A sense of Place is very important to Nick Cave. When he had the boon of the southern sun on his back in Brazil his music swayed slightly away from darkness, not wholly, but like a goth with a tan, it was notably different. In the humble setting of Brighton, his music has also shed its hair-raising elements to become a brooding affair. And back in Australia with The Birthday Party, the band’s frenzied output carried the outlaw spirit of a sonic Ned Kelly.
Over the years, Cave has wandered a serpentine trail around the world, following his muse, love interests and other mystic factors. This journey has coloured his life with a sense of chapters. These chapters are soon to be chronicled in his forthcoming memoir, Faith, Hope and Carnage. However, before that is released, we have delved into the locations that have made the man and you can follow in his footsteps.
Below we have collated some of the places that Cave holds dearest. From the tumbleweed town that spawned him to the pub in London where he met the likes of Mark E. Smith and Shane MacGowan for pints that were anything but banal.
Nick Cave’s life in five locations:
“My memory of my childhood was really a kind of wonderful childhood for a kid,” Nick Cave declared in the documentary 20,000 Days on Earth. “The Ovens River ran through Wangaratta, and that’s where I spent my childhood, just down by that river. Kissing girls, jumping off the railroad bridge that went over this river… all of that kind of daredevil stuff of childhood which was very much what a lot of my childhood was about.”
However, as he grew older things grew rather different. He began to have brushes with the law and claimed the local police force “made everyone’s life fucking misery” in the “horrible town”. If that doesn’t sound like an ideal place to visit, councillor Dougie McPhie thinks he must be simply misremembering the town as it is “the ultimate in liveability.”
What’s more, the town is indelibly linked with Cave’s music and that much is palpable. As he said, “[Wangaratta] definitely had a huge impact on the kind of environments in my songs.” Weaving rivers, spiritual wide-open spaces, and crooked corners are all there to be plundered in the world in miniature that spawned the master songwriter.
Despite the alluring geographical muse of Wangaratta, even the hardiest of local councillors would be hard pushed to describe it as a huge cultural hub, or Nick Cave put it, it has “no culture at all”. Thus, the first place he flew to when he wanted to pursue a musical career with The Birthday Party was good old Blighty.
However, even Soho couldn’t contain the Aussie outlaws when they arrived. People stayed away from us,” Nick Cave explains, “Record companies stayed away from us […] Plus we had these really violent shows.” This cocktail of mainstream defiling characteristics crystallised the ethos of the band, and it also ensured that the predestined tail-spinning demise would come about quickly.
Since then, Cave has returned to the capital with fonder thoughts. And if you’re a boozer that he used to frequent then look no further than the gothic pub The Montague Arms in central London. It was there that he met up with Mark E. Smith and Shane MacGowan in a meeting of what MacGowan described as “ the three biggest brain-damaged cases in rock ‘n’ roll.”
Albeit the reported story is that Nick Cave and co travelled to Berlin for artistic reinvention when The Birthday Party ended, when I recently spoke with Mark Reeder, he told us a different story.
“When Nick decided to move to Berlin in 82,” he began, “he first stayed with me in my shabby little Nostitzstrasse flat, a squalid hovel boasting one and a half rooms packed into 20 square metres and crammed with crap, consisting of records, books and model aeroplanes. It was in the back yard of a bullet-riddled building. My room had almost no daylight and no hot water, it had a coal-oven heater and we shared an outside toilet. As Nick exclaimed upon arrival “it’s positively Victorian!”
Nevertheless, he decided to embrace the squalor and art was only the half of it. “In reality, he had fallen in love with Elisabeth Recker, the girlfriend of Thomas Wydler, who was the drummer with my band Die Unbekannten, and Die Haut. I was working as live sound engineer for Die Haut, who were supporting the Birthday Party on tour and Nick was insistent I tell him everything about living in Berlin. He had obviously made up his mind, as a few weeks later there he stood on my doorstep.”
While Nostitzstrasse has since been gentrified, the spirit of the surrounding subterranean bars that Cave used to visit remains joyously bohemian. As Reeder concluded: “It’s an on-growing, ever-developing process. New artists and projects are springing up all the time. The same kind of people who have always come to Berlin, still come to Berlin. The misfits of society. The shirkers and draft dodgers, the gay guys, the crazies and weird arty types. They discover themselves and their creative potential here.”
Mercearia São Pedro, Brazil
Cave’s next major global haunt was in the unlikely location of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Tender Prey had been the album that came out shortly before the trip, and it continued to deal with austere subjects befitting of a fractured Berlin and an equally splintered man. As Cave would later remark: “[Tender Prey] was one long cry for help.”
The Good Son that followed could not have been more different. The contentment that came from a new start in Sao Paulo is rung out on a record that saw Cave at his most sanguine. For the first time, it would seem, Cave was able to bask in the boon of his munificent harvest, the rewards of his honest artistic toil and good health, under the salve of the golden southern sun. No song defines this windfall of circumstance quite like ‘The Ship Song’ where the feet-up on the porch reflection produces a sigh of pipe-and-slippers serenity.
As Cave put it himself, “In the early nineties I lived in an area of São Paulo called Vila Madalena with my then partner, Viviane, and our son, Luke. At the end of our street was Merceario São Pedro, a grocery store that doubled as an outdoor bar. Every day at around 11 o’clock I would round up Luke, who was about two at the time, and together we would set out up the hill to Pedro’s. I would sit Luke up on a stool next to me at the bar and we would eat cheese pastels, and the owner, Pedro, would talk to Luke till the workers came in for lunch.”
Sadly, the bar has now made way for redevelopment, but the simple days of sun and civility in the areas many tavernas still remain. As the writer Malcolm Lowry once put it: “How, unless you drink as I do, could you hope to understand the beauty of an old Indian woman playing dominoes with a chicken?”
In later years, Cave found himself in his new spiritual home of Brighton, UK. Family, stability and structure have seemingly induced a more wistful maturity to his work as he fetches wisps of wisdom and wonder from the floating ether and transposes them in song. As he says while looking out over the moody Brighton seas and bleak, bruised skyline at the end of 20,000 Days on Earth: “In the end, I’m not interested in that which I fully understand. The words I have written over the years are just a veneer.”
Aside from the bruising sea, Cave also enjoys the city’s finest haunts. Most of these spots were explored in his novel The Death of Bunny Munro where The Argus recalls him discussing “a picnic at Adelaide Crescent, a Sunday service in St Nicholas Church in Portslade, a trip to the Wick Inn on Western Road, a visit to the Royal Sussex Hospital and a night out at the Funky Buddha Lounge bar on the seafront.” Not a bad day out at all.