The Human Racer...
In the relatively brief period he was in the public eye, Nik Kershaw did more for what has been called 'real music' in the early eighties than many others. As punk was losing its grip on the public's imagination and the New Romantic 'movement' was peaking, he took the blandness away and made it something interesting...the naked chef of music.
Half Pint Hog
Nicholas David Kershaw: not exactly a name that would conjure images of someone who was, for a while, destined to hide more wallpaper in bedrooms than Adam Ant or
Born in Bristol on 1st March, 1958, Kershaw spent all his formative years in
Ipswich , where he attended Northgate Grammar School. It was also here that his first foray into the music scene occured, with the band Half Pint Hog. One hesitates to assume that the band were named because of Kershaw's diminutive stature1. They played Deep Purple covers but the career of Half Pint Hog was short lived; there appeared to be no impetus and they only played three gigs under that name.
Kershaw left school in 1976 and worked as a shop assisstant and in the Department of Employment for several years, whilst playing in a jazz-funk outfit called Fusion, in the evenings. They released an album and a single, on Telephone Records. The album, Til I Hear From You, contained an early rendition of Human Racing, which was eventually to become the title track of Nik's first album.
Fusion broke up in 1982, but Kershaw was not disheartened. He decided to go it alone, and spent six months writing songs so that he could present himself, with a full portfolio, to different music companies. He met his manager, Mickey Modern 2 and before too long, he was signed to M.C.A. and was in the studio in early 1983. With Peter Collins as his producer, Nik began laying down tracks for his debut album Human Racing.
The Music and The ManHuman Racing was released in 1984. The single, I Won't Let The Sun Go Down On Me, only reached number 47 in the UK charts. However, the follow up single, Wouldn't It Be Good, was the one that cracked it for Kershaw, reaching the top 5. Success had arrived, and taking the opportunity to ride the wave, I Won't Let The Sun Go Down On Me was re-released and got to number 2.
Nik's blend of good, solid pop songs, woven with synthesiser and memorable guitar riffs, was, it seemed, just the sort of thing the music buying public had been waiting for. But there was more subtlety to Kershaw than that. On the first album, Human Racing, the wry lyrics in Bogart and Gone to Pieces gave life to deeper, more introspective writing talent. And whilst he obviously did not eschew the use of the technology available to him in the studio, the use of multi-tracked voice on Shame on You is an eye-opener3,and listen out for the milk bottles on Bogart.
Lyrically, Nik's second album, The Riddle grew, whilst keeping his musical roots firmly in the pop environment. The album went platinum in the UK and for the next year or so, the radio reverberated to Kershaw's distinctive brand of music.
Nik toured extensively with his band, The Krew, who consisted of:
- Dennis Smith
- Keith Airey 4
- Tim Moore
- Mark Price
- Sheri Kershaw - Nik's wife
At this time, Kershaw was also involved in Live Aid: He played a short set at London's Wembley Stadium in 1985, where the crowd rocked to the familiar sound of Wouldn't It Be Good.
But it wasn't until 1986 that Nik's third album, Radio Musicola was released. It failed to have anywhere near the success of the first two, and it seemed that Kershaw's career was in decline. He faded from the public domain, but continued to write and play, most notably, in the late 80's, when his distinctive guitar playing featured on Elton John's single, Nikita.
His fourth album, The Works, was released in 1989. It made little impression on the charts, but one track in particular stood out. Whilst revisiting some of the style of the earlier albums, the song, Elisabeth's Eyes had a depth that was to signal a writing resurgence and was an indicator of what was to come: but it would be close to ten years until that particular tree bore any fruit.
After the release of The Works, Kershaw ceased to play live gigs in 1990. He worked away quietly, behind the scenes, writing and producing. It wasn't too long before he had another foray into the world of the top five: he wrote and produced the phenomenally successful Chesney Hawkes single The One And Only, in 19915. This song actually reached the number one slot.
In Kershaw's own words:
" I was basically fed up with the touring and recording. So, the big plan was to sit at home, write songs and send them to my publisher, who'd give them to Tina Turner or whoever."
Kershaw goes on to relate that it didn't actually work out that way, and that writing for somebody else was, really and truly, a totally different kettle of fish. That said, during that time, he worked with many big names, both writing and producing, including: Jason Donovan, The Hollies and Tony Banks6.
During this period in the studio with other performers, Kershaw relates that, when he had some spare time, he would work on some of his own material. He still used the technology but, it seems, prefered to utilise the age old method of songwriting: paper, pen and acoustic guitar. Eventually the point came when he had ten or so tracks laid down and the thought ocurred that he was actually writing an album.
He got a band together that included his old guitar player, Keith Airey, and gigged in Europe and showcased the new material at the Jazz Cafe in late 1998.
The culmination of all this work was the album Fifteen Minutes, released in 1999.
And here the tree bears the fruit! The promise of the song Elisabeths's Eyes was realised on an album that was intrinsically Nik Kershaw, but a more mature, self-analytical Kershaw; a man who was writing the songs that, he said, he felt unable to write during the eighties, for fear of being labelled 'self-indulgent'.
A single was released from the album, Somebody Loves You7, and although not recieving a huge amount of attention across the board, it was mildly successful. Not having a major chart showing appeared not to worry Kershaw; he seemed quite happy to let things take their course and continue in the vein of writer/producer/performer.
Some would say that with Fifteen Minutes, he was jumping on the 80's revival bandwagon, bewailing the the fact that his initial success was so short-lived...and perhaps they had a point. But it is, nonetheless, good to hear him singing and playing again and bringing some of that quirky, pop charm back to music.
- Human Racing - 1984.
- The Riddle' - 1984.
- Radio Musicola - 1986.
- The Works - 1989.
- Fifteen Minutes - 1999.
There have been several compilation albums released over the years, but to be honest, they repeat and repeat. It is probably better to go and have a look in the archive bins and get a true perspective on Nik Kershaw's past work.
Nik continues to write, and his most recent album of new material, called To BE Frank, was released in 2001, though there is word that another album is in the pipeline, likely to be released in summer 2006.
For more information and discussion on Nik Kershaw, visit his Official site