On the eve of his UK tour, and following on from his recent single ‘The Stars’ and the wonderful Woodland Echoes album from late last year, the thoroughly charming Nick Heyward took some time out to speak to God Is In The TV.
GIITTV: You must be delighted with the response to Woodland Echoes. Do you actually read reviews of your own albums?
NH: Well, I read the ones with stars on! That gives you a good indication of what’s to come…if they don’t have the stars, I don’t think I’d read them! But I was thinking “Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever got four or five stars for anything”. Even at school, I was lucky to get one star, any stars! Delighted is the perfect word to use, I didn’t know this was going to happen, and didn’t think it was going to happen. It’s good to be the underdog!
Your son Oliver appears on the album, was working with him something that you had wanted to do for some time?
He is the album really, without him it wouldn’t have happened because he was the executive producer, making sure that it fitted together, because he was the engineer behind the whole thing. He would gather up all the recordings whether I was in Florida or England and put it all neat and tidy into place. He suggested all the equipment that I needed, all the right stuff.
He nudged you in the right direction?
Yeah, he made sure that every time I had a new place, a new studio to record in, because it was all done on a laptop with a microphone and my guitars that I had around at the time. Ollie was teaching me the technical side and I was teaching him how to put a record together, the producing side of it and how to compile vocals and things. We grew up together in that place making the album, so yes, he was very, very much part of it.
Mountaintop, the first single from the new record was a very different sound for you; was it an obvious choice of first single from the album?
No, it was like a wildcard really, because it was so different and a lot of people were saying “It’s a single because it’s so relentless!” (laughs) and the chorus was very much like “I am a chorus!”, and I think sometimes when you release an album, people who are working on it tend to veer towards the most obvious, relentless thing. As the artist, you would rather steer it other ways. I had my choices, but I’m very close to it at that particular point, so I’m very open to suggestion. It was one of the first songs I recorded when I went to Florida to meet up with my old buddy Ian Shaw, who I had recorded ‘Kite’ with in 1993.
Looking back a little earlier, have you been watching any of the Top Of The Pops re-runs on BBC4? Do you have fond memories of your Top Of The Pops appearances?
Yes, they’re all on there aren’t they? Good times, in hindsight especially, when we look back and think we didn’t appreciate all the fantastic music that was around at the time. They were coming thick and fast from everyone, brilliant song after brilliant song. And because we were living in the present moment in that particular time, none of us knew how brilliant it was. You don’t get that now, I mean there are occasional sparks of brilliance, but the sparks of brilliance (then) were coming from all over the place…every Smiths single was a diamond. Brilliant times and such great pop records as well, even if it was a cover, like Soft Cell, it was still a brilliant record and sounded completely different. You’d never heard such a thing.
I thought that your 1993 single ‘Kite’ was a brilliantly original song, did you feel under pressure at that time to have Top 40 hits with those singles?
That was the reason that ‘Kite’ was made, due to the pressure to write a single…that was the very essence of it and ‘Kite’ is me giving up and saying “I can’t write a hit single”, it’s that moment, my ‘Kite’ moment was when there was pressure on me to write a hit single, I’d done most of the album and it was like “This is your big comeback, Nick, from 1989, its 1993 (or 1992 at that particular point) and it was “This is it, you’ve signed to Sony”. Rob Stringer (who signed Heyward) had to justify signing me, so I took the pressure on and it came about by leaving the studio one day and saying “That’s it, I can’t do it”. I was trying too hard. I’d never tried to write a hit single, they were just hit singles because you were being creative. So I said “Ian, give me a beat”, and I just played along, A minor, C, G and D. It’s my favourite collection of chords that I have used quite a bit!
The mid-90s was something of a purple period for you, with From Monday To Sunday, Tangled and your album for Creation Records, The Apple Bed. How did it feel to work for Creation, did you have any favourite Creation artists?
I did…Teenage Fanclub, I just loved them. Grand Prix was one of my favourite albums and I toured with them in America. Lovely guys, so that was great. Alan McGee used to come down to the studio to see Ian, because Ian used to produce Ed Ball, who was Creation at the beginning. That’s how I got to know Alan, and he said “Was ‘Kite’ made here, wow, great record! Come to Creation!” It was hard leaving Sony though, as Rob Stringer was a mate, so the move was quite difficult.
Did you ever get any comments from any of the surviving Beatles regarding your 1996 Beatles covers E.P.? (Actually a version of Nick’s ‘Rollerblade’ single with three Beatles covers as B-sides)
No, no, (Paul McCartney) was quiet about that! I really like ‘All My Loving’ and that was one of his…so there was one by George, one by Paul and one by John. And I only had three to do, otherwise I would have done (Ringo song) ‘Octopus’s Garden’ obviously. I really enjoyed doing that. There was a Creation connection there, because Andy (Bell from Ride and Oasis) played guitar on that. He did the solo on ‘Nowehere Man’.
If you are listening to music at home, what is your format of choice; what do you think of streaming?
Love it, that’s how I get to hear all the new music, because I don’t think I would buy everyones’ album. I did it before, but you would have to hear stuff on the radio first and it was down to the radio, so now, it’s more instant. I’m getting to hear lots of music new and old that I’d never heard before, that I can just check out. If I really like it, I want to then have it, so I’ll buy it. I feel like I am contributing (by paying for streaming services) but it’s not a lot. I know that from my royalty statements! Though if it’s something I really like…I bought David Byrne‘s album on vinyl without listening to it. I’m like any other punter.
The cheapest vinyl copy of (Nick’s 1993 album) From Monday To Sunday online…how much, would you say?!
Did it even come out on vinyl? Wow, I’ve no idea!
The cheapest one is £53, and that has scuff marks according to the description!
Pounds? Oh, I thought you meant pence! I thought “I’ll get that, I haven’t got it on vinyl!”
Have you been approached about re-releasing your albums on vinyl, maybe the ones that wouldn’t have been on vinyl at the time?
Yes, a few (times) … I had a meeting a time one stage. But if it doesn’t happen, I have my own label no, so I’ll save up my pennies and see if I can do it! Gladsome Hawk, my label would gladly put it out. I could sell them gradually, whether I am here or not! It all goes to your kids anyway. They can have all £58.73 of it, ha ha!
What would you say is your favourite single and album of all time?
Hmmm, its probably a close one for first place for Talking Heads ’77 and White Music by XTC. Those two albums for me, it was a time when everything was changing and they resonated with me. I’d never heard anything like it.
Of your own work, which single and album are you most proud of?
Hmmm…I must say I do really like ‘Kite’ because it was that period where, you know, how it happened, so that to me was a bit of a turning point, so that and for the album, I think (first solo album) North Of A Miracle, working with (Beatles sound man) Geoff Emerick was a sublime experience. It was really like “Am I recording with Geoff Emerick in Abbey Road Studios?!”
‘Whistle Down The Wind’ is an incredible song…
Working with Geoff, sonically, was my zenith. My mountain peak! The guy that made Sgt. Pepper and (Elvis Costello‘s) Imperial Bedroom. I wanted Haircut 100 to sound bigger and wider, I thought Pelican West even though it sounded clear and crisp…I wanted the next one to sound wider, like The Pale Fountains and ABC. I loved that expansive sound. So I thought if Haircut went away from the clean and crisp and went more expansive, so I tried to persuade them, and that was the beginning of the musical differences side of the separation because they wanted to stay with the same producer and sound the same and I wanted to work with Geoff and there was a split there. So I do sometimes wonder what it would have been like, Haircut produced by Geoff Emerick. But…a lot of the band members weren’t Beatles fans, they were jazzers. I wanted ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ to be our first single off that album, as Haircut 100, but it wasn’t to be.
Your tour starts anytime now…what can people expect, without giving too much away?
It’s going to be the whole caboodle, I’m doing stuff off everything!
Do you have a band on stage or are you performing solo?
It’s a full band, a great band…my nineties band plus Andy Treacey from Faithless on drums, it’s really good, a great band!
Nick plays the follows dates over the coming weeks:
Thu 24 BRIGHTON – Concorde 2
Fri 25 LONDON – O2 Academy Islington
Thu 31 STOCKTON-ON-TEES – ARC
Fri 1 BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy
Sat 2 LIVERPOOL O2 Academy
Thu 7 GLASGOW Òran Mór
Fri 8 SHEFFIELD – O2 Academy
Fri 15 OXFORD – O2 Academy
Thu 21 CARDIFF – The Globe
Fri 22 STURMINSTER NEWTON – The Exchange
Thu 28 BATH – Komedia
Fri 29 EASTLEIGH – Concorde Club
Fri 6 MILTON KEYNES – The Stables
Woodland Echoes is out now on Gladsome Hawk Records.