Nick Sanderson: Singer with art rockers Earl Brutus

Nick Sanderson played in post-punk rock groups including The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Gun Club, World of Twist and Earl Brutus. Earl Brutus's chaotic live shows featured a bracing mix of glam-rock and synthesisers – plus wind machines wafting Brut aftershave over the audience and a line of seven big stage-prop plastic wreaths. They spelt two words: "FUCK OFF". To a degree, Earl Brutus were rock's answer to Jake and Dinos Chapman, treading a line with conceptual art that resonates even now: the Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller is currently working on a project that juxtaposes Earl Brutus and the Industrial Revolution.

Earl Brutus literally gave Sanderson a voice. Previously, he'd been a drummer, first becoming a professional player in the early Eighties with the Sheffield post-punk group Clock DVA. Earlier, Iggy Pop had made a similar move from drums to vocals. The Detroit provocateur also foreshadowed Sanderson's mix of brutishness and strange sagacity.

When Earl Brutus formed in the early Nineties, Sanderson became a lyricist and singer after 10 years on the drum stool. More accurately, he was a mob orator in a band which bellowed terrace-style about the Royal Navy, railway engines and "hair design by Nicky Clarke". Most of all, Earl Brutus addressed the wonder and idiocy of our celebrity-obsessed, consumption-fixated society.

Sanderson's father held a senior position in what was then British Rail and the nascent musician attended boarding school in Bristol. After school, there was considerable time on the dole, but Sanderson didn't seriously consider any career beyond music. When he joined Clock DVA, the tour crew included the lighting engineer Jim Fry, the younger brother of Martin Fry of the Sheffield pop conceptualists ABC. Jim Fry became Sanderson's co-conspirator. In Earl Brutus, he became his co-vocalist, too.

Before and alongside Earl Brutus, Sanderson drummed for the punk-blues group The Gun Club. He also played for The Jesus and Mary Chain on their 1998 album Munki. The Gun Club had a lasting effect – earlier this year Sanderson married the band's Japanese bassist, Romi Mori. But Sanderson's place in these bands was as session musician.

With World of Twist, the Manchester-based group who, in spirit, attempted to restage Roxy Music's art-school pop under Blackpool illuminations, Sanderson was more central. However, when this group failed to make the predicted commercial breakthrough in the early Nineties, Sanderson was left to rethink things – alongside Jim Fry, who'd overseen the group's visuals. Earl Brutus was born.

The band's first single, "Life's Too Long", appeared in 1993 on Icerink, a label run by the indie-pop group Saint Etienne. The comedian Noel Fielding is a fan. Jay Jopling, art dealer for Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, was sometimes seen at shows. Earl Brutus did have some common ground with the conceptualised output of the Brit Art school. But they celebrated the poetry and desolation of contemporary life in a more demotic, populist style. Rather than the gallery, Earl Brutus's natural habitat was the rubbish-strewn rock festival – or, even more, the pub.

The band took their name from an imaginary alehouse and were once described by a journalist as "pub-talk made real". This was the essence of Earl Brutus – strange, impassioned snug-bar tirades set loose by alcohol, but this time preserved forever on record. "Our dream," Sanderson once told me, "is to record the perfect song to be played at chucking-out time. That's when music makes most sense."

The band eventually signed a substantial deal with the Island Records subsidiary Fruition. The two Earl Brutus albums, Your Majesty. . . We Are Here (1996) and Tonight You Are the Special One (1998) were praised by the press, but didn't trouble the charts. Yet, this "heroic failure" amounted to another facet of the band's celebration of British life. This and the band's relatively advanced years were condensed into one of several captivating slogans: "Pop Music is Wasted on the Young".

Eventually, following Earl Brutus's commercial failure, Sanderson was forced to get a job. As documented on the Earl Brutus song "Train Driver in Eyeliner", he became an engine driver on the Brighton to London line.

Earl Brutus made powerful future-glam art-pop. It was at once barbaric and poignant – and inseparable from its authors. Sanderson's interests were broad, including ornithology, Manchester United and British history. I remember him describing a birdwatching trip to see some hawfinches in Norfolk. He didn't find the birds, instead ending up drunk in the dark and falling down some coastal bluffs. His clothes torn, his face scratched, he knocked on the door of some remote cottage. Surprisingly perhaps, the stranger who answered let Sanderson in. The pair then spent the rest of the night in high-spirited revelry.

Roy Wilkinson

Nicholas Robert Sanderson, musician and train driver: born Sheffield, South Yorkshire 22 April 1961; married 2008 Romi Mori (one son); died London 8 June 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before