Pop: Apprentice to the stars

John Lennon, Marc Bolan and Paul Simon have all taken Nick Laird- Clowes under their wings. Now he's finally got round to releasing his first album.

Ladbroke Grove, mid-afternoon. As I look around my host's Aladdin's cave of a lounge, I feel a bit like a contestant on David Frost's Through the Keyhole. On the coffee-table there's an antique-silver opium pipe. A framed photograph of the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones hangs on one wall. The room is dominated, though, by a home recording-studio and its attendant paraphernalia, and to my right, the very acoustic guitar that Nick Drake is holding on the cover of Bryter Layter sits on its stand. Who might live in a house like this? Nick Laird-Clowes, that's who.

If you remember Nick Laird, it's probably for "Life in a Northern Town", his tribute to the aforementioned Nick Drake. The song was a hit for Laird's band, The Dream Academy, in 1990, but by 1991 the flautist Kate St John was working with Van Morrison, and the Academy were no more. Laird - loquacious, mildly eccentric, still boyishly good-looking despite his excesses - spent the rest of the early Nineties in a drug-fuelled fug. "I'd take ecstasy at 4 o'clock in the morning when I was already ripped on something else," he says. "Eventually, I started to think about that Jarvis Cocker lyric. What if I never came down? What if my brain was permanently frazzled?"

Recently signed to Creation, Laird has just released Mona Lisa Overdrive, a "future-folk" album that documents his journey back from the brink. "Inner Brownstone Symphony" finds him coming to terms with his heroin addiction in a New York apartment. "All Change" features samples recorded at a Tibetan monastery in Nepal's Kathmandu valley. It was here, Laird says, that he hit upon the alias Trashmonk after spending months cleansing his mind and body of some 20 years' worth of abuse.

When we meet, it transpires that he's just back from Nepal after a spiritual top-up. With characteristic enthusiasm, he whips out a timetable detailing lengthy periods of meditation and Buddhist teaching. "It's a big commitment", he affirms, "but after three days you love it and you're going to every class."

If recent events in Laird's life smack a little of Harrison-goes-to-India (the Buddhist teacher Thrangu Rinpoche is to Laird what the Maharishi once was to George), everything slots into place when you consider his background. At 13, Laird ran away to the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival to see The Doors. At 14 he befriended Jeff Dexter, and when the DJ dropped too much acid to man the decks for The Who at the Oval, Laird deputised. ("I distinctly remember Keith Moon smashing our copy of `Hey Jude' and making me put on the white label of `Barbara O'Reilly'.")

In July 1971, moreover, Laird met John and Yoko when they led a demonstration march protesting against Oz magazine's trial for obscenity. The couple were so impressed by Laird's megaphone-bolstered rallying that they invited the young refusenik to stay at Tittenhurst Park mansion in Surrey while Lennon put the finishing touches to Imagine in New York. "There was one room at Tittenhurst where all John's Beatles outfits were laid out," says Laird, "and I remember trying on his Sergeant Pepper hat and watching A Hard Day's Night, which was quite a big deal in the days before video." The visit also marked Laird's first sexual encounter. He recalls hearing someone whistling `Jealous Guy' as he got it on with a 27-year-old Australian model.

It was Maggie Bell, the Stone the Crows singer, who encouraged Laird to stop playing other people's songs and write his own, but it was some years before the obsessive fan was lauded himself. One milestone came in 1976, when Marc Bolan gave Laird's Beatles-influenced trio Alphalfa their first studio session. "I remember being taken for a spin in his white Rolls, and it was, like, `I'm going to be very camp and call you darling a lot, but don't worry - I'm not gay'," says Laird. "In the studio he was trying to teach us something that it's taken me years to learn," he adds. "Bolan knew that getting that energy on to tape was all that mattered."

What was arguably the pinnacle of Laird's rock and pop schooling came later. Long after Drake, Moon, Bolan and Lennon had died, Laird received a personal invitation to study song-writing with Paul Simon in New York. Typically, his meeting with Simon was the product of a long chain of unlikely events. Simon appeared to warm to Laird for no apparent reason. Once the pair were ensconced at the city's legendary Brill building, however, Simon gave the young pretender a grilling.

"He had this thing where you wrote a song in the morning and he'd critique it in the afternoon," says Laird. "I remember singing some drivel about being lost in a great big world, and of course he destroyed it. When I complained that I was staying in this tiny room in New York and he didn't seem to want me there, he suggested that I write about that instead. `Rule number one,' he said, `fact is always more interesting than fiction.'"

By the end of our meeting, I've strummed Nick Drake's guitar, watched footage of Laird and Alan McGee, Creation's boss, meeting Cornelius in Japan, and swished the ceremonial rangu (a wooden stick for goading animals) some Masai warriors gave Laird after he taped their singing on his DAT recorder (session payment: one goat). The Tittenhurst Park anecdote has reminded my host of something else, and I'm delighted when he reappears clutching a letter that he received from John Lennon in 1969. Laird explains that, as a child, he wrote to Lennon to tell him that he was slowly coming to terms with the Two Virgins album. John Winston, clearly pleased with the lad's commitment to his and Yoko's more avant-garde work, addressed his reply to "Nick Laird who heard" and signed it "love, peace and bagism". The accompanying doodle is unmistakably authentic.

Trashmonk's debut album `Mona Lisa Overdrive' is out now on Creation Records

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup