(This interview was originally published September 4, 2011 on the now-retired Kickin’ it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the ’80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like ’80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)
When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the ’80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Nick Beggs. He is best remembered by ’80s fans as the bass guitarist and later lead vocalist for the band Kajagoogoo. He co-wrote many of the band’s songs and is even responsible for coming up with the band’s unique and memorable name. Kajagoogoo, which also included Steve Askew (lead guitar), Stuart Neale (keyboards), Jez Strode (drums) and Limahl (lead vocals), was signed to a record label in July 1982 and their debut single, “Too Shy” was released in 1983 becoming a smash hit. In the U.S., the band is widely considered a one-hit wonder and originally split up back in 1986. Beggs has gone on to be a well-respected musician and world-renowned bassist as he continues to perform regularly. You will find out more about Kajagoogoo’s rise to fame and some of what he has done since then as we get on to some selections from my interview with Nick Beggs…
Nick: I knew at the age of 15 that I wanted to be a pro-player. I turned professional at 20 and moved to London with Kajagoogoo in 1982 on signing our deal with EMI.
Nick: My first musical influences were the BBC Radiophonic workshop. I bought the Doctor Who theme as a 45 rpm single and played it to death. I still have it. Later I fell in love with Tubular Bells and Hergest Ridge by Mike Oldfield. I used to play drums along to them. I also bought “Son of My Father” by Chickory Tip and David Bowie “Fame”. However the biggest influence came when I heard Close to the Edge by Yes. It was at that point I knew I wanted to do that for a living. Chris Squire became my bass hero. Later Jaco Pastorius, Tony Levin, John Paul Jones, Geddy Lee, Roger Waters, Geezer Butler, Burke Shelly and Roger Glover all had their affect on my development.
Nick: I knew all of them from our home town. They were older than me and played in bands that I would go and see in the locality. I looked up to them as a younger aspiring player. Limahl was found after we held auditions for a front man. Steve and I had been doing it up to that point but it wasn’t working.
Nick: To make a living. So we had two bands. One was a covers band that played the workingmen’s clubs, called the Handstands. The other was earlier Art Nouveau and later called Kajagoogoo.
Nick: I came up with it and it was voted as a cool name at the time. I just pulled it out of the air actually.
Nick: I can’t really comment. Would it have been more successful another way or not at all? I’m grateful that I’m still making money from something I dreamed up 30 years ago.
Nick: Yes, after I dropped out of art school and my Mum died. I had to support my sister and run a house. I always was and still am a pragmatist.
Nick: Limahl ran into Nick at a London night Club and gave him our demo. Yes, we all were Duran Duran fans. It was a very important contribution actually. Colin and Nick did a great job.
Nick: I thought of the chorus and what became the second verse and sang them to Limahl. He responded instantly to it. We then developed the arrangement with the guys. Stuart’s synth opening came much later and the song was demo’d four times before it came close to what you now know. I was playing around with alliterative sounding phrases and liked the sound of shy shy. Pop is founded on repetition and so I wanted a hooky chorus for the song.
Q: What inspired “Too Shy”? How long did it take to write? How did it evolve during the process?
Nick: The desire to write a pop hit actually inspired it. It was rewritten and rewritten over six months. Even in the studio on the day of the final takes we were still working it out. It grew very naturally from session to session. I can remember taking the final mix next door to play to Thomas Dolby. He sat very still and listened to it intently. At the end he nodded his head. He later emulated the bridge bass section on “Dissidents”. I love that track!
Nick: Not really. But I remember thinking we had captured something of the time. We would have been happy with a Top 20 record.
Nick: Yes, naturally you can get sick of playing it. But that song and the Kajagoogoo catalog has fed five families and it still is. How can you knock that, even if you don’t like it? All I ever wanted to do was make a living as a player. 30 years on I’m happy to be doing so and thanks in part to “Too Shy”.
Nick: We had personal security men wherever we went in various cities. We had police escorts and VIP treatment invites anywhere we wanted. No, I was not really prepared for it and I didn’t much like it either. It doesn’t suit me.
Nick: That’s a good question and it was a difficult choice to make. But things had become unbearable. I feel that it would be ungentlemanly of me to go into too many details. Suffice to say things could not continue as they were.
Nick: No. The band told me that if I took over vocal duties they would have a Chapman Stick made for me to play on the next album, so I agreed.
Nick: Not really. The writing was on the wall because Frankie went to Hollywood. But I think we all enjoyed the recording process for those last two albums irrespective of their chart positions. We were happier for a while at least.
Nick: I have no desire to keep the ’80s alive or in perspective. ’70s Prog was, is, and always will be the music I value most of all. The ’80s was the decade in which I became a professional player but I don’t have any great passion for the music.
Nick: He is a dear friend and someone who has taught me a lot about music, life and spiritual being. My experience with him is amongst the best I’ve ever had. He is someone I value very much in my life, even though we don’t see each other very much these days due to geography.
Nick: Martin Fry asked me to join ABC in 2002. I stayed with them for five years despite collapsing on stage one night and vomiting into a bucket due to a viral infection. Belinda Carlisle took me to Malibu to record her  album A Woman and a Man. We spent a month there living in luxury during a spectacular recording session that included Brian Wilson and Isaac Hayes. It was very demanding playing for Go West as Peter Cox wanted every last note to be just so. Even though I had transcribed the parts, he was very detailed in what he wanted on top. He was quite amazing. I have a lot of respect for that guy.
I had a band called Ellis, Beggs & Howard which toured with T’Pau in 1988. Later on, I played for Carol Decker on tour. Her voice can lift the roof off any venue. I played a session for Terry Briton on a track called “Something Beautiful Remains” by Tina Turner. I don’t think he liked what I contributed however and don’t even know if I ended up on the record. Tony Hadley and I go back a long way. Spandau Ballet and the Goo were always running into each other on the road. I played bass for Tony a couple of times live in later years. It’s a funny old world. I was Musical Director for Alphaville for a few weeks and would fly to Berlin to work with Marion Gold in preparation for a tour. However, when Belinda Carlisle asked me to join her band, I jumped ship. But the guy I put in my chair is still with them.
Nick: I’ve been with Kim for five years. She is like a sister to me. We have a lot of fun touring. I think I’ve had more fun with the Wilde Bunch than any other band I’ve toured with. Toooooo much fun!
Q: What has your experience been performing at the Festivals with those other great bands who had such great success in the ’80s? New appreciation for each other’s music? New friendships?
Nick: Yes. Always. Always Always.
Nick: Mark King is a good pal of mine. His influence can never be overstated. Kajagoogoo played a tour with Level 42 back in 1984. Last year, we played two shows with the band again. It was like old times.
Nick: The very nature of bass dictates what the chord is, so for that reason it is a very important instrument. Good bass players usually have an original sound, so that is equally important in making a song sound good. But most of all I think you have to be prepared to take chances.
Nick: The industry has become more corporate on one hand. Margins are paramount. I worked as an A&R man for PolyGram Records for a while and saw just how it works on the inside. But that’s the same the world over. It will become harder and harder to make a living in the music industry. But the industry will have to adapt. There a lot of people who all want a bit of a tiny, tiny cake. And the cake is shrinking. The music business will need original thinkers.
Nick: It was the desire to work together again as we once did 28 years ago. I’m glad we did it. I have no regrets. It was fun once again. Now we are all on good terms. And that’s the way it should be.
Nick: I’ve written and illustrated a children’s novel which I hope to publish next year. I have a great literary agent. I’m playing for Steve Hackett [ex-Genesis guitartist] and touring with Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree. Kim Wilde also has asked me to tour with her this December and March. In addition, I’m looking forward to presenting my own new band. It’s rather special. We are recording right now.