In the Nursery
I’m in what was once a metal and cutlery finishing workshop in the second half of the 19th century, but it is now a gleaming, hi-tech studio and base for two people I regard as being as much a part of Sheffield as the little mesters who first inhabited this building.
They are musicians, and twin brothers, Klive and Nigel Humberstone: the core members and creative force behind In the Nursery.
Such is their world-wide renown, they’ve even been recognised and asked for autographs by baggage handlers in Mexico, yet in their home town they are virtually unknown. All that may be changing, though. To celebrate their Psalter Lane Art College debut performance on June 25th 1981, they are playing a 30th anniversary show at the Memorial Hall.
‘It’s been 10 years since we played as a group in Sheffield. We rarely play live in the UK, other than performing film scores, and this show is going to be very different from those as we’ll be joined by band members Delores on vocals and David on percussion. We know which tracks work well from playing concerts in Europe over the last 10 years, so for example we can put in ‘Mystery’ from 30 years ago next to newer stuff and they sit quite well together, so it’ll be a real mixture spanning the decades.’
Mention of film soundtracks led me to ask them how they had become involved in that aspect of their work, many of which have had their debut performances in Sheffield.
‘We started in 1996 when we provided a soundtrack to the silent film ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’, but even before that people had described our music as cinematic. Round about 1986 we talked to Dave Godin of the Anvil cinema about doing music for films, and although that never happened, we’d written the songs and brought the album ‘Stormhorse’. We let people know it was soundtrack to an imaginary film and that they were invited to make up their own images.’
I pointed out that that was how Brian Eno had described his latest album. ‘Well, he pinched that idea off us then, didn’t he!’.
‘Dr Caligari was such a success, we started up the Optical Music series of CD releases, and from then on we chose films we felt we had a connection with and that we could add our music to. We want to open people’s eyes to films they would never otherwise see. Our music has also been used on trailers for modern films such as Gran Torino, although we don’t get any rolling credit, but it provided us with an income which means we can work independently on other projects.’
As we talked of their past I asked them who influenced them and how their sound had evolved since they started in the early eighties.
‘At the start we were Influenced by the likes of Joy Division and New Order and that all fed into what we were doing at the time, but then we found our own little niche and took on more of their orchestral and symphonic characteristics. When I saw the Halle at the City Hall, I was mesmerised by the timpani and the marching snare. We wanted to use that as a template for our songs where the timpani drove the whole song along, and not just use it to accentuate a crescendo, but to use it throughout.’
How, I wondered, did they become much more successful outside this country?
It’s just the way it’s worked out. Our biggest break was playing in Amsterdam, and in the late eighties we were playing a lot in Germany and became involved with what was called the gothic scene at that time, although we’d never call ourselves gothic. We play to audiences of over 500 when we tour there, more when we play festivals, and we’re playing the Wave Gothic festival, with Clock DVA in June.’
I suggested that if we went onto the street and asked passers-by to name a band from Sheffield, making music since the early eighties, we’d get Heaven 17 or the Human League, but not many people would suggest In The Nursery.
‘This is one of the reasons we’re doing this; we want to raise the awareness a bit of what we do. We’ve never stopped writing and recording, we’ve just kept going. We’ve never relied on our back catalogue and just toured these; we’ve always been producing new work.’
Finally I asked what their plans were for the future.
‘We might do another film soundtrack, perhaps a bit more percussive, involving other musicians, not just the two of us. We did work with Matt Howden from Sieben who played violin to accompany the ‘Secret Edwardians’ film at the Butcher Works. We’ve got loads of archive stuff we keep meaning to put together for release, and we are fortunate to have our own studio space to work in, in the old industrial part of town. It’s difficult to categorise us. I suppose the nearest thing is ‘neo-classical’ whatever that means. People have really got to come and hear it.’
Selected discography: a beginner’s guide
If you’re new to ITN, you might want to try listening to some of their vast back catalogue of around 28 albums, and reflect upon how their unique sound has influenced others over the years.
The obvious starting point would be their brand new studio album, Blind Sound, or their last studio project Era, but you should also have a listen to some of the music composed to accompany films from the silent era.
The Passion of Joan of Arc was given its debut performance in Sheffield Cathedral at Sensoria, and was very moving. Also, try to listen to Man With a Movie Camera.
Venturing further back, I can recommend Groundloop from 2000, and Exhibit which collects together the early years up to 1998. All of them are available from their web site.