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Just last week, British singer-songwriter Nick Heyward kicked off his UK run of shows last week which will see him play in Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow, Sheffield, Oxford, Notts, Cardiff and Bath throughout June. The shows include an appearance at Newark Festival alongside Marti Pellow, Kim Wilde and more.
He’ll be performing tracks off his latest record Wodland Echoes which includes singles The Stars and Perfect Sunday Sun. The record marks Heyward’s first solo album in eighteen years and was recorded between the Florida Keys and the UK with producer Ian Shaw.
Ahead of his UK tour we caught up with Nick to chat all things new record and life on the road.
How did you get into music in the first place?
I think it was always in the family. It was everywhere. My father was into jazz, so he took me to see Count Basie, Ray Charles and Oscar Peterson on one bill at Hammersmith Odeon, that must have been the ’60s, maybe ’65 or something like that. I was really small and I remember just thinking: “Wow! I’m out with my dad and this is where we go, this is what he listens to. What a world!”
I love the whole thing, I loved the red interior with the seats and everything, the smell. I loved the music coming from the stage, it was otherworldly. And I didn’t realise until later that I was seeing something really special. At home mum was always listening to the Carpenters and pop music that was going around at that particular time. And my brother, in the ’70s, he just knew everything about rock so I learned everything about rock via him. Hearing Metal Guru coming out of his bedroom just thinking “What is that?” and Hold Your Head Up High by Argent and every prog-rock record all the prog-rock definitely set me up for life.
That’s like the classic literature of music. Hearing things like Genesis… A Trick Of The Tail was a particularly intricately woven piece of work that I just remember listening to over and over. And then punk came out and it all really, really changed. For me I thought: “Wow! I could do this!”, so that was the beginning of getting into my bedroom, buying a guitar with my mate Rob Strauss. He bought a snare drum.
I had just left school. I was working in town at a commercial arts company, and we’d go back to my place and make up stuff, and that then turned into getting bands together all the time, name them, change them… One time we’re a ska band, next we’re a mod band, then we’re punk band. Then suddenly we’re Haircut 100. And that was it! And then we were all really, really funky.
Woodland Echoes is your first solo album in almost two decades – what made you decide to go back to recording as a solo artist?
I think it’s because I was doodling on MySpace and sharing it, and just getting people suggesting to do another album. And when I first started, and MySpace just came out, it would still be the process of going to a record company and getting investment from them which I thought “that’s really involved!”. So then the technology changed in home recording, it got better and better. The stuff I was making I thought: “I should release this!”.
I actually didn’t realise I was doing an album in the spare room. Then my son became a fantastic engineer so my prayers were answered. All that praying outside his room when he was growing up worked! “Please, please, please, let my son be a sound engineer!” And he was. And he is brilliant as well. That was it, we were making an album together.
I worked with Ian Shaw as well, who I worked with in the ’90s, and he’d moved to Florida so I went over there to see him. Actually via my fiancee’s parents who’d move down from Toulouse to Florida so I went off to see Ian who built this houseboat and put a studio in it. I thought that’s really great so he’d gone from recording in Fulham in a basement – he was in a basement for years! He never saw the sunshine there, let alone daylight. And then he moved to Key West and it’s bright sunshine full on, all year round. That definitel influenced some of the songs like Baby Blue Sky, which is as vibrant as the location itself.
In general, the album is about nature – how did that come about?
I think it was mostly in the spare room and you’ve got the window open. It was like mixed media, I put my phone on the windowsill and recorded the early morning bird chorus which then inspired a song which was the unfolding of A Beautiful Morning, and it just happened to be a spring morning. I kept the bird song, I knew I was going to use the bird song, but I recorded the actual song about three or four times to get it right with different melodies.
It was suddenly like: The blackbird’s not right, maybe a robin? Just different birds just kind of sitting there and me playing in E minor down the semi-tone, and it’s just like a rolling mist. I thought “I better record this!” So you could do that, whereas before you had to book a studio and when you do go in you got to have everything prepared beforehand. Now I could just press record and improvise that whole song. And then you’ve got a little pair of scissors on the tool, it’s like being a pattern cutter, like a tailor where you can just go in and alter the stitching of the song. I was sitting there in all weathers and just played around with it.
Beautiful Morning definitely captured the essence of a beautiful morning and the essence thereof. Although it did take a while, but I had the luxury of being at home, like a novelist.
Having toured the UK for so many years, what is your favorite thing about performing live?
I think it’s just being older without the insecurity and the ego structures that you used to have when you’re younger. If you haven’t got those then things are genuinely better anyway. It’s just nice and calm. You can just get your craft going and the audience aren’t the same too, they’ve grown up.
It’s a genuinely all around inspiring environment to be in, playing live. And you could be inspiring people like I was inspired. Just to turn up and be there is worth it, even if you think I don’t think I can do this anymore, I’m 57, those high notes! You just forget that. I’m glad Oscar Peterson didn’t do that “Oh my fingers, my fingers are a little bit rough this morning!”. You know, you just gotta get out there and do it. Playing live is that, it’s doing it, doing it live.
You’re kicking off your UK tour this Friday, and playing Newark Festival – what can fans expect from it?
It’s going to be like a train building momentum. I probably won’t want to stop at the end of the tour, I’m going to want to keep going. It’ll be like that train that stops but then actually takes ages to come to a halt. Because once you get up and running, you really get into it. So I think people can expect – momentum. Come and see momentum!
It would be like musical theatre. When I first took this album out live I thought it was going to be like musical theatre, you know with woodland creatures on stage and everything. Maybe it’ll turn into that gradually as it builds momentum and the next tour will have dancers and light bulbs and cuckoo birds and blue birds…
So what else is coming up in 2018 for you?
Well, touring and I’m gonna do another album. I’m working on it and doodling on it now. The creative process is in place now. I’m pushing myself as well to make it less autobiographical so the next one will be more observational. This one is quite personal, I’ve already started to write songs about things and imagined places and being inspired by different environments. Venturing out of the forest as well, and going into some urban areas.
Tickets for Nick’s appearance at Newark Festival, as well as the remainder of his tour, are available now through Ticketmaster.co.uk.