LIVE / In the Nick of time: Lloyd Bradley sees Nick Heyward at the Borderline

Click to follow
THE WHOLE idea of Nick Heyward reintroducing himself at 32 years old is difficult to come to terms with. He is best known, and best loved, as a by-word in wide-eyed whimsy, so it's more than faintly disconcerting when he swaggers on stage, gruffly announces the first song to be a new one and kicks out some uncharacteristically sturdy guitar chords. But almost immediately he eases into an opening line that goes 'Driving down to Camber Sands with all the windows down. . .' and you know where you are again.

Four years on from the less-than- lamented I Love You Avenue album, Heyward seems to have struck a balance between what people expect from him and what he must do to open a third chapter of his career. Vividly apparent throughout the new material is that appealing streak of fey, blatantly contrived eccentricity. But the musical environment is now a chunky, no nonsense rock that, along with his fan base, will be more at home in a bar room than a playground. This is reflected in his looks: muscular enough to prompt suggestions that he'd been making his living hod carrying, but with a face that still makes Tintin look wizened.

It's an appropriately hard driving approach that also cleverly upgrades the old stuff. Suddenly we were well beyond the realms of the namby pamby and there seemed to be absolutely no shame in having a family and a mortgage and still singing along to 'Whistle Down the Wind', 'Fantastic Day' and 'Blue Hat for a Blue Day'. Even that one about 'Picking up sticks on a Sunday' assumed an attitude. And everybody knew all the words. However, while the old hits and the cover of the Beatles' 'Doctor Robert' succeeded on their familiarity, the new stuff tended to get lost. The overly straightforward treatment removed anything that might have made it stick. Of the six or so numbers he played from the forthcoming album, only the current single 'Kite' retained much subtlety. The rest of it could have come from any competent pub band or session crew.

Which doesn't bode too well if you're to re-establish yourself in the nation's record collections. But is that on the cards? For the last four years Heyward has lived well from the continuing royalties of his first couple of albums, and as Tuesday night's set went on, shouted requests for personal favourites were much louder than the polite applause that greeted new songs. But at least his updating of what had gone before gave the memories a new life. It seemed very much as though Heyward realised the show would go that way. When he returned for an encore, the spontaneous response to calls for 'Nobody's Fool' and 'Love plus One' felt well rehearsed.