from Bucketfull of Brains 5, 1982 , pp 4-5
HILLY FIELDS is a beauty spot in Brockley/Ladywell, South London, a district now designated as a conservation area on account of its many late Victorian era houses. In 1888 Hily Fields was opened as a public park from whose heights one can see all across London and Kent. Despite the litter, dog crap etc. theres something in the air, an atmosphere thats ominous and other-worldly about the place.
Hilly Fields (1892) is also the name of 1982s finest oddball single, a record described by the NME as the best psychedelic record made since the 60s multilayered, lovingly crafted and endlessly complex it could come straight off Magical Mystery Tour. Its perpetrator goes under the unlikely moniker of Nick Nicely, more of whom in a moment. Hilly Fields lyrics are strange, vague but basically relate to a supernatural event that took place there on the hill, the appearance of a UFO maybe or the disppearance of its hero into another dimension. Whatever, go out and buy the record (EMI 5256) and then breathe in its lyrics, its slim storyline as printed below. Youll then be in the mood to acquaint yourself with Mr Nicely:
Mr C.G. Fields
Lost his job with the Board of Trade [fifteen tons of letters on my desk]
Walking through the fields
he saw things that made others afraid [into the fields] - afraid
YEAH - 1892 - lines are still on you
YEAH - 18th of July someone in the sky
18th of July marked it with a circle of red [...]
He left them all behind
filed under missing or dead [...] it said
lines are still on you
YEAH - 18th of July someone in the sky
Hilly Fields Hilly Fields
[Pimply little postboy]
yeah - 1982
lives in me and you
The biography that EMI sent me doesnt reveal to much about Nick. Apparently he was born in Greenland when the plane his parents were traveling on stopped there during a transatlantic flight. He was raised in London though, and as you might have guessed, he spent his formative youth with his ear to to Radio Luxembourg and the sound of the Searchers, Hollies, Shadows, Crispian St Peters and Procul Harum. Surprisingly, he wasnt particularly appreciative of the Beatles psychedelic era until the late 1970s. In person, Nick has something of the chameleon about him: I like to change my appearance every two weeks! Indeed on the day we met, had I not been expecting him I would have had to look twice: there wasnt a trace of the Sicilian hit man image or post punk beat look that photos of him had suggested. And instead of the reserved intense young man Id expected, over a few tonic waters he was expansive and only too willing to cast a little bit more light on his music.
Lets get back to Hilly Fields : Nick regards it as his great masterpiece All the feeling I had for the 1960s went into it. Post Hilly I lost interest in the Beatles. It started off fairly electronic, then the cellos, weird guitars etc were added, ... it was an incredible effort. Theres a reference to the Beach BoysGod Only Knows the popping drum machine beat in the chorus. The song was recorded towards the end of 1980 and took over six months to complete, during which time Nick sold practically all of his equipment to finance it, only an acoustic guitar remained! A few more clues: The C.G. (in Mr C.G. Fields) are Nicks dads initials, 18th of July was a good day very high on Hilly Fields which merited inclusion (Nick) the strange talking sounds in the middle of the record, e.g. pimply little postboycome from a tape of a girl, Kate Jackson, in the studio at the time of DCT Dreams recording her day into a tape recorder. Hilly Fields did receive an amount of radio airplay, but as Nick observes: The drugs maybe gave the song a sinister edge which wasnt quite Radio One day time listening.
The flipside of this single is just as intriguing, as I mentioned last issue, especially the wide-eyed vocal style which recalls the spectre of Syd Barretts See Emily Play even better than Robyn Soft Boy Hichcock can. The song is further characterized by spiralling keyboards that sound akin to Dave Greenfields (The Stranglers), fragments of acid-style guitar (George Harrisons best from Sgt Pepper) with snatches of weird dialogue a la I am the Walrus or a more evil Hole in my Shoe (Traffic). I asked Nick to elaborate a little: The inspiration comes from a picture done by Gary G on the back of the Music Business Yearbook of a shark with a cigar sticking out of its mouth. The song was done in one (acid) trip; Rudi Pascal, a French guy we learnt a lot from each other had a conversation with a girl on the telephone whilst we were doing the recording and we put that on... all in all it was a fabulous day. Well amen to that, its an incredible song === with a haunting melody, too, that has to be the sister to John Lennons epic Tomorrow Never Knows. I still cant believe just how good this is staggering!
But if youre just beginning to think of Nick as an acid casualty, then prepare yourself to have your illusions shattered because hes well and truly in tune with the current electronic pop boom. His debut single, DCT Dreams released (in the UK) independently in mid-1980 owes more of the debt to Kraftwerk or more quirky outfits such as Devo or the Flying Lizards than to mid 1960s psycho pop music; theres definitely a smattering of Orchestral Manoeuvres Electricity about it too. However the lyrics are pure 1967 acid whimsy, real Lucy in the Sky stuff. The line DCT dreams with marmelade eyes was apparently sent to Nick by God when he got to the relevant part of the song and didnt know what to write next; no further explanation was proffered anyway!! The singles B-side Treeline was slightly more akin to the heady extremes of Hilly Fields. As Nick recalls: I was really sold on the Beatles around the time of DCT Dreams" and Treeline reflects this a lot more than its A-side, a pure transition of Revolver era Lennon & McCartney to the 1980s, and how well it works, right down to the dependable Macca-style bass line, raga guitar notes, Yellow Submarine, odd Lennon talking bits and chorus of You and I. However the production and sound effects smack of contemporary technology, with layers of synths replacing any idea of a full orchestra or string quartet.
I couldnt resist asking Nick about this, and about his opinion of current producers, such as this years favourite, Trevor Horn (Buggles, Dollar, ABC ad infinitum). He immediately launched into an enthusiastic discourse on the wonders of Fairlight Technology, i.e. the equipment which can sound like an 80 piece orchestra and which consequently got the goat of the Musicians Union. On producers, he admitted to being upset by one fanzines suggestion that Trevor Horns influence oozed out of Hilly Fields (1892) like a coffee stain" but countered this with a comment that the end of Video killed the Radio star by the Buggles was comparable to some of the best music ever made. Well there has been talk of Horn doing a possible production job in the future, but then again Mike Mansfield (who did the chores on Captain Sensibles smash Happy Talk) has also been mooted. The next Nicely record scheduled is On the Coast (which should be out by the time you read this). On the Coast is from the second batch of material after Hilly, thus its schizophrenic, in part where Im going, and in parts Hilly Fields is still with me. On the strength of the first two, I cant wait to hear it, and who knows it may well set the top 30 slight DCT Dreams did a respectable No. 32 in Holland!
All in all our lunchtime chat was a pleasure Ive witnessed with few musicians. To finish off with I asked him about the possibility of some live appearances, and was amusedly informed of the Nick Nicely Bands one and only gig of a few years ago when Nick (acoustic gtr) and two friends on electric guitar and bass played for the edification of a bunch of bankers; things had been going reasonably well until Nick told a crude joke that killed the atmosphere and that was it, end of gig. Yet the futures wide open for him and I cant imagine that a man of his ingenuity and imagination wont be wowing all of us on Top of the Pops in the next few months. Its getting better all the time... for Mr Nicely.
PS: if you arent already on the way to the local record shop to acquire the above records, then let me just add that they both come in attractive pic.sleeves with photos by Tina Carr.
PPS: just as we were going to press, I received a letter from Nick, part of which is reprinted below: its a wonderfully cryptic note to be finishing on: as for current developments EMI has resigned me. We decided that all my post-Hilly Fields stuff is crap, part of an extended hangover from it I think. I may be changing my name Nick Nicely is Hilly Fields yknow. I dont want to devalue him or it with any change of direction... anyway 2 more singles on EMI next year.
DCT Dreams/Treeline (Voxette 1001 / also on Hansa AHA 569)
Hilly Fields (1892) / 49 Cigars (EMI 5256)
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