- 04 Sep 23
As they prepare to kick off their 40th Anniversary Tour, Nick Heyward and Les Nemes of ‘80s hitmakers Haircut One Hundred chat about the formation of the band, being pursued by VH1, and the creation of their platinum-selling album Pelican West.
It is a comeback story worthy of a Rocky movie. Later this year, in Vicar Street, Haircut One Hundred kick off their 40th Anniversary Tour. That is a remarkable achievement for any band, all the more so for Haircut One Hundred, when you consider that their last tour was in 1982!
Indeed, 1982 was Haircut One Hundred’s annus mirabilis. Their debut album, Pelican West, boasted no less than four UK top ten singles - ‘Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)’, ‘Love Plus One’, ‘Fantastic Day’ and ‘Nobody’s Fool’. The album itself peaked at No. 2 on the UK album charts, only kept off the top spot by Barbara Streisand’s Memories (a behemoth of a record that was No. 1 for a whopping nine weeks).
Haircut One Hundred were one of the highest selling bands in 1982, not a bad feat when you consider the company they were keeping – Adam Ant, The Jam, Madness, Dexys Midnight Runners, Culture Club and Roxy Music. Back in ‘82, the handsome faces of frontman Nick Heyward and bassist Les Nemes adorned countless teenage bedroom walls, school folders and secret diaries.
Talking down the Zoom wire – Nick in London, Les in Spain – the duo prove charming company, and it’s safe to say the years have been kind. They are very excited about their 15-show UK & Ireland tour, which kicks off with that Vicar St. date. So, how did all this happen? Nick sets the scene.
“For the 40th anniversary, everybody was coming together to celebrate the band,” he reflects. “And in that process, there was such good feelings. I said that I’d like to play at the Roundhouse in Camden. That’s the dream, because it’s next to the studio where we recorded Pelican West. And someone at Demon Records said, ‘No, I see you at the Shepherds Bush Empire.’ Time went by and the label called up and said, ‘Do you want to do that gig?’
At any mention of a gig, myself, Les, Graham [Jones, guitar] and Blair [Cunningham, drums] are there. It was our band, and our dream in that one room we lived in above a flower shop in 1981. So any chance we get to celebrate the dream, we do it.”
Tell me about that Shepherds Bush Empire gig.
“It was amazing,” says Les. “It sold out in two hours, which we didn’t expect, and we just gave them Pelican West in order.”
“We gave them the Pelican West 100% live CD that came with the boxset,” clarifies Nick. “It was a Hammersmith Odeon gig – we listened to it, didn’t we Les? And we were like, ‘This is twice the speed and Pelican West is pretty fast anyway!’”
In 2004, Haircut One Hundred featured on Bands Reunited, an audacious VH1 television programme, which tracked down ex-members of disbanded groups with a view to reuniting them for a one-off show. An entire camera crew door-stepped the Haircuts at work, bringing their children to school, in their gardens. I wonder was it staged or really that invasive?
“It was real,” Nick laughs. “I mean, I must have been about three stones over my fighting weight, at a barbecue, you know, and no gigs for the summer. I was just kind of hanging out and the presenter, Aamer Haleem, came walking up my driveway.”
That was the first-time you guys played together for over 20 years, right?
“We could get together, but we couldn’t stay together because we never had management,” Nick explains. “This time it happened naturally, we did a gig and then got invited onto BBC Radio 2’s Piano Room. And a brilliant management company who managed Wet Leg and Manic Street Preachers saw that we were back together. They loved Haircut One Hundred and got in touch.”
“It was a series of happy accidents,” elaborates Les. “Then we got to the point where we thought Shepherds Bush was really successful, so we might as well think about doing a tour.”
So, what are we to expect when the tour kicks off in Dublin?
“We’ve never played in Ireland,” Les says, “so I think the least we can do is actually play Pelican West. So, we’ll do that. And there are a couple of tracks from the second album that was never finished that I really, really love, so hopefully, we might get a chance to do those. And a couple of new songs that we’ve been working on.”
Nick adds, “We’re looking at producers putting names in like Nile Rodgers.”
“Nile Rodgers!” Dave grins, “No. Dave Rogers!”
It’s exciting to hear that there’s a chance of another Haircut One Hundred record. Pelican West is such an incredibly original album.
“There was there were so many influences coming from all six members and what came out, came out,” Les explains. “We didn’t really like to categorise ourselves. We did know we wanted it to be feelgood music. But apart from that, we didn’t really know. It was just a case of suck it and see, that’s how that sound developed.”
“Yeah, it was very, very natural,” Nick agrees. “Having Blair in the band, suddenly we could possibly play like Kool & The Gang or Earth, Wind & Fire, or Tower Of Power. Being from Memphis, Blair knew those guys. Blair was the ace up our sleeve. He came in and took London by storm.
“When we were recording ‘Calling Captain Autumn’, Les, myself and Blair were sitting there in the same place where they recorded ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and you’re twenty. You got to ignore that and then Blair drums the intro and we were blown away!”
And Graham was bringing the punk?
“Yeah, the three-pronged fork of the band, the solid fork into the giant haystack was Les, Graham and I,” says Nick. “That was the solid foundation. It was our dream for a band. We’d been in bands for a long time, through punk, new wave, ska and mod. We’d be going to rehearsals packing up, going to another rehearsal, packing up, talking about making it one day.”
“We never said if we make it,” Les concludes. “We always said when we make it.”
• Haircut One Hundred play Dublin’s Vicar St. on October 10.