In this exclusive Nick Heyward interview, the former Haircut 100 frontman remembers that giddy period at the beginning of the 1980s when they were one of the biggest bands in the UK…

Nick Heyward interview
Nick Heyward interview

Your very first appearance on Top Of The Pops is an important milestone in the timeline of any young band. For many it brings a dreamy sense of wonder, for some, specifically Haircut 100’s Nick Heyward, it very nearly brought back the contents of his stomach. 

All these years on, Nick Heyward reflects: “Being on Top Of The Pops, I remember just feeling ill when I watched it back. I felt nauseous and ran into the toilet. I was gagging, but I didn’t actually puke up because I don’t think I was eating anything. Because I didn’t think I had anything for the whole time back then. I think I might have had a sausage roll.”

The Haircuts’ initial ambitions were fairly modest back then, says Nick.

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“We actually thought we were kind of like Shakatak. We’re playing Hicks’s, Cinderella’s – the same tour that Shakatak had just done, and I-Level – lots of funk bands, and we’d been on that same circuit. That’s what we thought we were. But, you know, I was comfortable with it. I just wanted to be Talking Heads.

“When the early reviews were ‘this is Britain’s answer to Talking Heads’, I was just so pleased, I thought: ‘This is it, wow, you can’t get much more than this!’ As long as I was playing with The Fire Engines or something and on the same bill as the bands that I loved, then that was it really.”

While Nick knew he had something with Favourite Shirts, he wasn’t expecting it to be quite so big, “I do remember the test pressing at Club For Heroes downstairs, and there wasn’t many people on the dance floor. But I gave it to Steve Strange who was on that night to play, and it was the 12-inch. It went on and people didn’t leave the dance floor, which was fantastic. And then other people joined the dance floor. And before long, there was lots of people on there. And I thought: ‘Wow, this is something actually’.”

The fame and Smash Hits covers and pin-up status were regarded simply as a nice bonus, but it wasn’t something the Haircuts were actively tracking down. 

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“It’s an interesting thing, I remember because Judy Totton, who was our press agent, has just passed away and it made me reflect on that time. It was Judy that said to me, ‘Do you want to do these magazines?’ And so it was a conscious decision. I was told that everybody was doing them. But I do remember thinking ‘I’m not sure about courting them.’

“But did I want to actually go and do a photo session? I remember thinking it was a big decision. But Depeche Mode had done it. And we knew the guys in Depeche Mode, who were lovely. You know, we kept meeting them everywhere. We felt like a kinship with these people.”

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It wasn’t all tumultuous debates being a pop star for Heyward though, especially in that first flush of success, “It was so weird to be famous, because it didn’t look possible when I was growing up, and so the reality of it actually happening was overwhelming”, reckons Nick. “Everything was so wonderful. Coming into the 80s as well, everything seemed to brighten up, lighten up.

“We’d had some dismal times during the 70s. So this was a sort of new decade and optimism was around. I mean, I know that the Falklands War was kicking off and it was full Conservative government at that particular time. I think everybody was just used to this fact of how everything was unfair, and so music was the only escape that didn’t really look unfair.”

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“I’d been living up in London anyway. I knew all the clubs, I knew the nooks and crannies, I knew everything that was going on. I’d follow that culture meticulously. It was literally like having a thermostat on the wall, and you knew what the temperature was at any given moment.

“I knew every gig going on when punk was happening. I would see myself as pretty much an expert on London culture through the late-70s. Living in London and being there, and punk kicking off up Kings Road, and then in 1982 walking around London and not being able to walk around without causing kerfuffle in Kings Road and then going on aeroplanes, getting recognised and then it taking off in LA and New York. This was mind blowing!

“By early 1982 everything I’d dreamt about had already happened. All the things I’d wanted since going to see the That’ll Be The Day and Stardust movies .” 

Naturally, the key elements for looking like a popstar were just as important. 

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“I was just thinking, how I could never get David Essex’s hair. The thing I had was a mixture between Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt. It became finer the more I had cut off. I found that highlights actually made it a bit thicker, to give it a bit of lift. And so I thought that pop stardom was probably on the cards.”

Even the Haircut 100 look was something that hasn’t dated, not that fishing gear and chunky-knit jumpers tend to. It was very much a timeless style. 

“It was the ‘wanting to have played polo’ look, but not having that equipment. I never knew how to ride a horse but I could go and buy the boots, and I could wear the boots on stage with a polo hat,” reasons Nick now, sensibly.

“I did think about getting a shop around the time of Haircut because I knew people that did have shops and things. And you know, I could have moved into fashion. I used to hang around Burlington Arcade, I would walk down or back up, or down or back up.

“I mean, literally 30 times a day, I’ll be walking up and down Burlington Arcade, just being around that area and smelling the fragrances, the gentleman’s fragrances and choosing one and walking around with it, and then going back. And yeah, I’ve just really liked everything to do with Englishness, really, and it’s a bit depressing that it’s been taken over by nationalism and stuff.”

Looking back on the band’s debut album Pelican West 40 years on, the assortment of advertising slogans, pop art and random memories were at the heart of the band’s songs. 

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“I used to love writing poems and singing poems and that’s what they were to me, just words that went well together because I had no training in poetry. I hadn’t had a fantastic education. It was a secondary modern. So words became more of a melody, a way of phrasing that fitted the music, ‘Number one is the honey bun’ – there was no rhyme or reason, it was like freeform prose.”

“I didn’t know how to write a song, you know, as in I didn’t know how to pick subjects and do that. I was a commercial artist, so we just grabbed stuff, like mixed media, a bit of this here and something there and, all the songs that I’d liked around that particular period, you know, the lyrics just seemed like they weren’t from this planet anyway.

“David Byrne’s lyrics just seemed to have no rhyme or reason at all about them, but they just worked like a dream. This was the world that I wanted to be in. It’s the same world that I’d seen as a kid seeing The Jungle Book and thinking: ‘That’s not this world, that’s the world I want to be in’, you know, not this one. This one’s three-day weeks and rubbish piling up and Wheeltappers And Shunters Club, this ugly hideousness.”

A case in point was the ‘rap’ from Favourite Shirts, “Trisha, from our gang at that particular time, was Argentinian, and she was teaching me some words. So ‘Hey camisa’ is basically ‘Hey shirt’. Les, Graham and I used to share a flat near the college in Kensington. And this was all when Kensington was flatland and it was all kind of cheap flats that you could rent. Anyway, Trisha came to stay one night. I have photographs of that night where the discussion took place.”

Although the follow-up single Love Plus One stemmed from a childhood memory. “‘I went off to the Rhine’ was the original words. And that was ‘I went off to the Rhine’ because my mother was Swiss-German, and was happy to dress my brother and I in lederhosen.

“I had this German memory of things, when Pete took off as a swimmer when we were younger, we went to Frankfurt in swimming contests. That was when I first came across all these rivers and the trees, and the landscapes. And the lederhosen and Frankenstein Schloss, this castle with fireflies flying around.

“The fireflies were huge, because my nanny said there was always going to be little glow worms that came to the window. And I was convinced that these glow worms had all the answers.

“‘Where does it go from here, is it down to the lake…’, you know, it was these lakes out there and pines, and strong fragrances like lavender and rosemary. Germany was the cleanest place I’d ever seen, it just had that influence. Mum being called Anna as well. So, it was ring Anna, like ‘ring home’. And it was love because I felt love for mum, because she was always there.”

How about a song like Baked Bean? “That’s BEANS by the way. That was a typo. I was always upset about that. It’s baked BEANS. It’s art-pop. You know, these are the beans that Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend were bathing in. I said: ‘You cannot fucking print like 30,000 album sleeves. No, no, no, no.’ But they had. But it’s NOT bean.”

Lemon Firebrigade definitely encapsulates the whole essence of the band as well. 

“There was a moment before we were called Haircut 100 and we used to go to the Three Tuns pub because it was a portal to David Bowie and Ravensbourne Art College and all the aspirations of being a rock star. You know, this was the place, this was the Holy Grail, and we’re here every Friday night to try out our band name, and the reaction was ‘why?’ when we said Haircut 100 – ‘Why?’ And so that’s the why in Lemon Firebrigade, this is the essence of it. Because you know, ‘Why? Why Lemon Firebrigade?’ Why not? You know, why Haircut 100? Why not?

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“I wrote Marine Boy about the ice cream shop across the road called Marine Ices. And that’s where we used to go. I always thought it was strange to have an ice cream shop in Camden just across the road from the Roundhouse, but that’s what it was. It was like I’d got two big things. I got the ice cream, and then I got this postman’s satchel from the shop next door. Then there’s like a kebab shop next to that on the opposite side.” 

While the rollercoaster ride that was instant success and touring the world seemed like a dream come true to a man who spent his 21st birthday at a party in LA with Clive Davis, tensions from touring were starting to show. Pretty much 12 months on from making their Top Of The Pops debut, the Haircuts were falling apart. “Returning from America, everybody was not getting on,” says Nick. “But it had been my band. So I felt the responsibility, but I wasn’t an experienced leader.”

And then the band, who’d cobbled together a management team behind Nick’s back, forced Nick out.

“Certain members wanted certain people out of the band, and in hindsight I should have dealt with that, but I didn’t know how to deal with that then. But the other guy was brought back into the band. This happened while I was in hospital, where I was having time out from everything because of the stress of working over the year, and of being well known and smiling through it. In reality, I hadn’t had time to process it really.

“Then there was another member who wasn’t happy with that. So he was in the studio and he wasn’t happy. Starting off with one person down, you know, that’s not the same team. And it wasn’t sounding the same. We’re in the studio of our dreams, The Manor, which was where XTC had made all these wonderful records, but it wasn’t sounding the same.”

By the start of 1983, both sides had issued press releases with their version of events, which didn’t look particularly good for the remaining Haircuts who then found themselves on a new label and their own days numbered. There have been the occasional one-off shows and a VH1 Bands Reunited special, but a full-on reunion looks unlikely.

“If you’re going to get back together with anyone in that way, you have to go through the nitty gritty to clear that up first, before you even get a chance of being together for any kind of longer period.”

Nick remains wide-eyed and optimistic. 

“That’s why I’d love for us one day to be playing the Roundhouse, because it was where we made the album. It’s where Haircut 100 kind of ended. It never really left Camden, you know, so to play at the Roundhouse would be just such an amazing thing.”

The campaign for Haircut 100 to get back together starts here, then, right readers? Nick, meanwhile, is finishing off a brand new album and is in the process of writing his memoirs.

“I said I’m up for doing anything to do with 40th anniversary just purely for old time’s sake and the fans. I think that will be lovely to do that at the Roundhouse. I’ve put the feelers out within the band and it normally doesn’t go anywhere. But you know, I remain ever hopeful!” 

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