If you’ve ever been bored by a “best” new album or track and said, “I bet there’s someone in a shed somewhere making better music than this,” it turns out that this hyperbolic assertion is actually true.
I have found the shed.
The occupant of the shed, located in rural Norfolk, is unsigned singer-songwriter Nick Worrall.
Nick was born in Cheshire in 1977 and grew up in Northwich listening to the Stone Roses, Teenage Fanclub, Dinosaur Jr., REM, Nirvana, Sebadoh, Pavement, Dodgy, the La’s, and Buffalo Tom. While still in Northwich he went to as many gigs as possible in Manchester and Liverpool and formed his first band, Neumann’s Flash, in sixth-form college. During his years at Sheffield University he teamed up with Peter McNicholl from Cumbria, who shared his musical tastes. Nick and Peter started writing songs and performing gigs as Hermit Cooper.
After graduating Nick married his college sweetheart and moved to a small village in Norfolk near the Suffolk border, where he and his wife continue live with their three children. He played gigs locally in a duo with his brother-in-law, which became less frequent as work and growing families required more of their time.
Nevertheless Nick decided to make a solo album in 2010, Triumph Unseen, entirely on his own, which was well-received, gained attention from local and BBC radio, and sold far afield from Norfolk, thanks to the magic of MySpace. Since then he has continued to write and record for his own amusement in a garden shed and home studio, playing occasional solo gigs that fit in with his schedule of full-time work and family life. “I’m not in a position to go touring to support a record so I don’t imagine a label would be interested,” Nick says. “I like being in total control of what I do, when I do it, and why I do it. It’s not for money. I have a full-time job, three young kids at home, and a great family life that I wouldn’t change for the world, never mind a record deal… I prefer recording and arranging but have always enjoyed playing live too, I’m not shy with a microphone in front of me and love a bit of banter with an audience.”
Triumph Unseen was followed by Suspected of Ventriloquism, The Fortress Project, A Good Woman, and the EP Small Animal Sanctuary. He also provides harmony arrangements and vocals for Barba Morena. “I play everything (and engineer, produce etc) on this album and the last two releases (Small Animal Sanctuary and A Good Woman). On The Fortress Project I roped in six musicians from around the country and used anonymously donated drum samples to compile a ‘musicollage’. I recorded the acoustic guitar and all the vocals and sent 38 sections out via email. Stuff came back, whatever they fancied doing. I dropped it in all over the place, including where it was not intended and even created a new piece entirely of arrangements meant for other songs. It was a fascinating and unique experience. Suspected of Ventriloquism was a collection of songs I wrote and recorded with various incarnations of Hermit Cooper, and Triumph Unseen was 90% just me, with a couple of appearances from mates.”
His most recent album, Hero Buffet, was released a few weeks ago on Bandcamp. “I don’t put a lot of ‘effort’ into it, by which I mean I set the mics up, record the part then if at all possible just leave it alone. I hate overly produced music, it all sound too clean, too loud, too one-dimensional and too perfect for my ears.” (*see below for a list of Nick’s home studio equipment)
Hero Buffet opens with the swooping, exquisite melodies of “Pocketful of Nothing” that evoke Euros Childs more than any other songwriter. “’Pocketful of Nothing’ started life as the last section, playing some jazz chords on my nylon string guitar…The nylon string is a 1962 Espana folk guitar, which is the nicest instrument I own. Truly beautiful in every way, it just wasn’t rock n roll enough to feature much on Hero Buffet…Moved to piano and the chords got more major and straightforward pop. Lyrics came to me line by line after an initial improv of ‘the lights have all gone out’, I wondered what mood would someone be in to be thinking such thoughts and what else could they imagine being wrong with the world on that day, in that moment. I’m an eternal optimist, so I had to let everyone know that the character was going to be fine, that it was a passing bleak mood and nothing more. We all have them. The arrangements were deliberately upbeat and chirpy to counterbalance the lyrics. I always strive to make a song more interesting with the arrangement, to add and subtract melodic sidelines off the main melody in an attempt to keep the listener engaged.”
The album continues sauntering along a sunny walk with “Above the Gods” and “Come What May” before mellowing out a bit during the next three songs. “Dragon Drunks” hints at an acoustic Led Zeppelin dip into exotica by way of Richard Thompson and Alex Chilton, with Robert Pollard locking Jimmy Page and Robert Plant in a closet under the stairs. “Occupy the Sound,” for all its nods in Brian Wilson’s direction, is somewhat meandering and unfocused.
“A Tear for a Dead King” sounds like it could be an outtake from a Hollies album, but tackles earnest subject matter. “’Tear For A Dead King’ is a political song, really. I have no time for the glorification of one person at the expense of seeing the suffering of another, and besides, everything is temporary, even empires. All returns to dust. Deliberately kept the arrangement sparse to allow the simple lyric to shine through, plus you shouldn’t adorn such a subject matter too much. The harmonies at the end are there to bring in the masses, to show a host of people joining in with message, however briefly.”
“The Last Day Out” is a circus-like, sometimes discordant instrumental featuring a nineteenth century Canadian Bell Organ Company reed church organ, which Nick soon thereafter got rid of: “I sold it after recording that track as it was too hard to record nicely due the noise the foot-pedals made when you pumped it.” “Strip-mining the Sun” has a pensive folky feeling and hints at Bert Jansch’s influence on Nick’s songwriting. Even if the last few tunes don’t match the energy level of the album’s earlier songs, the themes and sensibilities are still intact. Nick isn’t afraid of expressing emotion with sincerity undiluted by sappiness or cynicism. There’s a delightful psychedelic element to many of the songs as well, but never at the expense of melodies and without sounding trippy or falling apart into chaos.
Nick describes “Santa Lucia” as being “a song in the Ray Davies mold, lyrically anyway. A song about modern living and how it’s easy to let working get in the way of living whilst you plan for a glorious future that might never come. ‘Life it what happens while you’re busy making other plans,’ as someone said long before Lennon sang it. Santa Lucia is a beach resort in Cuba to which the protagonist is always planning to go but never does. It could be heaven to someone whose mind works in that way.”
My guesses about his influences based on Hero Buffet would be all McCartney eras — Beatles, Wings, and solo, Gorky’s/Euros Childs, Big Star, and Alex Chilton. Are any of these accurate? “Bang on the money. Euros/Gorky’s and Big Star/Chilton are two of my all-time favorite artists/bands. The Beach Boys being my biggest influence, I suppose. Beatles are in there too, as are Kinks, Incredible String Band, and loads of folk stuff. have been on a big late 60s/early 70s psychedelia vibe for many years now — Kaleidoscope/Fairfield Parlour, Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Pretty Things, Syd Barrett and early Floyd, Caravan, Kevin Ayers, Spirit, Donovan have been on heavy rotation over the last few years. Loads of stuff of that ilk.”
Would he consider doing session work from home? “Yes, I would love to be a long-distance session man. I’ve done it with backing vocals for a few people over the years and always enjoyed it. I did some vocal demos for the Earlies several years ago after their vocalist left and the others wanted to carry on (they liked what I’d done on a Future Underground track on MySpace), but then he came back and it went nowhere. It’s getting asked (and paid) that’s the problem. I can definitely do it.”
Reunions with members of previous bands will keep Nick occupied for the near future. Three of the four original member of Neumann’s Flash have reformed after a two-decade hiatus as Pinetop Sauna. The band has released three videos on YouTube in anticipation of their first album, scheduled to be released later this year. “We have high hopes for this record, and a second album is being written,” Nick says. He also reunited with Pete to record a new album Hermit Cooper album, Straw Stars, and start a new band, the Late Pioneers with two other friends who live in other parts of the country: “It’s a long-distance relationship, but we have managed to play a couple of gigs in Manchester and one in Norfolk so far.” The Late Pioneers’ second album will be out later this year.
Nick has said that he would consider working with a label “only if it would be fun.” In the meantime, he is thoroughly enjoying himself simply being a reclusive songwriter, creating amazing music out in his man cave and popping back inside to hang out with his kids, very much a man in the McCartney vein in his domesticity as well as his music.
More music from Nick:
Nick’s home recording set-up:
- I use a very basic set up on everything, as follows: All inputs go into a Tascam US-800 USB interface, then into a multitrack software app called Auria on an iPad Air. That’s it. No desk, no racks of compressors or reverbs or effects units, etc.
- Drums: a spruced up old 60s Maxwin drum kit. Recorded by the famous Glyn Johns method using an AKG D112 dynamic mic on the kick, two Rode M3 condenser mics as overheads, and an AKG D1000 on the snare.
- Electric guitar: a 1968 Kay hollow-body guitar through a Fender Deluxe reverb amp, with a AKG D222 dynamic mic in front, 1972 Eko J56 12-string guitar which also features on the album.
- Acoustic guitar: steel-string mostly which is a 1974 Eko Ranger with an Audio-Technica AT2050 condenser in front Again recorded it with the AT2050.
- Bass: a late 60s Japanese unbranded bass through a Fender Rumble amp, direct into the Tascam not mic’d.
- Piano/organ: a Korg SO-170S digital piano played through an ART V3 tune preamp.
- Vocals are through the AT2050 and an ART V3 tube preamp.
- Percussion, recorder and tin whistle were picked up with an AKG D310 dynamic mic played through the Fender amp and recorded with the D222.
- Microphones: Two Rode M3s.
- The small, fan-assisted 1970s Sonola reed organ on Dragon Drunks was recorded with the AT2050.
- Mixed very basically using Auria via a set of M-Audio AV40 powered monitors, mastered using another app called Final Touch. Job done. It is indeed what results you can get for a few quids’ worth of software and a load of eBay bargain-hunted instruments.