26 October 2013

My broken spirit is frozen to the core

I was busy last night and missed a acoustic gig at Bodega by the 80s pop star Nik Kershaw. I would've been intrigued to see what his singles (Wouldn't It Be Good, The Riddle, Wide Boy et al.) sounded like stripped-down, low-tech and played by a now fifty-five year old Kershaw. But in honour of his visit to Wellington, I thought it would be timely to quote from the chapter named after him in my favourite book about music: Giles Smith's 1995 book Lost In Music ('one man's journey into the world of rock and then back to his mum's').

Smith, who now writes on sports and motoring for the Times, grew up in Colchester idolising bands and musicians, and was a passing acquaintance of Nick (before he dropped the 'c') when the latter was impressing local audiences in covers band Fusion. Here he recounts spotting Kershaw a year or so after Fusion split up - a year in which a strange and mysterious transformation had occurred:

It was in Colchester's shopping precinct, outside Lasky's electrical store and at the back of Marks and Spencer's. And this was not the Nick Kershaw I had known (or rather, not known). First, there was the hair - all spiky and bright blond as if a small bomb containing bleach had gone off on his head, the de rigueur 1980s pop-star plumage. And then there were the clothes. No more wearisome waistcoats, no more duff ties. He was wearing a tiny black jacket with some complicated fastenings, and black drainpipe jeans which bottomed out in a pair of pointy boots. There were only two possible explanations: either a major record company had signed him up and had got its people to make him over, ready for stardom; or Kershaw had retrained as a hairdresser and was now working in a shiny-floored unisex salon in Chelmsford - Sophisticut, maybe, or Hair Today. Naturally, I assumed the latter and shook my head ruefully all the way home on the bus. 
And of course, I was wrong. The haircut and the grimly fashionable threads were courtesy of MCA, who were right at that moment priming Kershaw, ready to detonate him and his new hair in the teen market [...] and suddenly he was on Top of the Pops for the first time. I watched with a friend who had come round specially. The room positive thrummed with our nervousness, our proximity to this momentous event and our feeling of tragic non-involvement in it all. We leant close to the screen as the camera swung from whichever Radio 1 DJ was presenting that week, across the backs of the squawking audience and picked out Kershaw, alone amid the fake chrome piping and the flashy lights. 
It shook us that he had no guitar around his neck. (Top of the Pops was completely mimed at this time). Instead, he was wearing a white boiler suit and a pair of fingerless gloves and clutching his bunched fists up to his chest like someone working out with a set of hand-held dumb-bells. At the same time, he would bring up a knee in the manner recommended by aerobics videos. Who had taught him to do this? It was certainly never a feature of his performances at the Goose and Firkin in Tollesbury. Staggered, we realised he was also wearing a snood - a tube of netting, the kind you sometimes see protecting strawberries, bunched around his neck. (It became a trademark of sorts). He looked terrified, at least to us seasoned Kershaw-watchers, but he bopped and clenched and wilfully concentrated his gaze on the floor, and as the song faded and the camera drew back, there was the usual hilarious applause. We went to the pub afterwards and drank in silence, alone with our thoughts. 
- Giles Smith, Lost in Music, London, 1995, p.127-9. 
(I love the notion that a Colcestrian would picture a swish 80s hair salon as being in up-market, yuppified Chelmsford.) Kershaw went on to have eight UK top 40 hits in 1984 and 1985, performed at Live Aid in 1985, had one of his songs covered for the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, and wrote the 1991 UK chart-topper I Am the One and Only  for Chesney Hawks. Here's the TOTP performance Smith wrote about:

See also:
Music: Nik Kershaw - The Riddle (Live Aid, 1985)
TV: Nik Kershaw - Live Aid interview (brief, 1985)
Blog: When Smokey sings, I hear violence, 19 May 2008
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