A Rewind Festival mainstay and one of its favourite acts, Nik Kershaw has been coming to the festival for over a decade now. Once tired of being tied to his nostalgia-inducing mega hits including 'Wouldn't it be Good' and 'The Riddle', he now embraces them. "They're old friends, the hits", he explains as we sit down for a chat; "you just come to realise that if it wasn't for those songs, you won't be doing any of this". Judging by the reaction he receives on the banks of the Thames in Henley, his fans are clearly delighted he feels this way. Talking success, and difficult guitar solos, we caught up with Nik Kershaw. Near a tree by a river; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Nik, you're back and Rewind again, and you've done a few of these haven't you?
Yeah, I think my first one was 2010. I've probably done at least one, sometimes two every year. So, yeah, it's mounting up.
You released excellent new album 'Oxymoron' a couple of years ago, so what's it like for you to be doing the hits at a festival like this?
They're old friends, the hits. You know, I think every everybody goes through a stage of getting fed up with playing them or just resenting them a little bit. Bringing out an album in 1999, I think, the '15 Minutes' album, I was really proud of it, and I'd worked really hard on it. Blood, sweat, and tears went into it, and then you release it and then everybody just wants to talk about the old songs, and there was a time, sort of early 2000s, where I kind of resented the old songs. They felt like a bit of a monkey on me, but then you just come to realise that if it wasn't for those songs, you won't be doing any of this. So they've been very, very good to me over the years.
So you're at peace with that now?
Every now and again I really don't mind coming out, and it enables me to walk in front of all those people, and those people singing the songs back to me is something I love.
You were a serious musician from the off coming from a jazz fusion background; landing in the pop world, do you think sometimes people missed that point?
Possibly. I mean, that was the way I was promoted very early on; I was a Smash Hits artist, and that's fine. Again, you get the same argument, you know, for; "if it wasn't for that, would I have had any success at all?" I don't know; maybe it was all the branding and the marketing in the first place. So that's cool. I'm lots of different things to lots of different people, and I just kind of get on with it. I'm quite happy that people are still interested in any shape, to be honest.
You were quite young when you recorded 'Wouldn't it be Good'; you must look back and be really proud of that.
Yeah, I'm proud. I'm very proud of that one. That's probably one of those songs, the big hits. That's probably the one over the years that I've never been tempted to mess with live. Yeah, it's always pretty much the same.
I love the layering on the guitar solo. Is that sampled horns?
It's real brass. It's horns. In fact it's Michael Jackson's horn section.
How did that come about?
Well, I think we pretty much finished the album and Peter Collins, the producer was in L.A. doing something else, and he was recording Jerry Hey and Larry Williams - all those guys that play on all the massive U.S. hits and stuff - and he had the multi-tracks with him and he went; "Nik's played his solo; can you just copy it?"
You once told me that you sing your solos, as if you play it, it puts you in boxes.
Well it does, and I would. You know, certain chords you can just sort of blow over those chords, but then it would just sound like everybody else, so just to make it different, I'd sing it a few times, and then even just stick it together when I've sung it and then learn how to play it.
The melody of 'The Riddle' sounds like it came from the same sort of place; you must be really proud of that one?
Yeah, especially as that was... sometimes the good ones come quick. I mean, that one really did come quickly. That was literally written in about ten or twenty minutes, because it was the last thing to go on the second album ['Human Racing', 1984]. I needed a song, a single to go on the second album, and that came out. I mean, I didn't realise that was going to be the finished lyric; it was just a guide we used, just to put something down.
Going back to 'Oxymoron', and were you pleased with the reception it received?
Yes I was. I mean, my expectations weren't high. We released it in the middle of COVID which was probably not the wisest thing to do, given that the promotional opportunities were limited. But yeah, I was very pleased with the outcome anyway, of the finished record and how it sounded. That had been a long time coming. I think there's fifteen tracks on it, so yeah, quite a long time getting that together.
Have you any plans to follow the album up?
There's always plans to. I've got my own studio, so I've got no real excuse. I've been releasing some old songs that I wrote in the '90s, all for other people, just digitally; 'Songs From the Shelf'. There's one or two out at the moment, but yeah, I need to get back into into writing another album, because the last one was eight years apart, and that's not really good enough, is it? But there's always something else going on. I know there's a box set coming out, and I ended up mixing some live tracks, and then I've got to get my get myself together for the UK tour that's coming up. So maybe when it's done and the dust has settled a little bit.
Before I let you go, I have to I have to chastise you. I sat down to try and learn the guitar solo from 'The One and Only' and I was like; "what is he doing?!"
Yeah, well, you know, I actually ended up teaching that the Chesney [Hawkes]'s son, and he does a pretty good job. He's really talented kid.
It's not easy; you've got this whammy bar action going on.
If I try to learn other guitarist's stuff, it's all about you've got comfortable places where your hands go out with you, and you just do that, and it feels quite easy. But if you're trying to learn someone else's stuff, and they think it's easy, I'm like; "no, I can't do that, How do you get that finger over there?" Some of it's just not where you place your hands, because there's so many different ways of playing the same thing.
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