Gorillaz’s Murdoc Niccals at 16 – school expulsion and slate quarry dates on the path to music immortality

The bassist revisits his teenage self for our latest Sweet 16 column

Murdoc: I’m a smidge hazy on the early days, to be honest. The long and winding road to rock ’n’ roll mega-stardom is paved with lost braincells. Lemme think… I vaguely recall I was your classic science genius type at school. Then one day I got bitten by this radioactive spider and my life changed forever. Yada yada, spandex onesie, fisticuffs, personal tragedy, emerged stronger. Bosh. Are we done?

Hang on. Nope. That’s not right. OK stand back, I’m just gonna punch myself in the face to jump-start the old memory banks…

Ten minutes later, Murdoc regains consciousness.

Sorry about that, don’t know my own strength. Aha! That’s done it. All flooding back now. Murdoc at sixteen. Handsome little fella. I’d just been booted out of school for not playing by the rules. I say school, Sodsworth Comprehensive in Stoke-on-Trent was more like a supermax prison. Barbaric place. At least Alcatraz has sea views. The only way to stay sane was to get off your face. Flying Saucers, Dib-Dabs, Fizz-Wiz. I boshed the lot. Very powerful high. After the sugar rush, the E-numbers would leave you catatonic for hours. Home Economics would fly by.

Once they kicked me out, I did what any other 16-year old school dropout with shit qualifications would do. Looked for a soul-destroying job. I took whatever I could get. Tele-salesman, gravedigger, Christmas Santa at a shopping centre. Juggled a couple at the same time. One time I forgot to change outfits. I can still see the terror on that little lad’s face, sitting on my mud-caked knee in Santa’s grotto, staring at the shovel, wondering what the smell was. (It was death). Tried to spin some bollocks about mucking out the reindeer stables, but by that point he was too far gone.

Where were we. Ah yes. My rise to musical immortality. You know, a lot of cynics out there think it’s all about ego, that I’m some deranged narcissist who couldn’t stop until the whole world adored me like their lord God on high. Granted, that’s what ended up happening anyway. I am more or less a deity. The pub where I was born has actually overtaken Bethlehem as the world’s top pilgrimage sight. But that was never what fuelled me. No. The real heart of this story, my friend, is good old-fashioned love…

Her name was Kelly O’Driscoll. Stoke-on-Trent’s sweetheart. The Debbie McGee to my Paul Daniels. Funny, isn’t it. You never forget the first girl that broke your heart. Nor the first girl that broke your pelvis. And several vertebrae. Kelly was from a family of bare-knuckle fighters, you see, quite well regarded locally. Each time I tried to approach her, she kicked the shit out of me. Then one day it dawned on me. My way in. There was one thing Kelly enjoyed even more than violence, and that was music. Bingo! If I was to win her heart, I needed to be in a band.

Then followed a string of experimental groups, searching for my sound. Crimson Backdraft, Two’s a Crowd, Hitler’s Ballgag, Murdoc’s Burning Sensations. So much raw, original music, lost to history. Shame really. Come to think of it, those were all essentially the same band. Me on bass guitar and vocals, drums provided by the ‘rhumba’ setting on my Casio keyboard. A solo act, strictly-speaking. Those fateful meetings with 2D, Russ and Noodle were still a few years away.

Needless to say, the music did the trick. Secured my first proper date with Kelly. Took her to the local slate quarry. Brought some Cherry Bakewells and a thermos of cider, and we sat on the edge, watching the JCBs hauling gravel. Quite the aphrodisiac, too, all that dirt, hydraulics, etcetera. You could say the earth moved. Oddly, Kelly didn’t return my calls after that. Even blanked me in the street. I think, deep down, she knew I was destined for greatness, and was giving me room to spread my wings. I respect that. Incidentally, some years later Kelly competed in Britain’s Strongest Women. Still holds the record for the truck pull. (I can attest to her grip and traction). So if you think about it, we actually inspired each other. Two 16-year-olds colliding at just the right moment in history, sending each other off on our own trajectories. A winning shot on the snooker table of life. Beautiful.

Oh, and Kelly, if you’re reading this, just checking you saw my friend requests? Haven’t heard back. Cheers.

Check out previous Sweet 16 columns with the likes of Stephen Malkmus, Baxter Dury, Anna Meredith, Wayne Coyne, Adam Green, Carly Rae Jepsen, Riz Ahmed, Johnny Marr, Shirley Manson, Matt Helders and many more. 

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