As front-man of pop group Haircut 100, Nick Heyward was an integral part of the 1980s pop explosion.
But that taste of household-name fame and the loss of the band’s fortune, has put him off chasing for hits, as he revealed to editor Simon Redley.
Nick Heyward was born in Beckenham, Kent, on May 20th 1961. After leaving school in 1977, he went to work as a commercial artist, but his dreams of becoming a pop star were much bigger than his desire to sit in an office every day.
Heyward and his mates formed a band in 1980 and went through several names, such as Boat Party and Captain Pennyworth, before they stuck with Haircut 100. Riding the post-new romantic funk wave, Haircut 100 burnt briefly and brightly.
Within a year, they hit the big time. Hit chart singles and they were constantly splashed all over the press, TV and radio. Fully fledged pop stars. The band released their Platinum certified debut album “Pelican West” in 1982 ,which zoomed to number two in the UK album chart, and hit the US chart at number 31. Their final offering was 1984’s “Paint and Paint”.
Danny Baker raved about “Pelican West” in the NME music ‘paper. In 1981 and 1982 the band had four UK Top 10 hit singles: “Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)”, “Love Plus One”, “Nobody’s Fool”, and “Fantastic Day”.
It finished as quickly as it began; the band parted ways after less than four years together, and Nick’s first solo album, “North Of A Miracle”, was released in September 1983.
Nick’s solo career continued through the next decade and a half – including supporting Wham! at Wembley at their farewell shows – his profile still big enough to have him invited on to live national TV to shave off his moustache! Damn, I missed that!!!
His first two solo albums of the 1990s, “From Monday To Sunday” and “Tangled” slotted in snugly with the trend of the time; Britpop. He hopped around various different record labels across the years, from the majors to the medium and smaller record companies.
Arista, Warner and Sony all came calling. Alan McGee invested some of the cash he made from his superband Oasis, by signing one of his personal favourite artists, Nick Heyward. So 1998’s “The Apple Bed” was released on Creation.
Today Nick releases his own music and is very, very, very happy he no longer has to do the A&R meetings thing, and jump through hoops to become what a suit at a record label wants him to become to make them more money than him.
He cares not about volume of sales, charts and hits, and he lives to write songs, to get up on stage with his band who have been with him for 25 years now, and to spend time with his son and daughter and future wife.
I put in the call to the number I have been given for Nick in Florida. Hi Nick, how are you? Are you having a fantastic day?” See what I did there, Nick? Sorry! “Every day is a fantastic day. Well, most days. The days when you don’t get parking tickets”.
No worries on that score at the moment. He’ll not be driving himself and the band for his 20-date UK tour which kicks off this week, with gigs in Brighton and the 02 Academy, Islington, London. The shows continue in Norwich on Saturday 26th May, and then Stockton on Tees on Thursday 31st May, and closes at a festival in Hertfordshire on 7th July.
Nick tours with his UK-based band, who he has played with since his acclaimed solo album “From Monday To Sunday” released in 1993. He digs deep into his back-catalogue from his solo career and with Haircut 100, for the repertoire on the tour; not just the hits, and he will sling in some B-sides too.
There will definitely be tracks from current solo album “Woodland Echoes”, his seventh solo record, which was partly crowd-funded, a source of financial support he would seek again for his next album, he says. The album entered the UK Independent Album chart at number four.
Next album on its way…
He is putting together songs for a new album now, and says it is coming together 10 times quicker than the last one, and should be ready and released next year sometime. Nick has seven dates in Japan in August, and will resume the songwriting process for the next album as soon as he gets back to the US.
But he says he will record the album in the UK with his band, “as live” to get the right feel. “I want to record it live and then go in with the scissors. It needs the live feel. Keeping all the magic; that’s mostly the feel. That comes from human interaction. This current one, I did in bits and mainly in my bedroom”.
Now 57-years-old, but he looks at least a decade younger in his photographs on on TV, (the lucky sod), he sees his music and his songwriting having evolved and developed as his career has gone on, across his seven solo albums. He says the main change is, “there doesn’t seem to be any kind of relationship moaning!
“That’s a definite change, because there’s more of a celebration of romantic love on this new album, if I do go into that subject. Which is ever-present and always around.
“David Byrne said he didn’t want to write another album about his partner. That’s your main source sometimes, hence why when you’re younger that’s the main subject, the big thing; romantic love.
“I always comes back round to that; young people’s first port of call when they write songs. Or they go straight from that to terrible news events.You can tell a young writer….I suppose my connection now is more with nature. I just got older and I suppose there’s more ‘Springwatch’ about me,” Nick laughs loudly at that reference to a BBC TV wildlife programme in the UK.
His POV in his song writing today is coming from a happy, settled, contented place in his life. He is very much “loved up”, engaged to his American partner Sara for the last two years, together for five years. “I am ecstatically happy”. Good for you mate.
Nick was first married in his 20s, but single throughout his 30s and 40s, and has two grown up kids; Oliver and Kate. His son is a recording engineer in Ringo Starr’s son, Zak Starkey’s studio and Oliver helped his Dad on his album.
Katie works in mental health in Manchester. Nick splits his time between his fiancee’s place in Florida and stays with family and friends in the UK when he is here. Based at his daughter’s in Sheffield for the UK tour.
Sara had her own record label, and Nick feels that is a great thing they have in common, and her help with his career is invaluable. “She understands how it works, I understand how it works and how to do it, and we both love records and music. So it’s an enthusiastic musical household”.
He likes the way someone once described Haircut 100’s sound as ‘Percolated pop funk’. “Percolated is a nice word. It did sound mixed up, sounded colourful; bits cut from everywhere. That’s the joy of a band; everybody brings their bits.
“So, the bits were all over the place, and it didn’t sound like one thing, it sounded like lots and lots of things. As a band, it worked. I’d say it sounded like six people learning their craft; six young people coming together and it just happening naturally”.
So what is the difference between Haircut 100 and his solo stuff? “I leaned to write songs, that was the process really. I had school bands and songs like ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ were developing”.
That song really is as perfect a pop song as anything from that era. The infectious ear-worm hook in the chorus, “Hello, hello, I hope you’re feeling fine” is in your head for life after one or two listens.
Go on, admit it, those of you who know that song are humming it right now! “It was actually a song called ‘Look At Ruby’ which turned into ‘Moving Back’ and it still didn’t have a chorus, and by the time it got to ‘North Of A Miracle’, it had a chorus”.
Nick’s first solo album, “North Of A Miracle”, was released in September 1983. Hailed as a production masterpiece, produced by Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick. XTC had initially wanted to produce Heyward. Uncut magazine said ‘If Elvis Costello had released this album, it might just feature in the lower reaches of those lists of all-time greats.’
“Then it had production and then it had Geoff Emerick, the world’s greatest engineer and producer (The Beatles). Geoff Emerick in Air Studios (owned by Beatles producer Sir George Martin) in 1983 was probably the height of everything, the height of recording techniques.
“Imagine, Geoff had worked his way through Abbey Road by that time. Desks had become 48 track flying fader machines and recording through the 80s; the soundscape just developed into something enormous. Film music took off, getting larger and larger. Seeping into pop music. Production became this massive thing and records sounding vast.
How on earth am I going to sound like that?
“I remember sitting at home and thinking how on earth am I going to sound like that without these studios, and those people and that budget. So, getting to work with Geoff and learning that, and developing personally; getting to know how to write songs and more so being in the studio and how to make sound…
“It was all developing and I think by the time the 90s came, I was writing my best stuff, and then ‘From Monday To Sunday’ and ‘Tangled’ “. He was 25 when “From Monday To Sunday” came out and made a splash.
The lead single “Kite” reached number four in Billboard’s Hot Modern Tracks chart in the US, and has been written about in the same sentence as The Beatles’ iconic “Penny Lane”. Nick didn’t know that until I told him, and he is very happy to take that compliment!
Even though Nick acknowledges he was writing and releasing some decent stuff after Haircut 100, he admits he doesn’t listen to any of his own music these days or watch himself on video or DVD. “I don’t listen to, or watch myself. I don’t even listen to the stuff I have just done. You are totally present when you do it. Not like pictures, where I stand back and admire them, and they are all on the walls..
“Music is more filed away. Maybe I should put them all metaphorically on the wall and look at them all. But I don’t have Gold discs around me or anything, as they are very much in the memory. They feel warm and nice, cosy memories.
“But I am going through some songs now for the tour, and so when I don’t listen to them for a long time, they sound fresh; even the ones that sound dated and of their time have something about them”.
Did H100 ever get the recognition and respect he thinks they deserved, and did Nick get that respect as singer and a songwriter back then? “If we had managed to stay together it would have probably got more respect. I would imagine it would have turned into something like Depeche Mode. In a similar way, developed that way.
“Our first songs were similar to Depeche Mode in its exuberance. I definitely think had it stayed together, it would have got more respect. By the time the 90s came I was very happy with the respect I was getting.
“Album of the week, singles of the week in NME and stuff. I’d almost re-written things and that was good. So at the end of the 90s, music changed again. Guitar music was out. Even bands like Teenage Fan Cub and lots of Creation label bands were all struggling.
“That’s just the way it goes. Sometimes you get swept away, sometimes you don’t. Some bands get dropped by record companies; maybe the reason why some people’s careers take a knock. They can’t really get prepared for that, there’s too big a hole in the hull”.
Nick says once he was out of contract with a record label and out on his own as a solo artist, at one stage he felt “rudderless” and didn’t have management guiding him. “I had many years where I was just writing songs, and nothing was coming out. Sometimes recording too.
“It all changed with the internet, with computers, and being able to be an independent artist. When Myspace came, I thought wow; I can share music again, directly with people, with my audience.
“That felt as an artist, I was completely fulfilled, but then that changed again, and then you could actually make music at home on your computer. So, wow, making stuff here and I can share this. That turned into having our own label and I can share music. I just put out a single on ‘Record Store Day’ because I could”.
That single, “The Stars”, attracted much praise. The Sunday Express gave it their maximum five stars and said: “A classic pop songwriter back at his very best”. “Pop at its most impervious to passing trends”, so say The Observer newspaper. While the Daily Mirror call Nick’s current music output: “Elegant, subtle and with uplifting lyrics conveying the wonder of finding inner peace”.
Nick continues: “Whereas before, I used to watch it and think I’d love to put something out, but that means going to a meeting, playing something, getting somebody interested enough to invest in it. If you did go to that meeting, nine times out of 10, somebody would say; ‘I’ve got this great idea, do a Best Of”. Nick groans and laughs loudly at that thought.
“To not keep having that same meeting… I just stopped having any meetings and just became an independent artist. It was the way it was in the music world. I just wanted to have my own label.
“That is why I am so pleased that is how it turned out, because that will never happen again. It’s over. Those days where people just can’t put stuff out themselves are gone. I can put out stuff now anytime I want to”.
What about hits? “I don’t even think about the charts. It doesn’t even mean anything at all. Whereas that’s what it was. If I went to put something out before, it was immediately you’d have people thinking, ‘can he sell records?’, you know. Can he sell enough? Can I make a name for myself off this person.
“Whereas now, I just put out stuff regardless of that. I’m not looking to make a name out of my own self. For me, it is just the actual creative process itself. Regardless.
“I don’t get frustrated that it’s not selling loads, because that’s just the way it is. As an artist, as a painter of musical paintings, I make them. Some people like them enough to have them. That’s it”.
So fame, fortune, chart placings; not in your head whatsoever when you are recording and writing music? “No, because I didn’t enjoy that side of it”. Nick laughs nervously at that thought from his pop star past. “That’s the side that came with all the rest. You had to get your head round it somehow.
“You were either really good at nurturing that or not. That’s a whole other side, you know. So that’s really, really, really a different thing. Being that person. That’s a tough job to be….”
So is it better today as a solo artist that you can go in a pub or walk down the street in the UK or the US, and not have screaming girls chasing you and trying to claim a clump of your hair or clothing?
“Yes, because that side of stuff was…” He breaks off mid-sentence and ponders that previous life for a few seconds. “I really didn’t want it. I mean, I thought it was going to happen. There was a possible chance of it happening, but when it did happen, it was quite a shock that it actually really did happen.
“When it did happen, it was; how on earth am I going to get used to this?” So did he get used to it back in the day? “If I remember correctly, I kind of didn’t, and er, I went against it. I tried everything to not have it; almost self-sabotage. Yeah, be careful what you wish for. I wished for it and it happened, and it was a bit like, ‘woah. I’m not sure about this.
I’m Not Wishing For Anything…
“With my solo career, I don’t want that side of it. I am focused on the creative process. I just do what I do, and do it to 100% of my ability, and I love what I do now. I’m not wishing for anything.
“If I do a gig, it is just about being a singer-songwriter and helping those songs to reach their full potential. Nobody in their right mind would scream at that. If anyone did, they would be screaming for their own inner 14-year-old.
“It’s about the songs. These songs are out there and public-owned things. They are moments in time. I know that because I appreciate those songs. I have a collection of those songs myself, where they are little time capsules that you hear them, and they can never be bettered. You know; 70s pop songs just like somebody would perceive 80s pop songs are perfect moments for them You can’t recreate those moments at all.
“They are just time. You can do a retro version of it, go into a proper vintage shop filled with things from the past, but if you go into a modern day, taking ideas from the past and made a retro version – but they are new – it’s good, but nothing like the actual item”.
Indeed. As I always say; music is what emotions and memories sound like. “Exactly that. I know these are precious things to people, so it is my responsibility to do the best replication I can”.
Haircut 100 songs are the soundtrack to certain people’s lives, yes? “That is it. That I love. That’s it there. So, when I go out and play, it’s not jazz versions of the songs. I am going to play those songs as they should be heard, for people”.
What would the 57-year-old, been twice around the block in this business, Mr Heyward tell the floppy-haired, gleaming white toothed, clean cut kid of the early 80s, as sound advice?
“Don’t worry.” Nick laughs down the phone line. “I really would say, don’t worry. That’s the thing. I worried way too much about things”.
Haircut 100 were last together in 2013. But Nick says despite trying for the last five years, he has failed to get the other five to commit to more Haircut 100 gigs or projects.
“I can’t seem to get the six back together playing. I have had so many attempts and that was the last one in 2013. Mark and Phil weren’t into that one.
“Since then, Mark and Phil were into it, but then Les wasn’t into it. He kind of like left because I think it was too much for him to come over for just one or two gigs from where he lives in Spain.
“I’ve tried, but it is six people and quite hard for us all to get together and be a band. The last time the six of us was really, really good, was when they did ‘Bands Re-United’ TV show”.
That was in September 2004. The band got back together again, on and off, between 2009 and finally, in 2013.
“They took care of all the organisation for that TV show. Flights, got everybody there, booked a rehearsal studio.
“Six of us left to our own devices is impossible. Sometimes I have got a gig and think great, get the guys along and it doesn’t happen.
“I am always hoping for the six of us to get back together and do that stuff, but there isn’t any plans for us at all.
“I keep offering them gigs. Got to want to do it and that thing of just wanting to be a professional musician, you know. And with that you have to accept that at times, there is no work.
“I made a decision to be a professional musician. I made a choice to be an artist”.
Nick has graced our TV screens a bit lately in the UK, on the quiz show “Pointless” and as one of the stars of Channel 5 reality series “Celebrity 5 Go Motorhoming”, where veteran stars from TV, film, music and comedy came together to tour the UK in camper vans.
Nick joined actor Don Warrington, actress Lesley Joseph, celebrity Cleo Rocos and actor Melvyn Hayes. Nick loved every minute and has made life-long friends. He got on really well with the star of the 1970s TV comedy series “It Aint Half Hot Mum” and co-star of Cliff Richard’s “Summer Holiday” and “The Young Ones” movies, Melvyn Hayes.
“It was fabulous. We all got really close. So normal. It was the conversations that I really enjoyed. Hours and hours of talking without being filmed”. So is he up for doing Celebrity Big Brother or “I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here” in the jungle next.? Actually, no!
“They said it was like that barge programme, where people slowly drift around the UK, and I thought I love the idea of that. But it wasn’t. It was slightly more ‘Carry On Camping’. I got enough of a taste of reality TV to think I would definitely not do any more. Not my thing”. Late last year, Nick performed for BBC 1 Children in Need at Wembley Arena.
None of us made money from Haircut 100…
A question that had been burning its way out of my mouth for a while during our chat, surfaced at this point in our chat. Did you make a stack of filthy lucre in Haircut 100? “None of us made money from Haircut 100. No, no”. Nick went on to explain the full story, but for legal reasons, I cannot reveal that here.
I’ll abbreviate the tale, to this…… “The whole band got together at one point when we realised you are supposed to have money out of this, so we went off to the bank and had a meeting with the bank manager”.
The news from said bank manager was a shock. “He said, well, I know you are the guys because I have seen you on the tele’…..I am sorry…. “. The account was empty, and the full balance had been withdrawn that day by a third party, not by any of the band.
Did you guys follow the money and pursue it via legal channels then?
“We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t have any money. We didn’t know how to do that. We didn’t have anyone looking after us in that way.
“It was the beginnings of the kind of pressures of actually just, oh well, we didn’t think about this when we were rehearsing and wanting to be in a band.
“But this stuff happens, so it was just part of the growing up. Money problems, bands splitting up, money becoming an important thing then.
“If I ever write about that period of time, I’d like to get everyone’s view on it”.
So, that was yesterday. Gone. Done with…The focus is on today and tomorrow now for Nick.
His plans for the rest of this year are to get out with his band mates and enjoy the UK and Japanese tour dates, then crack on with the writing and recording for his next solo album.
Oh, and getting married – “When we can fit it in”. So, shall I buy a new suit this year or next?
By Simon Redley
Photos: Steve Ullathorpe
1984 Japanese Fan Club picture: Courtesy of Nick Heyward
Thu 24 BRIGHTON – Concorde
Fri 25 LONDON – O2 Academy Islington
Sat 26th – NORWICH – Let’s Rock Norwich
Thu 31 STOCKTON-ON-TEES – ARC
Friday 1st June – BIRMINGHAM – 02 Academy
Sat 2nd LIVERPOOL – O2 Academy
Thu 7th GLASGOW – Òran Mór
Fri 8th SHEFFIELD – O2 Academy
Sat 9th SUNDERLAND – Let’s Rock The North East
Fri 15th OXFORD – O2 Academy
Sat 16th NEWARK – Newark Festival
Thu 21st CARDIFF – The Globe
Fri 22nd STURMINSTER NEWTON, DORSET – The Exchange
Sat 23rd DALKEITH – Let’s Rock Scotland
Sun 24th CLEOBURY MORTIMER, SHROPSHIRE – Beardy Folk Festival
Thurs 28th BATH – Komedia
Fri 29th EASTLEIGH – Concorde Club
Sat 30th EXETER – Let’s Rock Exeter
Fri 6th MILTON KEYNES – The Stables
Sat 7th TRING – Chillfest
Tickets here: https://nickheyward.com/gigs/
Watch the video to his latest single “The Stars” here: https://youtu.be/_ZA7u6etaNU