Nick Awde Hill (born 29 December 1961, London, England) is a British writer, artist, singer-songwriter and critic. The author, editor or illustrator of more than 50 books, he is based in London and Brussels.
Awde believes in combining art and communication in order to benefit and actively empower the end user while downplaying the presence of the artist (as well as the notion of 'art') - he cites his Chechen phrasebook, his career as a theatre critic and 2010 EP Close to the Edge B/W Rocket Man/Meryl Streep as good, if seemingly unconnected, examples of working creatively within society to create change.
The son of an international lawyer (who formulated laws that enable containers to go round the world), he was raised in Nigeria, the Sudan and Kenya before being sent to the Catholic boarding school Stonyhurst College in the UK. Although his father moved to Northern Ireland and his mother to Germany after divorcing, most of Awde's teenage home life was spent in Soho and the West End of London. He studied Arabic and Hausa at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, later becoming a journalist after working for several years on building sites and teaching English in Spain.
Plays and fiction
With Chris Bartlett he co-wrote the comedy drama Pete and Dud: Come Again, a hit at the Assembly Rooms at the Edinburgh Festival in August 2005 before transferring to London's West End at The Venue, in March 2006, then doing a 90-date tour of the UK the following year. The play examines the highly influential comic relationship that existed between comedians Peter Cook and Dudley Moore - along with Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller they kickstarted the satirical comedy movement in the United Kingdom in the early 1960s with Beyond the Fringe, before branching off on their own. Set in a chat show during the early eighties, the play tells their tale from the perspective of Dudley Moore, by then an international film star. In June 2006 Pete and Dud: Come Again transferred for a short run in Auckland, New Zealand, as part of the Bruce Mason Centre's first Best of British Festival. Classic rock group 10cc shared the bill.
In 2007 two other plays have followed, premiering at the Edinburgh Festival: Unnatural Acts at Assembly and Blood Confession at the Gilded Balloon. Written with Chris Bartlett, directed by David Giles and starring Jessica Martin and Jason Wood, Unnatural Acts is a comedy about two flatmates, a gay man and a straight woman, who try to have a baby together. Written by Awde and directed by Jon Bonfiglio, Blood Confession is a violent drama about an interrogation, about a child murder from 25 years ago, that goes horribly wrong.
In 1993, Awde wrote, composed and produced Andrew Lloyd Webber The Musical, described as "a bizarre mix of spoof and satire" by The Virgin Encyclopedia of Stage & Film Musicals. A pastiche of the life of top musical composer Lloyd Webber, in loving homage to Mel Brooks' The Producers, it ran in a variety of fringe venues across London with several casts. It is now available in book form. Awde's 1994 follow-up Margaret Thatcher: The Musical failed to find backing. The satirical musical followed the fortunes of the former prime minister as she dies and is forced to wait at the Pearly Gates as a desperate God and the equally desperate Devil devise a game show in which the loser has to take her for eternity, complicated by an audience vote at the finale. Andrew Lloyd Webber: The Musical has been regarded as the first serious show in the 'celebrity title' genre, pioneering the way for hits such as Jerry Springer: The Opera. Awde's other stage works are Eros and the Skull (Bloomsbury Theatre, London, 1988) - a multi-created one-man show about the French poet Baudelaire - and Semtex & Lipstick (King's Head Theatre, London, 1992) - a drama for actor and actress about love and political torture. He also co-designed costumes for historical drama Tewodros (Arts Theatre, 1987).
In 2003 he published his first novel, The Virgin Killers as part of The Public School Chronicles series. It is a complex thriller about murders of priests at a Catholic prep school in the wilds of Lancashire that lead to a trail of Jesuit and Freemason conspiracies deep within the British Establishment. Intended as a thinly disguised political comment on the state of the nation, the book, unusually for a thriller, also contains a historical appendix - a timeline linking events in British and Irish history to the constitutional oppression of Catholics, Jews and other Non-Conformists within the United Kingdom and Ireland right up to the present day.
He has been a theatre critic since the early 1990s, and has been writing for The Stage newspaper for most of that time. Together with fellow Stage contributor Gerald Berkowitz, in 1999 he set up theatreguidelondon.co.uk, the first UK-based theatre website to be run exclusively by professional critics. He has also worked as an editor, sub-editor and designer for a wide range of publications, and during the 90s worked on more than 50 start-ups at various stages in their development. He worked on The Voice during a key period of the fight for black empowerment in the UK, frequently with immediate impact as when he wrote a front-page headline that contributed to a riot in Brixton the following day and attempted siege of the local police station.
As an illustrator and cartoonist, over the years his more high-profile work has included newspapers such as The Voice and The Weekly Journal - where he was the regular profile illustrator for several years - City Limits and The Guardian newspaper. His cartoons also illustrate comedian Llewella Gideon's The Little Big Woman Book. He has done illustration work for Spanish educational publishers and has run a wide range of cartoon strips in specialist publications such as Boogie (music press, Spain), London Student, Untitled, The Wharf and The Stage.
Hill's rock group Desert Hearts came come out of hibernation in 2010 (since 1993) with the release of Close to the Edge B/W Rocket Man/Meryl Streep, a mini album (or long EP, according to its original concept) laced with Mellotron keyboard arrangements. The first track is possibly the first time that a band has attempted a genuine reinterpretation of the milestone prog rock classic by Yes (the numerous other cover versions that exist of Close to the Edge are carbon copies by tribute bands - although special mention must be made of Japanese band Ruinzatova's jaw-dropping offering from 2003). Guest musicians include guitarist Fred James Hill, The Vibrators guitarist Knox, New York singer-songwriter Dean Friedman, ex-Camel drummer Andy Ward, ex-Wizzard saxophonist Nick Pentelow and multi-instrumentalist Lyndon Connah (Level 42, 64 Mice). The album complements Awde's 2008 book of interviews with rock stars: Mellotron, subtitled The Machine and the Musicians That Revolutionised Rock. MelloRetro, an album of classic Mellotron rock covers, is in the pipelines to follow shortly afterwards, as is Sweet Revolutions, a collection of world pop protest songs similarly laced with Mellotron - the album pulls together Awde originals with surprising pop/rock songs from international songwriters better known for their political or revolutionary folk work. Close to the Edge... is MelloFest Three and MelloRetro will be MelloFest Four (see section below).
Desert Hearts initially operated as a rock three-piece that also played under the name of Dr Wu in 1990 before becoming a more complex four-piece in 1991 with Awde on vocals, guitar and violin, Andy Matthews on bass and vocals, Leo Katana on guitars, plus a string of drummers (aka the Spinal Tap Syndrome). Both line-ups put out band-produced cassettes, amongst the original material were also covers of King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man", Strawbs' "Hero and Heroine" and Neil Young's "Hey Hey My My". Dropping the Dr Wu tag, Awde went into the studio in 1993 to produce sessions with Andy Ward - Awde provided vocals and played all other instruments - guitars, bass, keyboards and violin. Some of the songs were released as a Desert Hearts band-produced cassette, including the satirical epic rocker "Rumble Fish", the Steely Dan-tinged "Meryl Streep" and a bizarre cover of Elton John's "Rocket Man" (complete with howling wolf chorus).
Sub-titled 'Love Songs from the Underground', 1996's I Saw Satan on the Northern Line was released as a 'CD without music'. Designed in the format of a CD lyrics booklet, it contains often comic observations on modern life. Although much of it is clearly autobiographical, Awde has always stressed that the subject matter is intended to reflect people and their attitudes in general. Parts of his unreleased musical I've Seen That Movie Too appear in the collection.
November 2008 saw the first MelloFest take place at the Fiddler's Elbow in Kentish Town, London. Organised by Awde, MelloFest One featured two Mellotrons onstage along with discussions and live Mellotron-inspired music from very special guests plus the official launch of Awde's book Mellotron (book). Talking about their music and in some cases also playing it were: David Cross (King Crimson), Nick Magnus (Steve Hackett Band), Martin Orford (IQ (band)), Jakko Jakszyk (21st Century Schizoid Band/Tangent/Level 42), Dave Cousins (Strawbs) & Robert Kirby (Strawbs/Nick Drake/Paul Weller), Robert Webb (England) and Tony Clarke, producer of the Moody Blues.
A more concert-based second MelloFest Two, complete with the possibly unique event of three Mellotrons onstage and a Stylophone, took place at The Luminaire in London on 2 May 2009 featuring Clarke, Orford, Webb, Maggie Alexander, Mark Rae, Andy Thompson and a virtual appearance from Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater demonstrating the new Ellatron iPod/iPhone Mellotron app.
MelloFest Three is the Nick Awde & Desert Hearts EP Close to the Edge B/W Rocket Man/Meryl Streep, released in early 2010. MelloFest Four will be the band's follow-up album MelloRetro. MelloFest Seven, a formal concert of Mellotron and singer-songwriter acts, is planned for the end of 2013. MelloFest Five is closely under wraps at the moment but may involve a location in Europe and four, possibly five Mellotrons onstage.
MelloFest Six is 2011's A Christmas Carol Unplugged at the Union Chapel, north London, a music biz update of Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol arranged by Awde, written by Chris Bartlett and starring Noddy Holder of uber-glam rock group Slade. Musicians appearing in the show at the Union Chapel, north London, are Robert Webb, Simon Scardanelli, Andy Thompson, Knox of The Vibrators, Marc Atkinson, Grace Solero and member of parliament and deputy transport minister Norman Baker. The stage director is Saul Reichlin. There are plans to tour the show in Christmas 2012.
As Nicholas Awde, Hill has written or edited books on non-European languages and cultures, including a Chechen Phrasebook, a Georgian Phrasebook, Women In Islam: An Anthology from the Qur'an and Hadiths, An Illustrated History of Islam and an Arabic Dictionary. He has written three other dictionaries for Swahili, Serbo-Croatian and Hausa, as well as 15-plus dictionary-phrasebooks. He has a good working knowledge of more than 25 languages, including several endangered languages.
He believes in collaboration as a way of forming bridges between cultures - and thus helping those in privileged nations to empower those in less privileged societies particularly children and women. This is reflected in the large number of co-authors he has worked with - most of who come from economically or war-ravaged countries such as Chechnya, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. He has commissioned many more authors in the same spirit, particularly from the Caucasus, editing and designing their books for other publishers.
- Jamie and the Mountain Monsters, featuring Matt Panesh aka Monkey Poet (2014)
- Translations from Romanian of Occidental Express, Spider and Decomposed Theatre, in Matei Visniec: How to Explain the History of Communism to Mental Patients and Other Plays (2014)
- HEADS UP! (The Prisoner of Terminal 4, or: Hague’s Miranda Samba) - A Flash Mob Satire (2013)
- Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show (2013)
- Blood Confession (2007)
- Unnatural Acts (2007), with Chris Bartlett
- Pete and Dud: Come Again (2005), with Chris Bartlett
- Andrew Lloyd Webber: The Musical (1994)
- Semtex & Lipstick (1993)
- Eros & the Skull (1988), with Peter Stevenson & John FitZgeRald
- Design: Tewodros (1987)
- Close to the Edge B/W Rocket Man/Meryl Streep (Spring 2010)
- Sweet Revolutions (Summer 2010)
- Always Tomorrow, The Reform Club with Norman Baker (2013) - sessions, Mellotron
- Comandamenti di Auriti, Heather Beaumont, Venice Biennale (2013) - voices
- Georgia: A Short History, edited with Fred James Hill (forthcoming)
- One-Person Show (forthcoming)
- Singer-Songwriters Vol. 1 (forthcoming)
- Zazaki (Dimli) Phrasebook (forthcoming)
- Kurdish (Kurmanji) Phrasebook (forthcoming)
- The Armenians: People, Culture & History, edited with Fred James Hill (forthcoming
- The Azerbaijanis: People, Culture & History, edited with Fred James Hill
- Kurdish (Sorani) Phrasebook
- Tatar Phrasebook
- Mellotron: The Machine and the Musicians that Revolutionised Rock
- Modern Aramaic Dictionary & Phrasebook (Assyrian/Syriac: Swadaya and Turoyo), with Nineb Limassu and Nicholas Al-Jeloo
- Pete and Dud: Come Again, with Chris Bartlett
- Western Armenian Dictionary & Phrasebook, with Vazken-Khatchig Davidian
- Farsi Dictionary & Phrasebook, with Camilla Shahribaf
- Women in Islam: An Anthology from the Qur'an & Hadiths [first edition 1985]
- Turkmen Dictionary & Phrasebook, with William Dirks & Amandurdy Amadurdyev
- Serbian Dictionary & Phrasebook, with Duska Radosavljevic
- The Virgin Killers
- History of the Islamic World (Illustrated), with Fred James Hill
- Eastern Armenian Dictionary & Phrasebook, with Peter Maghdashyan
- Pashto Dictionary & Phrasebook, with Asmatullah Sarwan
- Dari Dictionary & Phrasebook
- Urdu Dictionary & Phrasebook
- London: An Illustrated History, with Robert Chester
- Uzbek Dictionary & Phrasebook, with William Dirks & Umida Hikmatullaeva
- Swahili Dictionary & Phrasebook
- Armenian First Names, with Emanuela Losi
- Andrew Lloyd Webber: The Musical
- Swahili Dictionary
- The Little Big Woman Book, by Llewella Gideon, illustrated by Nick Awde
- Somali Dictionary & Phrasebook
- Azerbaijani Dictionary & Phrasebook, with Famil Ismailov
- Igbo Dictionary & Phrasebook, with Onyekachi Wambu
- Treasury of Indian Love: Poems & Proverbs, with Christopher Shackle
- Armenian Perspectives (edited)
- Treasury of African Love: Poems & Proverbs
- Georgian Dictionary & Phrasebook, with Thea Khitarishvili
- The Mandeer Ayurvedic Cookbook, by Ramesh Patel, illustrated by Nick Awde
- I Saw Satan on the Northern Line: Love Songs from the Underground
- Chechen Dictionary and Phrasebook, with Muhammad Galaev
- Serbo-Croatian Dictionary
- Hausa Dictionary
- Qasida Poetry in Islamic Asia and Africa (Studies in Arabic literature): Vols. 1 & 2, edited by Stefan Sperl & Christopher Shackle, consultant editor Nicholas Awde
- Playground: Vols. 1, 2 & 3, with Imad Alassir
- 21st Century Hausa
- Hausa Reader
- Arabic: How to Read & Write It
- Women in Islam: An Anthology from the Qur'an & Hadiths [new edition 2005]
- Bibliography of Caucasian Linguistics
- Pickled Priests, illustrated by Nick Awde
- 1995 Brixton riot; Andy Beckett, 'The Voice in the Wilderness', The Independent, 11 February 1996.
- "Planet Mellotron Album Reviews: A6". Planetmellotron.com. Retrieved 2013-04-02.
- "Desert Hearts". Deserthearts.com. Retrieved 2010-04-29.
- "MelloFest 1 - Tony Clarke interview". Mellofest.com. Retrieved 2010-04-29.
- "Nick Awde - complete guide to the Playwright, Plays, Theatres, Agent". Doollee.com. Retrieved 2010-04-29.