Nik Kershaw’s Radio Musicola: 30 Years On

radio-musicola-527b885540974MCA Records, released October 1986


The rather despairing NME headline at the time said it all: ‘When The Little Girls Have All Grown Up…’ After releasing two albums in the space of barely six months, Kershaw took his time over the third.

He settled in to North London’s Swanyard Studios for most of 1986 to work on the self-produced Radio Musicola, employing the cream of the English session scene (The Kick Horns, Charlie Morgan, Mark Brzezicki, Wix, Andy Richards, Simon Phillips etc).

Yes, Musicola was Kershaw’s chance to take on the Trevor Horns of this world and deliver a big-budget, endlessly-fussed-over studio ‘project’… Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his meteoric rise to fame, the main themes of the album are press intrusion and tabloid sensationalism.

And, in a neat irony, the rise of technology-led, assembly-line music was also in Kershaw’s sights, despite Musicola making liberal use of all the latest sampling and synthesizer technology. So let’s get Musicola‘s duff tracks out the way first – ‘What The Papers Say’, ‘Nobody Knows’ and ‘Running Scared’ are jarringly overproduced, though the latter had real potential.

But there are loads of treats elsewhere – ‘Life Goes On’ is a musically-rich, very pretty ballad with swooning chord changes and fine vocals from Kershaw. ‘LABATYD’ is pure class, a half-time shuffle with tasty Mark Brzezicki drums, an excellent Kick Horn arrangement and soaring synth by either Wix or Andy Richards.

The title track blew a lot of musicians’ minds back in 1986. It really was state-of-the art and still sounds pretty novel today, as striking as the title track of Level 42’s World Machine a year before. I remember eagerly tuning in to ‘The Tube’ to see Kershaw performing the song live. You can hear a lot of the ‘little girls’ turning off their TVs as he lays into the opening guitar solo…

‘Don’t Let Me Out Of My Cage’ is pretty damn ambitious fare for a pop album, a fast swing number featuring some cracking Phillips drums and effective close-harmony backing vox from Mrs Kershaw (Sheri). The excellent ‘James Cagney’ chugs along with a Level 42 groove (and features an interesting ‘New Man’ lyric) and it sounds uncannily like Mr King on bass (the bass is credited to ‘Felix Krish’ – a King pseudonym?).

‘When a Heart Beats’, an excellent, intricate slice of pop/prog in the It Bites mould, gave Kershaw his last top 40 chart appearance (peaking at a disappointing #27) when it was released in November 1985.

The closing ‘Violet To Blue’ is possibly Kershaw’s finest and most ambitious recording to date, featuring some rousing vocals from the London Community Gospel Choir and superb, driving drum work from Phillips (much imitated in my music room back in the day).


An interesting album which clearly fell between the stools of art and commerce, Radio Musicola reached a barely believable #46 in the UK album chart, just over a year after Kershaw had played Live Aid. It disappeared without trace in the US.

The little girls had certainly grown up. Or maybe it was the new haircut. 18 months is a long time to leave between albums when you’re hot. But Kershaw didn’t seem bothered about his new ‘selective’ popularity; in fact, he seemed genuinely relieved, but wondered how MCA were going to sell him now that he was focused on being a musician rather than a pop star.

Despite the poor album sales, Kershaw embarked on a sold-out UK tour in early 1987 including three nights at London’s Town & Country Club. And he would be back once more before the ’80s were out to deliver perhaps his finest solo album to date.


14 thoughts on “Nik Kershaw’s Radio Musicola: 30 Years On

  1. ‘When a Heart Beats’ was also the second track on the ‘Now 6’ compilation, tucked between Queen (‘One Vision’) and Feargal Sharkey (‘A Good Heart’), so he must have been off to a pretty good start with the album – commercially speaking. But he always looked bored as hell on Saturday Superstore, that’s for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great spot there. ‘When A Heart Beats’ must stick out like a sore thumb next to those two songs and also sounds pretty different to everything else on ‘Musicola’, like he was trying out a more ‘rock’ direction for a bit but then gave up on it – maybe foolishly, in commercial terms…

      Great memory re. Saturday Superstore and now I’m intrigued, am gonna head over to YouTube for the evidence!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Radio Musicola is the only Kershaw albums I’m can’t get familiar with. Most songs here are too long, too much produced, too much orchestrated, too much of everything. And the melodies are often very standard, I can’t find here the typical Kershaw trademark for original melodies. But the next album “The Works” comes back to more traditional Kershaw melodies and inventivity.


  3. Overlooked by me at the time, I rediscovered Nik c 2012 when we got (at last! ) remastered versions of ‘Human Racing’ and ‘The Riddle’ could do with ‘Radio Musicola’ getting the same treatment.

    Liked by 1 person

      • “The Works” is a great album indeed. I really don’t understand why this album was so much underrated. It is just a question of time of its release and the fact that, unfortunately, people were not “connected” anymore. I find “The works” to be better than the previous “Radio Musicola” in many ways. “Elizabeths eyes”, “Wounded knee”, “Cowboys & indians” and “Walkabout” are all superb tracks. The only track that bothers me here is “Don’t ask me” which is not bad at all, just average.
        I know the story about that album : it was quite difficult to create due to tensions between our artist and producer Peter Wolf, being the main reason. So Nik has to re-record and re-produce the album with one other producer at the last minute, so thoses sessions were a bad souvenir for Nik.
        Anyway… for me, “The Works” is amongst Nik’s best albums.


  4. Can’t believe it! Trying to find online if anyone posted a Violet To Blue lyrica analysis (because that’s probably my most favorite Nik’s song), just to randomly stumble upon this blog and find out that one of my favorite drummers actually recorded a song and seeing my face on the link to the song (that’s the only upload I made of someone else’s song).
    Thank you for the album critique, it was so knowingly done!

    Liked by 1 person

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