Wouldn't it be good to be in Nik's shoes

HE was an 80s pop pin-up who's come to terms with his past and is still pushing his musical boundaries.

Jonathan Barnes

HE was an 80s pop pin-up who's come to terms with his past and is still pushing his musical boundaries. Nik Kershaw told Jonathan Barnes about his stress-free life and a new zest for playing live

DON'T fear, Nik Kershaw is not going through his “Travis Bickle” phase.

The latest promo shots of the 51-year-old show his greying hair cropped into a menacing Mohican, but he insists it's no salute to Robert De Niro's psychopathic anti-hero in Taxi Driver; he's not fantasising about “a real rain that will wash the scum off the streets”.

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“Travis Bickle? I'll take that as a compliment,” he laughs at the comparison. “I've actually had it cut since then, because people said I looked like Gary Glitter!”

These are strange, exciting times for Kershaw; million-selling megastar of the 80s, son of Suffolk.

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Just look at his touring schedule; one day he'll be reliving his salad days in a “shamelessly retrospective” 80s fest, trying to blow the likes of Rick Astley and Paul Young off stage; the next it's just him, a stool and an acoustic guitar. There's also the odd, full band shows, mainly for festivals in Europe, to fit in, not to mention a new career making orchestral “mood” music.

“They are very different experiences - for the audience and me,” he says.

More than 25 years after the Ipswich-raised singer-songwriter stormed the pop charts, Kershaw appears happier than ever. He's still writing songs, still playing the old favourites he's learned to love again, and is gigging more than he has done in years. And, unlike some of the years at the height of his fame, he is loving every minute. Middle age is being good to him.

“I've got no A&R man, no deadlines, no media schedule - and it's brilliant,” he says.

It's several years since Kershaw did a U-turn on his pledge never to do 80s retro shows, and now he's a regular fixture at the Here and Now showcases, performing a short, stellar set of Wouldn't It Be Good?, I Won't Let The Sun Go Down On Me, Wide Boy and The Riddle to delirious 40-somethings garishly dancing their way down memory lane.

“There's a whole bunch of us from the 80s, the usual suspects, and it's brilliant. We're all a bit older, but no more mature. People know exactly what they're getting to get - and they get it, that's for sure.”

But it's away from the synthesiser and the glitterball where Kershaw really gets to show how good a musician he is; something that gets mentioned considerably less than the spiked mullet and the fingerless gloves.

“People had always asked me whether I would do solo acoustic shows, but I didn't really start until last year,” he says.

“It's a scary experience, but it's proved to be very rewarding. There's a bit of chat, some good humoured banter, it's all very informal. I was talking to a Danish journalist recently and he said to me 'what should we expect from a Nik Kershaw solo show?' And as I was answering him - 'a short fella, sitting on a stool singing songs' - I thought 'who on earth would pay to see that?' But people do. It's astonishing and I'm very grateful for it.”

Stripping down the songs to their basics has also allowed him to make peace with some of his best-known numbers. He was horrified, for example, when a song he saw as maudlin and Dylan-esque was turned into synth-pop behemoth I Won't Let The Sun Go Down by an over-zealous producer. Now he's taking them back.

“Playing the solo gigs has turned those songs into something else, and I do have a completely different relationship with them now. When it's just coming from you, your gob and a vibrating piece of wood you're holding, no band and no backing, they become different songs. It's nice to be able to do that.”

Every so often, the full band reprisal happens, and that's another experience altogether. “It's usually for festivals and people expect to hear the old stuff. I'll play a few new ones and eyes start to glaze over so they get an old one again,” he smiles.

Kershaw knows he'll never escape the 80s, but the difference is he's stopped wanting to. It may have rankled when he quit the stage in 1989, becoming a silent, successful songwriter for other artists - Chesney Hawkes' The One and Only being his biggest hit - but not any more. He's decided it's not worth the bother.

“It's inevitable that people bring it up, and it might have annoyed me in the 90s that I had this huge body of work and people only concentrated on my 15 minutes, but I'm the same with other artists. What can you do about it?”

The one thing he's still holding out against, though, is reality TV, and that's not been through lack of offers. “I got asked to do Celebrity Masterchef and Celebrity Scissorhands. I have been asked to do some things that never came off. One involved getting a bunch of 80s stars, putting them in a hot air balloon and flying them over the Alps. There was something about that that appealed to me! But I don't fancy standing on my head being shot at or eating bugs in the jungle or whatever else they do. There has to be something in it for me!”

Kershaw, a former Northgate schoolboy whose mother, Evelyn, still lives in Ipswich, has released three well-received albums, To Be Frank, 15 Minutes and You've Got to Laugh, since he started recording again as a solo artist 11 years ago.

His 21st Century solo career stalled briefly four years ago when Universal, which had bought MCA Records, took his back catalogue and pushed out a re-packaged greatest hits album, Then and Now. Hysteria didn't follow, but as Kershaw points out, the promotional budget was “about �17.50”.

He's still writing new stuff, he says, mainly on his laptop (“when I've got 12 songs I'll put out an album”) but some of his composing has taken a different direction. Kershaw is currently working for a multi-media music company on some orchestral pieces. “It's music for TV or theatre or anything really. I've no idea what it will be used for. It could be herds of wildebeest rolling across the plains or in the background while someone is trying to sell a house. It's something I've never done before so I'm enjoying it.”

The fame and the furore may have subsided long ago, but you get the impression Kershaw likes it that way. He's happily settled in his village home near Stansted Airport with his partner Sarah Foster, who runs his office, and swells with pride at the mention of his three sons, Rudy, 21, Ryan 19, and Dylan, 16, and six-year-old stepdaughter Renee.

“They've seen some footage of me on You Tube, at Live Aid or whatever, so I think they kind of 'get' what their dad did,” he adds.

Dylan, a promising guitarist who already plays in his own band, in particular looks as if he may follow in his father's footsteps.

But you imagine there'll be no pushy parenting from Kershaw, who seems happy to go with the flow

“There was never a plan, I've never been any good at making them. I'll always do gigs and play music until I fall over. I'm happy with that, and I'll just float along with the current and see where it takes me.”

- Nik Kershaw is playing J2 at The Junction in Cambridge on March 24. Tickets are �17.50 in advance and doors are 8pm.

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