The Wilde life

As Kim Wilde’s 40th anniversary ‘Greatest Hits’ tour comes to an end, we take a trip down memory lane with her brother, co-writer and producer Ricky Wilde, who reflects on four decades of hits and why, right now, she’s better than ever!

In 1981, Kim Wilde shot into the global charts with her debut smash hit, Kids in America. Co-written by dad Marty Wilde and brother Ricky Wilde, the track marks not only the beginning of an extraordinary, four-decade-long (and counting) career for one of Britain’s most iconic acts of the 1980s, but for Kim and Ricky one of pop’s longest-running collaborations.

Having toured the UK earlier this year, Kim and co. recently wrapped a string of shows across Europe, and looking back on their legacy, Ricky discusses the highs and lows of their journey together and remembers the moment he realised his little sister was a superstar in the making!

Forty years in music is a massive achievement – for Kim and for you! How did it all begin?
It’s strange, because I desperately wanted to be in the music industry in some capacity. At that time, I didn’t know that she could sing that well. I could hear her singing around the house and I knew she had a good voice, but it wasn’t really a vision, as such.

Basically, I did five or six demos, tracks that I’d written. I took them to a few labels to try and get a record deal. I finished up going to Mickie Most of RAK Records… During the first session, Mickie came in and I said, ‘Look, this needs backing vocals. My sister does backing vocals. Do you mind if she comes in to record them? And he said, ‘No’. So Kim came in and recorded the backing vocals. Mickie was there, saw Kim, and said, ‘Well, she’s got a great voice, she looks great, there’s
something about her…

Three bells came down straight away. It was kind of like, Now this is an opportunity. Mickie sees Kim as a potential artist, all she needs is a killer song. So I went back and I was chatting with my dad about it, who I did a lot of co-writing with at the time. I said, ‘Look, we need to come up with a Killer track for Kimmy and I know we could get a really good deal. So we booked another studio in Hertford, owned by a band called The Enid. We went in and spent three days there, and we recorded and pretty much mastered Kids in America. Then I took it to Mickie and he heard it and said, ‘That’s an absolute smash!’

It took a little while for the record deal to be sorted out between Kim and Mickie, but in the end they released it and obviously, the rest is history… Everybody was just going mental, not just for the song, but for Kim as well. Mickie said, ‘Right, you better go in and do the album.’ And it was lovely, because that meant that I didn’t have to be the artist. had no
aspirations of being an artist as such. So it worked great for me, it worked great for Kim… and I’ve been with Kimmy ever since. 

You and Kim are obviously very close, but musically you must have disagreements in the studio sometimes – as collaborators, and as siblings…
It’s a strange one. I know when a certain track is working, or if itisn’t working. It’s a gut feeling. And if Kim’s not feeling it, I always understand why she’s not feeling it. You can hear it in the way she’s singing it and the way it feels for her. If she’s not feeling it or it doesn’t feel right for her, it’s out. On to the next track. But there’s never any arguments about it, there’s never been a problem with that. It is what it is, you can’t force creativity. It either happens or it doesn’t.

Kim’s first three albums – ‘Kim Wilde’ (1981), ‘Select’ (1982) and ‘Catch as catch can’ (1983) – werd primarily written by you and Marty, but from ‘Teases & Dares’ (1984) onwards she became involved in the writing process. How did that come about?
At that time, Kim had moved up to London and she bought a flat there. She had a little home studio setup and she started getting involved in the writing. I don’t think she had aspirations of it actually being used on albums or anything. She just thought, I wonder if I can do it? And I think she felt quite overawed by having dad and I as writers, having written all the successful hits for her up until that time. It was quite a tough decision for her to actually do that, but I know it’s something that she was desperate to do – or at least try and do. The first one she wrote, I think, was a track called Fit In, which ended up being on one of the albums. I heard it and I thought, ‘That’s beautiful’ The lyrics were beautiful and I saw the potential straight away, as a lyricist as well as coming up with some lovely melodies.

It wasn’t something that I’d really seen before, because Kim had not had a chance to really do that; she’d been travelling all over the world and promoting all the singles and the albums, and doing photo sessions and interviews — it’s hard work being an artist, a lot of work goes on behind it that people don’t see. It all looks very glamorous, but it’s bloody hard work. And she spent a lot of time doing that. So for her to actually be able to get in there and do something creative was quite
hard for her, but she still managed to do it.

For me, I always feel like it’s the artists that should be writing the lyrics they’re singing. As much as I love writing with Dad — and I used to write a lot with Dad — I just think that, as an artist, it’s really important for you to be singing what you’re feeling, and not what someone else is feeling. So Kimmy got more and more involved and, as time went on, it finished up with Kimmy writing all her lyrics. 

Do you think having Kim involved creatively changed the music? There definitely seems to be more of an essence of her in those later albums.
Absolutely. That’s exactly my point about the artist being the lyricist. It’s so, so important. Because you get to know what makes them tick and what they’re about through the lyrics that they come up with. Especially with Kim — she comes up with some really deep and very personal stuff. I think she’s incredibly underrated as a lyricist. She’s so talented.

As the albums progressed, you began to introduce new writers into the fold, with Tony Swain (of Jolley & Swain) co-producing ‘Close’ (1988) and writing almost half of the tracks on ‘Love Moves’ (1990). How did working with different writers and producers change the dynamic between Kim and yourself in the studio? 
It was actually my suggestion that Tony got involved, because I was a massive fan of Tony’s. Tony had come into the studio, Select Sound Studios, which was the family owned studio at the time in Knebworth. He lived locally and he heard about it and said, I’d really like to come in and record another act’. So he came in and did some work on a few albums, and through that I got to know Tony really well and he became a very dear friend of mine, even today.

We were doing the ‘Close’ album and I just felt that we needed a fresh input, something different. I had written the whole album, I produced and programmed it all up, and it all sounded great. I was happy, but I just felt that it needed something fresh in there, something different. A different point of view, because when you’ve been a writer, programmer, lyricist… you get so close to certain tracks. So, I thought Tony was the perfect choice. We did a couple of tracks, and they both sounded fabulous. So I said, ‘Come on, let’s just do the whole album,’ and we had a wonderful time. I’ve got nothing but fantastic memories of working with him.

It worked great. Sonically, ‘Close’ still sounds as tight and as punchy as it did back then. It still stands up and it’s an album I’m very, very proud of. But I’m not sure it would have been the same album without Tony’s input. 

After working with Tony, you went on and did ‘Love Is’ (1992) with Rick Nowels, who had massive success with Belinda Carlisle, but neither ‘Love Moves’ or ‘Love Is’ matched the success of ‘Close’. Why do you think that was? 
I think vibe-wise it’s a little bit too much of a departure from the ‘Close’ aloum. In those times, if you had a hit like You Keep Me Hangin’ On, for instance, people expected the whole album to sound like that. Like a club album. And of course, Kim’s wasn’t. People didn’t know what to expect from Kim. I think maybe they were expecting ‘Close: Part Two’ — which it wasn’t, in any way.

I think musically, it was a slight departure. But Kim was feeling that and she wanted to try something different. And that’s what you do as an artist — if you live by the sword, you die by the sword, and you gotta go for it. You’ve got to follow your heart. Sometimes it really works and other times it doesn’t. But as long as you’re proud of the album that you’ve made, you’re happy with it, and you’re doing what you want to do, that’s the most important thing.

If people want to buy it and they want to buy into it, then that’s great. But if they don’t, that’s fine as well.

In the 1990s, Kim stepped away from music and spent the best part of a decade out of the spotlight. That must have been tough for you, having worked so closely together.
It was for me, actually. For Kim it wasn’t, because she wanted to concentrate on getting married, having kids and raising a family at that time, which is what 99 per cent of people want to do. They get to this point, and they think, Let’s just take a break for a while and make it interesting when we come back again. But obviously, Kim’s lasted quite a long time. [Laughs] Ten years, I think. That was quite a long 10 years for me; I kept myself busy doing bits and pieces with a few other bands, and it was fine, it was what it was. But I missed working with Kim because she’s such a great artist to work with, we always have great fun, and we always make great fucking records.

She’s just a great artist in every department and I really missed that. Now, we’re doing it the same as we’ve ever done it and loving it as much as we’ve ever loved it.

So what coaxed Kim back out onto the stage? 
It was a gig that came in, a retro tour called ‘Here and Now’ with all the ‘80s acts — ABC, Tony Hadley… All the ‘80s lot were doing these retro gigs and festivals, and there was a gig coming up at Wembley. Tony Denton, who was a dear friend of ours, phoned up and said, ‘Look Kim, do you want to do it? You only have to do two or three numbers. Just get on and do Kids in America, You Came and You Keep Me Hangin’ On — do the hits and then go. She wasn’t expecting anything, and there was no real pressure because there were so many other artists on, but she didn’t know how she was going to be perceived as a slightly older lady singing Kids in America — what were people gonna think? She didn’t really know what to expect. So she said, ‘Do you fancy doing it?” And I said, Yeah, why not?’ Actually, I didn’t do the very first one, but
after that, I roped myself in playing guitar… 

Once you know it was going to be alright…
Basically, yeah! [Laughs] So she did the ‘Here and Now’ gig and the audience went absolutely bonkers. She could not believe it. It was a real eye-opener. She said, You know what, this could be time for me to actually start doing some more
gigs and coming back. Because she always loved doing live stuff — that was a very big part of her life and she loved all that.

She said, ‘Look, maybe we should do some more live gigs. So we did a few more of them, and then made a record off the
back of it [Never Say Never’ (2006)], and then we promoted the record and had our own band. Since then, we’ve just done more albums and more touring. It’s almost like starting again, really. It’s a funny old thing, but it’s great.

Kim didn’t release those albums – ‘Never Say Never’, along with ‘Come Out and Play’ (2010) and ‘Snapshots’ (2011) – in the UK. Why was that?
There wasn’t the same interest over here as there was in the rest of Europe. Especially Germany — the Germans idolise Kim, they absolutely love her! So we concentrated on the territory that we knew appreciated us and wanted us. It’s only after quite a lot of success over there with the new stuff that the UK started pricking their ears up like, ‘Maybe that could work over here… Then we started doing a little bit more. For a long time, we didn’t do any gigs in the UK.

Kim’s last two albums have been inspired by particular moments in her life – the Christmas train video and the alien encounter. How do you approach making new music?
It’s funny with albums – we do it when it feels right. It’s an organic thing. It suddenly comes to you one day and you think, ‘We’ve got four or five tracks here, and they sound like they could be a part of something. That’s how ‘Here Come the Aliens’ (2018) happened, because she had obviously the experience in the garden and seeing these orbs, and it really, really affected her in a massive way. Everything just fell into place after that, because she had the idea for how the sleeve should be and, lyrically, how things were going to sound. They’re not all about aliens, but there is a definite cohesive sound and a vibe about it. 

We’ve got the greatest hits (‘Pop Don’t Stop, 2021), but it will come to a point where Kim will say, ‘Let’s make an album.’

The greatest hits has collaborations with Boy George and Tom Aspaul. What’s the possibility of a Kim Wilde duets album?
It’s very possible. We’ve got so many wonderful friends in the industry and I know there’s so many people that would love to work with Kim. I know there’s loads of people that Kim would love to work with as well. So that’s very much a possibility.

‘Here Come the Aliens’ was KIm’s first UK Top 40 album in more than 25 years and her highest-charting since 1992. Has that given her a boost?
It’s lovely to be recognised, it really is. But for us, we just love touring. We just love getting out there and seeing the
fans’ reactions to everything. That’s the most important thing for us – it gives us an excuse to get out there and do it. People might buy a Kim Wilde album, but they don’t realise that, these days, Kim is probably better live than on the albums. The live versions, for me, sound better than some of the tracks on the album, because of the way Kim is live now. She just loves it so much and you can tell with her vocal, the way she delivers it is so relaxed and confident. And the band is just amazing. 

‘Pop Don’t Stop: Greatest Hits’ is out now on Cherry Red Records