As frontman of Haircut 100, Nick Heyward provided the soundtrack to the lives of many 1980s teenagers with hits such as Love Plus One, Fantastic Day, and Take That Situation.
Today, those teenagers are all grown up but that hasn’t dented their enthusiasm for Heyward and his 80s contemporaries. This summer, these hit-makers will perform their chart-busting favourites backed by the symphonic force of Opera North’s 50-strong orchestra. 80s Classical is a special open-air concert organised by Leeds City Council and will feature Nik Kershaw, Go West, Heaven 17, T’Pau’s Carol Decker, and Nick Heyward.
Following his stint as the recognisable one from Haircut 100 and a successful solo career, Heyward and Haircut 100 reunited for BBC Radio 2’s recent Piano Room series with the BBC concert orchestra. Having signed up for the Opera North event, it’s clear that Heyward enjoys being backed by such a full, rich sound.
“Definitely,” he affirms. “It’s overwhelmingly emotional, actually. The first time I stood in Abbey Road studios and had to sing with a 66-piece string section, I was genuinely overcome by the emotional sound and the sheer movement of the air around the space. It was a life force all of its own.”
He adds: “I first discovered the power of classical music towards the end of the 90s. One of Mahler’s symphonies came on the radio and it was the most beautiful piece of music I’d ever heard in my life. It resonated with me completely and by the end I was just a mess of tears because it emotionally described the year I’d just been through. That’s the power of the orchestra. I’m a sucker for strings.”
As part of the band’s Piano Room spot, the group covered Harry Styles’ modern classic As It Was. What was the attraction to that number?
“I just love that song,” says Heyward. “The BBC wanted us to do a contemporary cover and it just worked. That number goes like the clappers and it’s joyous. I think it’s as upbeat musically as Fantastic Day was.”
With the 80s seemingly endlessly in vogue, I wonder if Heyward ever felt artistically suppressed being so identified with that era of pop.
“It would be naive of me to think I wasn’t part of it,” he admits. “I tried that in the 90s when I was on respected indie label Creation Records while still being so associated with the previous decade. Eventually though, the decades start to part like icebergs. The further away they get, the more you realise what a cool thing it was to have had all that initial success.
“It took about 20 years to eventually accept my early career but now I love it and I never want to get away from that legacy. It’s way better to have had it in my life than not. When you’re younger, it’s natural to want to leave all the past behind but, eventually, you just embrace it. That, in turn, helps you embrace your present which makes the future a much nicer place to be…when it arrives. Ultimately though, the time is always now.”
Top of the Pops
The nostalgia for those early days is further enhanced by BBC Four’s Friday night Top Of The Pops repeats which, when covering the 1982-84 period, often feature a fresh-faced Heyward. When watching his early appearances, does Heyward ever think, ‘who is that kid?’
“I was naive at times but I also felt great and I look back with real fondness. Part of me couldn’t believe it was happening and the other part of me was really enjoying it. I think some of those performances hold up and they also help me to remember what my state of mind was at the time.
“Each appearance reminds me of conversations I had with other acts on the same shows and meeting bands like Kool & the Gang for the first time. To be part of all that was amazing even though you take it for granted a bit at the time. It’s so important to try to be in the moment and savour every delicious morsel of the now. Stay present and you’ll hopefully feel a bit easier when you eventually pop your clogs.”
Having been in the business for more than 40 years, it could be easy for Heyward to become complacent about songwriting or struggle for motivation. But he has two tips to stay invested.
“Maintain your health and just turn up,” he advises. “Even if I didn’t write songs, I’d still have to do something creative. Once you know what fires you up, you’ll always work at it and turn up for it. I’ll pitch up wherever I need to in order to be creative.”
Something Heyward recently turned up for was a reunion with former Haircut 100 bandmates.
“Graham (Jones), Blair (Cunningham) and myself got back together a few months ago,” he says. “We’ve got ourselves management now and we’re planning a tour and new material. It very much felt like, it’s now or never. Seeing as we’re elderly gents, it had to be now. Back in the day, we always had that shared dream and then, all of a sudden, we were actually living it. It happened just as easily when we reunited. We felt like three prongs on the same pitchfork again.
“I think Covid also has something to do with it. Any stuff in the past just doesn’t really matter any more. A lot of people let a lot of things go during lockdown. No one normally gets that much time off to reflect and it gave people a new perspective.”
The hits from the 80s will always be part of the band’s legacy but it’s clear that producing new material is something Heyward remains particularly excited about.
“The creative process has most definitely begun,” he reveals. “I’ve just done a load of demos that the band will start to rehearse and see where the magic is. I love lyrics and wordplay and nonsense things not making sense yet making perfect sense. Words that come together but you don’t know why. I don’t know why the name Haircut 100 works, it just does.”
Another area of music that has evolved over the decades is the technology used in recording. For Heyward, it’s a double-edged sword.
“I’m working on a laptop which is really handy but you can’t get near the sound of those big studios. There’s a sadness about that because new, young bands are never going to make another Bohemian Rhapsody on a laptop.”
He concludes: “Pop music feels like it’s stuck in a bit of a groove and it needs to get a bit more real again. It’s not just music either. I’ve been to digital art exhibitions and, although I can embrace it all, it isn’t the same looking at a digital print rather than the actual painting. It doesn’t really fire you up when you’d rather see the real thing.”
Main image by Sarah Zagn
80s Classical with the Orchestra of Opera North is playing at Millennium Square, Leeds on July 28, 2023. For more information, click here.
Haircut 100 will perform at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London on May, 12 2023. For more information, click here.