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Nick Beggs
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 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 work.'

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'.

Kajagoogoo went 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 the story.

'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 though.  'I 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 creativity.'

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 nice.'

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 - 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 out there.

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 years.

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, anything else?

'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 own.'

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. 

Andy 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.

Actually 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”.  That part.  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 will be manning our U.K. version of the magazine from this point on, bringing us interviews and articles with top bassists from the ‘Isles’.  There, I did it!



Andy can be reached at andy@?

and Warren can be reached at ?


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