BIG INTERVIEW Nik Kershaw: 'Icons? We're just geezers who are still getting away with it'

Nik Kershaw. Picture by Steve Ullathorne
Nik Kershaw. Picture by Steve Ullathorne
Gerry Cunningham and Rachel Kane at the 2017 Isle of Wight Festival

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At his commercial peak, over 1984-5, Nik Kershaw spent more time in the charts than any other solo act.

With massive hits like I Won't Let The Sun Go Down On Me, The Riddle and Wouldn't It Be Good that are still radio staples today, Nik has been defined for many by the era. 

Perhaps it's no surprise, then, to find him playing a tour alongside Go West and The Cutting Crew on a tour billed as Icons of The '80s.

Some acts who had their heyday in the '80s get a bit snooty about taking part in these package nostalgia tours and festivals liked Rewind. But Nik seems perfectly comfortable with it.

'No I got snooty,' he laughs when The Guide asks him. 'I definitely had my snooty period.

'In the early 2000s, I had started bringing out new records and you get to the point where it is quite frustrating when you bring out something that you’ve put huge amounts of time and energy into and you love it and you want the world to hear it, and all anyone wants to talk about is playing Live Aid and that period in your life, which is kind of understandable but I have to admit, it is quite frustrating.

Nik Kershaw live

Nik Kershaw live

'So when something else comes along that reinforces that you’re defined by something that happened 20-30 years ago, you do kind of kick against that. And I did at first - I thought, I don’t want to do that. But then I got the point where I thought, what am I trying to protect here? This is bonkers, why can’t I do both?

'I’m still making records and the people that are going to buy them are going to buy them – they know where to find me, especially with the internet now. And I saw all my mates going out and having huge amounts of fun, so I thought well… I caved in the end, although it wasn’t really caving at all, it was accepting the obvious and the inevitable.

'There isn’t anything wrong with it – we’re having a lot of fun, the audience is having a lot of fun and I can still write and produce so what’s the problem?'

And what does he make of being an 'icon'?

'I think it’s a very overused term, and an abused term.

'It could mean anything, it sounds more like an inanimate object, "an icon". It’s fairly detached from reality – we’re just geezers really who are still getting away with it. If that’s an icon, we’re icons, I guess!'

Nik toured with the We Close Ours and Call Me hit-makers Go West in 2015. What can we expect this time out?

'This is pretty much more of the same, but we’ve freshened it up a bit. When we finished that last tour, I honestly didn’t expect to be doing it again in a couple of years, that there would be the demand.

'It was very well received at the time though, and they want more, so who am I to get in the way of that? It’s very flattering, it’s very gratifying to know that people want to hear what we do.

'You have to be careful given the line-up, we are obviously very much associated with a certain era. We’re not idiots, people will have bought tickets to hear those songs, and probably not to hear new songs they don’t know.

'We know what they want, and they know that they’ll get it, but there’s a few surprises in there. Cutting Crew open for us and then me and Go West are on and off stage, kind of together sometimes, stage-bombing each other and spoiling each other’s songs! And we'll be throwing in a few cheeky covers as well.'

And how does he feel now about those songs that made his name? 

'I never get tired of playing them, really, not in front of people. it's not like I spend hours watching the videos on YouTube, but it’s a different thing on stage, you’re in the moment and the audience are singing them back at you – I don’t know if you can ever get tired of that, really. You might get tired of the arrangement, but you can freshen that up every now and again.

'Those songs have been very kind to me over the years, so I have to have a certain amount of respect for them.'

After Nik's 1989 album, The Works, failed to chart, he retreated from solo work and began to focus on writing and producing for others – one of his biggest successes was writing the 1991 number one hit The One And Only for Chesney Hawkes. At the time, he thought that was the end of his days as a performer.

'I thought when I hung up my spandex, that was it. And I was quite comfortable with that – my comfort zone has always been in the studio and kind of writing and being around music. The live thing at the time was quite terrifying for me. I’m a bit of a control freak, and that’s the one situation where you really are not in control.

'I never envisaged coming back at all, I thought I’d be writing for others and producing for the rest of my life.

'But then I get bored. And here I am!'

He released the album 15 Minutes in 1999, and three more self-released albums have followed since. Self-releasing has enabled Nik to become his own cottage industry.

'I try not to get involved in the music business these days because, well, life’s too short.

I don’t have to have anything to do with it. I’m working on a new album now, which will hopefully be out by the end of the year, I don’t have to have anything to do with the business, I can do it all myself these days.

'I’m pretty self-sufficient when I make the records, because I do a lot of it myself, and technology has come so far that it’s much easier – I don’t have to rent studios at £1,000 a day, I can do it all here on my computer. I kind of just make the thing and bang it out there.'

Nik's website these days is not entirely serious. Certain aspects of the biography section need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

'One of the criticisms that we got back in the day was that we took ourselves a bit too seriously, and I kind of think that’s true actually.

'It was all so terribly important and we were all a bit po-faced and we wanted to be political and we wanted to change the world. So yeah, it’s a little laugh at myself.

'There’s a couple of things on there to make sure people are paying attention, one is something to do with ferrets, the other is about writing with Desmond Tutu. I did keep that one going for a while and inferred that were some tapes somewhere of me and Des having a sing-song. People even tried to find it online.'

And we never even got to mention the snood...

Icons of The '80s is at Portsmouth Guildhall tomorrow night (Friday, January 19), doors 7pm. Tickets from £34.05 to £48.60. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk