FTR Bio: Bass to Bonneville
Name: Nick O'Malley
D.O.B: 5th July 1985
Profession: Bass guitarist & backing vocals for the Arctic Monkeys
Place of birth: Sheffield
Ideal bike: Triumph Scrambler
Before he gets to talking about his new-found love affair with motorcycling, a quarter of arguably the world’s biggest rock and roll band has a confession to make.
If you were a motorist heading towards Sheffield in a barely moving queue of traffic earlier this year, Arctic Monkeys bass guitarist and backing vocalist Nick O’Malley wants to apologise.
Back in the UK at the end of a two-year gap before work starts on what will inevitably be the band’s sixth straight number one album, he’s keen to get that rush-hour embarrassment off his chest.
“I’d made my mind up to get a bike, but I was impatient and couldn’t wait, so I rushed it and got myself a little 125cc, borrowed an open-face helmet off a mate who had a 900cc bike and we headed out into the countryside around Sheffield,” he says.
“We were heading home and I was trying to keep up with him, but just as we were getting close to the city centre, my gear shifter went and I was stuck in first. My mate’s crawling along on this beast of a bike waiting for me and I’m stuttering along barely moving, holding everyone up.”
Easily recognisable in his hometown city and – courtesy of the band’s seemingly unstoppable 14-year rise to stardom – around the planet, his first thought was for getting home without attracting the wrong type of headlines.
“No one recognised me and we made it back, but that was definitely the moment I decided to go for it and get fully licenced up,” he laughs.
For Nick, who joined the band fresh from a supermarket job in 2006 after making his name with Sheffield band The Dodgems, the joy of freedom of life on two wheels is easily exceeding his childhood expectations.
“I always wanted a dirt bike as a boy but my parents said ‘no chance’ and now I’ve got kids of my own I kind of understand why. But riding isn’t all about racing over bumps and ditches at speed, and the need to get a bike has been gnawing away at me ever since,” he adds.
In summer, Nick did his CBT, progressed to a full licence and now happily admits: “I’m obsessed with getting out on two wheels whenever an opportunity comes up. It’s something I always wanted to do as I have always admired bikes and riders from afar. Why? Because they look so xxxxxxx cool, don’t they?”
A hiatus in recording, with band leader Alex Turner working on a solo project with pal Miles Kane as the Last Shadow Puppets, has provided the perfect opportunity for O’Malley and his pals to scratch the itch.
“It’s been good because it’s given me time to keep learning about bikes and how to ride. Bottom line is I love the freedom and the sheer anonymity of being on a bike… except for that time in Sheffield, obviously.”
Nick is currently biding his time and understanding more about the science of riding before buying his own bike. Once bitten, twice shy after the 125cc incident.
“I’ve been borrowing them off mates but I’m about to take the plunge and sort myself out once and for all. It will definitely be a Triumph when I do – it’s a brand that’s got that classic British edge,” he says.
“I’ve never been a fan of the big US cruiser bikes or choppers because they just don’t look classic enough for me. I’ve always loved the shape and lines of the Bonneville, mainly because it looks the same now as it did when it first came on the scene back in the late 50s. That was the first real era of rock and roll, so maybe there’s a bit of a connection there too.”
The band’s influences are varied, with lyrics and humour Yorkshire to the core but sitting easily alongside an appreciation of Americana. The fact that the Bonneville was born in 1956, the year one of Turner’s major influences, Elvis Presley, swivel-hipped his way into the world’s consciousness, is embraced by the musician.
You can just go, see landscapes, new places… it’s a bit like being in the modern day Wild West.Nick O'Malley
“The beauty of the modern classic Bonnevilles is that their DNA is exactly the same as it was back then, but they’ve crammed in a load of new technology so you can get the cool look with all the modern features, like a digital fuel gauge. And you’re not going to break down. What’s not to like?”
Two of the band, lead guitarist Jamie Cook and drummer Matt Helders, both ride Bonnies, usually joining Turner on his Holiday Customs Bonneville-influenced bike and Nick on ‘whatever I can get my hands on’, for rides out from their pads in the Hollywood Hills.
“When we can’t go as a gang, we’ll hook up with friends or I’ll go with Al – both in full-face helmets because I’ve learned my lesson. Even if it’s just a quick ride, the feeling of anonymity is fantastic,” he admits.
Well-spoken, polite and measured, Nick, like the rest of the band, doesn’t really live up to the bad boy genre of rock and rollers, but lets his choice of dream bike do the talking for him: “The new Triumph custom Scramblers would probably be my ideal because they’ve got that extra edge, but it’s a tough choice to be honest.
“Every time you see new Triumphs launched like the Scrambler and the Thruxton, they get it right, but I guess there’s a strong element of that British-ness that influences me.”
He adds: ”We’re based in LA now and there’s this ‘grass is always greener’ thing that goes on. So we’ll be there for six months and I’ll get homesick for Sheffield city centre and the green rolling hills around it and have to come home.
“It’s where I grew up and the place is a big part of my life. I have so many great times and memories there, so having the freedom to ride around it untroubled is a very special feeling whenever I come back. I’ll spend a few months here and then I’ll start to miss California and the heat and head back there. And then the cycle starts again.”
One of O’Malley’s first proper rides was on a T120 from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree through the National Park and then on to Palm Springs with some pals. And his appetite has well and truly been whetted.
“It may as well have been a million miles away from Sheffield,” he says: “and that was the thrill of it… having the means to up and go anywhere we wanted, to see new scenery and not to be confined by anything was priceless.”
Back home, he escapes the rigours of a gruelling recording schedule – the boys have plans to be back in the studio early in the new year – by riding into the countryside around his home: “Where I live you always see hundreds of riders heading into the countryside every weekend. The Woodhead Pass and Snake Pass aren’t far away and are fantastic, in a very different way to the scenery in California.”
But Nick insists the whole ‘lifestyle thing’ is as much of a draw as the riding itself, and adds: “The scene around motorcycles is just another added bonus really. There’s a lot of cool stuff surrounding it now, and let’s face it, most of the best leather jackets have their roots in aviation or motorbikes.
“I get really excited every time I get on a bike and think ‘do I know how to do this?’ and then think ‘yes I do’ and you’re away in your own world feeling like you can go anywhere you want and nothing can stop you.
You can just go, see landscapes, new places… it’s a bit like being in the modern day Wild West.”