If Orange Juice had grown up in a nice suburb in Kent instead of Glasgow then chances are they would have been Haircut 100. The sound of both bands had it’s roots in scratchy post-punk funk (“Favourite Shirts” is basically a rewrite of Talking Heads’ “I Zimbra” — have a listen to them together sometime) and both had the same fey schoolboy aesthetic that gave birth to twee indiepop, but on record OJ were all snark and jagged edges while the Haircuts were smooth and happy, singing sweet songs about Toblerones and Baked Beans. Nick Heyward was the boy who joined the Boy Scouts and did his homework while Edwyn Collins was the one sitting at the back of the classroom and smoking behind the bike sheds. My girlfriend at the time had a crush on both of them so their audiences weren’t mutually exclusive — I liked ’em both too — but one band was clearly more Smash Hits than NME.
The designer Neville Brody recently stated that he thought Haircut 100 were responsible for the decline of British pop culture because, he said, once they got in the charts “it all became about how you were styled, what clothes you wore and not what you had to say” (as if it hadn’t before) which is a bit rich coming from the man who was art director of The Face at the time. If you have to draw a line somewhere between punk “authenticity” (zzzz) and 80s pop superficiality (you don’t) why not pick on Adam & The Ants instead? If anyone is responsible for the Smash Hits-ification of popular music it’s that lot who were in the charts first, sold cartloads more records, and had an even more contrived image. Any kid could dress in a chunky jumper, anorak, and deck shoes (and I, um, did) but Adam Ant was going around dressed as a bloody pirate. But it’s a rather stupid argument to making about any band really.
Besides, Haircut 100 made bloody good records which renders their image sort of a moot point. Though I do remember at the time that even after I’d bought and loved the 12″ of “Favourite Shirts” I thought that maybe they were a bit flimsy and wasn’t expecting great things from their album “Pelican West” (released the same year —1982 — as “You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever”) but was bowled over by how stuffed with cracking tunes and more enjoyable than a bucket of lollipops it was. It could have been the start of something very good but unfortunately Nick left the group to go solo after the one album and, as is often the case, without the band his records lacked some of the snap, crackle and pop Haircut 100 had. Still, if you’re only going to make the one album* it should be perfect which “Pelican West” almost is.
Download: Snow Girl – Haircut 100 (mp3)
Download: Milk Farm – Haircut 100 (mp3)
Buy: Pelican West (album)
Nick’s first solo single was gorgeous though, if only he’d kept up this standard.
Download: Whistle Down The Wind (12″ version) – Nick Heyward (mp3)
*Yes, I am aware that Haircut 100 made another album after Heyward left but I’ve never even seen a copy of “Paint and Paint” much less heard it.