“On the 13th floor, she wanna know more…” – Ashtray Eyes by Last Great Dreamers
“This is where we do nine new songs, so if you all want to go to the bar…”
It’s Saturday night at the Asylum 2, a cosy first-floor venue just outside Birmingham’s shopping district, and Slyder, Last Great Dreamers’ lead guitarist and vocal co-pilot, is warming up the crowd.
The event is a launch party for the band’s new album, 13th Floor Renegades, whose official release is still six days away. However, as tonight’s audience are here with the intention of sampling some fresh tunes, there’s a good chance the barman might actually get to put his feet up for the next half an hour.
“There’s a ghost in the Tanglewood that offered light in the black separation.” – Phantom Memories by Ginger Wildheart
“Get a move on, Stockford!”
Yes – tonight, Matthew, I am that guy, the bloke who spends an age at the front of a queue, holding everyone up. I don’t mean to be, but the prize now that I’ve reached pole position is a chat with Ginger Wildheart – someone I’ve not spoken to, in person, for… ooh, it must be about 16 years.
Back then, my wife Tara and I ran his website SilverGinger.com, as well as the discussion group The Wildhearts Mailing List. It was the days before Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – heck, even MySpace was a glint in its daddy’s eye – and a lot has happened since. I’ve gone bald, for starters.
Record producer Pete Brown is guiding Last Great Dreamers’ frontman, Marc Valentine, towards a perfect vocal take. He advises him to listen to just one side of his headphones – to “take an ear off”.
“I’ve got all three off at the moment,” says Marc, before lead guitarist Slyder chimes in with an idea of his own.
“How about putting them over his eyes?”
It’s Monday the 11th of December and I’m at Henwood Studios in Oxfordshire, where the Dreamers’ fourth long-player, the follow-up to 2016’s Transmissions From Oblivion, is nearing completion. The album has been in production since early November, though the sessions have so far been split into three chunks, so no one has gone stir crazy yet.
“In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.” – Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
“I’ve been loved by the sweetest and hated by heroes.” – Geordie In Wonderland by The Wildhearts
The first time that Gary Davidson met The Wildhearts’ frontman, Ginger, things did not go well. It was April 1998, and Gary was at a Backyard Babies gig in London, when he spied his hero in the bar area. After tapping him on the shoulder and declaring “I’ve waited ages to meet you!” he went in for a handshake, only to send Ginger’s drink flying – a cue for the off-duty musician to storm off.
“What a fucking first meeting,” says Gary, as I remind him of the incident from his book, Zealot In Wonderland.
The first time I met Gary Davidson, at a Silver Ginger 5 gig in December 2000, he was a pain in the arse. All these years later, this sorry tale (“whoops and sorry,” in fact) is recounted in Gary’s first book, Zealot In Wonderland.
This 350-page confessional, written over 10 years, details the ups, downs and inside-outs of his Wildhearts fandom – from his discovery of the band in 1992, to frontman Ginger’s game-changing PledgeMusic campaign, which kicked off in 2011.
It’s 7pm on a balmy spring evening, and I’m wandering up Orsman Road in Hoxton, towards The Stag’s Head. I have no idea why I expect to find a tranquil beer garden on a Friday night in London’s East End, but my awakening is far from rude. As I enter the pub I’m immediately greeted by Tommy Hale, who’s standing just inside the doorway nursing a large wooden spoon bearing the number five.
The singer, songwriter and sometime guitarist from Dallas, Texas, is in the UK for an eight-date tour, which has already taken him and his band from Exmouth to Hastings, via Swindon, Bristol and Guildford. I saw the latter show three nights ago, and this evening I’m looking forward to questioning Tommy about some of its finer details – hopefully, for the benefit of the tape, in a nice quiet spot.
But first, there’s that wooden spoon to take care of.
“Please be aware no food, drink or chewing gum is allowed in the venue. Thank you.”
The printed sign, one of a handful dotted around the entrance and foyer area of the Troxy, is trying its polite best to look after the venue’s interests, but it doesn’t seem to have caught the attention of tonight’s performer, John Carpenter, who’s happily chewing away.
It’s hard not to think of Roddy Piper in They Live: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.” Carpenter’s supply seems plentiful, but asses – or rather arses, as we’re in London – still get a good shoeing.
The filmmaker/composer is in the capital to finish up his nine-date tour of the UK and Ireland, and I’m feeling a bit emotional. With my legs planted firmly on a prime piece of real estate – ie, down the front by the barrier, about 15 feet away from the man himself – I’m trying to soak up every last drop of what’s happening on stage. It’s my third and final show of the tour. Once this is over, that’s it – certainly for a while, but maybe forever.
Here’s one for fans of ’70s and ’80s Italian exploitation films. From left to right we have composer Fabio Frizzi, some interloping no-mark and actress Catriona MacColl.
Last night Fabio and his six-piece band played a wonderful gig at Union Chapel in Islington, performing suites of music from throughout Fabio’s career as a composer for film and television.
It was his third London show since 2013, and he’d reworked his set since his last visit to the UK two years ago, though of course all of his ‘hits’ from Lucio Fulci’s gothic horrors – the likes of Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Beyond and City Of The Living Dead (or The Gates Of Hell, as it was titled in the US) – were present and correct.
It’s been a busy couple of years for Last Great Dreamers. From a nostalgic comeback in 2014 – a reunion after nearly two decades of retirement – they steadily rebuilt their empire with singles, videos, tours and festival appearances, before announcing that they were recording an album, to be funded via their fans through PledgeMusic: a confident move, which appears to have paid off.
The finished record is called Transmissions From Oblivion. It’s a title that put in an early bid and fought long and hard to win its crown. But listening to the album, I’m struck by a fitting alternative, and that’s simply Last Great Dreamers.
If any of the band’s three long-players deserve an eponymous billing, it’s this one. At times, I’ve wondered whether there’s a case to be made for it being a concept album of sorts – about growing up, music, the business and the connection between these things. Not all the tracks fit, but there’s a strong sense that this is quite a personal record for its songwriters – a cleansing, in some ways.
There’s an unwritten rule in the music industry that goes something like this: whatever the date on which you’re planning to put out your new record, add at least three months – and then, when you’ve finally got that date, add an extra week. The wheels of design, manufacture and publicity can move slower than anticipated, and it’s impossible to cheat the system by anticipating delays from the outset – a problem I like to call the Release Date Paradox – so don’t try to be smart.
And so it is that 10 months after its final recording session, and two seasons after its planned spring release, Tommy Hale’s third solo album, Magnificent Bastard, has made parole. I first heard it in an unmastered, tentatively sequenced form last November, when I did an interview with Tommy in the Wiltshire studio where it was recorded. But the finished LP – the complete Bastard, you might say – is at last upon us, and listeners can finally get to decide whether it lives up to the claim of its title.