To have one enormous, genre spanning super-mega-ultra-enormo-hit is pretty amazing. To have two is just plain arrogant. Well, that’s what I thought before I entered into conversation with Kimberley Rew, the man responsible for both “Walking on Sunshine” and “Love Shine a Light.” Somewhere in the world, a radio station is playing one of those songs, or possibly “That’s Just the Woman in Me” by Canadian chanteuse Celine “Titanic” Dion, also written by him. One would expect Mr. Rew to be lying on his mink-trimmed chaise longue, while a white gloved butler drops posh crisps – you know, the ones in the big bags with a fancy logo on the front – into his mouth. You may be shocked to learn, that definitely isn’t the case.
Mr. Rew, in partnership with his long-standing bassist, who also happens to be his wife, Lee Cave-Berry, is still very much, an active musician. He seems perfectly happy playing pubs and clubs in Cambridge, supporting up and coming local talent and knocking out a string of fine Pop Rock albums with Lee. If he’s full of resentment and vitriol that’s he’s not playing on the world stage anymore, he keeps it extraordinarily well hidden. A well-balanced musician? Surely not?
In August 2020, Kim and Lee are very gently plugging their new album – a compilation called “Sunshine Walkers” which gathers up material from their dozen collaborative albums, as well as early solo material from Kim. And the hits? Well, they’re not on it. IDHAS sat Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry down and gave them a damn good talking to.
So, what’s it like to have just released a “Greatest Hits” album, with none of your greatest hits on it?
Kim: “We had a natter with our publicist, and he said; “you've got to do a compilation - you need to introduce people to your stuff.” There's a tiny number of people that know us - there are a few people, scattered around the world and they follow what we do.”
You must have considered putting “Walking on Sunshine” on it. Surely?
Lee: “If you buy the album from our website, you actually get a free download of re-recordings of five songs – “Walking on Sunshine”, “Going Down to Liverpool”, “Love Shine a Light”, “Kingdom of Love” and a rewrite of ”…Sunshine” about our cats.”
Well that’s alright then. Apart from the Kim and Lee stuff, what else is on “Sunshine Walkers”?
Kim: “There are a couple of early things with members of the Soft Boys, Katrina and the Waves and The dBs providing the backing on there, but the remainder is me with Lee, Alex Cooper from the Waves on drums and Ian Gibbons from The Kinks. Ian played on twelve Kim and Lee albums, right up until his death last year. He propped up the whole thing with his buoyant personality. He was great fun to be around.”
There’s no evil record company behind this record, is there?
Kim: “No, it's entirely self-produced - we look after the pressing and sorting out the distribution. The only thing is, it only costs a bit more to make 1000 copies of an album, than it does to make 100. Inevitably, you get 1000 made, but if you only sell 100, you've then got another 900 copies sitting in the house!”
Lee: “We keep making albums and the attic just keeps on filling up. One day we'll have a competition and the winner takes them all on the understanding that they don’t all end up in a landfill!"
With Mr. Rew steadily cranking out the hits, is it hard for you to get a song on an album?
Lee: “Only because his songs are so good. He's so driven. Because he's such an iconic songwriter, my songs have to be 55 times better than the ones I’d normally write, because I’m competing with him. It's a confidence thing.”
There’s a song on “Sunshine Walkers” called “Backing Singer Blues” about a back-up vocalist who can’t work out why she’s not a star. This has to be autobiographical, right?
Lee “Not really. I was watching TV and there was a tiny little girl playing a huge acoustic guitar and behind her were three absolutely massive backing singers. Because she was a little waif with a little voice, and these girls behind her were so strong and imposing, I thought at least one of them must have been thinking, "why am I here and why is she there? How does that work!” And writing a song like that, means you can put in all the “heys heys” and “na na nas” you like!”
There are so many different styles on the compilation – is that a conscious decision?
Kim: “We don't want to be tied down to one type of song - we do blues, folk, anything. It comes down to writing songs with a broad appeal. I don't think Chuck Berry was consciously trying to do blues or black music, but he did want to be popular. When we saw him at the Cambridge Corn Exchange, he was chatting between songs and saying stuff like "well Frank Sinatra would do this…" Chuck was putting himself on the same playing field as somebody with that level of popular appeal.”
“The Dog Song” has a nice Chuck Berry/Canvey Island feel.
Kim: “I'm really glad you said that - I'm a great admirer of rock and roll as filtered through Southend. We met Wilko Johnson when we played at the Railway Hotel in Southend last year, which is his local.”
Lee: “He showed me his scar!”
Kim: “Yeah - it took him about eight seconds before he showed you that! The shirt buttons were popped open almost immediately.”
OK, I get the Canvey Island stuff, but what about your 2015 record, “Tribute to the Troggs”?
Kim: “You think it's easy to do that stuff, but it's so hard to copy the attitude. They do it all so beautifully - there's real magic there. Eventually, we got a copy of our CD to Chris Britton, one of the original members of the band. He said; "Blimey, you sound more like us than we did!" I'm sure we don't, but it was a lovely thing for him to say. I think I know what he means though. They didn't set out to sound like that - that's just what they sounded like.”
Moving away from the twentieth century, is there any contemporary music that you’re listening to?
Lee: “We're very fond of lots of local artists. We're big fans of George Breakfast who is such a good songwriter. He writes the kind of songs that make you think; “why hasn't somebody written that before?" We also like a lovely girl called Lexie Green who writes fantastic songs - she was on the Bob Harris ‘BBC Introducing’ stage at the Long Road Festival a while ago. I got to dep with her on bass too.”
So, there’s still a scene in Cambridge then?
Lee: “Yeah, we do a regular Wednesday evening jam session and loads of local musicians come and play. We get to be the house band for all these people so we end up doing stuff that we’d never do normally. The Wednesday sessions have moved online now. Kim and I do the opening set. That's kept us motivated as something is happening every week.”
As you haven’t been out gigging for a while, I suppose you got to see the programme that replaced the COVID-cancelled Eurovision Song Contest. “Love Shine a Light” must have been played twenty times over the course of the show…
Lee. “That means that song has won Eurovision for all time. That was the song they chose to represent the entire competition. Of all the songs they could have chosen, they picked that.”
Kim: “Abba are the only major band to come out of that.”
Lee: “Them and Bucks Fizz. Maybe you should have ripped some clothes off!”
Kim: “Well, believe it or not, Mike Read has just done a ‘lockdown’ version of ‘Pop Quiz’ for a company that’s based in Hong Kong. I found myself on the show with Cheryl Baker. When we'd finished, she said; "right, I'm off to do another skirt ripathon!" I don't envy her - that's something I don't have to do, every week. Thank God.”
Kim, there aren’t many musicians who’ve gone from indie-cult status to pop stardom to international fame like you have. From singing “Where are the Prawns?” with the Soft Boys to playing in front of millions of people for Eurovision is a hell of a leap. When’s the “kiss and tell” book coming out then?
Kim: “I often get asked to write reminiscences - Our publicist keeps nagging me to publish my Soft Boys scrapbook on Facebook, so I've been going through that, page by page. I think I’m going to do about a page a month - that's all people can handle. There are about 40 pages, so it'll take a few years.
You do need to add your own commentary, but then you’re obliged to describe stuff, like The Red Krayola for example - can I actually say that I found them unlistenable? I mean, I respect people who are left field but… there was a left field band in Cambridge around that time called Henry Cow - they were lovely people.”
And when that falls out of the best-seller lists, maybe Lee could write her book about being on the road with Martin Newell’s band Gypp?
Lee: “Blimey... how did you find about that! That whole thing started when the lighting guy for the band set all the gear up, went for a cigarette and never came back. Martin ran up to me and asked me if I’d do it, bearing in mind I’d never done any lighting in my life…
I climbed over to where the lighting desk was and perched my pint on a speaker, which immediately got knocked off and spilled all over me and the lighting desk. I did the gig soaking wet, thirsty, and fearing that I might go up in smoke. That was my introduction to the world of stage lighting! I did that for a year. I’m in Martin Newell's book somewhere, too.”
One of the saddest missed opportunities in rock history, is the fact that there was no Rush/Soft Boys collaboration when you were both in Rockfield Studios together, in 1977.
Kim: “They were in the big studio and we were in the little one, of course. We could see their huge pantechnicon parked outside. It was pointed out to me, reverentially and I was told; “that’s Rush.”
How could you resist the urge to pop over and try on their kimonos?
Kim: “We should have at least, introduced ourselves. This may be terribly rude but I couldn't hum you one of their tunes. They're one of those big bands in rock history, like Kiss and The Grateful Dead, that I know next to nothing about. Those bands don’t need me to endorse them. They’re like a force of gravity. That’s the thing about pop music – it’s not a religion and it can be deep, but ultimately its rock and roll and it should be fun.”
And that’s where we left it, as Kim and Lee had to get themselves ready for their regular Wednesday night, on line, lockdown gig. I got the distinct impression that as long as they’re playing something to someone, the pair are happy.
Far be it for me to pry into the financial situation of Mr. Rew, but I would imagine that two enormous hit singles (from the era when singles sold in millions) and the royalties from the Celine Dion and Bangles hits he’s written, will keep the bailiffs from his door for a while. Surely, they should just be tending their shrubbery instead of this rock and roll malarkey?
They don’t do it because they have to. They do it because they want to. And there’s no better reason to do something than that.