Nothing But Thieves built their career around punchy live performances.
Right from their first show, the English band have worked continuously, playing shows on virtually every continent in the process.
So when lockdown hit, it hit hard. Turning inwards, Nothing But Thieves completed work on their studio album 'Moral Panic', before focussing on a follow up EP - the straight-forwardly titled 'Moral Panic II'.
Out now, the EP comes with restrictions beginning to ease, and Nothing But Thieves finally able to think about touring again.
Joe Langridge-Brown writes for Clash about this period, and the impact it has had on Nothing But Thieves, their road crew, and those around them.
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I had always known I would love the TV series The Sopranos, even before watching it. I consider fellow gangster story Goodfellas to be the best film ever made. James Gandolfini in whatever other capacity I had seen him always seemed to pull me directly into the TV screen and the series' hype train could hardly be avoided.
I had been saving it for a creative lull and what better excuse than in the flatness of lockdown? I was not wrong - The Sopranos is sublime.
One scene struck me in particular. Towards the end of the series, Tony Soprano is sitting down for dinner with his henchmen whilst they reminisce over past misdeeds. Tony is wholly uninterested to the point of disgust. On being asked why he was so dismissive, he replies in his bear-like exhale:
"Well, it's 'cause, uh, 'remember when' is the lowest form of conversation." He then gets up and leaves.
Now, as a musician who by this time was heavily in the throes of Lockdown 3 (Sopranos has a running time of around 72 hours, I checked) and having been unable to tour for what felt like a lifetime, 'remember when' conversations were not only something I was familiar with but something that I felt I was participating in almost *exclusively*. I was with Tony.
The same went for our crew. Our tours kept getting rescheduled. For some, money was tight. A lot of our touring party were forced to take on second careers to support their families and considered leaving the road for good. We are in a privileged position where our passion and livelihoods are rolled into one and whenever we spoke about them, we would fall into the trap. Talking about the future seemed pointless, so the only way to go was back. It became really quite depressing.
Not to say we were alone in this or it was music industry specific. It goes without saying that the pandemic has brought with it a huge amount of suffering in all sorts of forms. It comes as a surprise to nobody that lacking purpose is soul crushing and that quickly became an added seasoning to many, many of those living in a lockdown who also couldn't work. I'm sure they found themselves leaning heavily on the past too.
We have a very tight-knit group on the road. Our crew are like family so those 'remember when' moments are actually usually quite joyful. What we realised however, is that's only the case when you're in the midst of creating something new or when you're at peace with the knowledge that it's over. The problem was that our inevitable and oh so predictable live streamed shows were behind us already and I'm not sure we'll ever be at peace when it's all over. So instead, our conversations only served as a reminder of what we used to do and who we used to be.
Touring crew are the bedrock of any band. They work harder than anyone else. They start earlier, finish later and have to put up with the artist along the way. From drum doctor to PA procurement, stage monitoring to lighting designs, a wealth of skill is required. This made it especially hard to take when they were both completely shut out from work and ignored by our government for an unacceptable length of time. Strange, considering the industry is worth £4.5bn to the UK economy.
If I was to note a positive from it all, it would be that it certainly gives you clarity in what is worth missing and how lucky we are to do what we do.
For me personally, there are the obvious things like the pre show nerves, the gigs themselves, the travel. But more than that, it's the camaraderie. It's seeing how much care our guitar tech, Nana has for the craft. It's our tour manager, Sweens saying 'come on boys, get your ears and arseholes on!' (That means we need to put on our in-ear monitor systems and the belt packs attached to them, by the way. He has a way with words.)
So now it's the 2nd of August 2021 and we're talking about the future again. We're discussing setlists. We're just starting to rehearse and we're two weeks away from our first proper gigs in over 18 months. It's slowly coming back to us now and our crew have thankfully been able put the notion of leaving the road behind them. We had to put some small warm up shows in the diary because 'surely Reading festival can't be our first show back?!' That was a purposeful conversation. Now when we talk about our memories of surreal experiences on tour, it's after a long day of work, over a pint and full of belly laughter. It feels good again.
I just sincerely hope it's a long time before I have to start The Wire.
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'Moral Panic II' is out now - listen to it HERE.
Photo Credit: Frank Fieber