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Culture, Music, Interviews

OX Sylva Meets: Nik Kershaw


The sound of Nik Kershaw’s distinctive vocals will doubtless ricochet readers straight back to their youth. His debut album, Human Racing and follow-up, The Riddle dominated the album and the singles charts with hits like Wouldn’t It Be Good and Don Quixote. Although he took a break from performing he has consistently written both for himself and other artists and started releasing music in his own name once again in 1999. He’s ditched the mullet and his recent tour promised “a distinct lack of dance moves, lasers, pyrotechnics, jazz hands or anything remotely to do with ‘showbusiness’”. Just great music from a musician”. After a summer playing various festivals across the UK, he will be staging The 1984 Tour across the UK and Europe. We caught up with him over Zoom to learn more about the teen heartthrob-turned-musician’s musician.

If you were coming onto the scene now, what kind of genre do you think you would work within?

I think the same thing applies in that it depends on which gate you enter the music business through. Some won’t let you in, for whatever reasons, and if you enter through a pop gate then it’s going to be pop and if you enter through already being in an indie band doing the circuit, then its going to be that gate you enter through. Not that it can’t be changed throughout a career.

I had your poster on my wall, and you had that brooding James Dean look, rather than the cheeky, cheery pop boy...

Much of that was because I was completely clueless. I was just a guy who played a bit of guitar and sung a bit and was very comfortable in the studio, but as soon as you stuck a camera in front of me or told me ‘you've got to be a pop star now’ I was utterly clueless.

I read a quote from you saying that you wouldn't have written those songs now and I think a lot of the music of the 80s felt like the lyrics were really striving for meaning. Your more recent work is more direct.

I think you stop worrying quite so much about what people think of you the older you get. Also my lyrics have got more personal as I’ve got older. You become more confident, and you feel less vulnerable letting those things out; saying well actually I’m a bit depressed now I’m going to sing a song about that. But you also discover it’s a lot bloody easier writing a song from a personal point of view, because it’s a subject that you know about – you don’t have to research it on Google, not that there was Google in 1984.

Early on most of my lyrics were very kind of detached, although they probably were about me because that’s all songs are about you, really. And when I said flippantly those songs wouldn't exist, I think a couple would, because I would still write those lyrics. Some of them just sound a little bit naive to me, but then I was a little bit naive.

I’ve also been discovering all people that you've collaborated with, some of which surprising. I never knew Nik Kershaw and Genesis collided.

We collided in the early 70's because I collided with Genesis every time I went to see them. I was a mad Genesis fan, especially in the Peter Gabriel days. There’s a prog influence in the way I use chords and the way I put songs together. When Tony Banks and Steve Hacket got in touch I was very flattered, but I’ve also got a lot of prog friends, Jakko in King Crimson is a mate of mine and Nick Beggs [Kajagoogoo], who's very prog nowadays. Regardless of what genre you end up performing in, or having success at, you've got your own story: you've got your own musical life up to that point.

Thinking about the songs for other performers, how does it feel to see someone else working with your creation?

I made a decision to have a break for about 10 years, 1989 to about ’99. I was just writing and producing and not doing the whole artist thing. I found it very easy, in fact the first song out of the bag was The One and Only [Chesney Hawkes], and of course that was huge. I thought, well this is a piece of piss, this is fantastic and of course it wasn't. I kind of had to re-learn how to write songs because every time I sent something to my publisher they came back with, ‘it’s alright but it’s a bit Nik Kershaw’. So I had to tone everything down and all the lyrics became a bit more generic. You’re putting words into other people’s mouths so you can’t really say what you want to say. Plus, the fact that with a lot of projects you'd be at the front end in the beginning, but by the time it had finished and gone through various producers and had the input from various A & R men and the artist’s mum it turned into something completely different. Being a control freak I found that frustrating, which is why I started making records again myself. 

Obviously, so many of your fans were waiting for that moment. I wonder how that felt for you to see all those people rooting for you.

Yeah. There were people there I remember at Hammersmith in 1984, you know? In the front row, still there and the first feeling is one of huge gratitude. You think, well it must have been more than just a pretty face back then. There must be more to it otherwise these people wouldn't still be here, so that’s a great feeling. Growing up with all these people and getting older with all these people is a huge privilege.

It’s like there are two elements to you. What I hope to respectfully term the ‘Rewind’ artist and then there’s the musician you've gone on to become. How do the two sit together.

They didn't sit at all originally, I think there’s a stage that every artist goes through of a) taking themselves far too seriously and b) resisting the whole kind of retro thing and just wanting to look forward. At one point the old songs were a bit of a monkey on my back but they've been so good to me, those songs, so I don’t have any problem playing them anymore, even if it is t to the exclusion of everything else, which is what the Rewind thing is about. It’s a kind of contract you have between you and the audience; they know why they’re there and you know why you’re there, and that’s great. But I still get the opportunity to play my own shows in front of a crowd that have been in to all the other stuff I’ve done and the stuff I’m hopefully going continue to do, so I’ve got kind of the best of both worlds.


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