Rock n roll to crock n roll - Pulp drummer Nick Banks on his life away from the limelight

Nick Banks, nephew of legendary goalkeeper Gordon, is the drummer in Pulp - and owner of Banks Pottery in Catcliffe
Nick Banks, nephew of legendary goalkeeper Gordon, is the drummer in Pulp - and owner of Banks Pottery in Catcliffe
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It is possibly the biggest tragedy in Nick Banks’ life that he didn’t inherit the talent that turned his uncle Gordon into one of the greatest goalkeeper of all time.

Try as he might, the Rotherham lad could never emulate the Tinsley legend forever lauded for his heroic part in England’s triumphant 1966 World Cup campaign.

Nick Banks and mum Brenda at Banks Pottery

Nick Banks and mum Brenda at Banks Pottery

Nick did go on to become famous under his own steam, though; since 1986 he has been the drummer with legendary Sheffield band Pulp.

And Uncle Gordon DID play a huge part in the niche business his rock and roll nephew runs around his music career.

He may be a member of one of the best-loved bands in the world, but most days Nick, 49, is at the helm of Banks Pottery, a tiny but lucrative business with a £250,000 a year turnover - which would not exist were it not for Uncle Gordon.

Gordon was playing for Stoke City in 1972 when his sister-in-law Brenda - Nick’s mum - decided she wanted to set up a little business in the old cattleshed under Catcliffe’s railway arches. The premises, next to a bookie’s run by her husband, Gordon’s brother David, had stood empty for decades and she thought it seemed a waste.

Says Nick: “In the land of the potteries, Uncle Gordon knew all the right people. I think it could well have been him who suggested the idea of selling pottery as a business - and he certainly did introduce mum to all his contacts,” says Nick.

“Mum and her sister Audrey went on regular buying sprees with their pottery contacts. They bought what they personally liked - ornaments mainly. Lots of figurines and bud vases, plus flowery tea-sets and dinner services.

“They had shelf upon shelf of them in the old cowshed. We had stalls at markets in Bawtry and Gainsborough and I used to help out. I spent many a Saturday selling crying boy and scary clown statuettes.”

Nick had no desire to go into the Loll Banks chain of betting shops his dad ran, or his mum’s business. He took up the drums at 14 and reckoned the easiest option was to train as a teacher and work around his musical hobby.

But while studying for a BEd at Sheffield Hallam in 1986, his fortunes changed. He landed a place in the early Pulp line-up. “I knew Jarvis Cocker from The Limit club on West Street. Pulp had a big local following at the time. I saw a little bit of paper pinned to the club’s noticeboard appealing for a drummer and went for the audition in Jarv’s mum’s garage in Intake,” Nick recalls.

In 1988, degree in hand he went to live in a South London squat with bass player Steve Mackey, who joined Pulp within a year. Nick taught part time in Tooting and the band met sporadically to make music around Cocker’s studies at St Martin’s College.

By the time the band had signed their life-changing deal with Island Records, Nick was back in Sheffield, supply-teaching at King Edward’s School. When everyone was back in town, the occasional band rehearsal and song-writing session was held in the loft space about Nick’s mum’s pottery shop under the arches in Catcliffe.

Setting the china shepherdess figurines rattling was as close as he got to the stock. Unsurprisingly, a bloke touring Europe and the USA with a chart-topping band had no interest in working behind the till downstairs.

But when the band decided to take a long break, he found himself “trading rock and roll for crock and roll.” It was 2002, he was at home kicking his heels, his mum and auntie were getting weary of the shop and so he stepped in to help. “Before I knew it they had both retired and by 2007 I was running the place,” he grins.

The first thing Nick Banks did when he took over the family pottery business was set out to crack a new market.

He ditched the fancy ornaments and went into sourcing classic white hotelware seconds and kitchen accessories.

He dragged it into the 21st century, installing a computerised system and setting up an e-commerce site, and soon orders were being dispatched to caterers, restaurants and hotels all over the world from the little cowshed in Catcliffe.

Turnover and profits increased five-fold.

Regular customers include Selfridges in London. They order hundreds of white pot pudding basins to make their Christmas puddings in.

Another regular from the Capital is a buffet restaurant on Shaftsbury Avenue. They order 500 dinner plates at a time.

Mugs snapped up by fans of TV show Sunday Brunch come from Nick, too. He has specialist designs printed onto crockery down in Stoke.

The little shop is also a mecca for keen home cooks wanting to add professional presentation to their dinner table. They come in search of mini chip baskets, dinky metal pails, sleek oblong serving platters and espresso coffee sets. Local pubs and restaurants are also regulars.

Though Nick has discovered that the major downside of internet trading is inevitably a loss of local custom. “Before e-commerce, food and hospitality businesses in this area automatically came to us. Now they can get whatever they want from anywhere. Though conversely it means that we pick up customers from as far away as Japan, Australia, Canada and the USA. To stay in the market we have to be competitive on price, though, and constantly monitor competitors’ websites.”

Nick now plays regularly with Sheffield’s own Everly Pregnant Brothers and is still in Pulp. If they call him up for a tour, his assistant Louise Rollinson steps up to the helm. There’s nothing she can’t do, having already seen Nick’s business through hell and high water.

She was there when the June 2007 floods brought the River Rother slooshing through Banks Pottery, leaving it six feet underwater. “The business was out of action for two months but hardly any stock got smashed,” remembers Nick. We set up tables outside, started three weeks’ worth of washing up and Complete strangers and even a troop of boy scouts came to help us and got us back on our feet. Community spirit is incredibly strong here. I wouldn’t want this business to be anywhere else than the cowshed under the railway arches.”