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Age restriction 14+
Nigel Powell has been a musician on the road for his whole working life. A dream for a lot of people, but a day job is rarely everything you desire. Nigel's incredible musicianship can be heard as part of forever-touring Frank Turner's musical support group, the Sleeping Souls. Though confined to drums – with energy and technique fit to burst – and backing vocals, which gild the fine work going on already, that would be more than enough of an outlet for a normal musician. Thankfully, Nigel is also one quarter of power-pop purveyors Dive Dive, due a new album after 2010's rip-roaring Potential. But still rather than portioning out his creativity, The Sad Song Co. has become the coursing stream into which Nigel's songwriting reservoir runs.
Following the split of Nigel's band Unbelievable Truth, whose debut album in 1998 scored top 40 singles and netted them global tours, he released two albums of his own songs: miseryguts in 2003 and, after work on Dive Dive's debut album Tilting at Windmills and producing a top 10 album for Belgian artist Milow, Poignant Device in 2007. Shortly after, The Sad Song Co. temporarily closed shop while Nigel and the other Sleeping Souls helped raise Frank Turner to national treasure status via six albums, over 1,500 shows including headlining London's Wembley and O2 Arenas, visiting over 40 countries, and performing at the televised pre-opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games seen by, well, millions.
As the touring machine wound down a little somewhere around 2014 and 2016, Nigel managed to get "stationary time at home for my ‘writing brain’ to emerge”. This had just not been possible during such a mammoth touring schedule. Third album in amber was released in November 2016 following a successful PledgeMusic campaign. An elegant and absorbing collection of songs weaved around stories in an old people's home, it served a potent jolt to The Sad Song Co.'s production schedule – Nigel was back in business.
Latest album Worth sees Nigel's productivity in overdrive, coming so soon after in amber. Pulling even more from his love of progressive rock, sky-scraping songs like 'The Body Beautiful' grasp at the edges of expectation, Nigel's disarming voice scaling the escalating key changes. The album's innocuous indie-rock intro, 'Lifestyles', is a gem unearthed from 1994 (from a previous band, Mundaka, who never recorded it) but the hesitant chord change before Nigel's voice soars grips at the aural senses that rarely tingle. With each song, you're often in familiar territory feeling uneasy, at risk, about to leave solid ground. And even if you soak in twists and turns like these, it ends up being the undeniable pop suss that leaves you reeling and enriched.
As the album tears along at a cracking pace, the confession of 'Worth My Bones' is both striking and its most revealing moment – in an album full of encouraging sentiment and personal revelation, it's Nigel's own struggle to reconcile self-worth and judgement stretching across his entire life that provides the pumping heart and universal resonance. Backing vocals from friends and musical colleagues Frank Turner, Billy Pettinger (AKA Billy the Kid), Max Kerman of Arkells, and Kat Jones echo the surge of effort it takes to be both your own accuser and justify the path you're on.
Though the album was originally going to be about violence, just as in amber was strung together with tales about old age and death, what came out of the lyrics as they were written was this sense of proving yourself and risk versus reward. "There was a very vague thread running through them - what is achieving worth, what is it worth to risk getting into a relationship, what is friendship worth, what am I worth,” explains Nigel. It became the most personal album of his to date, with 'Lonely Is A State of Mind', 'Einmal Is Keinmal' and 'Islands' all chronicling his last relationship. Though Nigel is keen to point out that "there is enough positivity on the album that I considered releasing it under a different name.”
With a falsetto that lilts and haunts at times, his voice fits across a varied musical topography including pulsing, shuffling percussion, guitars that glimmer, machine distortion, liquid solos and sombre piano. Overall, the creative and recording process is just what Nigel needs, from finding out how he works with others to fulfilling an often-suppressed desire to craft. "The way I approach music has always been markedly different from Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, and most of the time would be at odds with what we create. When I wasn’t getting time to make albums of my own I would get quite frustrated and depressed in that situation because I didn’t have an avenue for expressing myself the way I really wanted to do it, so coming back to The Sad Song Co. has been a very positive thing for me. The process of making the albums always informs what is possible and how I can do things, and how I work with other people.”
The Sad Song Co. could well be enough musical output for the average songwriter, musician and performer, but Nigel's formidable efforts are forged in exploration, in soul-searching and pushing himself to the limit. The torrents can't simply be plugged back into a bottle; while he continues to exemplify the touring and contributing musician, he will also take his songcraft with him to be honed and revealed when it's truly ready.