Thursday, 20 September 2018

Chesney’s more than just a mane attraction

YOU expect a rock star from the Nineties with a typical mullet from that era to be able to wax lyrical on bouffant hair care tips. But Chesney Hawkes, who had one of the most memorable shocks of blond big hair of the decade, is surprisingly coy about it.

YOU expect a rock star from the Nineties with a typical mullet from that era to be able to wax lyrical on bouffant hair care tips. But Chesney Hawkes, who had one of the most memorable shocks of blond big hair of the decade, is surprisingly coy about it.

“There was a little bit of bottle going on,” he admits. “I’m a blond naturally, but I did used to highlight it. And there was a lot of hairdrying and spray. And I may have used a bit of mousse. But I didn’t have a big team following me around to do my hair or anything like that.”

It’s a response that is, frankly, disappointing, especially to those ladies among us who spend hours trying to tease volume and pizzazz into our hair. However the singer/songwriter, who is playing Rewind festival this year, is much more animated when talking about the showbiz world in which he grew up.

His father, Leonard, was the lead singer in The Tremeloes, and his mother Carol was an actress and game show hostess, so he grew up in a house where parties were often star-studded events, with musicians from bands like The Searchers, The Kinks and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich dropping in for a beer.

The family - Chesney, his mum, dad, brother Tony and sister Keely - lived in a five-bedroom mansion in Sunningdale, not far from Tittenhurst Park, formerly the home of John Lennon and the place where the video for his hit Imagine was filmed.

One day in 1979, when Hawkes’ father was recording in the studio there, he was wandering around the grounds when he came across a pile of old furniture.

“Ringo Starr had bought Tittenhurst Park off John Lennon, and my dad saw this bunch of furniture including this piano, and said, ‘What are you doing with that?’

“Ringo didn’t want it so dad gave him £600, went and borrowed a van off a mate, and packed it all up. The piano was a beautiful turn-of-the-century Broadway baby grand, and it’s been in our house ever since.”

It was on this piano, on which John Lennon had tickled the ivories and no doubt written a song or two, that Hawkes took his first music lessons.

“I’ve always been a singer, since I was a kid, but I started playing the piano when I was about nine,” he said.

“It’s difficult to take in the significance of all that - that you were learning on the very piano that was once Lennon’s - when you are nine years old. Imagine was the first song I ever learned to play. My dad taught me to play it. It’s simple because it’s in C Major so there are no black notes, and it’s one of those songs, if you are that way inclined and like that kind of music, that is great to play.

“Lennon died soon after that. I used to be woken up every morning for school by a clock radio and I heard that he had been shot. So I ran into my dad’s bedroom and told him, and he said, ‘Don’t be silly’. That’s how he found out. I used to think that the Tremeloes were the biggest band in the world, and I said, ‘Surely the Beatles weren’t bigger than the Tremeloes?’ and he said, ‘No, of course not, son’.

“My parents were very liberal, happy, crazy and the most fun parents. They used to have barbecues with all those Sixties stars, so I grew up watching these guys get up on stage and jam together.

“I never wanted to do anything else. I was definitely precocious in that way. We all were. I remember playing Somewhere Over The Rainbow on the piano while my sister Keely sang to some audience.”

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that at 18 he was picked to play the lead role in a film, Buddy’s Song, about a teenage rock star, alongside Roger Daltrey and Michael Elphick.

While the film was being shot at Pinewood Studios, and on various locations in the south east, including Bracknell town centre, he and the production team were trying to source a song for the film to finish on when Mr Hawkes senior appeared on the scene again.

“I was a massive fan of Nik Kershaw at the time,” says Hawkes. “The team wanted something for the closing credits, and my dad gave me a cassette and told me to listen to it.

“It contained a bunch of new Nik Kershaw songs because at that stage he was writing music for other people. My dad was the one who said, ‘That song is a hit’.”

That song was The One And Only, and when Hawkes released it on single it turned out to be one of the biggest hits of the decade. It went to number one in the singles charts and stayed there for five weeks.

“Everybody else in the whole project, including Roger Daltrey, were not sure about it. But my dad really pushed it. He has got ears for things like that.”

These days Hawkes lives in a mansion in The Valley, the residential side of Hollywood in Los Angeles with his American wife Kristina and their three children, Casey 12, Jesse, 10, and Indiana, aged seven.

But as well as writing songs and producing, he regularly takes a flight back to Heathrow to do a gig usually at a university Freshers week or at a hen and stag weekend at a Butlin’s camp, where he still sings that song to wild applause.

“They are crazy,” he says. “I love playing Butlin’s. They are a captive audience. I don’t know what it is about those places but people just come and leave their inhibitions behind. It’s such fun.”

He is equally looking forward to playing at Rewind again this year. He has played at the festival a few times before, but last year he was invited to sing at a corporate event on a boat that floated down from the town centre to Temple Island - where festival-goers got more than they bargained for.

And he revealed that his one-time hero and now great friend, Nik Kershaw, who is also playing a solo set this year, is hatching a plan to support him on stage.

“This year I’m going to play with Nik Kershaw,” he said. “There, you heard it first. Nik is going to get up on stage with me and play guitar and do backing vocals.”

* Chesney Hawkes plays the Rewind Festival on Saturday, August 17. For tickets go to www.rewindfestival.com

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