25 years ago the very infectious song, Walking on Sunshine reached number nine on the Billboard hot 100. It features an energetic beat, which creates a very sunny and happy disposition through the big voice of lead singer Katrina Leskanich.
But the true engine behind the song and the band is an Englishman named Kimberley Rew. He wrote and co-wrote seven of the songs on the band’s most commercially successful album. A former member of the critically acclaimed group The Soft Boys, Rew assembled a mix of American and English musicians to form Katrina and the Waves.
I recently talked to the Bristol England native about the Walking on Sunshine years, the music business and his current solo project.
I saw the band in the summer of 1985 at the Pier in NY City. You guys opened up for Don Henley, how was that tour, and that summer when Walking on Sunshine owned the airwaves?
Naturally it’s very exciting when you have a hit record- everybody’s swept along by the euphoria- in our case we were carried along by events- people ask for your services and of course you accept- you don’t know if it’s going to last! We had offers from Don Henley and then Wham- after that, the Beach Boys- that’s one door that opened which was an experience of a lifetime for me.
How does it feel to write a song that has withstood the test of time and perhaps hold
a permanent place in the history of pop music?
Of course we didn’t know that the song would stay in the public consciousness for decades, but it’s the best thing that could have happened.
How did the song come about?
In no special circumstances- and if I was able to identify the circumstances conducive to writing a hit song, I’d make sure I was in those circumstances all the time.
Was there a hiatus on the song being played on the radio during the days and
subsequent years after the catastrophe?
Hurricane Katrina made no difference to the popularity of Walking on Sunshine. The band played in New Orleans in 1985.
How did the Bangles come to record Going Down to Liverpool?
An early version of Going down to Liverpool appeared on the group’s very first album, on the small Canadian label Attic. I suspect the Bangles picked up on this thanks to a previous release on Attic by my old band, the Soft Boys (led by Robyn Hitchcock), who at the time were enjoying something of a posthumous revival in popularity, especially among new guitar bands (which were a rarity at the time, being rather against the trend) such as the Bangles and REM.
Love Shine a Light was the runaway winner of the Eurovision song of the year contest in 1997 and a huge hit on the UK charts, how does its success compare with Walking on Sunshine?
You’re right that the statistics say that Love shine a light was a bigger hit than Walking on Sunshine (in Europe)-oddly people don’t remember it- if asked for a Eurovision winner they’re more likely to launch into Making your mind up by Bucks Fizz, for example.
The band has a strong lineup of very catchy pop tunes, as highlighted in the 1997 greatest hits package and even in the first record “Katrina and the Waves” of 1985, why do you think mass success managed to elude the band?
That’s an interesting one- a lot of things have to happen right for a band to have any success at all, let alone
sustain it. I think in our case we had the initial success, but that depended on gut popularity rather than anyone having critical faith in the band for the longer haul. So when the second single wasn’t a top ten hit, we were leftwith people who loved the song Walking on Sunshine rather than loved Katrina and the Waves the band. But that’s way better than no love at all.
What are Kimberly, Katrina and the other members of the band are up to these
days? Will we ever see the band live again or perhaps a new studio album?
Katrina and I are both pursuing solo careers but we don’t have any plans to reform.
And speaking about solo projects, your new album, “The Safest Place” is out, with a mixture of bluesy, folk pop world music, and boogie woogie sound. It’s very refreshing to hear a collection of real music being played on real instruments, was that one of the goals, to stay true to your musicianship?
I’m glad it’s coming over as ‘real music’ and as drawing on all the traditions. I’m only qualified to write and
play guitar, as opposed to doing record production- so we played the songs ‘straight’ and hoped people would pick up on the feeling.
The album features 12 songs, are there a couple songs there that you would consider your favorites?
The title song I feel says everything right; Happy anniversary I’m sure people can relate to instantly; Put a
little sunshine- again something that should be immediately understandable; End of our rainbow- lots of fun.
You still perform on a regular basis, what can fans expect to hear at a typical Kimberly Rew show these days?
I’m not actually a solo live artist as such! I’m a member of Cambridge band Jack – what you’d call a bar band, solots of rocking tunes for people who want to have a good time; plus Kim and Lee (with my wife Lee) for quieter places (but with equal fun) (that’s where I usually dovetail in some original songs).
See them jamming here, next time you’re in Cambridge make sure to check Kim and the gang out, they’re there every Wednesday. And thank you Kimberley for a great song that will always keep the summer sunshine bright and shiny.