my creative life

Nick Cave, The Beatles and REM: NCA's founder Ian Heartfield on his musical muses

New Commercial Arts' co-founder shares his love of music and reveals three musical inspirations that he constantly refers back to

By Ian Heartfield

To quote a little-known Blur song, music is my radar. Whilst others will reference art, films, theatre, most of my creative inspiration comes from music, both consciously and subconsciously. But I make no apologies because music trumps them all in my opinion.

I grew up in a house that had the radio on all the time, and I have inflicted the same thinking on my own family. All manner of music- the good, the bad and the wtf - has infiltrated my mind over my lifetime and has influenced my work in ways I will never know. I even retrieved my CD collection from the loft during lockdown – a backwards step of course, but there is something about the discipline of looking along a shelf, physically loading something into a player, glancing at the artwork as the tray whirs back inside. It seems to reset my brain and triggers the urge to write. I don’t really know why.

Having said that, a love of music does of course embrace other mediums beyond just audio. So, for the purposes of naming 3 pieces of creative inspiration, I have chosen my favourite album cover, my favourite set of lyrics, and of course my favourite song. And I will attempt to describe how they might influence, if not my work, then definitely my creative process.

First up, album cover.

Album Cover: Idiot Prayer by Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace

This cover stopped me in my tracks. It is lockdown in a single image. Whilst on the surface it is simply a photograph of a musician playing in an empty hall, to me it captures something much more intense. It captures the inner feeling of those strange, lost pandemic years perfectly. But it does have an extra level of significance for me. Alexandra Palace is on my doorstep and has played a pivotal role in my life from seeing the aforementioned Blur play there in (gulp) 1994, to providing green space for the kids and the dog ever since. Seeing it closed and laying empty of life for the best part of two years was tragic, and when the peerless Nick Cave went ahead with his planned gig but played alone, it was immensely powerful and symbolic. As a piece of art, it appeals to my love of simplicity. Everything that needs to be said is said. There is nothing superfluous. It is stunning in its restraint. And it is a photograph and composition that has been crafted to perfection. The album itself is a work of art too.

My favourite lyrics: Here, there and everywhere by The Beatles

I must be getting sentimental in my old age but when I think lyrics, it’s always this song that comes to mind. Probably because I used to sing this to my daughter when she was a baby.

I use the word ‘sing’ loosely. It’s a deceptively simple set of words, as is the song itself. And like the Nick Cave album cover, I think it’s that effortlessly simple theme that appeals to me. But I can’t mention The Beatles without calling out Get Back, Peter Jackson’s spell binding documentary series. I must have watched the scene where Paul strums his way into ‘Get Back’ live on camera, a hundred times. The birth of a song, captured in real time, is simply breathtaking. Incidentally, I heard Paul McCartney saying recently that Here, There and Everywhere was one of his favourite Beatles songs too. So there.

Favourite individual song: REM’s Falls to climb from the album, Up

When I write, I usually chose a song loosely relevant to the emotion or feeling I’m trying to capture. So if it’s excitement or energy, I might reach for ‘Dogrel’, Fontaine DC’s debut album – a pure adrenalin hit. If I want to channel something more emotional, then it’s this song from this extraordinary album, from the equally extraordinary, and much missed (by me anyway) REM. Micheal Stipe’s voice is sublime in this song. I have a rough idea of what the song is about, but I don’t want to Google it to find out for sure as I have been interpreting the lyrics in my own way to mean all sorts of things over the years. But it’s not just the voice, it’s the way the wall of sound builds steadily throughout, carrying the listener off on a wave of emotion. It’s not a sad song, but it’s not a happy song either. If I get the volume right and close my eyes, it still makes me cry all these years later. If that’s not inspirational, I don’t know what is.

Ian Heartfield is creative founder of New Commercial Arts


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