GOLDMINE: Your Ransomed Healed Restored Forgiven is my favorite new album of the year so far.
NICK VAN EEDE: What a lovely opening compliment. I like it, ha ha.
GM: I’ve played songs from the new album in my car for my wife Donna, including the overture followed by the song that everybody knows, and she loved it. I also played her and our daughter Brianna “Berlin in Winter,” and they both thought it was beautiful. So thank you so much for this new collection.
NVE: It is a pleasure to speak with you. It is a crazy, mixed up world at the moment. Being in a farmhouse, that I chose to move to in the middle of nowhere about ten years ago, we are already isolating. We have a great big garden. We are very, very lucky. I am certainly aware of how privileged we are to be here. We step out just a bit, and we’re looking after my father-in-law, who is surviving the pandemic just fine. I think about those people in high rise flats with three big bustling teenage boys, locked in, and that’s got to be tough. It sounds like you are still getting out a bit in your car.
GM: Yes and playing your music. Hearing the overture and “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” back to back is such an incredible opening. How did it all come together with the orchestras?
NVE: Usually you go hunting for record deals. I’ve got all kinds of publishing things going on, but this record deal just came out of the blue. They called me. August Day Recordings is a specialty label who put together bands with symphony orchestras. I have sung with orchestras over the years. It was a dream come true. They said that it was the Prague Philharmonic, and I said, “Wow.” Then they said that I could choose the songs for the album, and I said, “This is getting better and better.” It was just one phone call but became the trickiest record that I have made in my life. A lot of it was done remotely, as it happens these days. The drummer was in Russia. The engineer was mostly in Slovenia. I’m here in rural England and my guitarist was in Manchester. There were a lot of emails and a lot of files back and forth.
GM: The listeners would not know that. Sometimes you can hear that, and it becomes a bit disjointed, with vocalists and guitarists, let’s say, but in your case, everything blends so nicely.
NVE: Thank you. It is quite a daunting task with big songs like “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” and even “I’ve Been in Love Before.” These are songs that are very special to me. My dad used to use the expression, “Leave well enough alone,” so to re-record and re-sing some of these songs 33 years later was actually a beautiful thing. The performance side was actually the easiest part of it all. I am very proud of the result, indeed.
GM: In the U.S., both of those songs made the Top 10, with “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” at No. 1 for two weeks, but between the two, where we lost out in America, popping into the Top 40 for just two weeks in 1987, was “One for the Mockingbird,” one of your catchiest songs also included on the new recording.
NVE: It is a rocker. I remember writing it. I was about 25 years old. I had been to Canada and had a little bit of fun, but had singles there that mainly flopped. Even friends were getting a little pokey and edgy, so I wrote that one for all those doubters. Even now when I sing it on stage I feel like, “Yeah, well look what happened.”
GM: The softness of “I’ve Been in Love Before” helped you to expand to the adult contemporary market here, which I would listen to at work.
NVE: Top 40 was a struggle in America. I remember things galloping ahead. I knew that we had a limited window. We snuck in and had about four to five fantastic years globally.
GM: The flip side of “I’ve Been in Love Before” was “Life in a Dangerous Time,” from your Broadcast album, which included the two hits, and had a bigger keyboard sound.
NVE: I suppose it was a tip of the hat to the progressive rock world. I was into Yes and Genesis when I was going to school. I tried to write in that vein. It is a bit of an oddball song for Cutting Crew, but it’s honest. I wrote the whole thing, the keyboard and guitar parts, and I gave it to our lead guitarist Kevin Scott MacMichael, and he said, “OK. Let’s do it.” It is one of those lovely gems that true fans always adore. There is a scene in the film The River Wild with Kevin Bacon where it is used.
Flip side: Life in a Dangerous Time
A side: I’ve Been in Love Before
Top 100 debut: September 5, 1987
Peak position: 9
GM: There were two more singles from the Broadcast album including the album’s opener, “Any Colour,” which has a great steady tempo. I like the guitar part on that one too, which helps drive the orchestra on the new album.
NVE: That is the song where things clicked for us. Everything that took five days previously would take about ten minutes. Kevin, our founding member with me, who is sadly no longer with us, flew in from Halifax, Nova Scotia to be with Terry Brown in his studio in Toronto. Terry, the Rush producer, was already my mate. The session really worked. Nick had this beautiful guitar part and said that is all he had, and I came up with another part. We wrote it in twenty minutes, and it became our first demo. We really didn’t change much of it when we recorded it properly, later. The song is about people who click. Kevin had no ego. When you make music together, that is the biggest elephant in the room, when somebody says, “It’s okay, but I prefer my idea.” Then you just go around in circles.
GM: There are newer Cutting Crew songs that listeners will also embrace. “No Problem Child” works beautifully with the orchestra.
NVE: This is the one that is getting the rave reviews. I managed to get this one in, which is a big live favorite, but not many people listening to the radio would know this song, about a teenager. I did it in one take and the engineer said, “Nope” when I suggested doing another take.
GM: Another one that I mentioned at the beginning of our session is “Berlin in Winter.” Brianna pointed out the chanting, right after the bridge, as an incredible detail. This is an important song that gives me chills.
NVE: Yes, Brianna picked up on what was supposed to be like a Cossack thing going on. With each song, the orchestrator would ask what I would I like. I can’t write classical arrangements, but I would give him a template. So with “Berlin in Winter” I said, “Shostakovich.” I wanted something very Russian with the opening strings. There is a beautiful and true story behind this. You have to have context with this song, and I hope that Brianna appreciates this story. It was the 9th of November, what we would call 9/11 in Europe, in 1989 when the wall in Berlin fell. Two days later Cutting Crew were playing in Berlin with a hit record on the charts. We got there and there were only 22 people in attendance for the sold-out gig. Nobody wanted to come to a rock concert. Everybody was down at the wall. We invited the entire audience to join us on stage and they picked up guitars and shakers. We played about six songs and then we all headed to the wall and we were hacking bits of it off. So that’s what happened. I wrote this song, imagining a fantasy story where a young teenage boy was sequestered by the communists to be part of the building of the wall and then he lived through his middle ages, through all the atrocities that happened, and he lived long enough to be there on that day when it fell. It moves people. I am very proud of it.
GM: Absolutely, and Brianna will love that story. She was born in May 1983, and at that time “Tears on Your Anorak” was on the radio in Canada, when you were a member of The Drivers.
NVE: Hee hee hee, “Tears on Your Anorak.” Well, we were this wacky three piece band, like XTC meets The Police and Squeeze with a touch of Freddie and The Dreamers. I don’t know what we were. We were called The Drivers and we were sharp. Everything was played at a million miles an hour. We were signed in a pub in London by an arts attorney with one eye, who wore a patch and had a wooden leg. Ha ha. You can’t make this stuff up! He went around the corner of our dressing room, put coins in a payphone and called a business partner excitedly about signing us. They flew us to Canada. Terry Brown produced us. “Tears on Your Anorak” made the Top 10 in Canada for a while that spring and we went on a summer tour. I remember being in a five star breakfast room in Vancouver and our tour manager came in and said, “Pack your bags” and threw the newspaper down. There had been a huge scandal with money laundering including our small record company. By the time we got back to Toronto, the record company had padlocks on all the doors. It’s all part of the adventure.
GM: Did The Drivers ever play with any other bands in Canada at the time?
NVE: Do you remember The Spoons?
GM: Oh yes. I would hear their song “Rodeo” on Canadian radio on the way to work in downtown Cleveland.
NVE: Yes, we played with them and Red Rider. We would be like the funny British lads who would play with the established Canadian bands. Crucially it is where Cutting Crew really was born. I met Kevin there who first thought I was Australian and asked about shrimp on the barbie. I asked him what his surname was, which maybe doesn’t mean much in North America, but in England it means your last name. He said, “Kevin.” I asked, “Kevin Kevin?” After we got through all of that, we laughed and clicked. With Cutting Crew, Kevin and I shared the stage with Huey Lewis and The News. They were delightful, I am still friends with Johnny, the sax player for The News. They were like uncles to us, showing us what to do and what not to do. We did an entire tour with Starship and Grace was like a beautiful Auntie to us, guiding us. We were babies, even at 26 years old. The Bangles were fun. Oh my god. They hustled us, taking us out to play pool, and we lost about 300 bucks that night. They pretended that they weren’t that good. It was a classic hustle move and loads of fun.
GM: Congratulations again on, and I have to look at the album to get this right, Ransomed Healed Restored Forgiven. Where did that title come from?
NVE: I have had quite a lot of fun with people trying to guess its origin. I grew up in a tiny rural village where there was nothing to do during the week, let alone on Sundays. Each Sunday I would be in the local Church of England Sunday School. That is the first time where I really heard music properly, singing the hymns. One hymn, “Praise My Soul, The King of Heaven,” included these great four words in the third line of the chorus, “Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.” I remembered this recently and wrote the four words down on my 35 foot piece of wallpaper, where I have all my ideas displayed in the studio. When we did this album of revisiting songs, I thought about those words and that this had to be the title. “Ransomed,” well they paid me. “Healed” and “Restored,” well that’s what we hope we have done. “Forgiven” by good people like yourself. It has been nice talking with you. Keep safe. I wish you, your wife and daughter well. I’ll be here with my wife, father-in-law and our two rescued greyhounds. We’ll meet someday on the road.