With a new album released during 2020's lockdown, Nik Kershaw has waited a long time to hit the stage in support of ‘Oxymoron’. However, all that’s about to change with his first live shows in a year and a half; at Rewind North and Rewind South. “To actually finally be walking on stage on Saturday is going to be, well, it’s going to be really emotional, to be honest”, he admits as we sit down to chat. Talking Rewind, life at the top during the height of his success, and guitars and gear, we caught up with the one and only, Nik Kershaw. Human racing; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Nik, How are you today?
I’m doing very well, thanks. The last few months have dragged a bit, I have to say, especially when you think it’s going to happen and the it doesn’t. It’s just been very frustrating. It’s my first gig in eighteen months on Saturday [at Rewind North], and hopefully I haven’t forgotten! We’re going to find out, aren’t we?!
Have you been keeping busy during the pandemic?
Well, obviously not busy enough! Lockdown really started for me with quite a cool thing, because I had a very busy few months before that, but the novelty wore off after a couple of months and I started trying to work again. I had an album our last year [‘Oxymoron’] that was finished before lockdown, so we made some kind of attempt to promote that during it. But I’ve been writing, still. I don’t stop writing, and I’ve been writing some music for TV and film and stuff, as well just songs, and making sure I can still remember how to play the guitar!
The reaction to 'Oxymoron' has been really positive; were you pleased with that response?
Yes, it was very positive. It is great, especially after you’ve so much time making it, because it took the best part of eight years – well, it didn’t take eight years to make, but it was eight years in between albums, so when it finally does come out, obviously, you don’t want people to tell you they hate it, that’s for sure! But the response was overwhelmingly positive, yeah.
It’s quite an introspective, even mature album, if that’s not an odd thing to say.
It is. Well, I don’t know about ‘mature’ – I’m only 63! But yeah, I think so. You just write based on where you are at a particular point in time, so I think, joking aside, if I can’t make a grown up album when I’m 63 then it’s not going to happen, is it?
Do you know that the vinyl version of ‘Oxymoron’ has become a really sought after, collectors piece?
Yeah, I know. To be honest, it was a bit of an unknown for us because obviously, my previous album being back in 2012 ['Ei8ht'], vinyl just really wasn’t a thing, and then it took off. So we sort of banged heads together and thought; “are we going to do vinyl?”, And if so, how many? We didn’t have a clue, so we made sure that we did a limited amount so that people had a reason to buy them, and they just went like hot cakes. So we’ll know next time and maybe do a few more.
Did you keep one for yourself, or are you not bothered about collecting your own records?
Yeah, I do, absolutely! I’ve got them all, and I am the proud owner of a green [limited edition bottle green pressing] copy of ‘Oxymoron’.
You mentioned Rewind Festival, and you’re performing at both Rewind North, and Rewind South; how does if feel to be stepping out onstage again.
Oh, it’s fantastic… as long as nobody tests positive in the next forty-eight hours, yeah! [*laughing*] But yeah, I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve had a few false dawns in the last two or three months, so to actually, finally be walking on stage on Saturday is going to be, well, it’s going to be really emotional, to be honest. I’m so looking forward to it.
You obviously missed out on promoting ‘Oxymoron’ with live shows due to the pandemic.
It would have been nice to have been able to promote it by doing a few gigs and stuff, or even just turning up at a TV studio or just doing all the normal things you do when you’re promoting an album, but that wasn’t to be, and everybody has been in the same boat. You can’t complain about it but it’s the way it turned out.
Speaking of TV, and you mentioned that you’ve been working on film and TV music; can you tell us anything about that?
It’s nothing specific. I do bits and pieces and I work for a company called Audio Network that supply a lot of music for TV and films – I’m not writing the next them tune to ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ or anything! [*laughing*] It’s just instrumental music that’s not got a place anywhere else for me. I’ll get ideas and I’ll think; “is this a song, or is this just a piece of music?” It’s kind of nice sometimes to write something that doesn’t involve trying to figure out what the lyric’s about.
Going back to Rewind, and what’s it like for you as a performer looking out at that crowd that is having so much fun?
Do you know, I have to pinch myself every time I do it. I just can’t believe how lucky I am to be up there, to be part of that. Because, after how many years?! Yeah, it is thirty-seven years since ‘Wouldn’t it be Good’ hit, and to be still singing that in front to tens of thousands of people, and they’re singing it back at you? It’s just brilliant to have been able to come up with something that would last that long. And I just love the feeling of people singing it back at me… especially when I forget the words. It’s quite helpful!
Going back to the 1980s’ whenever things took off for you, and what was it like to be in the middle of all that, and such at a young age?
Well, I was no spring chicken, to be honest – I wasn’t an 18 or 19 year old – I was 25, I think when it all kicked off, so in theory, I was a grown adult, and I should have been able to deal with it, but I did kind of struggle with it. Nowadays you’ve got social media, you’ve got media schools, you’ve got people that can teach you how to deal with all that stuff, and none of that existed back then; you just kind of were thrown in and just had to deal with it when it turned up. So I found it tricky. My comfort zone was the studio, and I knew how to play the guitar, I knew how to write a song, I knew how to sing a bit, but all the other stuff, but even just standing there having your photo taken, I’m thinking; “I don’t get this. I don’t understand what’s going on”. Just feeling comfortable on a red carpet with hundreds of paps flashing away at you, I always felt really uncomfortable doing that stuff. I might have been an okay musician, but I was a pretty lousy pop star, to be honest, because I just never felt that confident with it.
Was there the unwanted attention too; from people finding out where you lived and wanting a piece of you?
There was a fair bit. I mean, a lot of people had it a lot worse than I did. I mean, I can’t imagine having the profile of someone like Elton [John] or whoever; being that famous, that must be, really, quite a difficult existence. For me, it was only a period of like four or five years where it was like that. It’s just the simple things; you might not be looking forward to going to Tesco to buy baked beans, but if you can’t do it, it becomes a really big thing. You can’t go to Tesco without getting hassled or threatened by somebody’s boyfriend. It was really quite tricky, and the fact that you couldn’t go out of the house without either a bodyguard or a disguise. But that’s that I wanted, that’s what I asked for! I wanted to be famous, I wanted to be successful, and that’s what comes to it.
Back to music, and I’ve asked before about the recording of ‘Wouldn’t it be Good’, but tell me about the recording of the amazing massive-sounding guitar melodies in ‘The Riddle’.
Do you know, sometimes you put a few sounds together and they just end up sounding huge for no particular reason, and then you can record something a few weeks later and you’re doing the same thing and it just doesn’t sound right. But I think it’s just a keyboard and a guitar playing that lead line, and a harmony guitar, I think, in the intro.
It’s a really unusual guitar harmony.
Yeah, it is a bit odd! Also, it’s different from the vocal harmony in the choruses as well. At one point I was trying to get my guitarist to sing one vocal harmony, and play the completely different harmony on the guitar, and that proved to be pretty much impossible!
I have to ask you again about the Dave Padden Live Aid guitar. Last time we spoke, you said that your son had found one of them.
Oh, that wasn’t the guitar; that was another Dave Gladden guitar. I still can’t remember what actually happened to the guitar I was playing on at Live Aid. I think I ended up giving it back to Dave, but I can’t remember.
You use PRS guitars these days.
Yeah, absolutely. I play PRS guitars now. I’ve had a black PRS custom 24 which I’ve had since the early ‘90s, and it just does everything that I want it to do and that’s kind of my go-to instrument.
So you only really use that one guitar these days?
Yeah, pretty much. I’ve got a spare in case I break a string and that’s about it.
In terms of pedals and effects, what do you use?
I’m using the Fractal Audio Axe-FX for my live work. It’s just so easy; you just turn up. Also, you can take it the festivals in Europe as well, and you get the same sound everywhere you go, which is brilliant.
Finally, have you any plans to follow up ‘Oxymoron’ at present?
It takes me a while after releasing one album to kind of start getting stuck into something else, so I’ve no particular plans. There will be one, obviously. That’s what I do, so sooner or later I’m going to have ideas some into my head that just won’t leave me alone, and I’m going to have to record them to get rid of them. So yeah, there’ll be another album. That might be two years away, that might be ten years away; I don’t know. I’m in the luxurious position of being able to take my time, really.
Catch Nik at Rewind North Capesthorne Hall, Macclesfield, 6-8 August, and Rewind South, Henley-Upon-Thames, 20-22 August. For full details and tickets, click here.
Like this interview? Like us on FaceBook and follow us on Twitter for regular updates & more of the same!