Having joined English heavy metal rockers Saxon in 1981 when their original drummer suffered a hand injury, 62-year-old Nigel Glockler has now been playing with the band for 35 years. Some claim Saxon were the inspiration for the Spinal Tap rockumentary and over the years the band themselves have had more than their fair share of bizarre moments, none more so than Nigel himself who has battled injury and life-threatening illness, yet is still occupying the drum kit. BN1’s Gary Marlowe met up with Nigel on the day Saxon were playing a rare intimate gig in his hometown of Hove, a gig that was supposed to be a warm-up show ahead of a European tour with Motorhead. Lemmy’s death a few weeks earlier put paid to that, but for Saxon the show had to go on.
You were born in Hove and it’s still the place you call home. What has kept you here in Brighton?
Nigel: Apart from a brief time in Streatham, I’ve always lived in Hove. Until last month, I was living about a quarter of a mile from the first house I ever lived in. But I’ve just moved to America, to Texas. My wife is from there and we’ve bought a house in Austin. At the moment we’re living with her parents in Dallas. We left just before Christmas and all our stuff has only just arrived in a container.
Even for someone who spends so much of their life on the road, that’s a big move…
Nigel: It is a big move. I’ve spent a lot of time in America and I absolutely love it. I thought it’s about time I tried something different.
Can you remember the last time you played a gig in Brighton?
Nigel: It was with Motorhead I think. At the Dome. Over the year’s we’ve played most of the main venues in Brighton. In fact, my first ever gig with the band was at the Brighton Centre, which I believe they’re now planning to demolish.
That’s the plan. The intention is to extend Churchill Square down to the seafront and build a brand-new 10,000 seat arena down at the Marina.
Nigel: Personally I think that’s mad. How are people going to get there? I just can’t see the point. A lot of agents who book bands know if they put on a show in London it will pull people from Brighton and the South Coast. Many bands will rather have the kudos of selling out a big gig in London, than selling out one in Brighton.
Tonight’s gig was intended to be a warm-up for a tour you were about to undertake supporting Motorhead, a band Saxon have toured with many times.
Nigel: We were going to be special guests, it’s a bit above supporting! Girlschool were going to be opening.
When did you first meet Lemmy?
Nigel: The first time I met the band was when I was playing in Toyah. It was on a German TV show. Back then it was all playback and you mime away. I was using the same drum kit as Animal and we were on after them and he knocked the whole lot over!
Where were you when you heard about Lemmy’s death?
Nigel: I was in the States staying at the in-laws and my missus told me that he’d died. It came as a total surprise, even though he was looking very frail when we were touring with them in America last September and they blew out three shows because Lemmy got ill. It did make you think whether he’d be alright for the European leg, but as frail as he was, he was playing well and he was finishing the set fine. He didn’t want to retire, he wanted to keep playing. Funnily enough, he was more concerned about my health. We were due to go out with them at the end of January.
Who was the first band you saw?
Nigel: It was Grand Funk Railroad at Hyde Park. I was nuts about them. I got into them when I was at school. And they were supported by Humble Pie with Peter Frampton on guitar and another British band called Heads, Hands and Feet who had Chas Hodges of Chas & Dave on bass! It was a free gig and we bunked off school to be there. My second ever gig was here in Brighton at the Dome: Black Sabbath on the Masters of Reality tour. And my third gig was also at the Dome and that was Uriah Heep.
Of course the music industry is so different these days and touring is where so many bands make their money. It’s why they charge enormous amounts of money for tickets.
Nigel: You have to. It’s so expensive being on the road. I’ll give you an example. When we were last touring in the States in September and Motorhead cancelled those gigs, they were doing two shows with two days off, so we were booking our own headline gigs inbetween. We had to. Our strong areas are Texas, parts of California and Chicago, but America’s so vast, it’s like every state’s a different country. The Motorhead tour was going to a lot of places we hadn’t been to for years, so it was a useful thing to do. They cancelled a gig in San Antonio, Texas, a beautiful theatre that we could have filled ourselves. Legally, we weren’t allowed to as the tickets had to be refunded. But of course we still had to pay for the tourbus and our crew on our days off.
Aren’t you covered by insurance for that sort of thing?
Nigel: We weren’t covered by insurance, after all, whose going to give Lemmy insurance? Especially when they knew he was in ill health. So our agent worked his butt off and found us gigs and we needed somewhere to play in San Antonio. This sounds so Spinal Tap. We were told “We’ve got a venue: Sam’s Burger Joint” It turned out it was actually a huge burger restaurant and they’d bought the club next door, which held about 500 people. By the time we’d parked up outside, word got around that Saxon were playing and the queue was so long they had to turn people away!
Was that the first burger restaurant you’d played?
Nigel: It was! It was legendary. And I tell you, the people were so thankful we hadn’t blown out a gig. The place was crammed, you couldn’t have got one more person in there. That’s the kind of thing you have to do when a tour bus costs $2,000 a day.
You mentioned Spinal Tap; many people say Saxon were the band that inspired the movie…
Nigel: Spinal Tap was actually a composite of a lot of bands. What happened was we heard about this film being made, but we didn’t quite know what it was. Harry Shearer travelled with us for two weeks while we were on tour. He copied our old bass player (Steve Dawson) by playing bass with one hand.
Joking aside, you’ve recently suffered an enforced lay-off…
Nigel: Yes, you could call it that. I had two brain ops! I was in hospital for a month. I had a burst aneurysm in my brain. Basically, it’s a bulge in the blood vessel and then it bursts, so you bleed inside your brain. And God is it painful.
Nigel: It was December 2014. We’d played in Glasgow and had a day off which we were spending in a hotel in Gateshead as the next show was in Newcastle. I was in my room looking at my laptop catching up with the news and went to stand up and my neck just went. I can only describe it as the worst migraine you’ve ever had in your life. My head just exploded with pain.
Were you conscious?
Nigel: Oh yeah, I never lost consciousness. Everything looked like it was underwater. I felt light headed. All I was thinking was what the bloody hell is going on? I fell onto the bed. I was due to meet the guys for dinner at a TGI Friday’s outside the hotel at 6 o’clock. I texted them to say I wasn’t feeling very well, I’m not coming.
So who found you?
Nigel: Gina, my wife, texted me and I let her know I wasn’t feeling well. Then I started being violently sick. And that made my head feel even worse. Gina rang back about half an hour later asking how I was and she noticed my speech was slurred. She quickly Googled my symptoms and told me I’m either having a stroke or a brain bleed. She basically saved my life.
Where was she?
Nigel: She was at home in Hove. She rang our tour manager who was asleep at the time and begged him to get me an ambulance. The ambulance took three hours to get to me — I don’t think they realised the severity of my condition: I couldn’t move. Gina was calling the ambulance centre in Newcastle to see if they’d sent an ambulance. I got taken to Gateshead where they did a load of tests and told me I had a bleed on the brain. I then got transferred to Newcastle and went straight into surgery. Their first attempt didn’t work, so they had to try again and they went through my skull. The second time it worked. And I was there for a month.
When you recovered and got back to playing, did it all fall into place?
Nigel: The five shows we had to postpone had been rescheduled by the promoter for the beginning of February. Having been in bed for a month had made me so weak it was an effort just to get out the bath. I went to the London gig. My tech was actually doing the gigs, using my kit and I played one song during the soundcheck just to see how I felt. It felt fine, so I played one song during the gig. The audience went nuts which was fantastic. Everyone of course had heard what had happened.
And do you have any idea how it came about?
Nigel: My neurosurgeon told me how lucky I was; one in three never get to hospital. When I saw him, I’d been out of hospital for just over a month, and he said 95% of people would still be in.
And now you’re back touring with a heavy metal band!
Nigel: It’s a bloody miracle! When I last saw him a few months ago, I had another CT scan and he discharged me, which was great. He asked me what I was doing and I said I’m on tour. He said “What! I was expecting a year to eighteen months before you’d be able to do that.” I was back drumming after just three months. Fortunately, the aneurysm was on the emotional side of the brain, not the motor side. If it had been the other side, things might have been different. A friend of mine in a band had the same sort of thing a few months before mine and six months later he was only able to have walk 20 feet.
Yours is an amazing story, you must be still pinching yourself everyday?
Nigel: I feel like I’ve been given a second chance. I look after myself now. The older you get, you have to. I’m not 20 any more, I can’t burn the candle at both ends. Unfortunately, a lot of people think they’re invincible.
You’re off now to soundcheck for tonight’s show…
Nigel: Yes, we’ll be there this afternoon to see what it’s like and get settled in. I’ve never been there before. I’ve got a lot of friends coming tonight. I actually bought tickets for my own gig! It’s going to be my going away thing. I’m really looking forward to it.
When was the last time you played such a small gig?
Nigel: It was probably that gig at Sam’s Burger Joint!
Saxon’s latest album Battering Ram is out now.
Follow Saxon at @SaxonOfficial
Words: Gary Marlowe
Original portrait of Nigel taken by Jo Hale, remixed by Images Out Of The Ordinary