When every day is a fantastic day

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Nick Heyward looks back on rough school days, dreaming of stardom, David Bowie, naming Haircut 100 … and the joy of reading in the bath

Nick Heyward 2024

Awkward. Embarrassed most of the time. It was the 70s, and my school was … tough. On my first day I saw somebody knock a kid flying by the tuck shop. He had a kind of rock outfit on, huge platform shoes and a silver jacket, and he had a beard, I think was a sixth former. And he just smacked somebody full in the face. And I just thought, “Oh, dear. This is my place of learning.”’
Nick Heywood – singer, songwriter and Haircut 100 frontman – grew up in South London, and doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t dreaming of appearing on Top of the Pops.
‘We lived in Beckenham. I was told that it was more of an artistic, creative school, but I just remember keeping my head down for most of the first year, so it didn’t get punched! This was the mid-70s, and everything was in black and white. I mean, there was colour on the TV, but life felt grey and grim with three-day-weeks and politics even worse than it is today.
‘I grew up in a musical family. My father took me to see Count Basie, Ray Charles and Oscar Peterson at Hammersmith Odeon. That was my first concert. I was blessed with music. Dad was a huge jazz fan –also big band music like Stan Kenton and Woody Herman. And then people like Tubby Hayes, solo saxophone players … we’d always have Dave Brubeck playing in the car. Growing up was switching between that and my brother playing Pink Floyd and David Bowie (the beacon of our area, he also lived in Beckenham at the same time).
My brother was music mad. Pink Floyd to Mark Bolan, everything was in Pete’s bedroom. Mum was into The Carpenters – something was being played non-stop.’
‘I was always interested in song-writing – a schoolfriend of mine, Lawrence, was a jazz drummer, and I used to go round to his house and take my first electric guitar, which I bought in Woolworths for £15 – it was hardly playable, it sounded awful! But you’ve got to start somewhere. Lawrence and I would pretend we were in a band, and we’d just play and listen to records and we’d mime to Queen’s Seven Seas of Rhye. We didn’t have a microphone because we couldn’t afford one. There wasn’t any kind of equipment apart from the guitar and that curly lead going into a Woolworths amplifier. And just dreaming. You’re dreaming that you could one day, possibly, be Queen, or Bolen or David Bowie. You wouldn’t believe how strong a lighthouse beam Bowie was in Beckenham. You know, he made it! He lived right here in Beckenham, but we saw him on the telly. Which made me beleive it was possible for me too. Everything was much more vibrant on the television than it was in real life.
‘I left school with a plan to go to art college, but I didn’t get in. I only got one O level and I would have had to stay on at school. And I thought “I can’t. I cannot stay here another minute.” So I left and got a job on Oxford Street in a commercial art company called the House of Wizard. I was on £15 a week, but I would have paid them to let me work there! They did Coca Cola campaigns and Bovril and I was doing all the things I loved. I used to sit and design posters. That was my passion – designing posters and listening to music. Then I got to combine them, beacuse at House of Wizard, we did record sleeves too. We did the Jam’s In The City … Uriah Heep … loads of bands.’

Blatant Beavers
But I kept up the music. Les Nemes and I were formidable once we teamed up. I was impatient. We were ambitious. It may have looked like it happened overnight, but we were together playing music a long time. We were in lots of rehearsal studios, played in many bands, through many cultural niches. We thought we were going to be in a ska band, we were going to be punk, new wave … By the time we were 19 or 20, that’s when it took off.
‘Les, guitarist Graham and I lived in a flat above a flower shop in Gloucester Road, living and breathing the band. We were all single at the time, so we’d socialise and go out together, experiencing the magic of being in a band. We knew people like Spandau Ballet, we were all at the same clubs, trying to cut through.’
Music journalist Adrian Thrills remembers it clearly: ‘Nick walked unannounced into the NME offices in Carnaby Street in March 1981. He charmed his way past reception, thrust a demo tape into my hands and began telling me, a staff writer interested in new bands, about Haircut 100. They played fast, chunky pop, a new kind of jangly, poppy Britfunk.’
Adrian subsequently wrote a full page piece on Haircut 100 in the NME, and introduced Nick to the editor of The Face, who also ran a piece on the band.
‘NME had such power and influence at the time,’ says Nick. ‘I don’t think we’d have happened without it.’
And how about the Haircut 100 name? Is it true it was just the silliest one Nick could think of?
‘Well, we’d been Quick Cereals, Blatant Beavers, Napkin Man … we tried out a new one each week on our mates. Haircut 100 just seemed the worst! But people would ask why, or laugh or they’d say “great name!”. It caused a reaction.
‘To me it just said pop art – I loved surreal pop art at that time, I loved the lyrics of Talking Heads that just didn’t seem to make sense. Nothing seemed to make sense in pop music lyrics, even David Bowie’s lyrics were nonsense. Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow?
‘I knew from my design days that creativity comes from Nowhere Land – it’s why Haircut 100 stuck.

It just it went down well with our mates and it seemed to fit us as a band.’
The Haircut 100 look was distinctive, a contrast to what else was going on at that time, the band known for wearing thick Argyle jumpers, Nick for a traditional Breton fisherman’s cap which promptly became a fashion trend.
‘Yeah, it was quite eclectic, wasn’t it? And it was all us, we didn’t have stylists. We got our clothes from Kensington Market and experimented with different looks and styles. London in the early 80s was so creative. And fashion, more than ever, was connected to the music. Everybody that had been a young Bowie fan had now grown up, and they were in bands or the fashion industry or something. We knew that how unique you were was how successful you were. It wasn’t about conforming. We’d wear a sou’wester and fisherman’s socks, or full polo gear to the gig one day, because why not? You just tried things out. And when you’re doing it, you realise that fashion comes from everywhere. And it’s all been done before –you’re just taking it and putting it in a different place. I wore the fishing hat because my father used to wear one when we went on holiday. We went to Port Grimaud – it’s now a holiday resort, but then it was just a a fishing village. And he used to wear that hat to hire this little boat for maybe £1.50 a day. I just remember him wearing that hat. So I wore it, and then you find out that oh, look, John Lennon wore that hat. It’s all been done before. BUT I have yet to find anybody before me who wore fisherman’s waders on Top of the Pops … once, we were on the same show as The Furies, an Irish folk band, and their manager came up to us and said “I’ve been trying to get them to wear Aran jumpers for their whole career and they refuse. Now you’re wearing them, but what have you got to do with folk music?”
This year Haircut 100 played a warm-up gig at The Exchange in Sturminster Newton and then went on to play Glastonbury. ‘Later this year I’m off on solo tour – which is always great, but very different. When Les and I are together, we just pick up where we left off. And when we’re playing with Blair, suddenly we’re just alive with the power this man from Memphis has got in his pocket. It’s a thing that you only get in a band.
‘When I’m touring on my own, it’s a completely different thing. Even if I play those same songs, it’s different. But I’ll be just cherry picking from the whole catalogue – and when I play them I go into full joy mode. I never forget – this is my dream I’m getting to do.’

A life in music
And so to Nick Heyward’s music choices, in no particular order, along with how and why they have stuck in his life:

Penny Lane
The Beatles
This sums up the Beatles to me, the optimism of the time, Paul McCartney at his best.
There’s a lyric in there where it says “Meanwhile, back” at the end of the verse. And it just links up one verse to the next. Every time I hear that, I think it’s one of the cleverest things I’ve heard. Normally there’s some rhyming and then the bit of link and a chorus and this doesn’t, it just links up the verse to the next. It’s like a daisy chain. Everything about it captures that period so beautifully. It’s like pop brass, it just says it’s celebratory, and it captures Liverpool so well. The instrumentation on it, the baseline, is completely fresh. It’s the same way that you hear something like Gustav Mahler’s Symphony Adagio for Strings, and you think “he captured melancholy”. The Beatles captured the sound of optimism in a single gem of a three minute pop song.

Rocket Man
Elton John
I love and respect the relationship between Elton and Bernie Taupin more and more the older I get. Bernie is a genuine lyricist, he’s up there with the best. And for these two to find each other …
The whole world has benefited from Rocket Man, musically and lyrically. It’s just genius. Decades later, I still listen to it now. The delivery, the vocals, the imagery that comes from the lyrics. I can just put it on, and I’m transported.
It was everybody at the top of their game at that particular time. That recording is like a fine wine – every once in a while you just put it on and you listen, and you go “Oh, yeah, there’s magic in the world all right.”

Life on Mars
David Bowie
There are so many of his songs that I could have picked. But It’s a god-awful small affair, To the girl with the mousy hair … what a way to start a song! Like, what? That’s the power of a lyricist. It’s not a generic pop song about love. It transports you to another place. Music did that, it took me out of the mundane world and into this other realm. It was amazing. And just a few words would do that. You know, We’re back to Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow again. I mean, you just accepted this as the norm, this is what it was in the 70s. It was a glimpse of the new world that was happening, that you were aspiring to. You believed the next decade was going to be even more vibrant. I had no clue then that I was going to be involved in the next decade at all, but because of Bowie, I dreamed that it might be possible. He was such an inspiration.
And the melody here is so beautiful. Perfectly crafted, again, by all the people that were at the top of their game at that particular point. The studios were better than they’d ever been, everything that had happened in tape, there were more tracks so they could record more … and they were really good at what they did.

Disco Stomp
Hamilton Bohannan
This is the disco! For me, this was our local town hall, and a hotchpotch of people from different areas – and most of us were wearing bowling shirts. This record is the most vivid memory for me. It made everybody move in unison, and I’ve never heard anything sound that way. I think it still influences guitar players. I was an aspiring rhythm guitar player at that point, and there’s this rhythm guitar part in the song which goes against the beat. I didn’t even know it was a guitar. I just wanted to know what’s doing that rhythm? What’s making everybody in this room dance together, in unison?
And this music, it wasn’t like Tiger Feet by Mud, it wasn’t ska… This was a different thing. It was just this rhythm. And it haunted me for years because it fell off the radar, but now we’ve got YouTube and we can find all this stuff. It was played everywhere in ‘76, and then it just seemed to vanish. But that rhythm, there’s just something about it. It wasn’t a classic melody either, it was just all about the groove.

Down Down
Status Quo
Before I was going to that disco, I’d be listening to Quo in my bedroom. I was wearing triple denim, cheesecloth, orange platform shoes. I had fake sheepskin around the collar that I got from the market somewhere. I thought I was great. I looked like a member of Quo! And I would play that Down Down intro … In fact, when Haircut 100 got back together at the Shepherds Bush Empire, we came on to Down Down.
That was a moment, I can tell you. I went from playing to the mirror in my bedroom, imagining being in Status Quo, to being on that enormous stage with our band. And we played that song. Goosebumps.
Again, it’s in the recording – this is the greatest intro to any pop song, ever, I think. I’m really into intros. That’s why I love Queen’s Seven Seas of Rhye because the intro instantly makes you want to do something, like when you hear the beginning of Bohemian Rhapsody. Just from the first few bars.
Down Down’s drum intro, it’s classic: really simple, but it flops in in such a beautiful way. I love everything about it. I learned to play it and realised how simple it was as well. It’s just a capo on the fretboard and playing a minor shape. And I thought “wow, all these years of that magic that I wanted to work out. And now it’s on YouTube, and you can learn this stuff.”

Staying Alive
Bee Gees
Well, I think stranded on an island, I would definitely need to stay alive! This is some positive affirmation – I listen to this a lot when I’m flying. When you’re landing or you’re bumping through the clouds, sometimes it’s nice to just have something that’s grounding. It’s a positive thing. I love flying now but I didn’t used to. Music can really help you love something – it’s association, isn’t it? If you experience something positive, and you’re listening to music, then every time you go through a difficult time you play that music, you can get through anything. It’s a healing thing.
I wasn’t listening to this at the time it came out, though. This was just the music that was around. I didn’t buy it. But it has stood the test of time, and I listen to this track more than I do the songs that I did buy back then. Once again, it’s all in how they were recorded, it’s so expertly and beautifully put together. And the genius of the Bee Gees is working with Arif Mardin: going to Miami and making records that sounded so American. I think he’s got the best Anglo/American pop music – you take brilliant writers, and then put them in America with the best funk producer – and suddenly you’ve got all those great songs.
I don’t listen to vinyl – I’ve got vinyl on display, and we’ve got a wonky-looking 60s record player because my wife loves retro stuff. But I love streaming. I love it that I’m listening to all the things that I didn’t get to listen to. I couldn’t afford to buy every 10cc album, but now I can listen to every single one. Every song I could ever wish to hear is there.

Baker Street
Gerry Rafferty
It’s so dramatic! I was walking around London delivering parcels, learning to be a commercial artist at House of Wizard. I wasn’t listening to the record because we didn’t have Walkmans then. But you would take that song with you, wherever you walked, because it was still playing. Everywhere. That intro was everywhere. I would be at work making the tea for 20 people with that song in the backgorund, and then go off and deliver a parcel and there it was again … I was always walking down Baker Street. That was the soundtrack of the time. But me personally, I was listening to punk. And if someone had said to me then “in three or four years time, your band will have taken off and you’ll be playing in California at a sold out country club. And Gerry Rafferty will be guesting, and he’ll want to play with you…” Never in my wildest dreams. But there we were, playing his song with him.
That’s why I feel like saying to anyone “you can make your wildest dreams come true”. Because you really can. I did.

Let Your Yeah Be Yeah
The Pioneers
Another that has stayed with me. Before my family moved to Beckenham, we lived in Brixton. I used to go to Brixton market with my nan and mum, and Trojan Records was huge in Brixton. This song was always playing, and it is my favorite bassline of all time. And the recording – total magic.
You couldn’t recreate this, it’s a moment in time. These historic recordings, they will never be created again. The sound of the 70s has this timeless tape, it was just 8-track, 16-track and 24-track. This Pioneers song was probably recorded on 8-track, so the tape is wider and thicker, which gives this thicker, lovely warm fuzzy sound.
I used to record in the 90s and I recorded on a 16-track machine for that, because my guitar sounded wider. I’d play my Gretsch through the 16-track machine, and everyone would ask “how do you do that?”
It was just through using old tape recorders. Listen to Let Your Yeah Be Yeah, it’s more bassy than anything you hear now, so warm and round and bassy and I just love it.

Luxury item?
A bathtub! Funnily enough, I don’t listen to music in the bath. I read. It’s like I have to have a bath to read. We’ve just gone the longest we’ve ever gone living somewhere without a bath, and we’ve been going to hotels for a bath sometimes just because I really need to read. There’s something about the focused concentration of being so warm. I mean, I can’t recall my mother’s womb, but I reckon it’s probably pretty close!
A really safe, warm place.
I stay in hours. Hours!
Everything is wrinkly when I get out, but I can devour a book.
One of my favorite memories is reading Charlotte’s Web in the bath. I’d never read it, and it was that magic of being in the story. I was in the bath in Tampa and the sun was shining through the window and it was dark by the time I finished it. It was just magic. What a book, what a story … and what a bath.
So I will need a bath, please. And it should be hooked up to the nearest waterfall, and heated by the sun.
The Book
I just want an empty journal. I have to be able to keep writing. I never found that Elton John and Bernie Taupin-type of songwriting partnership. So I just have to do whatever comes – sometimes I write the music, then on the way home I’ll find some lyrics. Or sometimes I just come up with the title first, like Blue Hat For A Blue Day and Lemon Fire Brigade, they were titles that I had, and I just had to somehow hope the right song would come along. It’s random and sometimes chaotic.
It’s a bit like cooking, you can invent some really good new meals if you just try lots of stuff. It’s the same ingredients everyone has, though. I mean, I’m using the same seven notes as anyone else. And they’re the same seven notes that every bird sings in the tree. Same with the lyrics – they’re the same words, and you just mix them all up.

Following a 2023 sell-out Haircut 100 London reunion show at the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire and a joyous UK tour, this autumn Nick Heyward sets off on his first solo tour since the critically acclaimed Woodland Echoes tour in 2018. See nickheyward.com for dates
Haircut 100’s show at The Exchange was an instant sellout. If you missed it, keep your eyes peeled for more shows coming soon, and be quick with the Buy Tickets Now button!
stur-exchange.co.uk

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