As an integral part of our culture, rock is full of stories, very different from each other, that coincides on the same point: everyone wants to reach the top, everyone seeks their “happy ending”. This kind of rock “dream” does not distinguish times or borders and having a music “hit” or achieving a group of loyal fans are part of the same traditional path. The career of the British musician Kevin Hewick, one of the most sincere singer-songwriters on the current scene, does not escape this search. Far from being in the final stage of his career everything indicates that he will achieve that “happy ending”. The particular thing is that to achieve it, he rejected the usual path. Before waiting for the big sales to come, the artist had already left the independent labels Factory and Cherry Red, which were the most important in the early 80s in England. He decided to step aside and even leave the music for a while. But why?
Once defined by legendary music entrepreneur Tony Wilson as “the best songwriter since Elvis Costello,” Kevin Hewick holds the title of having been the possible replacement for Ian Curtis in Joy Division. It is true that the first to occupy that place was Alan Hempsall of Crispy Ambulance, in a bumpy concert when Curtis was hospitalized. But Hewick was the only one to record with the other members of the band, one month after the suicide of the leader of Joy Division. His early musical history is completed by some highlights: the songs with The Sound, the single and video he recorded for the Factory, and the debut album on Cherry Red. Facts that happened quickly in the first half of the 1980s and that are menciones appear in this way on the strange cover of his compilation Tender Bruises And Scars (2003).
By his own decision or by misfortune, his career took a hiatus of almost 10 years, time in which he recorded music self-managed while dedicating himself to teaching people with disabilities.
As the new century has entered, Hewick has finally returned to music full time and has released more albums in the last ten years than during the first twenty of production. With a career finally consolidated, there are some underlying mysteries: Was he the last singer of Joy Division or the first of New Order?, Which of the two english labels best suits his style?, Did he leave everything behind to fight depression?, Or is he a misunderstood talent? Without giving a conclusive explanation, perhaps the reader will be able to deduce it in the following interviews, one carried out in 2007 (and unpublished) and another in 2020. Of what there is no doubt about is that, paradoxically, the only conventional description that can define it it is the well-worn expression “cult artist”.
What do you remember of the recording session of “Haystack” with New Order?
I was a very big Joy Division fan, I’d been support act to them twice in Manchester and London but they didn’t speak to me and I was too shy to approach them.
Tony Wilson had only told me about the idea of them recording with me the night before the recording session.It was just over a month after Ian Curtis had died.Tony said they wanted to do something to feel their way back into playing and working with me was a way to do that.
Next day Bernard and Steve met me at Piccadilly train station and we went to Graveyard Studios where Peter arrived soon after.At first it was pretty easy going but in retrospect I think it was far too soon after Ian and Bernard especially seemed to tire of playing on my songs after a while, we did two – ‘Haystack’ and ‘A Piece of Fate’ – but I don’t think ‘the magic’ was there, least of all in my guitar and vocals, I didn’t do myself justice that day.
Peter seemed to be the glue that held things together and I found him the easiest of them to relate to, both then and in the future.
Martin Hannett was supposed to produce us but turned up late and made the comment that we sounded “like something by Fairport Convention” and then fell asleep on the floor under the mixing desk.That phased me out at the time but luckily I was to have other meetings with Martin where I found him to be a great guy, it was so sad how things turned out after his golden era when he was THE producer.
They tried taping me doing some solo versions of my songs as well but the longer the session went on the more I went downhill .Most of all I was too inexperienced in the studio and too in awe of what was to be New Order – Hooky said they’d decided on that name the night before.
It has been 40 years since Ian Curtis’s death, how do you remember him?
Distant. He should have said hello. I was too shy, the onus was on him with who he was. We would have got on about music, music as art, music as life, but not on politics, his political views were not too good in my opinion. Conservatism continues to exploit, dominate and dupe our country.
For all that I massively regret never getting to speak with him. He watched me at an all night show at the Scala and walked out during my third song, I felt pretty crushed, I wanted to impress him.
What can you tell me about your days in Factory Records?
I blundered in on the 24 hour party really, I’d tried sending a tape to John Dowie who was on the famous first Factory sampler, a friend had got his address and gave it to me.I also sent a cassette to Palatine Road, I was taping dozens of odd little songs in my bedroom from late 1977 through 78 and 79.I’d given up on Factory but one day Tony Wilson sent me a telegram – the email of the 70s 🙂 – it said they didn’t normally get very good tapes but mine was one of the best they’d had.. I hate to think what the worst sounded like then!
Things seemed to move slowly, I didn’t actually get to meet Tony and Alan Erasmus until February 1980.
I was lucky enough to get to spend quite a lot of time with Tony and Alan, I got to know people like Vini Reilly of Durutti Column , Donald Johnson of ACR, Section 25, amazing visionary talents and all part of this beautifully madcap scene, a scene I barely grasped at the time, it was a moment alright, sometimes a moment really flashes by, that one sure did and it suddenly changed when Ian died.
After that things couldn’t ever be the same.In the wake of such momentous events I got a bit lost and I wasn’t the best judge of my own abilities and how to get the best out of myself.I had no edit button.There wasn’t really anyone doing the solo singer-songwriter thing in that post-punk world.I was ill prepared for the nights I went down badly with those crowds, I was ill prepared for the nasty reviews, my skin was too thin.Worst of all was I knew my actual songs and performances were over the top, I was just shouting out my hang ups over sparse, harsh electric chords.It came to be so clearly ‘odd one out’ even by Factory standards and it got no better when I moved on to Cherry Red Records in late 1982 – I hurtled into oblivion within 18 months.
By that time Tony Wilson had tired of me, we even argued over the Hacienda but really that was because I knew if he got wrapped up in this club idea he’d never have any time for me.
Now I can see I was rubbing shoulders with true maverick genius but in the years after I paid a high price for being a bit player in musical history.
It was moving to meet Alan again, and Lindsay Reade at the 24 hour Tony Wilson Experience event in June.What a perspective we have now on that brilliant era and around us we see its massive influence on popular culture.
Tony I think of often, with affection and regret. Those amazing early 1980s, I pinch myself that I was there but I also kick myself that I didn’t do better. To put it another way: The 23 year old Factory me? I’d kick him up the ass!
“Ophelia’s Drinking Song” is one of your most iconic songs. First you recorded it with Factory and then it was released again by Cherry Red with a music video. I would love to know more about your inspiration for that song and if you think that in terms of style it has more in common with the legacy of Factory or Cherry Red.
Like a lot of my things I just channel images, “Inside a million sighs capsize..”, it sounded good and it’s what I felt like, a vast grief. Little did I know how vast it was and is. I admired the famous Ophelia painting by Sir John Everett Millais and I thought about when Marianne Faithfull played the role in Hamlet. I love Marianne, she’s more of a Rolling Stone than some of the actual Rolling Stones. She’s the real deal.
It was all on Factory, the single and the rather embarrassing video by (and on) the Black Sea of all places.
What was the best and the worst about recording with the late Adrian Borland?
I can’t think there was a worst except that the first tracks we did in 1981 were rejected by Tony Wilson, he said he’d never release anything on Factory by “a London band”.
When I recorded with The Sound again in 1983 we did 18 hours straight in Elephant Studios in Wapping.Adrian had a studio work ethic second to none.He was a real motivator and 100% into the music.I also found him a lot of fun to be with, he loved life and music and I think that even shows in ‘Harmony and Destruction’ the album which he was working on as close as three days before he died.
I’ve seen the esteem which Adrian is held in in Holland at the two memorial shows I’ve been part of there, and I’ve spent many hours discussing his life and legacy with people including his late mother Win and his father Bob Borland.One day a far vaster audience will discover him, I just know that.
The whole band were superlative, people don’t mention Colvin Mayers on the keyboards who we also lost in 1993, he could hear all kinds of counterpoints in a song, he was so gifted.
It’s sad that we rehearsed in Wimbledon to do a Cherry Red night at Brixton Academy but it got cancelled due to poor ticket sales – but at least I got to stand in that tiny room with The Sound playing on my songs and theirs, yet another one of those ‘moments’ .. I well treasure those memories.
What can you tell me about your interdisciplinary art project in the 80s called “Ghosts of Individuals”?
My friend and then manager John Hollingsworth did the most to get it up and running, he and Patrik Fitzgerald, Ann Clark and I did some fascinating shows, I realise now we were a bit ahead of our time with poetry, music and performance art all in the mix.We talked of getting others involved, of it growing bigger, but it didn’t quite happen, we did get Martyn Bates of Eyeless in Gaza to make a superb solo debut on one of our nights in Birmingham but that was about it. When John moved on in his A&R career to the dizzy heights of number 2 at Warner Brothers UK we all drifted apart, I never did connect much with Ann and Patrik was like a leaf blowing in the wind bless him, a beautiful fellow really. I look at it now and can see it had huge potential, but we were personal rather than political so we didn’t catch on like Red Wedge, we didn’t have ‘a geezer’ like Billy Bragg in Ghosts of Individuals lol, that was our downfall.
You have been described as a “lonesome troubadour” but in the first years as an artist you have to deal with some problems in Factory and Cherry Red. Being these two important alternative labels, how do you think you have gained as an artist with the release of your own label Botheration?
I’m afraid it’s Botheration by name, Botheration by nature, I am pretty clueless about running a label, just like Tony was with Factory. It’s something to hang my artistic hat on. It’s very different to the 80s with the internet of things or whatever it is. You can imagine anything even a ‘record label’.
In your “black hole period” you have struggled with depression but you have recovered from it and you have more albums in the last 10 years than in your first 20. How did you leave behind those dark times and became a prolific singer/songwriter?
I’ve never left them behind. I’ve adapted, I have coping strategies. It’s also getting later in my life, either I proved something, and prove something now, or it will be too late. Like I said I channel things in my mind and I hear things in chords and riffs on the guitar. I can edit it better now, I channel it better. I can see what needs to be said better. Morally. Spiritually. Politically. The songs are a better man than I am. I can’t live up to the wisdom in them. I wish that I was Neil Young but alas I’m me. It’ll have to do. I love things like Low and Warpaint but I don’t want to copy them. I listen to things from when I was a kid like The Floyd, Zeppelin and Hendrix and Lou and Dylan though he’s also current like Neil is. Still happening. I still want to reach people, I want to be still happening too not just a historic Factory relic.