Live: Nik Kershaw

Epic Studios, Norwich June 29, 2024

by Jonathan Barnes

Nik Kershaw went to see the Foo Fighters last week, and he’s picked up some ideas.

“I learned a bit about stagecraft,” he says. “I’m going to up my game. Tonight I will be addressing you all as motherfuckers.”

Nik Kershaw: There's at least one track from every album tonight (Picture: Paul Hampson)
Nik Kershaw: There’s at least one track from every album tonight (Picture: Paul Hampson)

And tonight those motherfuckers get 21 songs from Kershaw’s nine albums spanning 40 years, with 1984 to 1985 the most fertile source, when the Ipswich-raised musician delivered two multi-platinum albums and eight top 40 singles, was on Top of the Pops almost every week and performed at Live Aid.

There’s no new album to promote and his band hardly needs to warm up for a summer of 80s throwback festivals at which they’ll be playing songs that are hardwired; he’s touring and performing because he wants to. So, following a solid acoustic set from Seb Wesson, it’s down to business.

Nik Kershaw delivers a career-spanning set (Picture: Paul Hampson)
Nik Kershaw delivers a career-spanning set (Picture: Paul Hampson)

Kershaw’s been doing this so long he probably has a formula for the optimal hit-to-non-hit ratio. It may even be hidden in The Riddle’s lyrics – a song that gets the first big response of the night (we’ve already had the warmly-received Wide Boy and Dancing Girls by this point), its marching drum-beat intro prompting a scramble in pockets and handbags for camera phones.

For the diehards, there is at least one track from every album and a healthy dose of self-deprecation to accompany them (“Time for an obscure album track from an obscure album”, “How about a number 26 from 1985?”, “I bet you’re gagging for another one from [2020’s] Oxymoron”).

Tonight highlights just how many hits Nik Kershaw has had (Picture: Paul Hampson)
Tonight highlights just how many hits Nik Kershaw has had (Picture: Paul Hampson)

Kershaw’s voice, despite “a 100-day cough”, sounds as strong as ever and his band – Adam Evans (guitar), Paul Geary (bass), Simon Lee (drums) and Phil Peskett (keyboards) – effortlessly re-create the 80s plinks and plonks, slapped bass and synths, and give them a 2024 hairdo.

The lesser-known numbers are greeted with warm applause rather than rapture, and probably trigger a dash for the bar and toilets, although Roundabouts And Swings, from Oxymoron, is a breakout success for slow dances.

There's plenty of self-deprecation from Nik Kershaw (Picture: Paul Hampson)
There’s plenty of self-deprecation from Nik Kershaw (Picture: Paul Hampson)

But if there’s any frustration at a drift in attention when the set heads into more esoteric territory then it’s Kershaw’s fault for having such big hits, and we’re never more than three or four songs away from another. He knows that’s why hundreds of people pay modern ticket prices to come and see him, especially when there’s footy (and Glastonbury) on the telly.

Wouldn’t It Be Good is ultimate Kershaw, and those four-and-a-half minutes of pop perfection are a party of singalongs and selfies. “Don’t peak too soon,” he warns afterwards, sunglasses on throughout.

It's a night full of nostalgia (Picture: Paul Hampson)
It’s a night full of nostalgia (Picture: Paul Hampson)

Three songs later it’s left to I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me to finish the main set with an extended intro and outro, squeezing every last drop of 80s goodness out of what was Kershaw’s highest charting single.

But the biggest hit of the night is saved for last, even if it’s someone else’s. Chesney Hawkes took The One And Only to number one around the world, and now Kershaw is politely taking it back, seeing as he wrote it. It sounds euphoric, and he rips through a guitar solo that might impress even Foo Fighters fans.

Nik Kershaw: He's still got it (Picture: Paul Hampson)
Nik Kershaw: He’s still got it (Picture: Paul Hampson)

As the band take their bow, we’re reminded how “diminutive” Kershaw is – or maybe his fellow musicians are just very tall – and reassured that, while he may always be up for learning new tricks, the old routine works just fine.

Forty years on, he can still send those motherfuckers home happy.

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