Nik Kershaw, singer-songwriter chats with Kevin Cooper about performing at Live Aid, working with Sir Elton John, his lifelong friend Chesney Hawkes, and his forthcoming Together In Concert Tour.
Nik Kershaw is an English musician, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. The former jazz-funk guitarist was a 1980s teen idol.
Kershaw appeared at Live Aid in 1985, and has penned a number of hits for other artists, including a UK number one single in 1991 for Chesney Hawkes; The One and Only. He is best known for the tracks I Won’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, Wouldn’t It Be Good and The Riddle.
Whilst preparing for his forthcoming tour with Carol Decker and Go West, he took time out of his busy schedule to have a chat with Kevin Cooper, and this is what he had to say.
Mr Kershaw how are you today?
Hi Kevin I’m fine thanks.
Thanks for taking the time to speak to me today.
It’s no problem at all Kevin, you fire away.
How is life treating Nik Kershaw?
Things are going well and I am enjoying life. I am keeping myself busy and all is going good.
And you are soon to be back out on the road with Carol Decker (T’Pau) and Go West with the Together In Concert Tour later this year.
That’s right Kevin. Carol will be opening the show; whipping the audiences up into a frenzy for us. And then both me and Go West are going to be performing on stage together, just mixing it up really as opposed to me doing my set and them doing their set. We are going to be on and off stage together contributing to each other’s songs. We may even throw in the odd cover or two, who knows (laughter).
I recently interviewed Peter (Cox) and he informed me that you and Go West are working on something a little bit special for the tour. Can you shed any light on that?
(Hysterical laughter) we keep doing this to each other because basically Pete hasn’t told me what it is yet (laughter). So I can’t tell you what it is Kevin because I don’t even know yet (laughter). This is all very much a working progress and we don’t actually start rehearsals until early September.
I probably shouldn’t say this but what he told me was that you are going to use the Australian leg of the tour to iron out any problems before you hit the road over here in the UK.
That’s right Kevin but please don’t tell the Australians that because it’s a bit rude isn’t it (laughter).
When I spoke to Carol (Decker) she told me that she is chomping at the bit to be back out on the road with you. She was singing your praises for giving her a massive break by asking her to tour with you just as Heart And Soul was released back in 1987.
That’s right Kevin, I remember that very well. T’Pau opened for me on my Radio Musicola Tour throughout the whole tour. I have to say that Carol and I go way, way back.
You quite obviously still enjoy playing these, what can best be described as package tours?
Yes I do Kevin and there are loads of them now. I am currently playing on the Let’s Rock Tour; I am doing six of those and also three Re-Wind concerts per year now and they are just so much fun they truly are.
Having said that you were not always a fan of these kind of tours were you?
That’s right Kevin, I actually did resist doing it for a while. I don’t know what I thought that I was trying to protect; some kind of credibility or something, I don’t know what it was, but then I simply ran out of reasons for not doing it. They are exactly what it says on the tin. Everybody knows what they are getting, everybody gets treated really well; you all go out onto the stage to tens of thousands of people and just play those songs again. It is just so much fun and you are hanging out with all of your mates as well.
In the early days of these tours there was a stigma attached to them similar to what there is to the artists who play on the Butlins circuit. However people are now taking notice and are accepting them as real festivals; forty thousand people in two days at Henley proves the point somewhat.
Absolutely Kevin, that’s the thing. I guess that the worry from an artist’s point of view is that most of us are still making records and doing stuff and the more attention that is paid to the old stuff, the less attention is paid to the new stuff. But you know what, it doesn’t really matter. I make my records for myself now, and the hard-core fans who know what is going on and where to find those records when they come out. So to me it’s not a big deal, I have the best of both worlds really.
Over the thirty odd years that you have been making records you must have seen some massive changes within the music industry?
Yes, very much so. Not so much the music, I think that people still make music in the same way, its only twelve notes after all. The main change that I have seen is the way in which people consume music, which is totally different now.
Do you think that it is the illegal downloading of music which is killing the music industry?
Illegal downloading is not helping the industry Kevin but I personally feel that streaming is the final nail in the coffin. But that’s the way that it is; you can’t stick the toothpaste back in the tube, that’s how it is and we all have to adapt and get on with it.
What angers me is when someone like U2 give their product away.
I will tell you Kevin, nobody was very happy about that apart from Apple and U2. But of course they didn’t give it away, U2 sold it to Apple and then Apple gave it away. It was a massive marketing coup for them. It just means that now everyone else is expected to give their music away because of that. U2 didn’t make a lot of friends within the music business Kevin by doing that.
Someone once told me that you should never believe your own publicity but surely you have to sit up and take note when Sir Elton John describes you as the best songwriter of a generation?
(Laughter) yes but you have to remember Kevin that he was taking a lot of drugs at the time (laughter).
And buying lots of flowers (laughter).
That’s right, he was buying lots of fuscias at that time too (laughter). But seriously that was very sweet of him to say that. Back in the day he was always very good to me and he championed for me. He was very sweet and always had lots of good things to say about me and I certainly appreciated that.
How was it working with him?
I did bits and pieces for him. I played on three tracks on his Ice On Fire album including Nikita; that’s me chugging away on rhythm guitar on that. It was always good fun working with Elton.
You also recorded a duet with him, called Old Friend for his 1993 album Duets.
That’s right Kevin, I also wrote and produced that track. It was just amazing to be able to record something with Elton.
So out of all of the artists that you have worked with, who has given you the most pleasure?
It’s great when you make new friends and I made a lifelong friend in Chesney (Hawkes). He is without doubt one of the nicest men on the planet. Working with him and meeting him was a great thing.
I was going to ask you about that as I had read in the Financial Times that writing The One And Only for Chesney had put your children through school. Is that correct?
(Hysterical laughter) that was one of my famous misquotes Kevin (laughter) which was also taken out of context (laughter). There are about four songs that have been very good to me over the years and that is why I don’t mind playing them to people in public. It is because I have respect for the songs.
Is it fun when you get to perform the song with Chesney?
Yes it is Kevin. We have performed together a few times now and it is great. Sometimes I will be performing the song alone and then I will drag Chesney onto the stage (laughter). That is always a good thing.
You were 27 when you performed at Live Aid. How did you feel knowing that you were going to be performing in front of an estimated global audience of 1.9 billion?
Oh god that was just amazing, it was absolutely amazing but terrifying. You can’t describe just how terrifying that was. It wasn’t just the amount of people out there at Wembley, it was the 2 billion people that were supposed to be watching it on the television. What got to me was being surrounded by all of my heroes and my peers; I just didn’t want to mess up. You hadn’t seen your crew, you hadn’t seen your gear, so walking out onto that stage was literally just like jumping off a cliff without a parachute.
I asked Francis Rossi the same question and he said that the whole day went by so fast that he simply couldn’t remember anything about it at all.
That’s very true Kevin. I have been nudged into remembering a lot of things because I am always being asked about it. If it was just a normal gig that I had played thirty years ago I probably wouldn’t remember any of it. It did go by really quickly, apart from the twenty minutes that I was on stage which seemed to last forever. I just wanted to get off (laughter).
Your debut album Human Racing was released 31 year ago. On the tour you are playing 31 dates, is that spooky or just coincidence?
That is just a total coincidence Kevin (laughter). In actual fact it is Go West’s 30th Anniversary this year so they were going to do a tour anyway which is how all of this started off. They were going to do 30 gigs but it has ended up being 31 so the maths doesn’t really work out (laughter).
If you want to wind Peter up I asked him where he gets his trademark white shirts from and he said that he now gets them from anywhere he can find one that fits him (laughter).
(Hysterical laughter) well Kevin rather controversially he recently went on stage in Exeter with a blue shirt on. You might just have to write to your MP about that (laughter).
You laugh at that but the fans take these things so very seriously. Last year there was almost a riot at Clumber Park when Tony Hadley sang the Duran Duran song Rio.
That’s right, Tony sings Rio doesn’t he, he did that in South Africa when I was touring with him a couple a years ago now. Well you know, he can do whatever he likes really, if he wants to. It’s his homage to Duran Duran. They were supposed to be bitter rivals and enemies and when he sang one of their songs I thought that it was a nice touch really.
You released your last album, Ei8ht in 2012. Are there any thoughts on a new album?
Yes there are Kevin. I am always writing, and I also do bits and pieces of media music and stuff for TV. I am always writing something. Nowadays I chuck away a lot so it does take a long time for me to write a new album. There could be a new album out next year, or the year after (laughter) I tend not to put pressure on myself.
Casting your mind back, how was it the first time that you appeared on Top Of The Pops?
I have to be honest Kevin and say that it was just a bit surreal really. The whole experience just didn’t seem to be very real. I had been watching Top Of The Pops on and off all my life on the telly and for a start the studio looks really huge but when you get there it is really tiny. Then you find out that there aren’t hundreds of people in the audience; there is about twenty all being herded about when the cameras are not running them over. When I did Top Of The Pops you were not allowed to perform live, the whole thing had to be recorded, and I thought to myself is this really going to be on the television as it just seems like a rubbish gig (laughter).
I was miming as well which felt really weird, because I wasn’t used to doing that. The truth of the matter is that I couldn’t mime to save my life (laughter). I couldn’t remember how I had sung the song as I never sing a song the same way twice (laughter). My lips never managed to match the words which were coming out. And to make matters worse I did get stopped by the police for jumping a traffic light on the way. I was driving a hire car and the policeman pulled me over and asked me where I was going. When I told him that I was on my way to perform on Top Of The Pops he gave me a really weird look (laughter) and simply said “really”.
If you had to pick one moment, what has been the highlight of your career so far?
I don’t know Kevin, I couldn’t honestly pick one single moment as there have been loads of great gigs all over the world. There have also been some great moments. Every now and then you get up on stage and you are very comfortable with what you are doing and everything is going alright; everything is working and the audience are going for it, and you just have a little moment to kind of savour it and fortunately there have been lots of those moments over the years and hopefully there will be lots more.
I have to ask you as he is a personal favourite of mine, what was it like working with Steve Hackett?
I have been a Genesis fan for years, especially the early years with Peter (Gabriel) and Steve in the band. So to be asked to sing one of those iconic songs for me was simply amazing. Steve just asked me to pick any song that I would like to do and one of my favourite Genesis albums was The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and so I thought that I would do The Lamia. For me to just get to sing those words, and then for me to perform it with Steve at Hammersmith; that was another nerve wracking experience (laughter). The whole place was full of progressive rock fans who were all probably looking down their noses a little bit, asking themselves what is this pop star doing on stage. They were probably willing me to get the words wrong, which I nearly did but I got away with it (laughter).
Do you have any ambitions left to achieve?
Well I still wake up every morning wanting to do the thing that I haven’t achieved, the thing that I was put on this planet for, and I don’t even know what that is Kevin. I want the next album that I release to be better than anything that I have ever done. I just want my writing to continue to improve and to be able to do the one piece of work that I can sit back and say “yes that’s it, that is what I want on my tombstone”. But so far I haven’t done that.
Nik on that note let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me and I hope to catch you in Leicester.
Thanks Kevin, it’s no problem at all. Bye.