Born Nicholas David Kershaw on 1st March 1958 in Bristol, England, spending his early years gurgling and blowing snot bubbles.
In 1959, Nik moved to Ipswich where he was to live for the next twenty years. Educated (educated?!) at Morland Road Primary School and Northgate Grammar School For Boys, his school honours included 25-yard Breaststroke Certificate, 5th-year Pole Vault Champion and the 1975 Barney Rubble Commemorative Award For Underachieving (with honours).
Kershaw’s early penchant for showing off was indulged at the Co-op Drama Group. Indeed, people still speak in hushed and reverent tones of his Tweedledum!
It was at Northgate that Nik met Russell Chesterman. He had a Gibson 335 (copy) and wasn’t afraid to use it. Sunday afternoons would never be the same again, throwing shapes to Black Sabbath and Deep Purple whilst Russell’s mum made light refreshments.
It was here that Kershaw was first introduced to the shady underworld of lime cordial and fish paste sandwiches.
In August 1974 at Rushmere Village Hall, the mighty “Thor” was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public. Nik on guitar and vocals and Russell on bass and headband were augmented by Roger Waters on drums and Nig Cook on guitar.
Classics such as Bowie’s “Gene Jeanie” and Slade’s “Look Wot You Dun” were stripped naked, thrashed to within an inch of their lives and dragged, kicking and screaming, through a bewildering assortment of fuzz boxes and flangers. They didn’t stand a chance.
The reception was mixed. Admittedly, there were a few who thought they were crap but by far, the majority view was that they were really crap. Bruised but strangely encouraged, Kershaw employed the services of drummer Kim Williamson and changed the name of the band to “Half Pint Hogg”. He left school in 1975 (halfway through taking his “A” levels) in order to concentrate on his music career.
To this end, he secured a job in Ipswich Unemployment Benefit Office. By day he was mild-mannered clerical officer Nick Kershaw, by night he wore loon pants and tie-dyed batwing shirts. The “Half Pint” was dropped and “Hogg” was born. Every Thursday evening for the next three years Hogg honed their skills at Claydon Cement Works. The schedule was punishing and not everybody was to make it through. Cook and Chesterman fell by the wayside and were replaced by Paul Hart and Roy Little.
The gigs came thin and slow but this didn’t discourage Kershaw and soon Hogg had attracted a small following. Fortunately, they managed to shake them off by hiding in a skip.
On Sunday evenings the great and good of Ipswich descended on The Kingfisher, purveyor of fine lagers and the town’s premier music venue. There they would marvel at the silky skills of Boy Bastion and Fusion. Fusion was a professional jazz/funk/rock band, which wowed the locals with renditions of classics from Steely Dan and Weather Report. What’s more, they left in all the twiddly bits and had a drummer who could count up to seven. They thumbed their noses at flattened fifths and spat in the face of diminished scales. These were real men.
It came to pass that one evening, Fusion’s bassist (one Kenn Elson) was passing a hostelry in Ipswich called The King William. He was strangely drawn to the sounds wafting through the open door. At first, he thought that someone was building a shed but, on entering the premises, he discovered that Hogg was in residence and performing one of their rare gigs. Obviously, under the influence of one too many lime cordials, he walked straight up to Kershaw and offered him the vacant guitarist’s job in Fusion. It was a tough choice: live the dream and become a professional musician or fester for the rest of his life in the Civil Service. After a few days of deliberation, he decided to fester. Then he changed his mind.
Despite feeling desperately out of his depth in the company of Elson, Reg Webb (keyboards) and Alan Clarke (drums), he managed to bluff his way triumphantly through the first gig. It wasn’t until the second gig, one cold night in October 1978 at Walthamstow Town Hall that Kershaw was to discover exactly what he’d let himself in for.
After setting up the equipment, he was bemused to discover the rest of the band wearing purple velvet suits and satin shirts with butterfly collars. He was handed a crumpled carrier bag and instructed to don the contents. Attributing this strange behaviour to some kind of bizarre initiation ritual, he obliged. The previous incumbent of the suit was 6’2″. Kershaw was 5’4″. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. When the band had stopped laughing, they dragged him onstage for the most humiliating two hours of his life. Foxtrots, Waltzes and Gay Gordons; “The Birdie Song” and “Brown Girl In The Ring”. You name it, they played it or, at least, three of them did. Kershaw just tried to merge into the background (a bit difficult when you’re wearing purple and green).
So this was how Fusion earned a living.
Over the next few months, he was to learn the ancient and noble art of “busking it”. Playing songs he’d never heard of, leaping with a wing and a prayer from chord to chord, he grew slowly into his suit (the suit had shrunk dramatically due to repeatedly being used to clean the van windscreen).
In 1982, Fusion disbanded and Kershaw was forced to sign on as unemployed. Being almost completely unemployable and consequently unencumbered with job offers, he was free to pursue his songwriting. He borrowed a friend’s Portastudio and spent the bulk of the year making demos. These he sent out to publishers and record companies. He still has a file somewhere containing the resulting rejection slips. In an act of desperation, he placed an advert for management in the Melody Maker. Ten replies were forthcoming.
Nine came from investment companies and one from a character operating under the dubious nom de plume: Mickey Modern. On further investigation, it transpired that the mysterious Mr. Modern had previously managed blues band Nine Below Zero and was looking for a fresh challenge. Kershaw sent him a tape and a particularly dodgy photograph and waited for another addition to his rejection slip collection. In spite of the photograph, Modern saw potential and offered his services.
Over the next few months, deals were wheeled and wheels were dealed; palms were crossed and arms were twisted; ears were bent and tapes were sent and Mickey courted the same people Kershaw had already been rejected by. One of said number was Charlie Eyre, head of A&R at MCA records. After much cajoling, Eyre agreed to a singles deal and a trial period.
Rupert Hine was enlisted to produce some early recordings (this included a version of “I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down”) but it was Peter Collins who was eventually to be given the job of harnessing Kershaw’s precocious talents to produce the first album, Human Racing. It was recorded over a ten-week period at Sarm East Studios in East London during the summer of 1983.
In September 1983, “I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down” was released for the first time and reached the dizzy heights of No.47. This was followed in January 1984 by “Wouldn’t It Be Good” which languished gracefully at No.4 in the UK charts for five weeks and was to break Kershaw worldwide. The album Human Racing was released in March and achieved platinum sales in many territories. He managed to squeeze in two European tours, four more hit singles and another platinum album (The Riddle) before the end of the year.
1985 saw three hit singles, a world tour and an appearance at Live Aid.
He was to record two more albums with MCA before quitting in 1989 to concentrate on songwriting and ferret husbandry.
Writing & Production
The 90’s saw him writing for/with, amongst others: Chesney Hawkes, Cliff Richard, Bonnie Tyler, Lulu, Ronan Keating, Jason Donovan, Michael W Smith, Connah Reeves, Nick Carter, The Hollies, Colin Blunstone, Imogen Heap, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Darius, Gary Barlow and Let Loose.
He briefly poked his artiste’s head out of the trenches to work with Tony Banks (Genesis) and to record a self-penned duet with Elton John (little fella, glasses) but didn’t return to making his own records until 1998 when he released the critically acclaimed 15 Minutes through Eagle Records. This was followed by the equally well received, To Be Frank.
To be continued. . . . .