Global Bass Online April 2001
An interview with NICK BEGGS
by Andy Long
In 1982 a colourful new band
burst onto the pop scene. Their
first single with EMI, 'Too Shy', hit the Number One spot on their home turf,
the U.K. and went on to be a Number One in seven European Countries and a
respectable no. 5 in the U.S.A.
They were immensely successful
and were most memorable for their barefooted lead singer, their fantastic bass
player who became very much the image of the band and their nonsensical yet
snappy name - Kajagoogoo.
Their success seemed to be
instantaneous and worldwide but, as the unforgettable bassist Nick Beggs
explained to me recently, a lot of hard work went into the development and
marketing of the band.
'Yeah, we actually formed the
band in 1979, when it was called Art Nouveau and we had another band which we
ran as a money making venture called The Handstands. We used to do pubs and club
After leaving arts school Nick
had been working as a dustman in his hometown of Leighton Buzzard and was
struggling to come up with a totally original name for the band.
He eventually settled on Kajagoogoo
thinking that if you could market that you could market anything.
After 'Too Shy' the band became huge and soon Nick found himself unable
to just walk down the street without a bodyguard escort!
He was just 21 years old at this time and describes the whole experience
as 'a bit of a mindwarp'.
on to have a string of hits, with Nick eventually becoming the frontman.
He's gone on to work with a variety of leading artists and has had an
extensive and impressive career but through it all he will always be remembered
as the bead-haired bass-player. 'Oh
yeah,' he muses, 'no matter what I do
I'll always be the bloke from Kajagoogoo'.
After the band split in 1985
Nick began writing with various people before mounting his next serious attack
on the charts with a new band, Ellis
Beggs and Howard. Nick picks up
'I was working with a keyboard player called Phil
Ramakron who was managed by Park Music. They
were managing Terence Trent D'Arby and he was just about to break on the scene.
I hung out with them all and they said "Man we've got to get you
together with this Simon Ellis chap" and Simon was great, I just thought he
was really going to be a big star, which of course he has become.
It seems to be one of my abilities to spot the star quality in other
people, like Limahl. When I started
working with Simon we just gelled and it wasn't long after that I found Austin
Howard and we grooved.
Sadly though, Ellis, Beggs and
Howard failed to achieve success, with their one single 'Big Bubbles, No
Troubles' merely tickling the bottom end of the charts.
Nick feels that they were something of an inspiration to many artists
got to work with Seal for a while', he told me, 'and
he actually auditioned every member of EBH for his band apart from Austin. He told me that he'd actually based part of his look on the
band and he loved it. People always
say to me "man that was such a kicking band". If Kajagoogoo had the success, then EBH had the credibility.'
Since that time Nick has gone on
to work with people like Howard Jones,
Belinda Carlisle and Zappa/Duran
Duran guitarist Warren Cuccurullo
amongst others. There is one band
that Nick still considers his favourite project though and that is Iona,
the band that created a fusion of progressive rock and Celtic Christian
exploration. Nick cut two ground-breaking albums with them, 'The
Book Of Kells' in 1992 and 'Beyond
These Shores' in 1993 and describes them as 'still
the best music I've ever played in my life'.
After Nick left them the band
cut albums with two very accomplished bassists, Tim Harries of Steeleye Span and
Phil Barker of The Sal Solo Band. Both
have done some great work with them but would struggle to equal Nick's
contribution. So it was encouraging
to find out that after playing on the band's live album 'Woven
Cord' a year or two ago he has gone on to play a couple of shows with them
just before Christmas last year.
'It was just breathtaking to be involved with them again.
Dave Bainbridge has just done a string arrangement on my solo record.
They are just such exemplary musicians, lovely people.'
When Nick recorded those albums
with Iona he favoured his five-string
Wal, one of the last ones ever made, but during the recent shows he did with
them he used The Chapman Stick exclusively and admits that in recent years he
has played a lot less bass and a lot more Stick.
Of course, to many of us Nick has always been known as a stick-player and
was probably one of the first people to bring the instrument into the public
eye. I asked him what turned him
onto the instrument in the first place.
'Well, the guy who really
inspired me to play it was Tony Levin,'
he remembered. 'I saw him playing
with Gabriel at the Knebworth Festival in 1977, I think, or was it '78 and I thought he
was miming with some sort of synthesizer. Then
I told the band, Kajagoogoo, that I
wanted to play one and when we sacked Limahl, they said "Well if you'll be the lead singer we'll buy
you a Chapman Stick" and I said "Oh, alright then!".
I had it made for me and played it on the second record without ever
picking one up.'
Nick plays a standard-tuned ten string Chapman Stick, that's a 'C' in the middle, on the bass end, going out in fifths and an 'F#' on the melody going out in fourths, in case you didn't know (well I didn't anyway!).
Nick admits that it is a
phenomenally difficult instrument to master, which is why it has always been the
instrument of a small niche of players, but when asked whether he would
encourage the more adventurous bassist to take it up, he remains philosophical.
'I'd say to anybody who's
interested in the Chapman Stick that it'll change your life if you're really
serious about it. It changed mine, but if you're not and you want to flirt with
it and have fun with it then that's also great, whatever you want to do really.
If you want to just play bass on it then I think the bass stick is a good
one, but I've just done a review of the NS stick for Guitarist magazine which
amalgamates guitar and bass in one instrument and it's all in one linear tuning.
Of course it has got split pickups and you can change the tuning to
whatever you want, and I would recommend that as well.'
Alongside the Stick and the Wal
Nick's collection also takes in a fretless Fender Jazz, a curious looking Asbury
prototype which has rubber strings and, Nick says, has two main sounds - double
bass or 'the heaviest dub sound you've ever heard!'.
He also has a Tanglewood acoustic, an unusual choice for a professional,
but he likes it.
'Yeah I recorded a live VH-1 set
with Belinda Carlisle with that and
it was so good they put it on the B side of one of her singles.
It's a very inexpensive instrument but it sounds great'.
In his varied career Nick Beggs
has also dabbled in production and songwriting for the Japanese artist Cozi,
and had a brief spell as an A & R man at Phonogram which, as he explained to
me, 'didn't really work out'.
'I was taken on for a six-month
trial period and, as with most big companies who are having problems, the people
who they get in to sort the problems out usually are the ones who pay the
highest price. I was there six
months and I gave them a No. 11 hit with 'Let
Loose'. For a while there I was
a golden boy, but then Howard Berman came in and he wanted to make changes.
I could see that he didn't like me and
I could see what was going to happen. It
was rather sad actually because it was one of my last-ditch attempts to try and
pull my marriage together and pull my life together. I got hospitalized, made
redundant and broke up from my wife all in one week, which was a bad week!'
Alongside music Nick has always
had an interest in art, specifically painting.
He left art school shortly before forming Kajagoogoo and has recently
returned to studies. Last year he
held his first exhibition, which went very well for him and Nick is very
enthusiastic about this new arm to his career.
'Yeah, I have to say that has
really taken off, it's amazing. In
January and February, things tend to be a little bit quiet so I've used the time
to actually finish the record off but at the moment I'm supporting myself, apart
from my royalties, on my painting. I
hope to do a few exhibitions this year. I've got about five commissions on at the moment, which are
portraits and a couple of landscapes. I
started as an illustrator when I was at art school and then I got a diploma
again a couple of years ago, I just figured that it's good to have the two
running in tandem because the music industry is a strange beast you know, it's a
little bit unpredictable and it's the fulfillment of both sides of my
Nick has now widened his
spectrum of sounds with a new MIDI Chapman Stick, which enables him to
simultaneously play bass, guitar and a bank of synthesizers he played a few solo
gigs featuring pieces composed specifically for this instrument.
The gigs were very well received by both the audiences and the media.
Since that time Nick has been busy putting together his first solo album,
which will be titled 'Stick Insect'
and he's extremely happy with the finished product.
'Yeah, the album is finished now
and most of it is played on the Chapman Stick. I don't think people are going to believe it when they hear
it, they're going to say "that's not a Chapman Stick" - but it is!
I don't know when it will be released because I haven't played it to any
labels yet. It's totally
noncommercial and it's got nothing to do with what's happening in the music
industry now, which is something I'm really glad about.
But if anyone's brave enough to take it and run with it then it could
happen sometime this year, I'm hoping. Howard
Jones has said he'd be interested in putting it out for me but I've got to play
it to a number of labels and see what the response is.'
One of Nick's most recent gigs
has been as part of the John Paul Jones
Trio. I suggested to Nick that,
as most musicians would cheerfully kill someone for an opportunity like that, he
must be feeling pretty pleased with himself.
'Yeah, I've been very lucky.
There have been some great things in my career which have made me thank
the day I chose to become a professional musician and that was one of them. But really I've got Robert
Fripp to thank for that because they originally called me up about five or
six years ago to do the gig and I was going through divorce and was really
depressed so I turned it down at that time.
Then Robert Fripp called me up about two years ago and he said "John
Paul Jones is looking for a stick player, are you interested, Trey
Gunn can't do it?" and I
said "Wow, is that still available?"' and he said "I'll put you
up for it if you want to do it" and I said "Wow, yeah!"
When I met with John I wasn't
playing any of the MIDI stuff, I wasn't even soloing, I was still ostensibly
arpeggiating in the bass and he said, "you're going to need a special
instrument to do this. You're going
to have to play string parts from the London Symphony Orchestra, you're going to
have to play bass when I'm playing lead, lead when I'm playing bass, take
Hammond solos and play Jimmy Page parts. Do
you think you're up for it?" and
I said "Of course, of course!" and then went home and cried!
Anyway it worked out great because he's doing another tour this year.'
Fans of John's first solo album
'Zooma' will be pleased to hear that
he is shortly to begin work on a follow-up, this time featuring Nick.
Although this is very much in the early stages at the moment Nick
promised me that there will also be a tour to look forward to.
To fully develop the versatility of the MIDI stick, Nick needs an expansive live set-up - it looks something like this:
'It depends, if I'm playing with
John Paul Jones I've got a bit of a monster set-up, but if I'm playing solo then
it's the same monster set-up but without the big speaker systems because I tend
to wear headphones on stage then. But with John I've got an SWR Goliath set-up an 18-inch cab
and then a 4 x 10 on top, that's just for the bass.
Then the melody strings go to a Fender Tonemaster which is a valve head
and then a 4 x 12 Fender Tonemaster cab. The
synths go through a Roland KC 500 stereo Keyboard amp.
I run three synthesizers, A Korg TR rack, a GR-30 floor mounted Synth and
a Korg 05RW Synth.
So if I'm playing orchestration
parts I can have cellos on the bottom and violins, violas, that kind of thing,
all in unison, also you can do three-way splits with horns you can have trombone
or bugle or saxophone or trumpet whatever, playing in unison which sounds quite
If you want to get a true
impression of Nick's character then the best way to do that is to take a trip
around his website at www.nickbeggs.co.uk
- it's whacky! It is astonishingly
well-designed and the artwork is amazing. The
introductory sequence displays a wonderfully off-the-wall sense of humour and
the site as a whole is a great advertisement for the things that can be done
with a website as an alternative to the thousands of flat, boring pages that are
Nick designed the site with an
old college friend, Martin Walker, who is also going to do the cover for the
solo album. The site has been
nominated for several awards and is a perfect combination of fun and
information, with detailed accounts of all the various projects through the
So the rest of this year is
pretty exciting for Nick Beggs. An
album and tour with John Paul Jones, a solo album to promote, art exhibitions,
'Howard Jones wants to rework a
project which is going to be basically his touring project.
He wants to do something more electronic which will involve me playing a
lot of sequenced parts with the MIDI Stick.
There are various pieces of work but I'm a little reticent to take them
on at the moment because I'm finishing the record. The record is taking a lot of
energy and I want to press forward with either trying to get some commission
work off the back of it or a release of some sort and then some solo work of my
In fact a London solo gig has just been announced. Nick will be at 'The Orange in West Kensington on May 12th this year. The support act will be a solo bassist/guitarist from Finland called Petander who has worked extensively with many popular artists in his home country.
Long, bassist and journalist is currently living in Wales at least until I get enough money together to fly over there and track
him down for some of the dark things he has impinged my soul with. His
wit is only slightly sharper than his nose.
he has become a great long distance friend and associate of the magazine and I
imagine he will stay that way as
long as he knows how to keep his distance…damn! There I go again. I
keep trying to put something nice together about Andy and I keep returning to
his darker side, the part that people are referring to when they say “Don’t go out on
the moors at night”.
Not the other part where he actually is a really good writer even
if he does have to cover himself with Mazola oil every time he sits down at the
computer, wearing nothing but ballet slippers, a tutu and flight goggles.
Oh, I give up!
Andy can be reached at andy@?
and Warren can be reached at ?
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