HAIRCUT 100 Revisited
Haircut 100’s debut album Pelican West remains one of the truly great albums of the ‘80s. Inspired by everything from Jazz and Latin music to ‘60s Pop and Post-Punk, the 1982 album was a breath of fresh air at a time when pretentious ‘Popstar’ posing was more important than making music. From Bob Sargent’s warm and crisp production and singer/guitarist Nick Heyward’s Pop smarts, to the inventive horn arrangements, Pelican West was an album inspired by many styles embedded in the past, yet sounded modern and fresh. The band’s ability to embrace their influences while also creating their own unique sound is what makes Pelican West a timeless album. It is not rooted to a particular time period, so you can still play it thirty four years later without feeling that the album has dated itself. You can’t say that about other career-defining albums from this time period including The Human League’s Dare, Culture Club’s Colour By Numbers, Duran Duran’s Rio or any number of so-called New Wave classics.
Initially lumped in with the British Jazz Funk movement, Haircut 100 were a true musical phenomenon formed by Heyward and bassist Les Nemes. Guitarist Graham Jones completed the original trio. The band grew into a sextet with the addition of percussionist Marc Fox, drummer Blair Cunningham and horn player Phil Smith. The band’s first three singles – “Favorite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl),” “Love Plus One,” and “Fantastic Day” – became radio hits all over the world, and even earned airplay on the then-still-fresh MTV. To many, this fresh and seemingly wholesome band came out of nowhere and became a sensation. They may have been treated like teen idols in the UK, but other countries – including the U.S. – focused on the music. The album itself was filled to the brim with great songs, many of which could have easily been a hit had they been released as singles (I’m looking at you in particular, “Lemon Firebrigade”!). When the band released the Pop-tastic post-album single “Nobody’s Fool,” it was obvious that Heyward’s songwriting skills were still top notch.
However, the band’s massive success proved to be their downfall. Faced with the enormous pressure of writing a follow-up album, Heyward quit the band in the midst of recording sessions. Nick pursued a solo career (the lushly-produced North Of A Miracle contained a few of the songs the band had been working on prior to his departure) while the rest of the band soldiered on. By the time the sorely overlooked and quite wonderful second Haircut 100 album Paint And Paint was released, the band was down to a quartet (Cunningham had also left the band). The band quietly broke up a short time later. Though they have reunited in some form or another over the last decade for live shows, no new recordings have emerged.
Now, with the release of the Deluxe 2CD Edition of Pelican West – featuring additional non-album tracks and remixes – being reissued on Cherry Pop, Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to catch up with H100 guitarist Graham Jones and send him off a few questions in hopes of discovering more about this classic album…
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: The definitive double disc version of Pelican West is now being released on Cherry Pop. How do you feel about the album all of these years later?
GRAHAM JONES: It’s a great chance for young ears to hear Haircut 100 and for those who missed out on the 12” mixes back in the 80’s.
SPAZ: There is no doubt that every band member played an important role and that Haircut 100 would have been a different beast if you switched out any of the members. How did the band initially come together?
GRAHAM: Nick and Les were already playing together. It was a form of post-punk that was reminiscent of Talking Heads and XTC. Our girlfriends were school friends so we came together that way. I joined them as the punk member after spending many weekends with Nick and Les in Beckenham (Bowie land in South East London).
SPAZ: Where did the band name come from? Do you remember any of the other names before you settled on Haircut 100?
GRAHAM: We were called Moving England and we decided it didn’t fit our sense of humor. We sat around in Nick’s house throwing names around. Captain Pennyworth, Blue Penguin, Biggest Haystack In The Land all had a chance. Les said to Nick, “Did you just say Haircut 100?” That was the one that made us laugh the most. “You can’t call a band that!”
SPAZ: And how long had the band been together before you were offered a record deal? Did H100 play the live circuit for a while?
GRAHAM: Haircut prided ourselves on not playing the circuit but set up our own ‘pop concerts’ where we served wine and marshmallows! You need to offer something interesting to get noticed and this created the interest. We were signed very quickly.
SPAZ: The band was often lumped in with the Jazz Funk movement in the UK, yet H100 were much more than that. Do you feel the band aligned itself to any genre…or perhaps created your own?
GRAHAM: The Haircuts started life more as a guitar post-punk band, but there were roots in Jazz from Nick, funk from Les, and as the band expanded with the sax and percussion from Phil and Marc, it changed the course of our musical direction. With Blair’s powerhouse American drum style, the Haircuts became a formidable live and studio band. Nick’s quirky and melancholy style gave it the edge and mystery.
SPAZ: For a band of such young players, your sound was far more advanced and mature than most of your contemporaries. What were your influences?
GRAHAM: Everything from Pat Metheny, War, James Burton, Talking Heads, The Clash, The Beatles, Steely Dan, Earth Wind And Fire, Bowie, Flora Purim, The Waitresses, The Associates, George Duke, Orange Juice, The Jam, Brecker Bros., Gil Scott-Heron, Generation X, Lalo Schifrin, Sex Pistols, The Faces, TV soundtracks, etc.
SPAZ: Where did the album title Pelican West come from?
GRAHAM: From Pelican Wharf in Wapping Docks, London. Near to the prospect of Whitby Pub where Nick used to watch Jazz with his dad.
SPAZ: In hindsight, we now know what the ‘hit singles’ are, but when you were recording the album, did you have a clear idea on what tracks you wanted to go with as singles?
GRAHAM: “Fantastic Day” was a clear single before it was even recorded, but the songs developed into singles in the studio with every overdub that was added. That’s the magic of working together with great musicians. The unexpected.
SPAZ: The album is filled to the brim with great songs, many of which are overlooked these days: “Surprise Me Again,” “Snow Girl” and “Lemon Fire Brigade” come to mind. Are there any that you feel are overlooked?
GRAHAM: “Kingsize (You’re My Little Steam Whistle)” was almost a single.
SPAZ: The band achieved great success all over the world. Was it a shock to experience that kind of success outside of the UK? Or even outside of your hometown?
GRAHAM: It was great to be appreciated in the USA for our music alone.
SPAZ: The single “Nobody’s Fool” was released after the album. Was this originally scheduled to be part of the ill-fated second album or was it a stop-gap single in between full lengths?
GRAHAM: “Nobody’s Fool” was just part of the ongoing creative process and was originally recorded by Nick as a Beatles-style demo. We thought it was hit material.
SPAZ: Was it a shock when Nick left or had you sensed it coming? Did you feel confident in moving forward at first or did it take a while to get your confidence levels back up?
GRAHAM: It was a big shock and a massive disappointment. I don’t think we had expected Nick to leave. He felt he was under pressure to ‘deliver’ the goods. It was too much for his sensitive temperament. I don’t think we ever really recovered as a band after that.
SPAZ: The band released the sorely overlooked Paint And Paint in 1984. That second album is a pretty amazing continuation of the band given that your lead singer and songwriter had left. How do you view that album now? And can we hope to ever see it reissued on CD?
GRAHAM: There are some fantastic moments in Paint And Paint and we all have some flashes of brilliance but I feel our musicality was best placed with the full line-up including Nick. We were good but the magic element had gone. Nick said the same about his own solo stuff…He missed the band. I would hope that Paint And Paint will be available with this resurgence of interest in Haircut 100. I always get asked if or when it will be released.
SPAZ: The band has reunited on occasion over the last decade. Any chance of seeing any more shows or even new music from Haircut 100?
GRAHAM: There is always the possibility of something new happening with the Haircuts but what shape it may take next time is anyone’s guess.
SPAZ: What’s next for Graham Jones?
GRAHAM: I’ll continue to keep Haircut 100 in people’s minds. In my other life, I’ll be (and always have been) recording and helping other artists and young musicians to get a start and have the chances we had.
SPAZ: What are you currently listening to?
GRAHAM: The sound of the wind and the roar of the sea.
Thanks to Graham Jones
Special thanks to Matthew Ingham, Nick Kominitsky and Chuck Reddick