Cutting Crew return with a stunning orchestral album: a conversation with Nick Van Eede
1980s icons Cutting Crew are releasing a new orchestral record this spring and Sussex songwriter and producer Nick Van Eede is thrilled with the result.
“It’s not the first time anybody’s done it,” admits Nick, who lives near Hastings. “I remember back in the day when people like Deep Purple and the Moody Blues used to do it you know?”
“But when it was offered to us...I think for 30 years now record company people, publishers and fans all said that Cutting Crew songs would lend themselves really beautifully to that symphonic production, so we went for it and it’s remarkable. I thought it would be good but I didn’t think it would be this good.”
The concept behind Ransomed Healed Restored Forgiven (out April 24 on August Day Recordings) is this: the record features the rock band’s best tunes, recreated in a totally new style, using the power and emotion of a full philharmonic orchestra. Those who’d like a taste can hear the band’s first single, an epic version of ‘(I Just) Died In Your Arms’, which was released on Friday, March 27.
“The one rule was we didn’t want to make an album where you just have an orchestra playing along in the background sounding like the Des O’Connor show in 1978,” Nick laughs. “We didn’t want any schmalz so we had to be brave with the arrangements.”
“I worked with the string arranger Pete Whitfield,” he continues. “He would send me arrangements and I would tell him that I’m really into classical music – I probably listen to classical music more than anything really. I would say, for example, there’s a song called ‘Berlin in Winter’ about the fall of the Berlin Wall and I said this needs to be very Russian and very communist. So we would try to put it in the vein of Shostakovich. Then there’s a beautiful song called ‘No Problem Child’, which is about my daughter growing up in the English countryside, and I said: ‘well let’s see if we can make that a little Vaughan Williams’. We tried to achieve bravery really. I wanted it to be edgy, you know, not a safe, pretty, sweet album.”
Nick feels that this approach really paid off, describing some of the tracks as the most moving and rewarding work he’s ever done.
“One was a song called ‘Broadcast’, which is the title track from the first album,” he says. “The other song is the single ‘(I Just) Died In Your Arms’. We did a full eight minute version and then we also did a beautiful one-and-a-half minute version where it’s just me and the orchestra, with it reharmonised, and that’s called ‘(I Just) Died In Your Arms (reprise)’. And that was the one that was an exceptionally moving thing.”
“It’s my career defining song – I’m quite comfortable with that – and when it was rearranged the lyrics suddenly hit the spot they had never really hit before. Ostensibly the song is a pop song about getting back together with a girlfriend and having a great night with her but when I sang it in the new shape, it brought back a lot of stuff. You know, I’ve lost my brother, I’ve lost my father, I’ve lost my guitarist from Cutting Crew (Kevin MacMichael) and ‘I just died’...the lyric was poignant indeed and I hope that’s what people get from this.”
Nick has lived near Hastings for about ten years now and is “a Sussex boy, born and bred”, having grown up in Cuckfield and the Ashdown Forest area. And, before he moved further to the east of Sussex, he lived in Brighton for about 20 years.
“I think Hastings is a very special town,” says Nick. “It’s got its issues like all towns do, but it’s got the biggest heart and it’s got so much music. It’s got so much genuine invention and art.”
In fact, Nick recorded all the vocals of the new album at Yiayia’s Studio on Bohemia Road and the track ‘Everything But My Pride’ was recorded with original backing singer Jackie Rawe who lives in the town.
Nick may have a passion for the local area but this hasn’t stopped his artistic reach from going international. Nick and the Canadian guitarist Kevin MacMichael formed Cutting Crew in 1985 and signed with Siren Records/Virgin shortly after. They became a four-piece in 1986 and recorded the multi-million selling debut album, Broadcast, the same year. Their single ‘(I Just) Died in Your Arms’ hit big in both the UK, where it reached number four in the charts, and in the USA where it reached number one. Cutting Crew released an award-winning second album, The Scattering, in 1989 and a third, Compus Mentus, in 1992. There was a long break after the death of founder member Kevin, but Nick revived the band in the 2000s with a new line-up and released Grinning Souls in 2006, as well as Add to Favourites in 2015.
And, all through this time, the song ‘(I Just) Died in Your Arms’ has remained a perennial favourite. It has found its way into movies like Hot Tub Time Machine, Blinded By The Light and The Lego Batman Movie, as well as the TV series Stranger Things and Ash Vs Evil Dead, and even video games like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
Considering the recent pop-culture interest in the 1980s (IT and Stranger Things for example) I ask whether Nick feels that there’s been a resurgence in the popularity of ’80s music.
“I wouldn’t say a resurgence,” Nick replies. “I’ve been riding on the crest of the ’80s for the past ten years. It’s been quite astonishing. It’s the decade that will not go away. Some of the biggest festivals in Britain, apart from the Glastonburys and so on, are these ’80s festivals. You get 30-40,000 people coming along to these things.”
“The ’80s have been very kind to Cutting Crew and the industry seems to just dip into it.”
Speaking about the entertainment industry, we inevitably have to talk about the one subject that’s on everyone’s minds at the moment, the coronavirus pandemic that’s shutting down venues and tours across the world.
What’s been the impact for Nick?
“Well, with all this horrible stuff going on life is pretty different,” he says, explaining that he’s currently self-isolating with his stepfather. “It will probably never be the same frankly. I live up in a lovely old farmhouse though and we’ve got a big garden so I’m very privileged in that I don’t have to be cooped up too much.”
“We always work abroad,” Nick says, explaining that he also plays in a group called 80s Pioneers (with Steve Norman, Midge Ure, Limahl and Paul Young) and that he had a variety of tour dates and one-offs lined up. “I think I’ve cancelled Zurich, Lille, Basel, Trinidad, Mexico, just thousands and thousands of pounds worth of flights.”
“So yeah, it’ been brutal,” he sighs. “Just to the music business, I think it will see closure of hundreds of clubs, hundreds of theatres, the splitting up of bands, music shops – the landscape will never be the same.”
So, as a musician, has Nick been using music to help him cope with everything?
“Not really no,” is his somewhat surprising answer. “I like the question a lot but I can’t really give you much to go on that. I think musicians tend to not listen to music very much. I’ve got so many musician friends and I send them tracks I’ve just found and they’re like ‘yeah great, have you seen the new Netflix?’ They want to talk about anything but music.”
Switching back to a more positive subject, Nick reveals his plans for the time when the COVID-19 crisis is all over.
“One thing I can definitely tell you, which ties in with the album, is that we are touring next February with the orchestra in the UK. I’ve been told by their manager that I can’t tell you the name of the band, but it’s a big ‘80s band and us with the orchestra. I think there’s six gigs in the tour so far, so that’s really exciting. God willing, we’ll all be alive and kicking still. That’s going to be happening next February and that will be very exciting.”
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