There’s a new superhero in town – Interview with Nick Hughes (The Middlenight Men)

Interview by Adrian Hextall

Faster than a speeding bullet, the strength of a thousand men, laser-vision, the power of flight, filmed behind the Black Heart pub in Camden Town, London. One of these facts is accurate and, thanks to the wonder of great costumes, reasonable FX and the input from a load of mates, the other elements can also be achieved with relative ease.

This is the approach singer and founder of The Middlenight Men, Nick Hughes, has taken and the end result that sees his 10 track (plus 2 bonus) album released to great critical and fan acclaim. Within a hour of playing the album, ‘Issue #1’, it was obvious we needed to have a chat with Nick as the sound of each and every track ticked all of the boxes that said ‘brilliant debut’ to me.  Latest single “We All Need Help Before Tomorrow” has just been passed out to the press so , to give you a sense of what to expect from the talented wannabe superhero, let’s have a look at the video:

We catch Nick at mid-day, that time of the day when superheroes stir, having worked their way through the night and needing rest and recuperation before heading into the day job under an assumed name with a simple pair of glasses to hide their true identity. As for Nick’s alter ego, his character is seen with a white stripe across the eyes as he walks through Camden reading comics and solving crime.

Cover art by : Luke Maddox

MGM: Nick, you must be quite impressed with the feedback that’s been coming in thick and fast from fans and critics alike for the album? It’s only been out a few days but it’s fair to say the feedback has been impressive.

NH: I’m absolutely floored to be honest. People in the industry who I’ve respected, listened to, followed for years and years have been emailing me. That’s not even been on the back of emails I’ve sent out, they’ve come to me saying “how on earth have you done this without  major label backing, I just don’t understand…”

The fact that Nick has achieved so much is down to the fact that he’s worked with and played with so many artists and has ‘delved’ as he puts it ‘into the book of contacts that I’ve made over that time’. It really is a combined effort from everyone involved and I’m really proud of it but it definitely does reflect the combined efforts of so so many people.

NH: I’m surprised, I really am, although perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised I don’t know. When I first set out to make the album, it really was a bit of an experiment. I’d never written songs before other than this one time when I was doing either my GCSEs or A-Levels. That was utter shit and basically I proved to myself that I can’t write and shouldn’t write and then spent the next 20 years playing other people’s tunes. I loved doing that, playing other people’s tunes. I got so much variety, I could dip in and out of bands, playing like a session musician, avoiding any of the band politics. As such, doing this really was experimental so the responses genuinely have floored me.

There’s no denying that it’s clear when listening to ‘Issue #1’ that certain bands have influenced Nick greatly over the years. It’s also no surprise to those people who read our reviews and interviews why this album resonates so highly with me as well.

NH: Without a doubt the sound of the album is a strong representation of the people I’ve been playing with or people I’ve been listening to over the years. I’m not ashamed of it, I’m not annoyed that people are picking up on it at all. People will always point out the influences and it’s always the same ones and yes, of course it is, not only have I been playing with these people but I’ve been adoring these people as a fan since I was in my early teens. Especially The Wildhearts. They were the first band I properly listened to, other than Meat Loaf (which you can also hear on Issue #1). The thing with The Wildhearts though, it caused a massive family argument at the time, because I heard my sister playing this cassette tape and remember saying to her “Oh I like this band as well” and of course her first response was “you’re not allowed to like them as well. This is MY band.”

That cassette was a copy of The Wildhearts’ debut ‘Earth Vs The Wildhearts’ and it has become according to Nick, a staple in his playlists over the years, as it has for thousands of other die hard fans that have followed the band since the early 1990s.

NH: The music I created was always going to lean towards that sound as it’s been such a strong influence on me. I love my pop music, I love musical theatre, I really love anything with a ‘show’ aspect to it. Everything from sort of the Meat Loaf approach and then on the pop side, whilst I love what the Wildhearts can do, I’m also a huge fan, on  the poppier side of bands like McFly but, when listening to them, I always wanted to hear their music with a heavier, hard rock sound. As that doesn’t exist in one place, I realised I’d have to do it myself.

I had no idea how to approach writing, recording or producing the album myself but I did have a list of all of these influences and the songs that those artists had produced that I really loved. My first thought then was ‘I’m going to write a song that sounds like this band or that one’ and because my influences are that varied it had the possibility to be a real mess, a Frankenstein album.

Thankfully with both Andy Brook and Dave Draper (producers \ engineers to the great and good) on board, we’ve streamlined it all and given it a real flow that works. It’s produced and mixed into a single product and I have to say it’s an incredible feat of audio engineering on both of their parts.

The true sound of The Middlenight Men is however a combination of everything that Nick loves about music. For the more discerning tastes amongst us, even the classic sound of the Beach Boys can be heard as an influence on the album and it’s not surprising when you factor in Nick’s love of a good pop tune.

NH: I loved The Beach Boys and that’s one of the things that that helped me get more familiar with the power pop scene, especially when I started playing with Duncan Reid and the Big Heads.

If you  want to see Nick in action with Duncan Reid and the Big Heads, check this out:

 NH: When the first lockdown kicked in (2020) I actually sat down with Duncan and we wrote a song that still needs some finishing touches to it but it’s called “Singing Along With The Beach Boys”. We’re both so much along the same wavelength. I’ve always been all about cool harmonies with really heavy music behind it. With The Middlenight Men, I don’t want it to get too heavy as I want it to be commercial and accessible by as wide an audience as possible.

To sum up the band Nick then goes on to describe the band’s sound as “Not as heavy as The Wildhearts but heavier than the Beach Boys”

NH: Leon (Cave), who plays drums on the album and I , when we were back in Uni used to stay up till all hours and sing harmonies at each other. As a result I’ve always found it hard to write songs and melodies as I’ve always tried to write it at the pitch of a backing vocalist. That sort of upbringing though, it’s definitely helped us bit a little bit clever with how we’ve done the instrumentation on this thing.

The opening track on the album, the one required to grab you by the balls and not let go until it’s finished taking you on an amazing sonic journey, is Rat Star. It’s key to ensuring the public pay attention from the off and, in a world of shitty attention spans, this track does exactly what’s needed and reminds people why an album to be first out of the gates and never look back. 

NH: You’ve hit the nail on the head there. I knew the first five seconds had to be as good as anything else on the album and even though Rat Star is a bit of a long song (they’ve cut it down slightly for the single) it’s such a solid starter, with Leon having done such a good job on the drums, we got Tom Spencer in to record some of the ‘Heys!’ on the song and he told he it sounded like ‘Horrid’ Henry’ [laughs].

To be honest I didn’t mind him saying that as I think the track has real commercial appeal so I’ll take that. It sounded completely different up till a couple of days before we went to record it. It originally had this huge Les Mis’ breakdown at the end, it was over six and a half minutes long and I knew it just wasn’t working. I managed to rewrite the chorus and the end result really works.

See for yourself! 

With the superhero theme plastered all over the cover thanks to Luke Maddox who, years ago, was an aspiring artist who had first sold some artwork to Nick when the pair were at school together (a scrap of paper with a superhero on it for a mere 50p). They’ve stayed close friends and Luke was commissioned to come up with the band logo and the album artwork that represents superhero versions \ likenesses of all of the artists, listed below, that feature on the songs.

NH: I wanted the cover to look like the start of a journey for these heroes. What I love even more though is back cover and the ‘after party’ feel of the whole thing

The superhero vibe is best felt on ‘Heroine Heights’ the video that Nick admits caused a few sleepless nights and required some legal advice before it could be released. 

NH: “am I going to lose my house?” it’s a simple question but when we’ve got Batman, Spiderman, Supergirl, Joker, Harley Quinn and more in the video, it’s best to get a legal viewpoint on whether the copyright owners are going to come after me. The suggestion is that other than a cease and desist that might come along at some point, we think we’re OK, for now at least.

Filmed by the famous Black Heart tavern in Camden Town, the video is a comic book fan’s wet dream of content and subtle nods to all things past and present about some of their favourite heroes. Check it out here while it’s still available! 

Following an interesting if not slightly fraught with danger and opportunity for ensuing chaos (see the BIO section of the band’s website) Nick might not have had a 10 hour flight back from South America where the writing bug bit him firmly and the final song on the list here today B.A. Baby was born. Always written, according to Nick with The Professionals Tom Spencer in mind for the way the lead vocal should work. It’s easy to see why and it works, a punchy monotonal approach to the verse before the hard to resist harmonies kick in on the chorus.

NH: Tom has my favourite vocal style in the whole of the UK rock scene and I knew I needed to do this with him in mind. The track is very Yo-Yos focussed as well and I knew as I was putting this down on paper on the flight that if I could get this right then the theatrical side could come later on and that’s what we see in the video. Off the back of that I figured… “I may as well try and write an album”.

NH: A lot of artists, prolific songwriters might write some 40 tunes before putting an album together. I got to 10 , well 12 in total and decided I’d just record those. There is no bag of failures or offcuts in the background, there’s just these. It makes me rather nervous about writing a second album which I do think is rather inevitable now. I’ve just chucked all of my influences into the mix and thrown it all in to the one album.

Of course with an album the shows musical superheroes on its cover, a homage to Marvel’s Avengers who have a constantly changing line-up, The Middlenight Men artwork is designed to showcase the musical talents of a rotating / changing group of musicians, those that have either influenced or worked with Nick in the past. 

And, just like a Marvel movie, where something special comes during or after the end credits, make sure you stick with the second of the bonus tracks which doesn’t necessarily finish when you think it does. 

NH: Haha , oh we had so much fun with this. We wanted to do something that was a real throwback to the 1990s when you got proper bonus tracks that were uncredited at the end of an album. I loved that.

Suffice to say , there is what can be described as a drunken boisterous party to be found and it’s the perfect real closer to the album. 

The album is available from:

The Middlenight Men on Issue #1 are: 

Nick Hughes (vocals, guitar, bass, trumpet, keys, cocktails)

Leon Cave (Drums, vocals, bass, sleep) 

Liz Mitchell (Saxophone) 

Dave Winkler (vocals) 

Scott Baker (vocals) 

Kit Swing (vocals) 

Cat Totman (vocals) 

Andy Brook (guitar, vocals) 

George Simmonds (trombone) 

Tom Spencer (voiceover , vocals) 

Rich Ragany (vocieover, vocals) 

Ronnie Lafranchaette (voiceover) 

Kris Rodgers (keys) 

Milly Evans (keys) 

Thomas Egan (piano)

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