Haircut 100 finally get their fantastic day, 41 years after dramatic split: ‘We didn’t think it was going to happen at all. We’d all written it off.’

Published On June 27, 2024 » By »
Haircut 100 in 1982. (photo: Arista Records)

Haircut 100 in 1982. (photo: Arista Records)

Haircut 100 may have been early-MTV darlings in America — frontman Nick Heyward chucklingly brags that “quite a few guys” have even told him that his iconic loincloth scene in the David Mallet-directed “Love Plus One” video marked “the moment they knew they were gay.” But that was nothing compared to Haircut 100’s impact in their native Britain, where the sophisti-pop pioneers’ funky and frothy debut, Pelican West, was the biggest-selling album of 1982.

However, that first whirlwind of success for the group — who, bafflingly, didn’t even have a manager at the time — was over as quickly as it had begun, as their career “went from one extreme to another.” Heyward, then barely 20 years old and serving as both the primary songwriter and pinup-ready face of the band, soon experienced burnout, and by late ‘82, when Haircut 100 were working on the rushed follow-up Paint and Paint (“I don’t see that as really a Haircut album, personally,” Heyward notes), he was barely participating.

“My relationship with them, and their relationship with me, had completely disintegrated. … I think the final straw was in a rehearsal when they’d been rehearsing up and writing new songs without me, and [percussionist] Marc [Fox] was singing them, and it was a different band. It wasn’t our band. It wasn’t a team anymore, ” Heyward recalls. “And I felt like, ‘Um, what am I going to do? Merch?’ And so, that was it. That was the Spinal Tap moment.”

But, as it turns out… that wasn’t it. There was plenty of “unfinished business” after Heyward officially parted ways with Haircut 100 in January 1983. While he went on to a successful solo career, even scoring an alt-rock radio hit in America in 1993 with “Kite,” he always missed what he affectionately calls that “Haircut power” — that rare, special dynamic he shared with his teenhood bandmates Les Nemes and Graham Jones. “There’s just something about actually being in a band with the people you dreamt with in a rehearsal room in a garage in 1977,” he muses fondly.

Haircut 100 staged several brief reunions after they imploded — most notably on a memorable episode of VH1’s Bands Reunited in 2004 — and each time, that vibrant “Haircut energy” always remained. “Every time we get together, we just knock it out the park. Something magic happens and takes over, and the ingredients are right,” Heyward raves. “We can get together easily. It is staying together — that’s what hasn’t worked out! And that’s why this time is so different. Everything has been falling into place easily, unlike any other time.”

Heyward, still radiating that Haircut energy and looking like a boyishly handsome pop idol at age 63, is excitedly discussing his seminal band’s latest and seemingly much more serious reunion, which this time around includes “the missing ingredient”: a legitimate manager, Martin Hall, who also oversees the careers of Wet Leg and the Manic Street Preachers. The band will make their all-important Glastonbury Festival debut this week, and will tour the U.S. for the first time in 42 years this August.

Haircut 100's Les Nemes, Nick Heyward, and Graham Jones in 2024. (photo: Andrew Cotterill)

Haircut 100′s Les Nemes, Nick Heyward, and Graham Jones in 2024. (photo: Andrew Cotterill)

They’ve even been working on a new album — the proper follow-up to Pelican West that 1984’s poorly received, Heyward-free Paint and Paint sadly wasn’t — with Coldplay producer/mixer Danton Supple. Two of their new songs, “The Unloving Plum” (a “fruity”-titled unofficial companion piece to Pelican West’s “Lemon Firebrigade”) and “Soulbird,” will be on their current tour setlist.

“We went in to do three songs… and we did 10!” reveals Heyward, an admitted perfectionist who laughingly says if it were up to him and his reconvened bandmates, the new Haircut 100 album probably wouldn’t come out “until 2044.” Thankfully, their new management is “aiming for 2024.”

And so, what could have been an especially bummer Haircut 100 episode of another VH1 series, Behind the Music, is instead getting a happy ending — and a new beginning. Heyward is initially reluctant to broach the subject of what exactly went wrong for the band more than four decades ago, stressing, “Whatever’s happening now, there’s nothing we can do about the past. We’re here. Now every time we play, it’s like total present. Every time I do ‘Fantastic Day,’ it’s like it’s the first time I’ve ever sung it, fresh as a daisy.” However, he eventually he opens up, almost as if discussing the past makes him appreciate this second (or third, or fourth…) act all the more.

“I know I worked the hardest. I did every interview, and I had a lot of pressure,” Heyward recalls of Haircut’s meteoric success after Pelican West dropped in February 1982. “I was just fumbling my way through it.” Heyward didn’t quite understand why all of the band’s “wildest dreams” had come true and he still wasn’t happy (“the reality of when it happens, it’s totally different”), and he was “really not dealing with it very well” because, once again, “the key thing was didn’t have was any kind of manager. We were dealing with this all ourselves, and it was a chaotic environment. Very chaotic, nothing stable.”

Heyward ultimately consulted a physician at Haircut 100’s label, Arista Records, “And I remember he said, ‘Have a cigarette!’ So, I did, and that started me smoking,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘OK, maybe this is my crutch.’ But it wasn’t. And then he gave me some pills that I found out had been struck off the [prescription] list — they weren’t supposed to be given to people — and my jaw locked. I have no idea what they were. I was just young, and I would take anything to not feel the way I was feeling. … I was at home going out of my mind, and I didn’t know why I felt like that. But it felt like the end of something.”

Life at home in the London suburb of Beckenham, where Heyward was still living with his mum and dad, was also chaotic, because his sudden fame had completely altered their once-healthy family dynamic. “My parents really changed out of it — and they [had been] my stability. They were my stable rock, and then they just became sycophantic,” he explains. “That was not the relationship we’d had before.” Eventually “the Arista doctor turned up at the doorstep” and Heyward was “carted off to this place that I think they sent Ozzy Osborne off to. But [other troubled celebrity patients were] in there normally alcohol or drugs or something, and I was just in there just due to pressure.”

But now, Heyward’s issues, any lingering resentment between him and his on/off Haircut 100 bandmates, and really “anything from the past has evaporated,” Heyward assures with a massive grin. “It just doesn’t mean anything.” And now his long-ago Beckenham garage-crafted hopes and dreams for the band are finally being realized, in a way that simply wasn’t possible in ‘82.

“It’s a dream come true, that the success in our wildest dreams is coming now, because we didn’t think it was going to happen at all. We’d all written it off, really,” a grateful Heyward confesses. “There were so many attempts. I suppose it’s that thing of when you do actually let go completely, maybe that’s when you get what you were looking for. … And here we are, the same three people, and we’ve still got the same dream.”

Watch Nick Heyward’s full interview in the split-screen video above, in which he discusses how Haircut 100’s ska-adjacent, brass-tastic sound was “like Chicago on amphetamines,” how they came up with their preppy “jumpers band” look, what went on during the “Love Plus One” music video shoot, and more.

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