Some musicians straddle multiple musical universes, such as one Nick Beggs. Bassist, songwriter and producer Nick is a member of Steve Wilson’s touring band, as well as a collaborator with Steve Hackett. His prog rock leanings however, are counterbalanced by his earlier output as founder of eighties pop giants Kajagoogoo. About to launch his latest project ‘The Mute Gods’, we caught up with Nick to discuss the new band, and get the inside story on his most famous combo’s rise, fall and reunion. Asking the questions others are too shy to ask: Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Nick, how are you today?
I’m actually quite well. I’m in Berlin as I’ve just started another tour with Steve Wilson. Usually, most tours take a little time to settle in, as this particular project is quite front-end loaded with intense preparations. But I’ve got my first day off today, and now it seems that we can all breathe a sigh of relief, as we’re back in shape as an ensemble.
I’d imagine that playing with Steve Wilson is a pretty demanding gig.
Yes, it’s demanding because of the complexity of composition, but also, Steven’s very exacting about what he wants, and you know, why shouldn’t he be? We all strive to give him what he requires. It’s not your straight-ahead pop gig.
Is it very rewarding to play that type of music?
Yes it is. The more complex types of arrangements are really where I feel more at home. That’s stuff I like to be involved in. I like pop music too – I’ve spent a long time in the pop sphere, but I’m a little bit older and want to get my teeth into something a little bit more challenging in some ways. When it came to writing my own material for this new project I felt more at home with more complicated arrangements, but there was always a reference back to my pop roots in some ways.
What inspired you to put The Mute Gods together?
The catalyst was a guy called Thomas Waber. He is one of the head guys at Inside Out Music. He’s a really great guy and I built up a relationship with him through my music with the Steve Hackett band. He said to me; “look, you’re doing this work with these other artists, why aren’t you doing something?” In a way it was a challenge, but also, I was an A&R man for a while, and people would come into my office and say; “so what’s it like being on the other side of the desk?”. And I always thought; “shouldn’t we all be on the same side of the desk?” I want your record to be successful, you want your record to be successful, so why don’t we work together instead of pulling against each other? So that was my attitude towards Thomas. I thought, if I can make a record where Thomas would say “I quite like that”, and also stay faithful to my own designs, then that would be a success, and I seem to have done that.
The album, ‘Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me’ seems a markedly progressive rock album. Would you agree with that summation?
I’m asked that question a lot. I know what you mean, and I think it has a lot of those affectations, but I think it has a lot of other affections as well. I think there’s lot of pop in it, and I think there is a lot of symphonic and orchestral approaches. Maybe it’s an amalgam. Somebody used the word ‘mercurial’, which I quite like. I’m in the process of making a third video for a track on there called ‘Father Daughter’, and I think once you see the three videos, you will have the measure of the album.
‘Father Daughter’ is an incredibly personal song. It must have meant a lot to you to record that with your daughter Lula.
I think it’s the most important track on the record, not only because of what it took to write it with her, and for her and about her, but also because I think it has far reaching potential for many parents; for many fathers and their daughters, particularly where marriage breakdown has occurred. That’s what this song is about. My first marriage dissolved in the nineties, and my daughter Lula has always been the centre of my universe, but I felt that I could have been a better father outside of the matrimonial home. It got more difficult as I went through my life, but I was intent on trying to limit the damage to her. Of course there are no ways that you can one hundred percent eradicate the negative effects from a marriage break-up, and that’s what the song’s about; it’s an apology. I wrote the first and the third verse, and I said to her; “I want you to dig deep, and I want you to say all the things on the second verse that you wanted to tell me, and don’t hold back”. And she did.
That must have been a very emotional experience for you. As an artist is would you consider that a brave move, opening up your personal life for all the world to view?
I think if you’re an artist you better get used to the idea of it, because there’s nothing worse than vapid music. If you’re going to make a record, and this is a question I asked myself, I though; “have I got something to say?” The larger world sees me from my success in the eighties, a very, how can I say? Maybe I can speak frankly; a light, fluffy pop band and we had very little gravitas or lyrical content. The eighties was a party decade and we all knew that in order to be successful, we had to give everyone a good time and make them smile. It was almost like going into a laboratory and trying to come up with something so contagious that you wouldn’t really be able to have an antidote for it. What we realised, of course was this has a shelf life. Unfortunately we were never able to migrate to more complex or substance because of the way things were. So I thought if I’m going to do a record now I better have something to say otherwise I’m going to be dismissed pretty quickly, because there’s clearly people who’d like to dismiss me. I have no doubt.
Did you spend long working on the album?
Well I wrote it three times, and binned it twice. I started it way back. In fact, the material that is going to appear on the next album I wrote even longer ago. There’s stuff that’s ten years old, but then there’s stuff which I wrote over the past three years, on the road with Hackett and Steve Wilson. There’s a strange kind of wilderness that you inhabit when you are on the road, because you have a swathe of time every day which you need to kill with either; sleeping, eating, reading, cleaning your clothes or whatever it is, or, you can turn your hand to something productive.
So you’re thinking about a second album already?
I see it as a three album cycle, and I’ve got a lot of ideas, for the next sequence of the sequels. It’s developing exponentially in my mind. Of course, this could be completely untenable if people don’t like the record. It could be a vanity project, and I don’t know if I’d be happy about that. If there’s a market for the second record we’ll release it.
I wanted to ask you about your about the beginning of your career and Kajagoogoo. ‘Too Shy’ is such an iconic eighties hits. How does it feel to be associated with such an era defining number?
Well, I’m very happy on the royalty side of things! The catalogue has fed five families, and continues to support all five of the members to varying degrees. I think that’s pretty good for something we did thirty-two years ago, but as a piece of art, I don’t know if I can comment on it. I have my own thoughts, but there’s still a lot of people out there who really like that, who really hold on to it and find it hard to let go of that time, and it means so much to them. So I think by me speaking about that time from my perspective, it might sully their idea of it. I don’t want to do that, because it wasn’t an easy time for me. Subsequently it hasn’t been very easy for me professionally.
Is that because you were getting ‘typecast’, so to speak?
Typecast or misconceived. I had people in the States saying to me; “oh, if you’d been out in L.A. in the eighties, you would have been playing on everyone’s record”. And I went, “really?”, because I couldn’t get a gig after that band. I had to go out and try to be a solo artist. I had [producers] Trevor Horn and Steve Lipson call me up and I went down to their studio in Sarm West [Notting Hill], and I totally respect those guys, but they kind of pulled my demos apart. There were other people; David Munns who now manages Kylie Minogue, he said; “the record company committed to you and the band with [front man] Limahl in it, but you’re not a star, and I’m only interested in working with stars”. And it kind of eroded me. It took a lot out of me over the years.
That seems pretty harsh, given that the band had a massive single with ‘Big Apple’, with you fronting it.
The week that single was released, EMI got caught by [chart compiling organisation] Gallup hyping Queen, and because of that, we were weighted in the charts. So instead of going up to number five after a Top Of The Pops appearance, we stayed at eight. It was like a cumulative effect, and it just seemed like we were trudging uphill with this huge weight of the first album and Limahl on our shoulders. If we’d been on the case and we’d released [follow-up single] ‘The Lion’s Mouth’ within a few weeks of ‘Big Apple’, it probably would have been a bigger hit. It probably would have been another top ten or top fifteen hit. So there’s a whole bunch of reasons marking the inevitable demise of the band that had started off so well.
I have to ask you about the fascinating VH1 ‘Band’s Reunited’ documentary that got Kajagoogoo briefly back together in 2003. Were you really doorstepped like that, and was it all as it appeared?
Yes. I’ve got this very good friend called Richard Blade who is an English DJ living in California, and he just happened to call me up and he said I’m coming to town, I’m writing a book about eighties musicians. He said; “would you be available?”, and I said; “sure! I’ll pick you up at the station. Come up to Leighton Buzzard, and we’ll have a good old time”. So anyway, he knew where I was going to be at a certain time. So I was getting ready to go get in my car to go pick him up from the station when this horde of cameras and boom mics and best boys and key grips and everybody came running around and pounced on me outside my house, and that’s as you saw.
What was not shown on that program, which nobody really knew about was there was a potential pending court case hanging over our heads between the three of us [Nick along with guitarist Steve Askew and keyboard player Stuart Neale] and Jez [Strode, drums] and Limahl. We honestly didn’t know whether or not it was going to have to go to court, because of various contentions. So I think that when you watch that film it’s even more remarkable, the good humoured nature of it. It was genuine. There was a lot of me that had not really been present since 1983, and there was something quietly truthful about it.
Did you enjoy reuniting for the live performance that took place at the end of the show?
Yeah. Limahl became very emotional. I felt for him, and I wanted to make him feel better, and I thought the only way to do that was say; “you know what? We were always your friend”. But the problem is, he wouldn’t let us [be his friend]. We always wanted to carry on [the original five-piece band] as was us, but he made things so difficult. I always made a deal with myself that if I wasn’t happy, I wouldn’t do it anymore. And so I said; “I can’t carry on like this”, and the band agreed - we can’t carry on working with someone who is so difficult. So he had to go, and we were vilified for it, but it was either that or our sanity.
Was there much rehearsal involved for that show?
I think we rehearsed for two days. But you see I had always said to the guys; “make sure you have sequences ready that we can call on in an instant”, because - and I don’t know why I knew this, but I thought we will be expected at some point to perform these songs at the drop of a hat. There is a certain amount of technical requirements in creating a set, so I made sure that the three of us; Steve, Stuart and myself had pre-empted any events, long ago. So when, out of the blue this happened some years later, I said; “there you go I was right, wasn’t I?” *laughing*
Do you remember what songs you played that night?
Yeah, we rehearsed ‘Too Shy’, obviously, ‘Oh To Be Ah’, ‘Hang On Now’ and I think we did [Limahl solo tracks] ‘Only For Love’ and also ‘Never Ending Story’. I said [to Limahl] we’ve got to do ‘Never Ending Story’ because it’s one of your songs, and it was an important part of the story.
That was quite graceful of you.
Well remember, there was level of friendship that was still there. The thing about Limahl is he’s got two settings; he’s an absolute darling, and then he’s completely exasperating. But that’s what we were dealing with and that’s why it became so untenable, and you know, I’ve never really told him that. There was an elephant in the room that we never discussed. Maybe it’s best that I talk about it in the media, because he wouldn’t hear it anyway if I told him. I think I’ve got something to lose, and I’m going to say it how it is.
Bringing things back up to date, and are there any plans to bring the Mute Gods out on the road?
I‘m asked that in every interview, which is quite natural, but I have to work out whether or not there’s an audience for the band. You’ve got to bear in mind that even if you sell the thousand albums, that means that about three people will turn up to see you. It’s got to justify itself, and if I do play live it will probably not be until after the release of the second album, and then it will probably be a few special event shows as promotion. As for touring, I think it’s just way too early to even get an idea about that.
Finally, what’s next for you for the foreseeable future?
Continuing to write the second album. I’m also learning some Steve Hackett music at the moment because I have a trip to Japan with him and a festival in the summer in London. I will be touring with Steve Hackett through most of the first part of the year, and there may even be a few summer festivals with Kym Wilde.
So your pop side is still calling?
The pop side of me still seems to be required, yes!
By Eamon O'Neill.
First published on uberrock.co.uk, 24 January 2016.