Nick Beggs on his best (and worst) bass albums

Nick Beggs
(Image credit: Gandolfo Alberto)

“I’m a professional musician, because that’s what I’m supposed to do,” says Nick Beggs. “As ridiculous as it sounds, some people are called to the ministry and some people are called to the music industry, and they’re very different, but there is absolutely a parity of headspace. You know why you were born.”  

Beggs, the co-founder of the pop act Kajagoogoo, was almost inescapable throughout the '80s, thanks to the huge hits that band scored and the equally huge bass guitar parts heard on said hits, but he’s been better known subsequently for his work with a range of musicians of the progressive rock persuasion, notably Steve Hackett and Steven Wilson. 

Along the way he’s led a variety of more or less remarkable bands, such as Ellis, Beggs & Howard, the Mute Gods, and most recently Trifecta, and he’s also a solo artist and songwriter of astounding ability.  

We asked Beggs to discuss five albums from his large recorded catalog – four that he admires, plus one with which he is less enamored – and he came up with these five choices. It’s interesting to note that the album which put him on the map is the one with which he has the most complex relationship... 

Must-have album: Trifecta – Fragments (2021)

“I’m not just putting this here because it’s my latest album: it’s one of my favorite things that I’ve done so far. It’s also unlike anything else that I’ve ever done. If I had to pigeonhole it, I’d say it’s fission, which is like fusion but more dangerous, and possibly with fallout. 

“Trifecta is me and two other musicians, both of whom I’m lucky to have worked with – a keyboard player who worked with Miles Davis, Adam Holtzman, and the drummer Craig Blundell, both of whom were in Steven Wilson’s band with me.  

“They’re immaculate players. Adam brings the jazz factor, and Craig was the chief architect of the project without really being aware of it. During Steve Wilson’s soundchecks, after everyone else cleared the stage, the three of us used to hang back and jam. We called it Jazz Club, and we started recording it. I’d listen to it and think, ‘Wow, have you heard this groove?’ Craig would play these 5/4, 7/8, or 21/8 rhythms, and we would jam along.  

“When the band stopped touring, we file-shared stuff that I’d written, stuff that Adam had written, and stuff that had been inspired by Craig’s jazz. The bass is brittle and angular – quite Chris Squire-influenced. A lot of the music is like Dizzy Gillespie on LSD, armed with an oscillator and a ring modulator.”

Worthy contender: Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth (2017)

“This was the second album by my band the Mute Gods, and my favorite of the three we’ve done. It appealed to the prog market, which I’ve become so affiliated to, and I’m very grateful for that. Having been a public ambassador to pop music, to be embraced as a more grown-up, elder-statesman person is a  great honor.  

“Many of my heroes come from that movement – Chris Squire, John Paul Jones, Jaco Pastorius, and so on. And like  all the above, one of my guitar heroes, Pat Metheny, is on a constant journey to refine who he is as a musician, and re-examines his playing all the time. I try to take a little bit of that philosophy with me, but it’s really tough facing up to the fact that I’m not a fraction of the player I want to be. 

“This album also has pop sensitivity, although it’s not the most pop of the three Mute Gods albums. Bass-wise, it’s about delivering interesting things in an unusual way. I use five- and eight-string basses, I use slap, I use Chapman Stick.  

“My basses are made by Spector: with them I find I can get all kinds of tones. They have a glassy overtone which I find quite unusual. On these records I also play some guitar and keyboards, and I do some soft synth programming, so I was trying to think about the whole picture.”

Cool grooves: Ellis, Beggs and Howard – Homelands (1988)

“This is an '80s album, but it doesn’t sound like one, which I like. It’s the volte-face of Kajagoogoo’s White Feathers. Was that deliberate? Maybe, in that we all felt that we couldn’t reference Kajagoogoo in any way. 

“It was a hit in Germany and Holland, and it became quite a cult album. It was a really interesting group of musicians: Simon Ellis has gone on to be a very successful producer-songwriter, MD-ing the Spice Girls and Britney Spears, and he also wrote for S Club Seven, among other pop bands.  

“I used a variety of bass gear on this album, but the main bass was a custom-built Wal five-string. It was one of the last ones that Ian Waller made and hung on the wall with Paul McCartney’s before they had their frets added. I remember looking at them at the factory, left- and right-handed. I think they’re great instruments, and may even get another made one day. 

“I also had a very nice five-string Warwick, which I used along with my Chapman Stick. Nowadays I use Spector basses. Their five-string instruments are also very good. Effects-wise, I try to keep it to a minimum, but I guess it’s what suits the tune. For example, on the single Big Bubbles No Troubles, I used a TC Electronic phaser, which became my signature Stick sound.”

Wild card: Nick Beggs – Words Fail Me (2019)

“This is a triple box set of all my Chapman Stick instrumental material. My first solo Stick album was Stick Insect (2002), the second album was The Maverick Helmsman (2004), and then there’s also an album of cover versions titled Words Fail Me, which is an exasperation metaphor. For that one, I just picked a handful of songs that I really loved, including Midnight Cowboy by John Barry and JS Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze

“The songs were recorded on two different Chapman Sticks over 20 years – a standard 10-string ironwood instrument and a 10-string Grand bamboo Stick. The bamboo instrument has more of a folk lilt to it, whereas the ironwood Stick has more of a rock sound.  

Stick Insect utilized a lot of sampling and MIDI Stick playing, so some of the performances are done in one take where I’m triggering a parallel MIDI part – like an orchestra or synth part.  I loved the soft synth Reason, which was heard everywhere in the '90s: I used it on a few tracks.  

“These albums have their flaws, I admit: they’re badly recorded, because I engineered and produced everything myself, but they have something that  is identifiably Beggs about them – perhaps the essence of my playing.”

Avoid at all costs: Kajagoogoo – White Feathers (1983)

“I appreciate the massive irony of putting this album in this slot, because it’s outsold many of the artists that I’ve worked with since. One of the singles, Too Shy, sold over three million copies, and was the 13th biggest single of 1983. It was even synced in the TV series Black Mirror and American Horror Story. The album also got to Number 5 in the UK charts and gave us three Top 15 hits including a Number 1, but to me it will always be a triumph of style over content.  

“I will say that White Feathers has got some good basslines, and some interesting songs, but on the whole, it’s an anachronism of the '80s. I still make a lot of money from the Kajagoogoo catalog, for which I’m grateful, but I’ve been trying to escape the shadow of those songs all my professional life. At the same time, there is a duality there, because without this album nobody would know who I was.  

“I’m proud of aspects of this record. I’m still friends with some of the guys in the band, and we still do business together. The album took me around the world and started my career as a musician, and with every royalty payment that comes in, I get down on my hands and knees and I praise the God of Kajagoogoo. At the same time, it’s like the gravitational pull of a planet that I can’t escape!”

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