March 19 2016, Newcastle City Hall. Pop it in your diary now. It’s the date that the 80s Invasion Tour rolls into town. Curiosity Killed The Cat, Big Country, Midge Ure and Nick Heyward all rolled up into one gloriously nostalgic package. I recently chatted to Nick about the tour, the optimism of the 1980s, his impending new album and, inevitably, clothes. I started by asking Nick how well he knows his fellow 80s invasion tour companions.
“Never heard of ‘em!”, he jokes. “I see more of them now than I did then, I must say. I didn’t know Ben (from Curiosity Killed The Cat) then. When he launched I was just about transforming into my ‘90s period, but I’ve known Midge right from the beginning because he was a bit of a hero. He’s a great musician and great songwriter. And there’s a connection between me and Big Country because my producer, Geoff Emerick worked with Big Country after working on my album, North of a Miracle. It’s going to be a hoot, it’s going to be lovely, and I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be good old hit records, delivered with passion; I still love performing those songs”
Love Plus One by Haircut 100
Nick goes on to tell me how much he loves playing live in the North East.
“The last time I played in Newcastle the crowd went nuts! The rest of the tour was ‘OK’ and then you get to Newcastle and everybody says ‘I’m not not going to enjoy myself tonight, I’m not holding back. I’m just going to go out and really go for it’ I love that, it’s just total no nonsense. The best gigs I’ve ever played have always been in Newcastle. I once played at Alnwick Castle and it was literally bucketing down, full-on rain and yet everybody was still going for it 100%. That’s inspirational. We’ve won wars with that spirit; I don’t think we’d have won any wars if it wasn’t for Newcastle. Stick the Geordies up the front and we’re gonna win!”
We’ve won wars with that spirit; I don’t think we’d have won any wars if it wasn’t for Newcastle. Stick the Geordies up the front and we’re gonna win!
I ask Nick if he still enjoys making music.
“I love working with my son, because we’re into the same music, strangely. I’m also working with Ian Shaw who I worked with during the nineties, on albums like Tangled and From Monday to Sunday. He moved abroad and I went to see him when I was on holiday. He’s got a really nice place, he lives on a houseboat. I just went round for tea and we ended up recording again and I came back from holiday with an album. It was amazing to record with him again because we just picked up where we left off and the album, recorded with Ian and my son is nearly ready. I’m going back over to Florida to finish it off and it’ll be ready for the end of the year. I’m absolutely chuffed, because this is the first album I’ve done in 15 years.” Nick tells me more about working with his son. “When he was younger he was always fixing stuff, he built a pair of speakers when he was about 14 and now he’s a sound engineer. He runs Zak Starkey’s recording studio and he does a lot of the summer festivals. He even does my monitors when I can afford him. He’s brilliant. I always wanted to record with him; maybe the album’s taken so long because I wanted him to grow up and grow a beard. Now he’s 27, with a beard, and he’s really, really good. It’s a joy to work with him.”
We thought we were going to become Britain’s Talking Heads
I take Nick back to the times of Pelican West and North of a Miracle, and ask him to tell me a little bit about what inspired him.
“For Pelican West it was the time, the beginning of ’82 was so vibrant. It was so naïve, it was like everybody was on the edge of a diving board, just about to dive. There were six of us up on that diving board and everything was an inspiration. Our producer, Bob Sergeant, had done all the stuff with The Beat and with him on board we just made pop records. Everybody was really naïve; they didn’t know what they were doing. I was firing off lyrics all over the place, writing songs. All the bands were riding the crest of a Brit-funk wave at the time, it was the end of New Romantic and there was a Brit-funk thing coming along. We thought we were going to become Britain’s Talking Heads really, and because we were young we got put on bedroom walls and we just went with that for a while. We were taking America by storm because we had Blair Cunningham, he was such a brilliant drummer, and he made us quite a live force. That was an amazing time. And everywhere was reasonably priced. And you could get a parking space! Les, Graham and I all lived in a flat in Kensington and the rent was something like £50 a month all in! It’s impossible to imagine that now. Back then Kensington was ‘flat land’, it wasn’t posh, it was just the place where students and creative and artistic people got together to be in London, to live cheaply and do things like start bands and start shops. They were amazing times for creativity.”
Why did we wear jumpers on Top of the Pops? Because it was really cold.
Of course, any chat about Nick’s place in the 1980s inevitably touches on his role as a style icon.
“I was having fun with it. I remember being on the front of The Face in a C&A top. I just put odd things together. I took that element of ‘Oh look, there’s a fisherman’s sou’wester’ into pop. I was gathering things from everyday living, like Arran sweaters from fishermen. I have to say I don’t know why the nautical thing kept happening; I think I just always had some money when we were near to seaside towns.” He breaks off to chuckle for a while. “It was as random as that! Why did we wear jumpers on Top of the Pops? Because it was really cold. It was weird to be a style icon, but it was really good fun. There was definitely humour behind it. I remember being in Dundee and thinking ‘I’ve got to wear these waders on stage tonight’, never thinking how hot it would be under the lights.”
At this point, rather embarrassingly, I explain to Nick how me and my brother used to follow and imitate his every fashion foray, trousers tucked into our socks, fisherman’s jumpers tucked into our trousers and, a couple of years later, we graduated to corduroy jackets and thin, striped ties.
“It was all connected. The music, the clothes, the lifestyle, the whole sense of possibility. When you’re younger you don’t even think about getting older. You can’t think about it, you don’t want to. If I had done, I’d have made lots of really great decisions! The whole thing about being young is that your decisions are so random. You’re living and you don’t question it. I didn’t think too much!”
Interviewer: Neil Pace