Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Wide Boy Poses A Riddle

Kershaw wasted no time in re-entering the recording studio to lay down some tracks for his sophomore album. The album’s title track ‘The Riddle’, hit stores in late ‘84 and soon hit the British charts. The catchy, quirky pop song (with a bit of Celtic influence) offered up some intriguing lyrics, which Kershaw later said were originally only intended to service as a vocal guide until he wrote some proper lyrics - but they stuck, and although according to Kershaw didn’t actually mean anything, provided listeners with a bit of fun on the side trying to assign meaning to them. ‘The Riddle’ proved anything but a puzzle in terms of its commercial appeal, and shot to #3 on the U.K. charts, soon after winding its way to #6 in Australia. The promotional video only serviced to add to the song’s playful, enigmatic lyrics, and reminded me a bit of a Terry Gilliam fantasy world - well Kershaw is apparently a bit of Monty Python fan, so maybe he had some influence in that. By the end of 1984 Kershaw had notched up three top five singles and a two top ten albums in Britain. ‘The Riddle’ album peaked at #8 in the U.K. (OZ#39/US#113), and was produced once again by Peter Collins. It also featured backing vocals on a number of tracks from Kershaw’s wife Sheri.

The follow up single ‘Wide Boy’ became Kershaw’s second song to reach both British and Australian top tens (UK#9/OZ#7) in early 1985. The next single ‘Don Quixote’ (UK#10/OZ#83) was probably my personal favourite from Kershaw’s work of this period. It hit the British charts soon after Kershaw had appeared on the London bill of the Live Aid concert with his backing band The Krew (where apparently he fluffed the lyrics on one of his songs) - not bad for someone who eighteen months earlier would have prompted the question “Nik who?”. Some guitar work on Elton John’s ‘Ice On Fire’ album, and another hit single ‘When A Heart Beats’ (UK#27/OZ#92) rounded out a stellar couple of years for Nik Kershaw - question was could he maintain such a consistency of commercial returns.

The answer to that question didn’t take long to reveal itself as a firm “no”, at least in respect of Nik Kershaw the performer. His 1986 album ‘Radio Musicola’ (UK#47/OZ#92) proved a relative disappointment in terms of sales, but attracted favourable reviews from critics. It spawned two minor hit singles in ‘Nobody Knows’ (UK#44/OZ#73) and the title track (UK#43). Both songs boasted backing vocals from one Iva Davies (see Oct Icehouse posts). Still, within a two year period Kershaw had racked up album sales of over 8 million - most artists would be happy to sell a tenth of that.

Kershaw then took his time working on his next album, and by the time that 1989’s ‘The Works’ was released his profile had faded considerably - well let’s face it the music industry, and most record buyers, are a fickle and transient lot with tragically short attention spans when it comes to who’s ‘hot’ and who’s ‘not’. The first single ‘One Step Ahead’ crawled to #55 on the British charts in February ‘89, but the follow up ‘Elisabeth’s Eyes’ missed the mark. Kershaw parted ways with his record label MCA, or they parted ways with him, and opted to focus on his work as a songwriter. In 1991 he scored his first #1 hit, albeit as a writer, when Chesney Hawkes hit the top spot in Britain with ‘The One And Only’. The same year Kershaw collaborated for the first time (but not the last) with Genesis keyboard maestro Tony Banks on the song ‘I Wanna Change The Score’. Over the course of the 90s Kershaw penned songs for Cliff Richard, Bonnie Tyler, The Hollies and boy band Let Loose. In 1993 he wrote and recorded the song ‘Old Friend’ with Elton John, from John’s ‘Duets’ album.

In 1999 an older and wiser Kershaw decided it was time to give the formulaic song writing assignments a rest and record some of his own work again. He signed a new deal with Eagle Records and released the album ‘15 Minutes’, a collection of more personal, acoustic guitar based tracks including the UK#70 hit ‘Somebody Love You’. Later in ‘99 Kershaw co-wrote and provided vocals for the UK#56 hit ‘Sometimes’ by Les Rythmes Digitales. Free of the constraints and demands of being a ‘pop star’ Kershaw followed up with 2001’s ‘To Be Frank’. The big sales and smash hits were a thing of the past, but still present was an accomplished singer/songwriter and musician firmly in command of his craft. Kershaw also continued to write for other artists, including penning songs for Imogen Heap and Ronan Keating.

2005 saw Kershaw contribute four new tracks to a ‘best of’ collection titled ‘Then And Now’, and then released the 2006 album ‘You’ve Got To Laugh’ on his own Shorthouse Records label through his website. Kershaw has continued to perform on irregular occasions but has maintained a strong core fan base around the world. It’s almost 25 years since the breakthrough hit that was ‘Wouldn’t It Be Good’, and though a handful of catchy pop melodies tend to spring to mind most readily when most people hear the name Nik Kershaw, there’s no doubting that the singer himself has created a body of work that extends well beyond the stifling parameters of a mere ‘80s pop icon’.

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