A 25-year love affair - Sum 41's Dave Baksh on his Magpies support
Written by Rory Mitchinson
“This is the one interview all week he’s been looking forward to doing!”
It’s just after 4.30pm in Glasgow as Sum 41’s band manager, Chris Nary, hands the phone across to Dave Baksh. Asked as to whether there’s any truth in the statement, Dave sets the record straight.
“I think for my entire life, actually!”
A few months ago, Dave’s affinity for all things Newcastle United came to light in rather unique fashion. Beneath the stage at the city’s O2 Academy, staff uncovered a guitar pick adorned with the words “Sum 41”, “Brownsound” – Dave’s nickname – and, most prominently of all, the Magpies’ crest. After the Academy sought clarification on Twitter, Dave confirmed that he has indeed called himself a United supporter for the best part of 25 years.
Sum 41 are midway through a four-night UK tour as Dave starts chatting to nufc.co.uk – who duly picked up the story on the back of the sizeable response to the Academy’s initial tweet. So, how did a member of one of the world’s most successful punk rock groups – all the way from small-town Canada – end up following the Magpies?
“I was on a rugby tour with my high school, which would have been Exeter High – Exeter’s a small school in Ajax, Ontario – and we came over to the UK,” he recalls. “We were being billeted all over the country and I was staying with a Welsh family. They ended up putting dinner in front of me and there was a hologram from a cereal box which had Alan Shearer scoring a header against Leeds United. And they were like: ‘Yeah, yeah – that’s yours. You can keep that!’ And I was like: ‘Ah, that’s kind of cool.’ I liked the jersey and I just started finding out more and more about the team. In the end, it was just like: ‘OK, this is my team now!’ That was nearly 25 years ago, and here I am now.”
Dave was just a teenager at that point – as was still the case when he joined Sum 41 for the first time. Together with original members Deryck Whibley and Steve Jocz, as well as new bass player Jason McCaslin, the group shot to prominence during the early 2000s, with their first full-length album, All Killer No Filler, going platinum in the UK, US and their native Canada. Included were the singles Fat Lip and In Too Deep, which – nearly 20 years on – remain among their most successful. Follow-up album Does This Look Infected? and the more metal-tinged Chuck were also released to critical acclaim, while a number of their biggest hits featured prominently across the American Pie film series.
Dave – a backing vocalist and the group’s lead guitarist – left Sum 41 in 2006 but returned in 2015. Their sixth studio album, 13 Voices, was released the following year, with another, Order in Decline, just coming out last month. Though the band were regular visitors to Newcastle during Dave’s first stint, it’s fair to say that he was as surprised as anyone to hear of the Academy’s discovery.
“My buddy – his name’s Paul Hamilton – sent me a mention and I was like: ‘Oh my gosh!’” he chuckles. “I checked it out and then the club picked it up, and it just blew up. It was one of those days where I was texting everyone, saying that dreams do come true! It felt awesome – after 25 years of support it’s really, really cool.”
As overseas readers will know all too well, following United from afar can prove tricky at times. And, if you’re a member of a rock group playing hundreds of shows across the world every year, the task surely becomes greater still. So, how has Dave been able to keep tabs on the Magpies since his love affair with the club began?
“When I was like 13 or 14 years old, it was an absolute struggle to try and watch games – as far as coverage of the Premier League goes, or any league for that matter, it wasn’t anywhere near as great as it is now,” he admits. “But my buddy’s dad was able to tap into Sky Sports. He was an old British guy. He loved Blackpool, but he let us watch the Newcastle game every once in a while!
“There’s some Facebook groups and stuff like that in Canada, but for the most part I’m kind of alone – I don’t really know a tonne of other people who support Newcastle United. But thanks to the internet, it’s super easy. And the team website’s pretty good as far as Premier League teams go. You keep things up to date and the re-skin is really cool, by the way!”
Dave performing at the Sziget Festival in Budapest in 2016.
When Dave’s interest in United was sparked, a Magpies side including the likes of Peter Beardsley, Les Ferdinand and Faustino Asprilla were riding high in the Premier League, twice finishing as runners-up. In the years since, he has seen the Black ‘n’ Whites make back to back FA Cup finals, drop into the Championship – but return at the first time of asking – on two occasions, and go toe to toe with Barcelona, Inter Milan and Juventus in the Champions League. Asked to pick out his favourite player from his time as a supporter, Dave finds himself spoilt for choice.
“Pretty much anybody from the Entertainers – I really just caught the tail end of that, and it was amazing to watch,” he says. “Shola (Ameobi), in his prime, was amazing. And I really loved watching Kevin Nolan. He’s the type of player I always strived to be when I played – which was handy as far as set-ups, and being able to read the game really well and play smart. I think the smart players last the longest in the game.”
Dave’s now famous pick isn’t the only indication of his United allegiance on stage, nor at home – where he owns more than half a dozen Magpies tops.
“Oh my gosh, man, I probably have about six or seven, easily,” he laughs. “I have the Brown Ale one, and a lot of retro shirts for sure.
“My tech knew that I was a big Newcastle fan, so he ended up ordering a bunch of stickers to throw on my pedal board. So I just showed up one day and there they were, and I was like: ‘Oh, this guy knows me so well!’ And from then on, I was like: ‘Maybe I’ll get the crest put on to the side of my pick.’ On the back I have a quote from my step-daughter from when she was a kid, and I have the Newcastle crest on the front. I’m thinking of going with a retro crest on the next one – the black and white one with the magpie on it.”
Even taking Sum 41’s gigs out of the equation, Dave is no stranger to Newcastle and the Tyneside area as a whole. And, coincidentally, the city could quite easily have become his home, with the prospect of regular visits to St. James’ Park a distinct possibility at one stage in his life.
“I almost moved there with my ex, but it didn’t end up working out,” he reveals. “I actually lived in Jesmond for a little bit – I was helping to get her set up, we went to different places and I really fell in love with the city. We were hanging out at Dabbawal all the time, the Botanist, and this great whisky bar just right by downtown. I don’t know, I’ve always liked that city. I think it’s the bias with the club but also, to me, it’s one of the most under-rated cities in the UK. I’m still thinking that if I was to get the money together, I’d get a two-storey house there and maybe rent out a portion of it.”
Entertaining and enthusiastic throughout, the time with Dave has flown by. Wary that Sum 41 will shortly be heading off to soundcheck, we start to draw the conversation to a close with a word on the band’s current tour. After leaving the UK, dates in the Netherlands, France and Spain are scheduled over the next week, before they return to the US and Canada for the festival season.
“Honestly, it’s actually unbelievable,” he effuses. “The first go around with this line-up, it didn’t feel as pumped up as it does – I don’t think we were as excited as we are now, as a unit, playing on stage. Just doing things like going to cities like Exeter and Leicester for the first time in years, if not the first time ever, and actually being able to pull crowds is unbelievable. And seeing that the single (Out for Blood) is actually charting on Billboard, I don’t even have words. I thought I did, but I don’t! It’s just incredible.”
Bearing in mind the amount of time they have spent together over the last two decades, nufc.co.uk can’t help but wonder whether Dave has ever tried to make Magpies supporters out of the rest of his bandmates…
“No, they have no interest in football whatsoever!” he laughs. “Hockey’s too strong in Canada. Biz (Whibley) loves basketball – our (Toronto) Raptors have just won the NBA title, so he’s popped on that. And I don’t know if Tom (Thacker, guitarist) or Frank (Zummo, drummer) have any interest in any sport! But anywhere I’m at, I try to go see a game if I have time. I just missed the Ibrox tour today. And, of course, I’ve done the Newcastle United stadium tour – I still have the lanyard that I keep with me!”
"It was one of those days where I was texting everyone, saying that dreams do come true! It felt awesome – after 25 years of support it’s really, really cool."