English singer-songwriter Nick Heyward, probably best known as the frontman of early 1980s pop band Haircut 100, has for two decades resisted the urge to milk the nostalgia circuit, in Japan at least.
The affable 56-year-old from Beckenham, southeast London, who has also penned and performed such solo hits as “Whistle Down The Wind,” was reluctant to play in the Far East without having an album to tour.
But with “Woodland Echoes,” his critically acclaimed seventh solo offering and first since 1998’s “The Apple Bed” having been given a Japanese release, he is thrilled and excited about his return for a handful of dates this summer.
Heyward is set to play gigs at Billboard Live venues in Osaka and Tokyo in mid-August, and also has a guest slot on the Billboard Japan Stage at Summer Sonic in Chiba on Aug. 18.
“I kept saying I am not going to go to Japan until I have a record because I thought there wouldn’t be a reason for it,” says Heyward via phone from his base in Florida.
“I don’t know why but I just kept saying that, but I have a record now so it’s time to go. That’s it. The banana is ripe,” he adds with a chuckle.
Heyward cannot quite put his finger on the last time he was in Tokyo but his recollections of playing here in the ’80s and the last time in the early ’90s are peppered with laughter.
“I think it (the last time I was in Japan) would have been about 1993,” Heyward says. “I remember I didn’t sleep the whole time I was there. I didn’t sleep for two weeks.”
“I went to see Iggy Pop (while I was there) which was amazing because I’d never seen anything like it,” he says, adding, “I’d never seen somebody swear at the audience and then they love it and swear back. And we were playing (the same place) the next night and I thought I don’t think I am going to try that one. It has to come from somebody with their shirt off.”
Heyward, who with Haircut 100 skyrocketed to fame with songs including, “Love Plus One” and “Favourite Shirts” before leaving the band to release a string of solo albums, jokingly says he hopes this trip will not be as expensive as the last one.
“I remember Graham Ward, the drummer in the band phoned everybody panicking. He was very money conscious and he said whatever you do don’t order the orange juice at the hotel. I just had it and it was £40. So (this time) I had better check before because that means it is probably something like £750 now!”
On a more serious note, he says, “I remember I just really enjoyed being there (in Japan). I always enjoyed being there through the ’80s. It was just like a breath of fresh air because everywhere is immaculate and everyone giggled and had a sense of humor.
“I know it’s changed and I am really looking forward to seeing how much it’s changed because of my strong memory of it.”
After leaving Haircut 100, Heyward stuck with the formula that had rewarded him with so much success in the ’80s, and hits like “Blue Hat for a Blue Day” and the aforementioned “Whistle” continued to flow — for a time.
But as he matured, the solo albums, which took on a more indie-rock guitar driven sound but were still chock full of catchy melodies, failed to make as much of an impact on the charts. In 1998 he was dropped after “The Apple Bed,” which was on the Creation label owned by Alan McGee, the man who famously discovered Britpop stars Oasis.
In the same week he was let go, Heyward also lost his publishing deal, split with his girlfriend and discovered his mother only had a short time to live after being diagnosed with emphysema, a progressive disease of the lungs.
During that traumatic week, Heyward had an epiphany that he says resulted in a deep spiritual connection with nature.
Despite the financial struggles that followed, Heyward says he was completely fulfilled as an artist sharing his musical “doodles” on the social media platform MySpace, many of which ended up on “Woodland Echoes,” a DIY album that one reviewer perfectly summed up as “a celebration of the beautiful facets of nature that often go unnoticed, dusted with a glittering sensibility.”
The album, written and recorded mostly in a spare room, entered the British independent charts at No. 4 and Heyward was naturally delighted with the positive reviews it has garnered.
“I’m very happy because when you’re sitting in your spare room on the computer with a microphone and an acoustic guitar and you’re writing songs and you’re recording them and you’re thinking (Queen mega-hit) “Bohemian Rhapsody” wasn’t recorded in a spare room. In fact (Heyward’s debut solo album) “North of a Miracle” wasn’t recorded in a spare room. In fact nothing I had done has been recorded in a spare room before,” he says.
“(But) you have to stop thinking that way because this was recorded in a spare room and it comes out and it has been received as a proper record, which is what I was making when I was sitting in my spare room. I began it in 2007 and it was in 2012/13 when I thought this is a record, I thought ‘Wow.’
“I was out of the music business for a long time and still am really, which is lovely, to still be that as well but still have this success,” says Heyward, who was once left £10,000 by a fan in his will but got by on royalties and gigging, mostly ’80s nostalgia shows.
“It’s lovely that I haven’t had to rejoin the music business. It’s a blessing really. I thought it was a lovely thing to suddenly be able to make music in what I think was the kitchen. That’s why there are pots and pans on it (‘Woodland Echoes’) and everything. It was just a musical homemade jam really.”
Despite most of his solo albums not having enjoyed the same success, commercially at least, as Haircut 100, any resentfulness Heyward might have had disappeared when he had his mysterious awakening in April 1998.
“I know how damaging resentment can be and that it was part of what that was, that build-up on that night in 1998,” he says. “I had resentment that I should have been bigger, why was everything falling apart?
“But when you go through this thing, from a rabbit hole into this magical kingdom, resentment disappears completely. I have been in situations where you have had, say, people wanting to not hear new stuff and not knowing anything about the ’90s albums and things, and people saying, ‘Oh you know it should have been bigger.’ It’s because I had that (spiritual) experience I kind of just have it in perspective really.”
Nick Heyward plays Billboard live Osaka on Aug. 13 (6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. starts; ¥8,500-¥9,500; 06-6342-7722) and Billboard Live Tokyo on Aug. 15 and 16 (7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. starts; ¥8,500-¥9,500; 03-3405-1133). He plays Summer Sonic on Aug. 18. For more information, visit nickheyward.com.