Haircut 100 Play “Fantastic Day”

Haircut 100 Pelican WestListen to this track by unabashed brassy British pop song poppists Haircut 100. It’s “Fantastic Day” as taken from their first and last record to feature frontman and chief songwriter Nick Heyward, that being Pelican West from 1982.

That record would yield three big hits, with this one included, charting at #9 in the UK.  Another would be “Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)” that showed off their interests in funk-flavoured pop. They’d have another hit from that record, “Love Plus One” that made waves here in Canada, as well as scoring a top 40 placement in the US.

But, this song has always been my favourite from this short-lived band that made a big splash. Of course, they were very much of their time. This song straddles lines that would be tricky today. For one thing, the band employed a full-time saxophonist – Phil Smith. This was easy as pie in the 1980s, of course. Another thing is that they were not ironic in any demonstrative way. They had a happy-go-lucky sort of image that completely sold them to audiences.

That certainly comes through here. Just listen to this song that just crackles with optimism and joie de vivre. If you’ve seen the video for “Fantastic Day”, it’s pretty easy to take it all at face value, with all of the smiles, fake car trips, preppy nautical clothes, and caps worn at jaunty angles.

So if everything was so fantastic, what the heck happened with this band? Read more

Nick Heyward Performs ‘Whistle Down the Wind’

nick_heyward_-_north_of_a_miracleHere’s a clip of former Haircut 100 frontman and one-time 80s hearthrob Nick Heyward with his first solo single ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ from his 1983 album North of a Miracle.

In Britain Heyward had been something of a pop star pin-up, much like a Justin Timberlake is today.  His band Haircut 100 was the N’Synch of its day in many ways, for a year or so at least.  Of course the musical style was entirely different, even if the intent was the same.  Heyward seemed to be interested in classic pop with real instruments, bringing in white funk textures with tons and tons of horns and singable choruses.  And selling his looks to schoolgirls was a pretty easy route to take as well, it seemed.

But Haircut 100 was short-lived.  The band broke-up and Heyward struck out on his own buoyed up as he was by having been the face of the band, as well as its head writer.  And so with him he took the poptastic horns and boyish good looks into a solo career.  Yet, Heyward was no mannequin for pop success.  His writing was left of centre lyrically, and had been even in his Haircut 100 days.  As effervescently pop as hits like ‘Fantastic Day’ and ‘Love Plus One’ are, there are some odd turns of phrase in there that make one think that there might be a bit of darkness lurking under that pop sheen.  Where does it go from here?  Is it down to the lake I fear.  What?

Yet this is part of what makes this song interesting too.  This was made during a time when pop music wasn’t genetically engineered to appeal to a mass audience, at least not in the same way as it is now.  That darkness is still lurking under the surface when you consider the lyrics of Whistle Down the Wind, his first solo single to hit North America.  And past that, consider the lushness of the arrangements here, with sumptuous strings and warm fretless bass (a long lost 80s stalwart, perhaps).   Perhaps this is the influence of people like American ex-pat Scott Walker, who was an enormous success in Heyward’s home country of England, and who couldn’t get the time of day in America.  The model is similar; a crooning vocal, lush arrangements, and not just a touch of atmospheric melancholy.

Of course, as the 80s progressed, the music industry was becoming more and more interested in the sure thing as far as developing artists go.  And Heyward was soon forgotten, certainly in North America, and for a long time in Britain too.  Yet, I think he made some great pop music which escapes a lot of the dated textures for which the decade is infamous.

For more recent information and music, check out the Nick Heyward official site.