I’ve had a bit of a kicking but I’m still performing
AT the very height of his fame in the mid-Eighties Nik Kershaw — he of the baby face and unforgettable
AT the very height of his fame in the mid-Eighties Nik Kershaw — he of the baby face and unforgettable big blond coiffure — was invited to play at the most prestigious showbiz event of the decade. As he stepped out on the Live Aid stage at Wembley Stadium to play to a worldwide audience of two billion he admits he was “terrified”.
Then the worst thing that could possibly happen to any performing artist happened. In the middle of his hit Wouldn’t It Be Good he forgot his words.
“I wake up in a cold sweat about it even now,” he says. “Just as I was going into the second verse a little voice in my head said, ‘you don’t know the words to the bridge that’s coming up, do you?’ I had convinced myself. So I just repeated the words to the second verse again, only to a different tune. I got some very confused looks from the band, like, ‘What are you doing?’
“I did sing some lyrics, only not the right ones.”
Fortunately, he thinks most people in the audience didn’t notice.
The singer-songwriter who plays the Rewind Festival this year says — somewhat self-deprecatingly — that mucking up on stage is something he does quite frequently, but in that particular instance he put his nerves down to the fact that the concert had been thrown together in a few manic weeks.
“The whole thing was really held together with gaffer tape from start to finish,” he says. “It’s incredible that it happened. It was pushing the technological boundaries, putting an event together that quickly. I couldn’t hear anything on stage at all, and the revolving stage didn’t work, so it ended up being pushed round. Also, there is an art to performing to a crowd that size (70,000) which Freddie Mercury demonstrated later on, but most of the rest of us made some terrible mistakes.”
Nevertheless, Kershaw got through and managed to cover up well, which after all is what live performing is all about.
It was an art he learned in the early days, when he left grammar school in the middle of his A levels and joined a function band, playing Abba covers and the Birdie Song to receptive audiences at weddings and 18th birthday parties and the like.
“I was earning a living making music, which is as far as I thought it was going to go,” he says. “I can’t say I have any regrets. It was a brilliant time and a great experience. It was my apprenticeship. I learned my craft doing that with a great bunch of people. We had a good old laugh and I didn’t have to get up in the morning for a proper job. I was spoilt.”
When the band split up in 1982 he decided to make a go of writing his own material and locking himself up in a rented farmhouse in the middle of Essex where he could make as much racket as he liked, he recorded four songs at a time on a home-recording cassette device and sent them off to record companies — only to have them sent back with a reject note. Then he hired a manager who sent the same tapes off to the same companies, and in 1983 he was signed up by MCA. The following few years, he says, were “a blur”.
“It was unbelievable, it was really unreal,” he says. “It was difficult getting a handle on it. Making the records was easy because you are in control, sitting in the studio doing what you know. Then when the album comes out you are completely at the mercy of other people. It’s exciting, but also a bit scary and an unreal situation. On some occasions I was visiting two or three countries in a day doing radio or TV interviews.”
His first hit, Wouldn’t It Be Good, made number four in the UK singles chart in 1984 and was followed by three more top 20 hits from his début album Human Racing, including I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me which reached number two. But after his second album, The Riddle, he decided it was time to slow down.
“The first two albums were written in nine months. It was bonkers,” he says. “So I made a conscious decision to take my time with the third. I had to calm down a bit. It was another three years to that next album.”
In the Nineties he dedicated his time to writing songs for other artists, including one of his most famous hits, The One And Only performed by Chesney Hawkes.
“I was fed up with the whole circus,” he says. “I had just started a family and I thought it would be easy sitting down at home and writing for other people, and let them go through the crap. But it’s a completely different craft, a different kind of songwriting.
“There’s a reason why you wanted to be an artist, maybe being the centre of attention, I don’t know. But if you are writing for someone else it’s ultimately frustrating, and you spend most of your time in meetings. It was soul destroying in the end.”
So in the late Nineties he went back to writing songs for himself with renewed vigour.
“I’m still enjoying it. In fact, probably a bit more now because it doesn’t seem as earth-shatteringly important as it did back in the day, when you thought everything revolved around you.
“You’ve had kids, you had a bit of life and had a good kicking on your way down and you realise that it’s not the be all and end all. It’s just a great privilege working on stage and I was lucky enough to have that success. Very lucky.”
* Nik Kershaw plays the Rewind Festival Henley on Saturday, August 17. Visit www.rewindfestival.com