|Track||Album / EP|
|Haystack||From Brussels With Love|
|Feathering The Nest||Such Hunger For Love|
|'Neath Dancing Waves||This Cover Keeps Reality Unreal|
|Helpline||Live At The Loaded Dog|
|The Loneliest Kind Of Lonely||Helpline|
|An Object She Left Behind||Doomcloud|
|French Jazz Station||All Was Numbered|
|A Young Man's Dream Of Revolution||The Heat Of Molten Diamonds|
|Elegy For Jackie Leven||The Heat Of Molten Diamonds|
|Mill Lane||Touching Stones, Tasting Rain|
Contributor: Andrew Shields
Kevin Hewick is probably best known today for the fact that he was the first person to record with the remaining members of Joy Division (soon to rename themselves New Order) after Ian Curtis’ death. Indeed there are some people who suggest that Tony Wilson had him in mind at that time as Curtis’ successor as frontman for the group. As a result, Hewick’s own work has often tended to be overshadowed by the gradual ascent of Joy Division to near-mythic status. This is a shame, however, as he is both a consistently interesting and innovative songwriter and is also one of the very finest singers to have emerged from the post-punk scene in Britain in the early 1980s. His work was also notable for its combining of a punk-style attitude with influences drawn from the great British folk-influenced songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s like Roy Harper and John Martyn.
In many respects, Hewick was an unusual artist to become part of the Factory scene. On the face of it, at least, his music seemed to have little in common with that of the other principal Factory acts such as A Certain Ratio, The Durutti Column and Joy Division. He had also had very little direct experience as a performer before being invited to come to Manchester by the head of that label, Tony Wilson, in 1980. Wilson made the invitation after being impressed by a demo tape which Hewick had sent to him. Soon after Hewick’s arrival there, he had secured support slots to Joy Division and to other leading Factory acts in several gigs in both Manchester and London. Indeed, one of these early performances (of his own song, Morphia) was filmed by Wilson himself:
By this point, it had become clear that what linked him to the other acts on the label was the intensity and honesty of his live performances and his determination to steer far clear of the musical mainstream of the day.
His major opportunity at Factory, however, was to come about through the tragic death of Ian Curtis of Joy Division in May 1980. A month later, Wilson organised a recording session for Hewick with the remaining members of that band. This was his very first experience of working in a studio and Hewick has given a typically witty and characteristically self-deprecating account of the events of that day – which can be read here at around half-way down the page. Despite Hewick’s reference to his nervousness on that occasion, the track they recorded together, Haystack, remains one of his most enduring songs. It also features one of his finest lyrics and its synth-based arrangement gives a clear marker for the musical direction in which New Order were to travel soon afterwards.
Although Hewick was to record two further singles for Factory (including the excellent Ophelia’s Drinking Song/Cathy Clown which can be heard here, by this point the relationship between him and the label was becoming increasingly fraught. This tension was largely a result of Tony Wilson’s decision to include a number of tracks by Hewick on the famous Factory Quartet LP without consulting him about this beforehand. Soon afterwards, Hewick secured a deal with the London-based label, Cherry Red, and this brought an end to his connection with the Factory label. However, the personal relationship that he developed at that time with other artists such as Peter Hook of Joy Division, the members of Section 25 and of A Certain Ratio were to be enduring ones and had a significant influence on his later career.
Kevin Hewick’s first album for Cherry Red, the excellent Such Hunger For Love, was a logical development from his earlier work for Factory. Its combination of Hewick’s sparse electric guitar backing and his sometimes soaring vocals has an undeniable similarity at times to the style which Jeff Buckley was later to adopt, especially in his live work. It is likely that this resemblance in styles was a purely coincidental one but, at times, there is a very striking likeness indeed. My selection from the album, Feathering The Nest, is a fine jazz-flavoured song which gives Hewick an opportunity to engage in some characteristic vocal gymnastics.
Soon after the release of that album, Hewick had his first meeting with Adrian Borland, the leader of that great but sadly underappreciated group The Sound. At that time, Borland expressed his admiration for Hewick’s work and suggested that they should record together some time in the future. This eventually resulted in Kevin and The Sound collaborating together on the excellent EP This Cover Keeps Reality Unreal which was released in 1983. The EP featured four songs by Kevin, all of them outstanding and all revivified by the band arrangements devised by him and the members of The Sound. I could have chosen almost any of these for selection but my eventual choice, ˈNeath Dancing Waves, just won out by the narrowest of margins. It combines a superb atmospheric arrangement with a brilliant lyric and vocal by Hewick.
Although the EP is very hard to track down these days, the songs from it are included both on the compilation, Tender Bruises And Scars, which brings together all of Hewick’s early work from 1980 to 1983, and the highly recommended The Sound 4CD box set, Jeopardy, From The Lions Mouth, All Fall Down, BBC Live, Plus… released in 2014. As the Tender Bruises compilation is far easier to buy than Kevin’s original releases, I have taken my selections from his early work from it. Hewick later repaid this debt to Adrian Borland by covering his classic late song Sea Of Noise at a tribute concert to him in Amsterdam in 2006. A great performance:
Despite the excellence of Kevin Hewick’s work up to this point, sadly it had achieved very little commercial success. In consequence, the management at Cherry Red decided to drop him from the label. This setback led Hewick to become disillusioned with the music industry. As a result, he withdrew from it for several years, suffering, as he has said himself, from being “burned out”. He was also convinced that he was unlikely “to record ever again”. At that time, he returned to live in his hometown of Leicester and took up part-time work as a teacher for adults with learning disabilities.
His eventual return to performing/recording was to be a very gradual one. It started with his playing small venues in Leicester in the late 1980s and selling cassette-only demo-style releases at his performances there. It was, however, to be a ten-year wait before Kevin recorded his official third album, the consistently excellent Helpline in 1999. Although the studio take on the title song of that album is a very fine one, I have chosen the version of it from the recently released live album, Live At The Loaded Dog, for inclusion. This version, which was recorded close to the time when the original studio album was released, has an intensity to it that the earlier version lacked. The live setting also allows Kevin more of an opportunity to break free with that superb voice. The song can be heard here.
My other choice from the album, The Loneliest Kind Of Lonely, features one of Hewick’s finest melodies and again is impeccably sung. At this point, his lyrics were also becoming far more directly autobiographical in character and their directness and honesty gave his work even more of an emotional punch than it had previously possessed.
I have to declare a personal interest in my next selection, as the album from which it comes, Doomcloud, was produced by my late cousin, Robert (aka Robbie) Murphy, an excellent musician and talented songwriter in his own right. Indeed, Hewick has credited Robert’s characteristic tact and generosity for helping to create the marvellously intimate atmosphere which is a key part of that album’s appeal. Although the CD was never, in fact, officially released, it is available as a free download on Kevin’s website. My selection from it, An Object She Left Behind, is a particularly fine example of the pared-back and emotionally direct character of the album as a whole.
My next four choices all come from the series of albums which Hewick has released in a sudden and largely unexpected burst of creativity over the last few years. The first selection, French Jazz Station, comes from the fine CD, All Was Numbered, which was released in 2014. The album itself was designed as a tribute both to Larry Cassidy, the lead singer of Section 25 who had died in 2010, and Tony Wilson, the founder of Factory Records, who died in 2007. More generally, it was designed as something of a memorial to the large number of individuals associated with the label who had passed away in the years since Hewick’s own relatively brief association with it. French Jazz Station itself is a haunting and slightly eerie account of a conversation Hewick had had with Cassidy during a European tour the two had been on with a number of other Factory artists in 2008.
My next choice, A Young Man’s Dream Of Revolution, which was inspired by the death of a local singer and activist, is a beautifully observed and brilliantly effective portrayal of the naiveté and occasional seeming ridiculousness which is inseparable from such political activity. At the same time, it is also clear from the song itself that Hewick sees such idealism as a necessary corrective to the cynicism about politics which is so widespread in many parts of the world at the moment. The song also features one of the best musical arrangements in Hewick’s career and includes some fine picking on a lap steel guitar which Hewick claims he first received as a Christmas present in 1973.
From very early on in his career, Hewick had frequently expressed his admiration for the great Scottish songwriter, Jackie Leven. Indeed, the two men had enjoyed a long friendship which went back to Leven’s time as frontman in the excellent, but again sadly underappreciated band, Doll By Doll, in the late 1970s/early 1980s. My next choice, Elegy For Jackie Leven, is a finely judged tribute to that great singer and a beautifully observed character sketch of his larger than life personality. It can be heard here.
My final selection, Mill Street, comes from Kevin Hewick’s most recent album, Touching Stones, Tasting Rain (2016). In my opinion, this is one of the best releases of his career to date. Mill Street is another autobiographical song which is set to one of Hewick’s finest melodies of recent times. Like all of his work, the entire CD reflects his determination to write songs which reflect adult life with all of its complexities. As a result, his work is often challenging, both in its sometimes unflinching honesty and in its perhaps unfashionable emphasis on the value of directness and (attempted, at the least) truthfulness. At the same time, these very qualities mean that his best work is far more interesting and rewarding than that of many of his more lauded contemporaries.
Andrew Shields is a freelance historian, who grew up in the West of Ireland and currently lives in Sydney, Australia. Along with an interest in history, politics and literature, his other principal occupations are listening to and reading about the music of Bob Dylan and, in more recent years, immersing himself in the often brilliant and unduly neglected music of Phil Ochs …