Keith Goldhanger and his 90’s Headbutt partner in the noise band world, Ashley Davies, met up for a pint and to share some thoughts on the recent sad passing of their long-time friend and general all-round good guy, Nick Page. The multi-instrumentalist maestro musician, producer, fountain of enlightenment, weaver of musical spells, a.k.a. Count Dubulah, Tax D and Kid Ouzo, passed away after a long battle with cancer on May 11, 2021. To say that a big chunk of our lives has gone missing is the essence of understatement.
Nick was highly regarded by ‘The Industry’ and always good company over a pint and a bag of Mini Cheddars, a coffee, or a full English breakfast in a greasy spoon. Regaling many a story about the early days of punk, life in the rough-as-assholes in the 60’s/70’s Woodberry Down estate in Manor House, North London, where he spent most of his youth and formative teenage years bunking off school and playing in reggae, punk, experimental and post punk bands. After a couple of false starts, minor record deals and stints in noisy Alternative and Bluegrass bands alike, learning the ropes… in no particular order, Slab, Bumble & The Beez, Helen McCookerybook’s Red River Mountain Boys, The Rain Gods, Simonics, Symboliks, Pinkie & The Puritans, to name but a few. This impressive list just scratches the surface, all this diversity and hoovering up of knowledge evolved into forming Transglobal Underground with Tim Whelan and Hami Lee, previously of Furniture, in the early 90’s. Catching the zeitgeist of the post guitar rave scene and the multi-cultural fusion and energy of living in London and bursting into life with the now legendary ‘Templehead’, which became the blueprint for many to follow in the burgeoning ‘World Music’ scene which seemed to form an orbit around Aki Nawaz’s (Nation Records) Global Sweatbox club in Hoxton, then Whirligig as the scene exploded.
After three albums and a string of 12’s and remixes (including a Headbutt 12″) and a couple of compilation albums, he left for pastures new towards the end of the 90’s and his globally wandering tastes became his own pilgrimage of sorts. He formed Temple Of Sound with Neil Sparkes who along with school friend Mykaell Riley and Princess Julie Higgins who became integral parts of this framework and ploughed a different furrow to Transglobal Underground. Releasing 6 albums in 9 years, including a couple of collaborations, one with another school mate, Jah Wobble and one with Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali with whom they also did some amazing live performances.
AD: ‘I remember hearing the original demos of the album with Jah Wobble at Nick’s flat once, just some programmed beats by Nick and Wobble’s bass, to me it was like an ice cold classic, like the lost follow up to Metal Box in the making, I’d love to hear those demos again’.
KG: Yeah, we spent a few evenings in the local, watching the footy after they’d been working on new tracks at Nick’s, probably with whoever he’d been working with that day.
By now he’d become an integral part of the Nation Records music hub, writing, mixing, recording and producing no end of tracks with no end of Nations acts such as Fun-Da-Mental, Loop Guru, Lunar Drive, Banco De Gaia and producing Natacha Atlas’s sixth album ‘Mish Maoli’ and one or two albums by Almamegretta and Lucinda Sieger whilst also working with The Project Dark, The Voodoo Queens and a few others in there too somewhere.
As Temple of Sound faded out, he’d already begun tinkering with a new idea, that of merging his beloved 70’s reggae and dub with the knowledge gleaned from his involvement in the global music universe he’d by now become ensconced in. Dub Colossus, essentially a solo project with a world full of possible collaborations to realize his vision, meanwhile in parallel, working on the amazing and haunting Syriana releases with Bernard O’Neill and Abdullah Chhedeh and the 10 year odyssey with Greek cousin Ahetas Jimi, that became Xaos, which fused Ancient Greek microtonal music and instruments with contemporary experimental thinking.
AD: ‘Xaos was literally xaos at times, I witnessed several heated conversations in London and Greece as they threw the lutes around in the pram, though not quite out, as they were trying to hone the seemingly impossible music they’d created. Of course it all ended up in heaps of laughter and another ouzo after the passionate rages subsided, but to see the pride and joy on their faces on what was the only Xaos live outing at WOMAD in 2007 was something else, a real sense of achievement and a shame they never got to develop it as a live act’.
Dub Colossus launched its ambitious first album in 2008, ‘A Town Called Addis’ was mostly recorded in a rain pounded tin roof studio in Ethiopia in 2006, capturing the Ethiopian vibe with Sintayehu ‘Mimi’ Zenebe and a group of other such fantastic local musicians to critical acclaim that was finished at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studio. There were five more increasingly diverse albums to follow where he collaborated with a myriad of talent, including Winston Blissett, Nick Van Gelder, Mykaell Riley among many of Nick’s usual suspects, exploring that mutual love of 70’s reggae and dub. The most recently released being ‘Dr Strangedub (Or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Dub the Bomb’ in 2018.
To most readers here however, Transglobal Underground would be the first band of Nick’s that comes to mind and in 2017, things came full circle as the original line-up reformed for a tour.
AD: We both saw the reunion show at The Albany in Deptford, (November 3rd 2018), which proved to be the last time either of us would see Nick play live sadly.
KG: They were selling their own merchandise. I tried to muscle in but Nick told me I’d been fired twenty years ago, handed me a can of beer from the dressing room and told me to go out into the venue to enjoy myself.
Nick was a man of deep soul, obsessed with musical detail and musical knowledge, musical curiosity and a stronger philosophy to create something ‘other’ with these tools. He involved himself in so many bands, in so many roles, he probably couldn’t even keep up with remembering them himself. Always busy painting his musical visions, he would always be seeking a new direction, a new element, looking for a new angle and furiously possessed with cross pollinating all sorts of seemingly random fragments of musical genre’s and just as important, the cultures that the music was born from. But he never forgot where he came from, often taking control of mixing desks across London at the drop of a hat, for the likes of our low flying band Headbutt, who would turn up with three or four bass players and a heap of metal to the nonplussed bemusement of the venue. We would look across from the stage to the Front of House, where he’d be sitting, arms spread across the desk, shoulders bobbing up and down while he manically laughed as he cranked things until he succeeded to his satisfaction in making our cacophonous racket turn into a thing of beauty, albeit only to a niche bunch of like-minded appreciators of such nonsense. Meanwhile, bleating cooed reassuring platitudes into the ear of the frowning, concerned house engineers who helplessly looked on. Having our heap of unconventional junk on stage was one thing, having someone who could place the microphones to make sense of it all without any apparent fuss and then crank it up at eight o’clock on a wet Wednesday night at The Marquee, or wherever, whilst bands that played after us such as Poison Idea or Biohazard or The Jesus Lizard looked on gave us a strength and confidence we previously never possessed, we’ll always be grateful for that lesson.
KG: As a tour buddy, when I travelled across Europe with Transglobal Underground in the mid 90’s selling their merchandise, he always seemed more relaxed than at home. The captive audience on the tour bus to offload his oracle of knowledge on, whether it be musical or political and always with that long chuckle to himself as each subject concluded and the sparks of thought ran through the minds of the newly educated. Nick always appreciated the ridiculous state of the world we live in, as well as caring deeply for it, always trying to bring people together to find a common voice with his craft. Everyone seemed to bond with him on a one-to-one basis, nobody seemed to ever have a bad word to say about him.
AD: Apart from his moaning about the state of the world and the state of the music business!
As a regular performer with TGU, Temple of Sound, Xáos, Syriana and Dub Colossus often at the annual WOMAD festivals in the UK and Antipodes, he also made one or two Glastonbury appearances as well as numerous jaunts across Europe during the festival season.
KG: He got me into Glastonbury one year when TGU played sometime in the mid 90’s by removing the band’s TV from its cabinet on the bus and putting it in my seat and swapping it for me in the cabinet. Another time, when Dub Colossus played on the West Holts stage in 2013, he put a David Cameron mask on me and told me everything will be OK if I just danced around him whilst on stage. He didn’t mention the TV cameras and our mates at home would be watching it live on the red button!
AD: We did, we did, it was hilarious.
KG: But I got a Sunday dinner and a shower out of it and apparently got to chat about Acer plants with Bobby Womack even though I didn’t realise who Bobby Womack was until Nick told me after and even though it feasibly was Bobby Womack, I can still never be 100% sure. Another thing with Nick, every story would end with those shoulders jumping up and down and that roar of extended laughter that no one else I know can match.
AD: I drove Temple of Sound on jaunts on a few occasions, Nick would sit Buddha-like at the back of the tour bus, surveying his kingdom as we hurtled from one strange event to the next, there are obviously many, many tour/gig stories from these outings, not to mention pub stories from his local, where he was of course, always ‘Pub Colossus’, sat there with his pint and his packet of Mini Cheddars.
He’ll also be remembered by many of us in bands in the 90’s as a figure of encouragement, helping and advising the likes of Mambo Taxi and Voodoo Queens as well as Headbutt as we took our first steps in the music world. I’m sure we all hear those words floating in our heads every time we go near the shark infested waters. Nick would happily rock up to the mixing desk in a pub or in the unfamiliar (to us) confines of a studio to record tunes that were released with his name in the small print that maybe didn’t compliment his involvement as much as it deserved. Though he always believed that if you give something freely, you will always receive something back later in some form or other. He was a romantic philosopher like that I guess and the amazing amount of people saying similar things in tribute this week means there might just be something to that.
KG: His most short-lived band were called Flu Jab, at the peak of Transglobal Underground’s rise in 1994, just so they could play on the same bill as Headbutt and do a note perfect cracked up cover version of Lieutenant Pigeon’s Mouldy Old Dough, with a hardcore punk chorus to an unsuspecting mid-week Camden audience. So many stories to tell that he could always tell better than I could, and he seemed to enjoy it if I shouted ‘Chicken’ at some point during a Headbutt gig. He’d have liked me to recreate this at his funeral but that won’t happen. I might get Mouldy Old Dough out again to cheer myself up though.
AD: Funnily enough, Tim (Whelan) told me he’d just been to the TGU lock up a couple of days ago, where he spotted his left handed bass, that he only used three times to do Flu Jab all those years ago, it’s been there untouched since, it was alongside Nick’s bass, still there since the final show in Islington a couple of years ago.
No doubt, Nick has cast a long shadow, he was many things to many people and it’s hard to imagine a world without him endlessly buzzing around in it, relentlessly tinkering around with all sorts of freshly forming ideas, chatting about music when the football got boring in the pub after the musical creating had stopped for the day. Several of us often fondly recount the night that an unearthly big grin of disbelief formed on his face, whilst sitting with him and Ahetas in his local, when his Greek gene pool side rose to the surface as Greece won the Euro’s in 2004, he or Ahetas even put a fiver on it at the start of the competition too. The laughing went long into the night on that occasion!
Words by Keith Goldhanger and Ashley Davies, photo by Simon Partington. More writing by Keith on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive. You can also find Keith on Facebook and Twitter (@HIDEOUSWHEELINV).