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Interview – Kim Wilde, September 2013

| 1 October 2013 | 1 Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

You couldn’t avoid Kim Wilde in the Eighties – her 1981 debut single Kids In America was a top ten smash hit around the world (though ironically not in America itself), and she went on to become the most-charted British solo female act of that decade, with seventeen U.K. Top 40 hit singles.

Kim Wilde 05

After a string of new wave hits such as Cambodia, Chequered Love and View From A Bridge, it was the dance-pop of her cover of The Supremes’ You Keep Me Hanging On which smashed the U.S. charts, going to number 1 in 1987.

Since then Wilde has been far from quiet, releasing a total of twelve studio albums, spending a year singing on stage in a U.K. production of Tommy, raising a family and forging an alternate career at home in England as a horticulturist and TV gardening presenter.

2013 sees her on her first Australian tour in a decade, and she’s bringing another 80’s pop star, Nik Kershaw, as her support act.

“Nik & I have been good friends for some time now,” Wilde explains of Kershaw, who had his own string of hits including Wouldn’t It Be Good, I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, Wide Boy and The Riddle. “We started doing these Eighties shows here in the U.K. about ten years ago. Although we’d been on the same record label, MCA, here in the U.K. back in the day we hadn’t really got to know each other then, [but] we started doing gigs in the U.K., as adults,” she says with a laugh.

“It’s been really good,” she continues, “we just get along like a house on fire! What a talented guy, too. So he’s been doing a bit of work on some of my albums with me, and we’re all good mates – he’s very good mates with my brother Ricky who’s my musical director who’s coming to Australia with me as well. So there’s a family feeling to it as well as a professional one.”

Kershaw will also play in Wilde’s band for the headlining set, and Wilde says the two will perform a duet at the Australian shows.

Kim Wilde 04

“We’re trying to come up with ideas for what would be a really good one for us to both do,” she says excitedly, “it’s not the most obvious thing in the world to choose a song for the pair of us, but we’ll come up with a few and have a rehearsal day and see what works out. Maybe I’ll get someone to film it and we’ll put it up as a little teaser for the tour!

“This is the first time this has ever happened,” Wilde continues, “and we’re really excited about having him on stage with us. He’s such a talented musician and he and my brother really vibe off each other – it should be an interesting pairing. Physically they’re completely different but they’re both incredibly talented and it should be really good fun!”

Family has always been important to Wilde’s career, with most of her early hits written by her father Marty Wilde (himself a rock n’ roll star in the 60’s, Marty managed Kim’s early career as well), and brother Ricky, who remains her guitarist and touring partner to this day, and she credits that protective family environment with keeping her on an even keel through the crazy days of her early success.

“It was amazing,” she explains, “because I had people around me that a) were talented and b) I could trust – and that gave me wings to fly all over the world and be me and develop as a songwriter and develop as an artist without having to go to court with anyone, as a lot of people ended up doing! Yeah, it gave me a lot of freedom emotionally and musically and I’ll be forever grateful for that.”

Then, even more so than now, pre-packaged and over-produced disposable starlets were the norm, and the very idea of a pop singer having as much control over their own career as Wilde enjoyed was extremely unusual.

“It was amazing,” she says now, “and within a few years, because Kids In America did so well, we found ourselves in a position where we were able to invest and buy our own recording studio, which was fantastic. And my brother was still so young – he was only twenty – suddenly he’s sitting in his own recording studio!”

The hedonistic side of the Eighties pretty much passed Wilde by thanks to the positive environment she enjoyed with her family close by, and the blonde singer has no regrets in the least about that.

“I was living at home for the first few years of my career,” she laughs, “so I’d be whipping round the world singing Kids In America, then snuggled up upstairs at Mum & Dad’s house, you know. My Mum had just had my sister – so I was going home and changing my sister’s nappy! Life was very normal – it was a fantastic way to start, it kept things very real at a time when things were becoming very surreal!

“I think for a twenty year old girl,” she continues, “it was a fantastic leveller and it stopped the crazy [stuff] from really seeping into my world. I was always a sensible girl anyway – I’d grown up around kids who were into drugs and all kinds of stuff, [but] it never appealed to me, even before I became famous. I always thought drugs were for losers.”

Kim Wilde 03

The success of You Keep Me Hanging On was a shock to no-one more than Wilde herself, and she’s still surprised that America latched onto that track after largely ignoring the one track seemingly tailor made to appeal to that market, Kids In America.

“I thought it was really odd ‘cos Kids In America was such a huge hit everywhere else – you would’ve thought the ONE place it would have been the biggest hit was in America, and it just didn’t turn out that way at all,” she recalls. “It was bigger in Australia and bigger in the UK. When You Keep Me Hanging On went to number one, it was totally unexpected, but the funny thing is it didn’t precede an amazing career for me in America. Although it went to number one and there was a fair amount of interest in me, I never ran with it and never went over there to seize the moment and, you know, ‘grab my slice of America’.

“Some people would say from a career point of view that was a big mistake,” Wilde says with a grin, obviously happy with the choices she’s made. “It probably was – but from a personal point of view, I’m really glad that it didn’t happen. I’m really glad that my career was really more home based, around mainland Europe and the UK, as it’s turned out. It keeps me and my personality as a creative person going, and I was never that madly ambitious for world domination – I was quite happy with my slice of the pie!”

The success of You Keep Me Hanging On led to support slots on mega tours for the likes of David Bowie and Michael Jackson at the pinnacle of his career, but instead of leaving her wanting more, Wilde saw the downside of enormofame very clearly.
“The Jackson tour particularly gave me an insight into what it is to be a total megastar, and I always remember thinking ‘this is a very lonely experience [for him]’,” she says with a touch of sadness mixed with relief. “It doesn’t matter how many number ones or platinum selling albums you have, if you end up this lonely and this isolated, can it really be worth it? And I did ask myself a lot of questions about being famous and about aiming for more success and more fame and what that actually meant to me.”
Whilst some remember Wilde as an Eighties act full stop, the end of that decade didn’t mean the end for Kim Wilde’s career by a long shot, with her pumping out three albums in the early Nineties to vary degrees of success. Each of these records sounded as unique as her earlier work, and in fact, a reappraisal of her career shows that she covered a lot of musical ground, from punk-flecked new wave to dance-pop, Euro-disco to pop rock, and beyond.

“Yeah, it was always a problem for me, even in the beginning,” she agrees, “to know which road to walk down. I was very fortunate in that the road was made for me initially – you know, it was created for me by my brother and my Dad ‘cos they were writing the songs for me. I kind’ve went along with that ‘cos I was thoroughly enjoying myself, and it was useful to have a direction – because when you love music, you love all kinds of music, and it is kind of hard to go in any one particular direction.

“I love classical music and soul music and jazz and opera as well as pop music and rock, “ she muses, “so it’s kind of hard to focus, and I think when your career begins it’s quite useful to have some sort of direction, because, you know, things can get a bit complicated over the years.”

Wilde pauses with a laugh before continuing, “You know, we started off doing a new wave approach inspired by punk, then branched into more dance with You Keep Me Hanging On and stuff like that. But now we’re sort of back to our rock roots in a way – a lot of our stuff is pretty guitar driven and a lot of our stuff is pretty rocky, so I feel like I’ve sort of found my place musically now – a nice synthesis between rock and pop.”

Wilde cites being her teen years during the first U.K. punk era as pivotal to her own musical outlook.

“Oh definitely, yeah, it was very powerful,” she exclaims. “I loved those bands – I used to go and see The Clash, and I was a big fan of The Sex Pistols, and The Buzzcocks and all those bands, they were just brilliant. I definitely took on some of their attitude…

“…not all of it of course,” she follows with a laughs, “’cos I was just a nice girl from Hertfordshire. But I loved the rock n’ roll attitude – and I loved the guitars, I’ve always been a big guitar fan and my brother’s a great rhythm guitar player. When you put a guitar in his hands it sounds fantastic. And the same goes, I have to say, for my son [Harry Tristan, aged 15 ½, who plays in a band called Blighty Inc], so it’s wonderful. He plays a mean guitar.

“And I grew up with my Dad playing guitar around the house – he has an incredible collection of guitars which would make Jimmy Page jealous!” she enthuses, laughing infectiously again.

The rock n’ roll genes are obviously strong in the Wilde family. “They really are!” Wilde agrees, “and they’ve kind of resurfaced in the last ten years, as I’ve sort of metamorphosed into a live artist.

“When my career began it was very much about video and less about playing live. But technology has changed and times have moved on and you can really get a good sound onstage now, and replicate the sounds that you make in the studio. And I’ve always loved that crossbreed of rock and pop, and synths and guitar, and we can really totally replicate that now and make it sound really exciting and fresh – and loud!”

Hitting the boards in London’s West End in a production of The Who’s Tommy (she played Mrs Walker, Tommy’s mother) took it’s toll on her physically, at the same time as introducing her to husband-to-be Hal Fowler.

“Tommy was incredible,” she says, “but it was 8 shows a week for a whole year and it really killed me. Really powerful songs, it was a very busy gig for me and it was a whole year – and at the end of it, I promise you, I said ‘you know, I don’t care if I don’t sing another note for the rest of my life’.

“So I didn’t really sing for several years, at all,” she says of the period, during which she married and had a son and daughter, and discovered a knack for gardening – all within four years. “You know, I got out of the music business, got into horticulture – I didn’t miss it, didn’t miss the fame, didn’t miss the singing, I was really enjoying being a Mum and getting into learning a new craft.

“I just decided to get out,” she reflects, “because I couldn’t really justify the race any more – I just couldn’t justify it from a personal point of view. And that made it a pretty easy decision, to get out. You know, I’d pretty much gone and done what I wanted to do, and I’d met my husband, so I thought that was a pretty good time to bow out.

“Then when I started singing again I discovered that my voice had got somehow stronger, and I couldn’t work it out. My husband, who’s a singer, said that voices mature around about 35/36 – which is right when I stopped singing! So when I started singing again I discovered I had this much stronger voice! And of course it helps that I’m not a caner – I don’t do drugs or drink bottles of Jack Daniels every day! Of course that helps!”

Kim Wilde 06

The interest in horticulture led her to college, appearances on BBC TV, a couple of books on the subject and a Gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show for her Courtyard Garden design – all a far cry from the pop world, and it was a series of Eighties revival shows that dragged her back onto the stage. New albums followed in 2006 and 2010 which were very successful in Europe, Germany especially, before 2011’s Snapshots saw her stamp her brand on a collection of covers from artists as diverse as The Buzzcocks, The Cure, David Bowie and East 17.

An acoustic TV appearance a couple of years ago led to a Christmas album which will be out before the festive season this year, when a tipsy Wilde and her brother got a couple of million views on YouTube after performing impromptu carols on a London tube ride home.

“It’s a real labour of love.” She declares, “I love Christmas, and everything to do with family and friends. Not from a religious point of view because I don’t have any particular religious views, but as a time for coming together – not just family and friends but people, and it’s a very human time I think, Christmas. A time when people find each other again, after a busy year of banging their heads against walls and looking after kids and paying off mortgages – it’s a time where everyone just lets that go for a while and are able to just be together and take stock of the things that are really, really important in their life. So I’ve written an album which represents all that!

“That’ll be out by Christmas this year. There’s 2 or 3 really interesting duets on it that I can’t tell you ANYTHING about, “she teases, laughing.

“I know – it’s terrible, I’ve been sworn to secrecy from my publicist. There’s some lovely, lovely cameos from some wonderful people that you will love – lots to look forward to!”

What about being lumped in as a retro Eighties act – does Wilde find it irksome?

Wilde in the Eighties

Wilde in the Eighties

“Well…” there’s a pause, and some umms and errs before she resolves her answer. “I’m happy with it, really. In Germany of course it’s quite different, because I’ve released two really successful pop/rock albums in the past few years – so I’m perceived in a different way on mainland Europe. Here in the U.K. and in Australia it’s still an Eighties thing, and I’m really proud of that – you know, I wear my Eighties badge with pride!

“I come from a great decade of pop music, and I’m really proud to stand next to all of them and so yeah, I’m just delighted to be able to go out and see people enjoy it so much. You know, we played in front of 15 thousand people the other day up in Scotland, 10 thousand people last weekend, and we’re gonna be back to 20 thousand people in London next weekend, and I’m really proud to be able to be doing that – I’m over the moon about it.

“It’s been an incredible journey really! I have to say, I’m finding these days are some of the most enjoyable of my whole career.”

Kim Wilde and Nik Kershaw’s Australian tour dates

October 16, 2013 – Tivoli, Brisbane
October 17, 2013 – Chelsea Heights, Mornington
October 18, 2013 – Palais Theatre, St. Kilda, Melbourne
October 19, 2013 – Enmore Theatre, Sydney
October 20, 2013 – Astor Theatre, Perth


Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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  1. Mike Mc. says:

    Great interview. You covered a lot of ground and gave a very in-depth and detailed insight into Kim’s career and personality.

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