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Friars Interviews

Nick Beggs
art nouveau  kajagoogoo local legends

friars appearances :  29/05/82  30/10/82  07/05/83

 Kajagoogoo, Milton Keynes, December 2008. (picture credit Mike O'Connor) (l-r) Jez Strode, Steve Askew, Limahl, Stuart Neae, Nick Beggs

 

Leighton Buzzard's very own Art Nouveau played at Friars in 1981 as last minute replacements for another band on the John Cooper Clarke gig. They appeared again in 1982 as Kajagoogoo and came through big in 1983 with the White Feathers album and No 1 single Too Shy. Then a huge headlining tour including playing Aylesbury again. They stayed at the top for a while before becoming a four and then three piece band before splitting in 1986. Nick Beggs, Stuart Neale and Steve Askew have continued to work together since then as well as on their own projects. Limahl also went onto to have solo success. To the original fans' delight, the original quintet are back together in 2008 and still just as good. We caught up with the legendary blond bass machine that is Nick Beggs in December 2008      

So then, 2008, 25 years since Too Shy - did you imagine you'd still be here with these guys?

Well, Steve, Stuart and myself have stayed good friends and company directors since we all went different ways and we have had musical projects together over the years and remained good friends, but the actual return to the original quintet was furthest from anyone's minds really.

So when you were bounced by Ahmer Halem from VH-1, it genuinely took you by surprise?

Yes, I was supposed to be meeting up with Richard Blade, the American born British DJ who lives in California. He wanted to take me out to lunch on the auspices of interviewing me for a book on 80's musicians, so they knew where I was going to be at a certain time, this was their ruse and when they turned up, as you could probably see on the film, you could have knocked me down with a feather. It was totally wonderful.

That programme [VH-1's Bands Reunited] looked really enjoyable and the five of you looked genuinely pleased to be back, even if it was just for one day. A couple of false starts later, but you're all back together which is absolutely fantastic

That's right

25 years  -  1983 was a great year for local bands from the Aylesbury area and Friars putting on the Chilterns Music Explosion. Apart from the likes of John Otway, Howard Jones made it big in 1983, Marillion came through in 1983 and of course Kajagoogoo came through in 1983. And 25 years later, it's great that everyone is still making music, playing concerts and being successful.

Yes, I think that's really at the essence of what we were - John is still John Otway and very much playing music. Wild Willy Barrett has his own particlular genre of creativity which is extraordinary - his craftsmanship with wood. He lives a lifestyle which is inspirational in itself.

He used to have a place in Kingston here, a little workshop making wood products...

Yes he did. He also had a place in Leighton Buzzard which is now a teranium selling reptiles and likewise. From what I understand, they still send his royalty cheques here and they don't know where to send them because he lives on a barge. That's the last thing I heard. Whether that's an apocryphal story or not, I have no idea, but that was what I was told. Apparently he's kind of disappeared from public life and I'd really like to run into him to find out where he is and what he is doing. I do see Otway from time to time.

I've seen him a few times and he's certainly an entertainer..!

Oh yes!

From what I understand when we first contacted each other quite some time ago, is that you were a Friars member.

I was, yes.

You saw Camel and all sorts of bands. Were any of the other guys in the band Friars members, being local at that time?

I don't think they were members of Friars, I was (and am) the younger member of the band and being bright eyed and bushy tailed about things and maybe having that enthusiasm for music, I felt needed to prove myself at an early age, I felt I needed to prove I knew what was going on because I was the youngest and I made it my job to attend lots of venues and be on mailing lists and everything else so that's why that was.

So back in 1981 when the forerunner to Kajagoogoo, Art Nouveau, which was basically the band without Limahl..

Yes.

Playing locally and then to play Friars must have been an achievement or quite a significant thing at that time?

I think it was quite last minute. We didn't have a chance to consider it very much which I think was a good thing or we'd have been very scared. It was my first opportunity to play on a full sound stage with fold back and a full PA and it was very frightening.

That was the John Cooper Clarke gig wasn't it?

It was the Scars and John Cooper Clarke with the Invisible Girls and I remember feeling completely out of my depth and it felt like a war zone because everything that you practice in a rehearsal room as a kid suddenly changes acoustically when you go on stage and I realised how much work we had to do at that point to get to where we actually needed to. It was amazing, I remember it like it was yesterday.

So then Art Nouveau carried on and took on a new singer and you evolved into Kajagoogoo. Then you got the interest in 1982 being signed [to EMI]. There was all sorts of talk at the time of the Duran Duran connection..

Yes, Duran Duran was a connection because they were stable mates signed to EMI. They were signed by the same A&R man that signed us and they were in and out of Manchester Square [EMI offices], like all of those bands, so we were all hanging out and talking all the time. But Limahl ran into Nick Rhodes in a nightclub which is how the story started.

Which is how come Nick Rhodes got to co-produce your early stuff?

Yes, Limahl was a cute young boy, very much a product of the time and I think it caught Nick's attention because he is a very visually stimulated man, he's an artist in very many respects. A bit like Andy Warhol. He was always taken by images. Nick, I think, found Limahl to be somewhat of a muse for a while, very interested in what he had to say and listened to a lot of what he said, so when he played him [Rhodes] the demos of the band, I think he was surprised...

...At how good you actually were?

Yes, and then talking to Nick was a really fabulous thing because Nick heard things in a very different way and he was also very economical with time in terms of airtime on the radio or what a song should do. He knew how to pare things down to their absolute essentials and taught us a lot about that.

So that you had, as it were, the perfect three minute pop single?

Yes, because we were quite experimental.

Certainly when Too Shy came out in 1983, that was a sensational single. I heard you playing that in 1982 when you got the support slot for Fashion

Are you absolutely sure about that?! I'm not sure it was written then!

It seems to ring a bell, because when the song came out it sounded familiar. That was January 1983 and the Fashion gig was October 1982

It must have been ready then! I'll need to retrace my steps on this..

I could be wrong...could be my memory's playing tricks on me!

You must be right actually as there's no way we could have turned that round in three months, it must have been ready to roll and pressed by that time.

How did the Fashion tour come about?

We were big fans of Fashion, we thought Mulligan and De Harriss were amazing and subsequently after Limahl left the band, De Harriss produced Limahl's first single, Only For Love. We were looking for stuff that was original. I loved, and still do, all the progressive bands of the 70s, but we knew that was a genre that was spent in terms of its public appeal, therefore if we wanted to actually achieve anything, we had to be on the cutting edge of something new. So we were looking around for people who were originators, producers and avatars for a new direction. Which is why people like Steve Strange, Rusty Egan and De Harriss were catching our eye. When the [Fashion] Fabrique album came out, we were totally in awe of it.

That's an album I still play today, it's absolutely amazing.

It is amazing. The other albums of the same ilk of the time were Landscape's The Tearooms At Mars, Ultravox's Vienna and Remain Light by Talking Heads. And then Devo and stuff like that was also having a very big influence on us. So these set pieces were benchmarks that we felt we had to attain a level of. Some kind of aspect of.

That Fashion tour, you're playing decent sized venues, it was a major tour and it brought you to bigger audiences..

Yes, it did. It did.

Which clearly would have helped when Too Shy was released in 1983 to a degree.

Yes, but there's a lot of luck involved in everything in the music industry, that is borne out time and time again. Having said that, you have to be ready and you have to be primed to be at the top of your game..and we were in good shape as players, as songwriters and performers. But, even Fashion was on the wane at that time. De Harriss had left and they got Troy Tate and Al Darby in to replace one guy and it wasn't working.

By that Friars gig, De Harriss had gone, and you're right, it wasn't working.

It wasn't working at all and they were all great guys and I know Al Darby very well, he's an extraordinarily gifted musician and doing very well for himself. But that project was not working in that incarnation and because of it, we were clearly able to shine as a support act so people were going away singing our tunes thinking "the support band was better than the main band."

I have to say, as much as I loved Fashion, your performance I can still think you of more highly than Fashion's performance...

I think that was the general kind of take of it all so that was an opportune moment for us and unfortunate for them. There are many examples of that happening. I remember a band called CaVa CaVa who were signed to EMI at that time and there'd also been a band called The Pale Fountains that they were trying to push, but as each one of the bands failed, we came out and were seen completely in a different light, this extraordinary looking band with really catchy material who suddenly stood out from the crowd of the mediocrity in some kind of way. I mean, pop music is mediocre and it has to strike a public note. I'm not trying to big ourselves up to be anything more than we were but at the time it worked perfectly.

By 1984, you were returning the compliment to Fashion weren't you? They were supporting you on some gigs?

In Germany, yes they supported us on some gigs and it was great to see Mulligan again and I recorded a piece of music with him - a Fairlight and Chapman Stick version of Ravel's Bolero (!).

Different!

It was very different and I have a 12" version of it at home - I listened to it the other day...and it was very 80s!. (laughs)

Very different! Kajagoogoo as a four piece and then as Kaja continued to have success and then you drew a line under it

We had comparatively less and less success, I think the the winning formula was with the five piece even though we had hits after Limahl left. We had been everywhere in terms of public perception and the public grew very tired of us and we weren't able to come up with a new enough formula to challenge people like Frankie Goes To Hollywood who absolutely owned the master of the market.

Sure. Yourself, Stuart and Steve continued to work together at that time but not necessarily as Kajagoogoo/Kaja, but on your own projects. But clearly with people's fondness for the 1980s, Kajagoogoo in 2008 doesn't seem out of date at all..

Thank you! I don't mind if it did. When I listen to my favourite bands from then, I want them to sound that way, so for me personally I think it is important to have an aspect of anachronism, when we thought about reworking the project, we felt it was absolutely essential we went back to the original arrangements in every conceivable way and not try to hybridise or modernise them because that's not what people wanted. They wanted to hear the analogue synth sounds, the slap bass and the electronic drums. So I wouldn't have minded if you said we did sound out of place! but 80s music does have a very massive modern influence.

Yes it does. I think with the 80s when I say it's not out of place, with Kajagoogoo in 2008, I mean that in the way Ultravox isn't out of place. There's a demand for Ultravox who've managed to get back together which I think some people thought wouldn'thappen. I think for people of our generation, modern music is rubbish to a large degree and I think we hark back to the 80s..

It's the same for every generation though.

Yes, there'll be those who like the 60s or 70s

I think it's easy when you're being a creative and thinking of the inception of an idea, you somehow feel immortal and that you are doing something that has cutting edge and 'now' and has credence for the moment and you think that's going to last forever. But it really doesn't and all the really successful bands in the world will boil down to one particular point in time. It doesn't matter how big they are....

True....

That's a very important and humbling aspect about music. For me, I'm just grateful to be playing..

Yeah, every time I've seen you on stage, you look like a man enjoying himself.

(laughs) Dead giveaway eh!!!

Very much a dead giveaway! So in terms of Kajagoogoo, what does the future hold now? Are you likely to write and record new material?

Yes, we have four new songs which are available at our shows as an EP and we perform them live. But we make quite a big aspect of the show to give them over in the middle of the set where we talk about the new material. I play with a lot people and a lot of other artistes and sometimes that isn't a good idea because you can see the audience having lost interest as soon as they've stopped playing their hits. I think, so far. the audience is with us, they haven't got bored and walked out yet. But I don't think we could do that with a festival crowd. These are intimate one on one situations where people are paying specifically to hear us, we can get away with it.

It's not like Retrofest..

At Retrofest, we wouldn't dare play 'Space Cadet', they want to hear 'Lion's Mouth' and 'Too Shy'.

The expectation is different isn't it?

That's right, you've got to be very careful! (laughs)

I guess ! So Kajagoogoo are back for the long term now?

Yes, we are having a lot of fun. It's not a great time to relaunch a musical career for a band that's been dormant for twenty five years particularly in the economic downturn and what have you...but we've had a good six months' and the signs are good for next year. I think we'll roll with it. If it justifies itself in terms of what we get out of it financially and also what we get out of it enjoyment wise, we'll continue. But so far we've really been trading for six months and it feels like a lot of fun.

That's good. There was a huge gap really with the five of you being together. It's not my job to go into the wheres and whyfores as it's well documented. I'm interested from the Friars perspective and seeing where we are now and it's great to see! I heard the soundcheck on my way in and what I heard was good...

I'm glad about that..

It was fantastic hearing 'Too Shy' as I walked in - it was great and it does look as if you are all enjoying yourselves.

We are, and were laughing a lot...at each other and ourselves and I think laughter and comedy.....somebody said to me "You play that slapstick don't you?" "No no, you're getting that confused...slapstick is a form of comedy I like to keep out of my music"...

Slap bass is a different thing entirely!

Do you know what - comedy within the situation of our lives and relationships is very present and we laugh a lot, yes.

Nick Beggs, thanks very much for your time

It's a pleasure.

This interview and its content are 2009 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not be used in whole or in part without permission.

 
 
 

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