Obviously you’d have been aware and probably a fan of Country Joe And The Fish, growing up. Did it feel surreal actually making an album with Country Joe (Eat Flowers And Kiss Babies)? How did that come about?
Oh my gawd, it was unreal. Country Joe and The Fish were probably my favourite band when I was a teenager. I went to seem them in London at The Albert Hall in about 69, and also at The Marquee a year later. So to actually be up there playing with Joe was insane. I got introduced to him at a radio station in Berkeley, California, and we got on really well, so he asked if I’d play with him when he came to London later that year. I suggested that The Frond could be his backing band, and it worked a treat. We did several shows together, and it was brilliant fun. We kind of drifted apart over the intervening years, nothing untoward happened, but he just stopped getting in touch, and so did I. But I guess that Queen Elizabeth Hall gig has to be one of the highlights of my life.
Some of your lyrics cut me to the quick. They must be related to personal experience. Do you find it therapeutic turning tales of romance going stale into songs?
I’ve been happily married for over 40 years, so I haven’t really experienced a lot of heartbreak. The songs aren’t really related to personal experience. I mean I hope there’s a bit of me in there, but I’m usually just looking at situations and writing about them. For some reason if songwriters write songs with a bit of empathy and depth, and with truthful sounding lyrics, people tend to think they’re writing about themselves, however, if a novelist does it, people know that it’s fiction. I just try and make the lyrics interesting and honest, and maybe relate to experiences the listener may have had, so perhaps they assume I’ve been through similar things. I mean, the songs are genuinely heartfelt, but not necessarily about me.
One or two artistes are announcing the odd socially distanced gig or two. Do you have anything in the pipeline along these lines?
No, nothing at all.
Some quick questions to end:
Best bands you have discovered in 2020?
There’s a great Spanish band we played with last year called Peralta. My mate Sven in Belgium has a hot space-rock band called Kozmotron, and there’s very young, noisy duo down here in Hastings called The Mystic Shed.
Do you currently have dependents, human or otherwise?
What is this? An application for an insurance policy?
Do you drive? If so, what – and can you do a donut?
Yes, I’ve been driving for decades, and I have no idea what a donut is, other than something Americans eat.
Can you ride a skateboard?
No, I’ve never tried.
How many instruments do you play, and are there any you wish to learn?
I play guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, sitar. Mostly things with a fretboard or a keyboard. I’ve never been able to master wind instruments. I bought myself a sax, but I just couldn’t get anywhere with it.
Do you have a favourite acoustic? Taylor, Gibson or Martin?
I like a cheap Fender acoustic I picked up a few years ago. It’s just so easy to play.
What would you say to the younger Nick when he was starting out? Would he listen anyway?
I think I would have told him to do exactly what he was doing, that it’s okay to make mistakes & lose your temper, and don’t take shit from anyone, but mainly to try and be a nice guy and don’t rip anyone off. Would Young Nick have listened? Probably not.
Any messages for the youth of today?
No. They wouldn’t listen either.
Cheers Nick, to end – how would you change the world, in a sentence?
I’d do my best to get rid of dishonest, lying, stupid, greedy, corrupt world leaders, and then I’d cancel Brexit.