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© Steve Ullathorne

Don’t Shout at the Flowers: An Interview with Nick Heyward

The former Haircut 100 frontman talks improvisation, eighties pressures, the UK, America, and Woodland Echoes
© Steve Ullathorne

"We’re improvising this phone call now, it’s not scripted, and I really like that place where improvisation happens – it’s special."

Sam Bennett


Speaking to me from Sheffield, where he’s visiting his daughter, Nick Heyward talks of his fondness for the north. “You hear all the regional radio stations,” the former Haircut 100 frontman says, “which I enjoy because they play really obscure pop songs which have just gone off the radar – most of them mine.” I tell him I couldn’t boost my own ego that way, on account of never having recorded a song. “I can sort that out for you,” he answers. “We could maybe do a songwriting workshop.”

He’s never actually led such an activity, though he would like to. “I really like the whole idea of getting people creative, whether it’s songs or tap dancing that they end up doing.” He’s a fan of inventing, creating, and improvising. “We’re improvising this phone call now,” he says. “It’s not scripted, and I really like that place where improvisation happens – it’s special.” That place, he reckons, is the same place trees grow from, and the same place he made his recent Woodland Echoes album from. It’s a place where you don’t push things, he explains, you don’t shout at the flowers to grow; you just do a little watering and let things happen.

Woodland Echoes, also the name of Heyward’s new tour, was released on his own label (Gladsome Hawk), and a lot of it he recorded in his spare room – using a pair of low budget speakers, a little Rode microphone, and a laptop. This contrasts somewhat with the making of his first solo album, North of a Miracle – released on Arista Records, and recorded at Abbey Road, with the likes of engineer Geoff Emerick and arranger Paul Buckmaster on board. Does he feel more in control of what he’s doing musically now? When you’re signed to a record company, he says, there’s a timeframe in which to complete a record, and therefore an element of ‘that will do’; if he didn’t get an album quite right in the eighties, it would come out anyway – there was a schedule to stick to. In the case of Woodland Echoes, though, he controlled the time, and each song was allowed to reach its full potential.

While the eighties presented him with tight deadlines, he looks back on the decade with fondness, “even the times that were pressured”. Now, he says, he can see that those times of pressure were also times in which he grew as an artist – of course, this growth didn’t register with him when it was happening – he was just doing what he was doing. I ask if he felt properly immersed in the music scene back then, like he was making the most of it. “Not really,” he answers, likening his 80s experience to owning a phone that you only really use 30 per cent of, or driving a Ferrari at 10mph when it’s capable of 120. “I was bold,” he reasons, “but there were other people who were embracing it wholeheartedly.”

Today he still wants to create. While he’s in England he plans on visiting his favourite town, Rye, in East Sussex, where his “creative Catherine Wheel” spins fast. When in Rye, he declares, ideas just come to him and he has to write them down; the result might be a children’s story, a poem, or a song – if he takes a puzzle there, “it just does itself”.

Where does he call home? “The UK is home,” he says. “I just haven’t got a home here.” He did, however, spend four or five months living in OX’s region, in Taynton, “an amazing little village with no street lamps, so you saw the stars really close”. He is currently settled in Tampa Bay, Florida with his American fiancée Sara Johnson. “I suppose I’m Anglo-American at the moment,” he says. Both England and America might be said to be in some disarray – is there anything that he thinks could be done to make things better? “The two countries have gone out of balance, to the right,” he replies, saying it’s like both nations have compassion fatigue. In the UK, and in the States, he tells me, there’s an uneasy and tense atmosphere quite at odds with the harmonious one you can feel in Canada, for example. “It will get better,” he claims, “it will. Just like any kind of depression, you just have to know that it passes – it does pass. People will collectively care again, I’m sure.”


Nick Heyward’s Woodland Echoes Tour stops by the O2 Academy Oxford on 15 June. The Woodland Echoes album is available now.


Images © Steve Ullathorne


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