Merch manager Nick Alexander lived for live music. On November 13 he was murdered by terrorists at Le Bataclan theatre in Paris, doing what he loved at an Eagles Of Death Metal gig. Barry Nicolson speaks to Nick’s sister, Zoe, about a man who was living his dream.
Anyone who’s ever worked in live music will tell you that the success of any live show hinges on far more than what happens on stage. The performance that you see is merely the end product of all the unglamorous work that you don’t: the all-weather, cross-country drives, the early morning load-ins, the hours of soundchecking and stock-taking, the rapid-fire dismantling of the whole production while the band sit backstage, toasting another triumphant night on the road. You rarely learn their names, let alone read about their stories, but behind every great gig is a crew who hold themselves to that same standard night after night, month after month. It’s what Nick Alexander lived for, and died doing two weeks ago in Paris.
Nick’s sister, Zoe, remembers her younger brother as someone who, “Had a great sense of joie de vivre, a quirky rock’n’roll guy who always looked for the road less travelled, who loved everything from Dolly Parton to Whitesnake, Girls Aloud to Alice Cooper.” The pair grew up in Colchester, reading NME and obsessing over Britpop bands. While Nick was still at school, Zoe started working for a merchandise company and got him a job selling programmes at V Festival. “From that point onwards, as soon as it came onto his radar, that was his career,” she says. “He never went down the avenue of producing music himself. He ran quite a few club nights in Colchester and a couple in London, which was something he was good at and passionate about, but his main thing was being part of the team that made a show happen. He loved being part of the buzz of live music.”
Over the course of his career as a merch manager, Nick toured with a wide range of acts that included Scissor Sisters, Sum 41, Damon Albarn, Alice In Chains, MGMT, Fall Out Boy, The Black Keys and, of course, Eagles Of Death Metal. His first stint on the road, however, came with US singer-songwriter Jesse Malin, when he was 23 years old. “I sent him out with all sorts of caveats – do this, don’t do that, etc,” laughs Zoe, “but he did a great job, and he did Jesse’s next three tours after that. He was totally cool with living out of his suitcase, going from city to city, country to country, and once he started touring, that was all he wanted to do. It became his world.”
Nick spent much of his life on the road, but whenever he was off-duty, or their paths crossed fortuitously, he became Zoe’s “gig buddy” – one of her fondest memories of her brother is of going to see The Libertines at Alexandra Palace last September, the last gig they ever attended together.
Two weeks ago, as terrorists ran riot in the streets of Paris and the world watched in horror, Zoe learned that she would never see her younger brother again. “We put on the news and saw that there was a situation going on at the Bataclan, where we knew Nick was,” she remembers. “I know that venue, and I know where the merch stand is – it’s in a very exposed position. Events were ongoing and the mobile networks were down, but around 2am was when word started to filter out from the scene. That’s when we heard.”
The void left by the loss of a loved one, particularly to something as evil and senseless as the Paris attacks, can never be filled by words alone, but the family have found comfort in the tributes that have poured in from Nick’s past and present employers, as well as the knowledge that he has become a symbol for the unity of the industry as a whole. “Josh Homme called me two days later, and I know he’d been very much wanting to speak with the family directly, but felt he needed to wait until we’d dealt with the official channels,” says Zoe. “Obviously, Josh wasn’t on that leg of the tour, but he really wanted to reach out, to give us his condolences and represent the Eagles Of Death Metal family. The merch person is often the closest that a lot of fans get to the artist, and for them to feel that Nick represented them so competently would have been a massive thing for him.”
Music is a global industry, but it’s also a small world, and that’s one of the reasons why Nick Alexander’s death has reverberated so loudly around it. There’s a good chance that many of us have bought a T-shirt, or a tote bag, or a piece of vinyl from one of his stalls without even knowing it, or giving it a second thought. Such is the life of a road crew: it’s their job to facilitate the shows that others will be remembered for, and they do so graciously, without ego or expectation, because music is its own reward. The gunmen who took the lives of 130 people in Paris thought they were martyrs, but they were only cowards, and their names will swiftly be forgotten; instead, let’s remember Nick Alexander, and all those who died doing what their murderers’ backwards, bankrupt philosophy deems sinful.