Nick Heyward/Pugwash – Birmingham 02 Academy 3, 01/06/2018

There is a celebratory atmosphere in Birmingham tonight – it’s Friday and a plethora of well-chosen 1980’s tunes play while the expectant crowd await Nick Heyward, leader of Haircut 100 in the early part of that decade but a solo artist for almost his entire career.

Before Heyward arrives though, Pugwash frontman Thomas Walsh is here to represent his band alone, armed only with an acoustic guitar, anecdotes about Van Morrison and Lulu and a voice like honey. He’s an engaging character, announcing that his new single is available on clear vinyl on the merch stall – “You  might see it. Actually, you might not.” His set takes in last year’s lovely ‘The Perfect Summer’ single, old Pugwash classic ‘It’s Nice To Be Nice’ and even ‘Mason On The Boundary’ from one of his two cricket-themed albums recorded with his mate Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy under the name of The Duckworth Lewis Method.

And so to Nick Heyward, who is here in support of his first new album in 19 years, the wonderful Woodland Echoes. He’s now been releasing music under his own name for 35 years, despite barely even looking 35 as he bounds on to the stage and jumps straight into the old Haircuts hit ‘Love Plus One’, which goes down a storm with the audience who had been warned not to talk during songs by Thomas Walsh as he left the stage!

Heyward recounts a tale of he and Walsh travelling down to the gig by car and singing to each other, a story that yields an impromptu, brief version of ‘Angelfish’, one of the bonus tracks from his new album before the hits continue in the shape of ‘Take That Situation’ and ‘On A Sunday’, both from his 1983 debut North Of A Miracle. It’s a pretty formidable start and after an interlude about meeting Paul and Linda McCartney on an aeroplane in the 80s, he’s playing the sublime ‘Whistle Down The Wind’, his debut solo single which, like everything else on show tonight, is rendered perfectly by his excellent band, which includes Faithless drummer Andy Treacey, long-time ace bass companion Phil Taylor and saxophonist Rob Digweed. It’s a joy to see such an accomplished band giving Heyward’s often underrated material the treatment it deserves.

A bizarre anecdote about the song resembling an origami dog precedes ‘He Doesn’t Love You Like I Do’, one of two featured songs from Heywards’s 1993 ‘comeback’ album From Monday To Sunday, the other being the timeless classic ‘Kite’, which benefits from some pretty mean (but tasteful) harmonica from Nick. And the hits keep coming, ‘Blue Hat For A Blue Day’ sounds both wistful and euphoric, while 1996 single ‘Rollerblade’, which references The Smiths and The Jesus and Mary Chain is a powerpop delight.

The first taste of the new album comes in the form of ‘Who?’, and while half of Heyward’s recent double A-side ‘Baby Blue Sky’ comes alongside shortly afterwards, it’s a surprise to find that there is no place for the stomping other side ‘Mountaintop’. But Heyward is spoilt for choice when it comes to throwing hits into his set; 1985 single ‘Laura’ gets a partial makeover to become ‘Sara’ for its second half, while it’s a little surprising to hear that Richard Jobson from The Skids almost appeared on ‘Surprise Me Again’, a beautifully fragile song from the Haircut 100 album Pelican West which makes a welcome, if slightly unexpected, appearance tonight.

A teasingly familiar but brief snatch of another of his former band’s smash hits, ‘Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)’ is enough to have the audience baying to have it played in full, and Heyward and band respond by closing the show with an extended wig-out version, brilliantly funky bass line and saxophone very much present and correct.

A joyful encore of ‘Fantastic Day’ is a fitting way to end the night; Heyward is in his element throughout, beaming from start to finish of a set showing why he should be considered one of the finest writers and performers of his generation.

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