Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wouldn't It Be Good To Go Human Racing

Nik Kershaw’s recording career has extended well beyond the 1980s (post and pre), but given the phenomenal profile he gained at the time, twenty years on this ‘wide boy’ still remains most strongly associated with that era upon which the sun will never truly set.

English born Kershaw grew up in the working class city of Bristol and took to music by his teen years, learning to play guitar at age 14 (you could probably cut and paste that fact for most pop-rock musicians). His personal playlist included the music of David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Genesis, T-Rex and even Deep Purple. It more than likely prompted Kershaw to think “wouldn’t it be good to be a pop star”, and thus he started up a high school band called Half Pint Hogg (originally known as ‘Thor’). After leaving school the ‘Half Pint’ was dropped and Kershaw continued to front the newly dubbed Hogg on the odd occasion when they could score a gig. Music clearly wasn’t going to pay the bills, so the enterprising young Kershaw took a gig as a clerical assistant with the British Department of Employment. But square pegs don’t like being confined to round holes, and Kershaw kept the flame burning on his music dreams on the side. After a few years with his nose to the civil service grindstone, Kershaw jumped at a chance to join a jazz-funk band called Fusion as their guitarist in late ‘78. He contributed several songs to Fusion’s only album release in 1979 titled ‘Till I Hear From You’. The album was apparently credited to The Reg Webb Band in some European markets, with an alternative track listing. Either way, aside from the most hardcore Nik Kershaw fans, you could be forgiven for being unaware of his pre-solo work.

In early 1982 Fusion split (who’d have thunk it), and Nik Kershaw spent the ensuing six months or so focussed on writing a cache of songs, with a view to luring interest from a record company, or even two. Via an ad he placed in Melody Maker, Kershaw hooked up with manager Mickey Modern, the very model of a modern musicians manager (who had managed the cult South London band Nine Below Zero - I can recall them from a guest appearance on the British sitcom ‘The Young Ones’). After several agonising months of too-ing, fro-ing and in between-ing, the diminutive singer/songwriter had been signed up to MCA Records.

After a brief period under the studio guidance of Rupert Hine (see earlier post), by mid ‘83 Kershaw was working with established producer Peter Collins toward recording a debut album. In September ‘83 the advance single ‘I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’ signalled the dawning of Nik Kershaw’s solo career. The song didn’t exactly shine with excessive radiance on the charts, at least not first time around, peaking at #47 late in the year. But the British public, well those interested in popular music, now knew the name Nik Kershaw, and Kershaw had just the song in waiting to propel him to international success.

‘Wouldn’t It Be Good’ hit the British charts in January ‘84, and the clever promotional video, which featured Kershaw playing the role of a fugitive alien, was soon a regular on music video television (you have to love cutting edge 80s chroma-key technology). By February ‘Wouldn’t It Be Good’ had surged to #4 in the U.K. (as well as several European countries), and soon after Australia followed suit by pushing the song to #5. The U.S. offered up a luke-warm appreciation for ‘Wouldn’t It Be Good’, but #46 Stateside is nothing to be sneezed at. Nik Kershaw’s debut album ‘Human Racing’ received a green flag in March ‘84, and showed good pace to soon be challenging for a top five position on the British charts (OZ#35/US#70). In April ‘84 Kershaw unleashed ‘Dancing Girls’ (#13) upon the British charts, and when the outcry had subsided the record label MCA thought they’d try to pre-empt global warming by relaunching ‘I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’. The song’s second orbit was duly rewarded with a landing at #2 on the U.K. charts in mid ‘84 (OZ#17). ‘Human Racing’ also yielded a UK#19 hit with its title track.

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