Bouncing back: A chat with Danny McCormack and Neil Phillips of The Yo-Yo’s, 24 September 1998
“Sorry, but you can’t take your drinks outside.”
“Okay, fine, we’ll go back in.”
Danny McCormack - attempting to lead me, Tara and Yo-Yo’s guitarist Neil Phillips past the Garage’s front-door security to the pub for an interview sesh - turns on a sixpence and marches back inside… straight through the backstage door and out the rear exit, drink still in hand. Something about the unruffled, unthinking way in which he performs the manoeuvre tells me he’s done this 1,000 times in 100 venues. I’m impressed and amused.
Just five minutes before, the Garage’s overzealous security had asked me and Tara to leave. When we told them we had permission to be there, they moved on to hassle Danny’s brother, Chris. It seemed to be a case of shoot first and ask questions later. Probably a London thing.
Tara and I missed The Yo-Yo’s at the Rock Garden last weekend, as we were in the US, so we’d yet to hear anything by the band. Tonight, as we watched them run through a 10-minute, three-song soundcheck, we lost our Yo-Yo’s virginity in style, with a revved-up version of There She Goes by The La’s proving an exclusive treat.
It was good to see Danny centre-stage at last - happy and stress-free, too. The buzz he’s got from being part of a working band again is obvious, and he seems pleased to see us. It’s been a while - probably even a couple of years. How many questions do we have for him? Ooh, a few. Which is why we’d best get down the pub.
We head across the road to The Famous Cock - no sniggering at the back - and grab some seats in the beer garden. Danny, unsurprisingly, has been sidetracked. As soon as he walked in, he was greeted by various friends and acquaintances. Neil eventually manages to pull him away from his mates, though, and we turn on the dictaphone.
Okay, first up: when’s the Uppers And Downers EP coming out?
Danny: “Probably the same time as Jack the Ripper! We’re in negotiations at the moment with different record companies, so we’ll have to see really. It’s just down to the record companies.”
Have you finished writing the album?
Neil: “We’re getting there. We’ve got loads of ideas kicking around.”
What can people expect to see on this tour?
Neil: “Us playing instruments.”
Danny: “Me, Neil, Blads and Tom. Rock ‘n’ roll music - played good and loud, so it makes the hairs on your arm stand on end.”
We noticed that phrase on a recent Yo-Yo’s press release. Are there any other bands around at the moment who raise your arm hair?
Danny: “I don’t know [laughs].”
Neil: “Backyard Babies do live.”
Danny: "Yeah, yeah.
The Yo-Yo’s are supporting the 'Babies this evening.
Danny: “There’s a band, a small band… Have you ever heard of a band called Low Art Thrill? They’ve got a song, Girl Boy, and that fuckin’ does it for me every single time.”
Neil: “There’s a band in America called The Devil Dogs, and they’re fuckin’ brilliant. Absolutely superb.”
Danny: “And the Grease soundtrack [laughs].”
Neil: “Reverend Horton Heat.”
Danny: “Reverend Horton Heat. Erm… ABBA.”
What do you think of The Jellys? You must have heard The Jellys?
Danny: “Yeah yeah. I love that song Feels Like Sunshine.”
Neil: “I’ve only heard the one song. It was about a very, very, very fat cat or something.”
That’ll be Fat Cat.
Okay, let’s get on to the juicy stuff: 'The Wildhearts saved rock ‘n’ roll in the ‘90s.’ Discuss. Y’know, at the very least, they influenced a lot of bands.
Danny: “Of course they did. They influenced The Yo-Yo’s. Everybody in a band’s into The Wildhearts.”
Everybody in the world’s into The Wildhearts!
Danny: “I know! It was one of them bands, right? I think it was special because it influenced bands to actually fuckin’ do something.”
Neil: “And it wasn’t fabricated. I think you can tell it was all for real.”
Danny: “It was just a shame that we didn’t fuckin’ become millionaires. But we’ve all still got our health. We’re all still alive, which is the most important thing. Fuckin’ hell… we saved rock ‘n’ roll, but we didn’t even save ourselves.”
You sacrificed yourselves to save rock ‘n’ roll.
Danny: “And I’m on antidepressants as a result [laughs].”
Neil: “It’s called lager.”
Neil (catching a peek at our notes): “Are you good at yo-yoing?”
Danny: “I’m shit. He’s good. He’s excellent. They’re coming back now, aren’t they? It’s weird, innit? I remember the last time we were flying back from Japan, and the last time we [The Wildhearts] were there we were splitting up again. And I wrote four of the songs that we’re actually doing on the plane on the way home. I thought, ‘shit, I’m not gonna be in a band, I’d better write some fuckin’ songs!’ So I wrote four of them on the plane on the way back. And I was telling Ginger, and he goes: ‘So what’s it gonna sound like then?’ I was sitting there fuckin’ hummin’ it in my head, and he goes: ‘So what are you gonna call it?’ And I said: ‘Oh, The Yo-Yo’s.’ And that was like a year ago.”
Did you have any idea that yo-yoing was on the way back?
Danny: “No, absolutely not. I’ve had the name for ages, and it just happens to fuckin’ be scarily good timing for this band.”
Do you think it’ll help you get noticed, or are you a bit worried that people might think you’re ‘cashing in’ on the craze?
Danny: “I don’t give a fuck. I don’t give a shit, d’ya know what I mean? The fashion of yo-yos’ll go out of fashion in six months and the kids’ll be buying Ninja Turtles again or whatever, and we’ll still be stuck with The Yo-Yo’s.”
What was the story behind The Chasers, one of the other names you considered?
Danny: “Well, I heard that there was already a band called The Yo-Yo’s, and I was just thinking about the name. I liked The Chasers, but I liked The Yo-Yo’s best, and I found out that it was just me being paranoid [laughs].”
Neil: “It was his split personality that had the other band called The Yo-Yo’s.”
I notice that Danny and Neil are now both trying to look at our notes.
Oi, stop trying to cheat!
Danny: “I can’t read upside down. I’m a Geordie; I can’t even read normally, never mind fuckin’ upside down.”
Bet you wish you’d revised now. We’ve got loads of Wildhearts questions we want to put to you, Danny, but we feel kind of guilty about asking them. You do, after all, have a new band to promote.
Danny: “Well, do what you want. Ask Neil them! He knows the answers better than me. He’s got a good memory.”
You were in a band called Little Gods with Tyla, weren’t you, Danny?
Neil: “He played on the album.”
Danny: “I wasn’t in a band called Little Gods.”
Tyla reckons you were.
Danny: “What it was… Tyla had some acoustic songs, and he played us a tape and I thought, fuck man, they’re brilliant. I went in the studio - I think it was a lad called Simon drumming - and we just did this thing. And it was like, Tyla has all this stuff and he called it Little Gods. It was just a one-off recording for a CD. I mean, I dunno what’s gonna happen with it. I heard it was maybe getting released. Have you heard it?”
Danny: “The songs are fuckin’ brilliant. I went to see Tyla the other night [at the Water Rats in King’s Cross]. Me and Neil went down and he played a couple of the songs. It was really good. There’s a song called Only Girl I Ever Loved, which is one of the best songs. It’s fuckin’ brilliant. Really cool.”
So you were never actually in Little Gods?
Danny: “Well, I was, for the three days I was recording, absolutely.”
What about the Radiator tour that the band were booked to play?
Danny: “Yeah, we were supposed to be going on tour. But Tyla broke his arm, and I was quitting drugs [laughs]. So it didn’t happen.”
What happened with the Camden Barfly gig that The Yo-Yo’s were supposed to be playing a couple of months back?
Danny: “Yeah, with The Crocketts. What happened was we were supposed to be recording an EP. We were supposed to be getting some studio time. And I said to The Crocketts, if we’re not in the studio, I’ll definitely play. If we’re all in the studio, I’ll see ya. I can’t be in two places at once. And obviously we were recording so we couldn’t do it. But the Barfly went ahead and made flyers, didn’t they? So we looked like cunts, not the venue. I explained to The Crocketts that if we’re available we’ll do it, definitely. But if we’re not, we obviously can’t. And we weren’t, so we didn’t. But the venue went ahead anyway and fuckin’ advertised it.”
They were still advertising it on the night.
Danny: “Exactly. We were supposed to do one gig last week - four songs at the Rock Garden, to support a band. And the next minute, y’know, it’s in ‘Kerrang!’: ‘Danny’s Yo-Yo’s are headlining fuckin’…'”
How do you feel about ‘Kerrang!’ these days?
Danny: “It’s cheaper than toilet paper. No, I ain’t got a problem with them… wankers [laughs].”
Neil (deadpan): “It’s a powerful magazine.”
Danny: “I’ve got some good mates that work down there, y’know what I mean? And we were just pissed off with them because… They know exactly why we went down there. What they were doing was saying: ‘You’ve got to do interviews for ‘Kerrang!’ ‘cos your fans read it. And if you don’t do interviews for ‘Kerrang!’, it’s pissing your fans off.’ Okay then, well we’ll have to do it. And then they start running a story saying that we’d split up. And we took offence. Normally we wouldn’t take offence at people saying we’d split up, because we do it all the time. But when it’s true it’s true, and when it isn’t it isn’t. It was a fight for fuckin’ honest journalism, not fuckin’… It wasn’t us just being clever and we weren’t looking for press. We just went down 'cos we were fucked off, d’ya know what I mean?”
Malcolm Dome’s supposed to be here tonight, isn’t he?
Neil: “Let’s smash something up!”
Apparently, until recently, the ‘Kerrang!’ journalist had only seen Danny twice in two years. The first time, he was trashing office equipment. The second time… well, I’m not 100 per cent sure what happened the second time. The story involves Danny, Dome and a bus driver, but I’m afraid I can’t tell you more than that. Not because it’s potentially libellous, but because alcohol has fogged my memory of the full story, and I can’t make out a word Danny’s saying on the tape. All four of us are laughing so hard that it sounds like happy hour at the hyena paddock.
When things settle down, Tara and I decide to forge ahead with our Wildhearts questions.
Are you playing this Wildhearts Japanese tour or not, Danny?
Danny: “Yes, absolutely. Five gigs, six gigs. Yeah, I definitely wanna go. Definitely wanna go. It’s not me that wants to do it, and then not wants to do it, and then wants to do it.”
There have been these Internet rumours, y’see…
Danny: “Aw, fuckin’ Internet schminternet.”
Neil: “I got told a rumour yesterday. We were playing in Portsmouth, and this guy came up to me and said: ‘So when are The Wildhearts going on tour around the UK with Strapping Young Lad?’ A complete fabrication out of thin air.”
Danny: “Anybody who’s still talking about The Wildhearts… I mean, fuckin’ hell, we’ve been split up a year. They haven’t got a life really, have they?”
But surely you can see why people do? The band made such an impact.
Danny: “Yeah, but there’s loads of good bands out there, d’ya know what I mean? Ginger’s doing new stuff, I’m doing new stuff, CJ’s doing new stuff and Jef is. And Ritch is. Everybody’s doing new stuff. If we get back together it’ll be for something very special, I think, 'cos I’m concentrating on The Yo-Yo’s. This is my life. I still love The Wildhearts, of course. They’re one of the best bands. But I’m concentrating on this ‘cos I’m happy. It’s taken us a long, long time to be happy. And when you get it you should fuckin’ embrace it 'cos you don’t know how long it’s gonna last, you really don’t.”
So there’s absolutely no chance of a Wildhearts UK tour?
Danny: “I wouldn’t go so far as to say a tour. A one-off gig, maybe. It would be a one-off, and it would be special, but it would be a one-off. ‘Cos Ginger wants to concentrate on his own stuff, I definitely wanna concentrate on my own stuff, and so does Ritch, and so does Jef. CJ’s got his own little fuckin’ thing going.”
Neil: “Jef’s got the best band name ever.”
Danny: “Jef’s band name is fuckin’ unbelievable.”
Neil: “Plan B is genius.”
Danny: “Actually, tonight’ll be the second time in a year that we’ve all been in the same room together. The first time was Ginger’s acoustic gig. I mean, we all go out drinking and boozing together, like, but one on one. It’s never, like, all four together. It used to be, but now… ah, I dunno, we’ll have to see. But we won’t reform for good. We might reform for a one-off EP and a couple of gigs; we don’t know. Every time we get pissed together it’s: ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be great if we did this?’ But by the time we’ve sobered up it’s like… I’ve never purely hated anybody in The Wildhearts. Nobody. It’s ‘cos we’ve loved each other so much, and we were that close. They’re the ones you always hurt, the ones that you’re fuckin’ close to, isn’t it? They see you in the morning, see you naked and stuff [laughs]. And you always piss off the people around you, getting snappy and stuff, and it’s like water off a duck’s fuckin’ head… a duck’s back, even.”
Playing Devil’s advocate for a second, if you’re trying to promote The Yo-Yo’s as something other than just The Danny McCormack Band, and you’re saying that Danny’s not really the frontman, why does he stand in the middle on stage? It is, after all, the usual home of the frontman.
Neil: “It’s because… of symmetry! Guitars either side.”
Danny’s the tallest!
Danny: “I’m the tallest…”
Neil: “No, he’s not!”
Danny: “No, I’m not [laughs].”
Neil: “We go in height order. We have to play on slanted stages so we all look the same height.”
Danny: “It’s basically… I really fuckin’ don’t know. It’s just the way we started to rehearse.”
It’s cool seeing bands with the bassist in the middle. You get the rhythm section in the centre and the guitars either side. It’s nicely balanced. As Neil says, symmetry.
Danny: “The thing is, as it goes now, me and Tom are doing a lot of the singing. But Neil’s gonna do fuck-loads more as well, 'cos he’s writing some really good new stuff.”
Neil: “I was the last one to join, as well.”
Danny: “So we’ve been rehearsing the stuff we know now. But Neil’s coming up with some really good stuff. Everybody’s gonna be singing a lead and we’ll all do backing vocals. When it comes to singing a song, if you’ve got a good soundman, a monitor guy, when Neil’s singing he can come into the middle and I’ll stand on the side. And when Tom sings, he can go in the middle. At the moment, we haven’t even got a van that works, never mind the fuckin’ wage for a monitor man.”
We love bands where everybody sings. That soundcheck sounded really good, with all four of you singing.
Danny: “And everybody’s writing, and everybody’s involved, and everybody’s equal in the band. The thing is, when I first joined The Wildhearts, I used to sit in interviews and feel like a spare prick at a wedding. It was always like, ‘Ginger, tell us about the Quireboys’, ‘Bam, tell us about the Dogs.’ And I’m sitting there going…”
Neil: “You’ve got to use it to your advantage as well, though, haven’t you? If he wasn’t in The Wildhearts, we wouldn’t be getting all this attention.”
How did you and Tom meet up, Danny?
Danny: “The reason The Yo-Yo’s exist is because me and Tom met on the Toy Dolls’ new album. And you know how stupid I am about them, I really am fuckin’… I love them. And we met because we both did backing vocals on the Toy Dolls album. A good enough way to meet, innit?”
What about you, Neil? How did you hook up with The Yo-Yo’s?
Neil: “When I was 17 I had an audition for The Wildhearts, just before Jef joined. I obviously didn’t get in. I was too young. And I just came down to London with my old band and was giving out tapes, and I bumped into his brother in Camden Market. Just a weird coincidence. I gave him a tape and about two weeks later Danny rang me up.”
Danny: “Neil was in a band called B-Movie Heroes. And they were getting record company interest and stuff like that. So I basically robbed 'im [laughs].”
Neil: “None of my mates are talking to me now [laughs]. Danny phoned up the bass player from my band to ask for my number, so he could rob me for The Yo-Yo’s.”
Danny: “A bit naughty, but it worked out. And they’re all good lads, aren’t they?”
At this point, a couple of blokes in suits behind us start making rather loud clapping noises.
Sounds like it was a good day at the office.
Neil: “A contradiction in terms.”
Danny: “That’s why they’re all on Prozac, innit? Prozac and cocaine!”
Are you still throwing up on stage?
Danny: “Yes [laughs].”
Neil: “He did it on purpose last night.”
Danny: “I actually threw up and shit myself last night.”
Neil: “On purpose.”
Danny: “Well, I didn’t shit myself on purpose. That was a freak accident.”
Neil: “My monitor engineer pissed him off so he was purposefully eating all the shit food he could, so he could puke up over the monitor with it.”
Are you on the Internet?
Danny: “Yes. We’ve got a new site. Do you know Mark [Hodgkinson]? He’s doing our site. 'Cos you do Scuzz on the Internet, don’t you?”
Yeah, we run The Wildhearts Webring as well.
Danny: “When I was living with Becky, I used to look at it [the Web] all the time. Would you put our Internet address in your fanzine?”
Yeah, of course.
With only half an hour to go before showtime, and another interview waiting (for the band, not us), we bring the chat to a close. I hand Danny a printed sampler for our website and some other bits and pieces. He’s been reading my crap for four years, off and on. Funny thing is, he actually seems to enjoy it.
Danny: “I tell you what, a lot of stuff that you’ve wrote is fuckin’ really good, like. Some personal things that you’ve wrote are fuckin’…”
He starts to gush, grabbing my hand and looking me in the eye.
“Thank you for fuckin’ sticking with us.”
Don’t be silly. I’m still into the music. It’s honestly not a chore!
Danny: “Like I say, I’ve read a lot of your stuff, a lot of personal stuff that you wrote. It’s absolutely fuckin’… It’s…”
Aw, stop it, man, you’ll have me blubbing.
We make our way back to the venue to find that it’s packed. The doors have only been open for half an hour, and the queue for the bar is already ridiculously long. Most of the punters seem to be wedged up against the stage when Danny, Neil, Tom and Blads wander on at quarter to nine. The first song, 1,000 Miles Away From Me, is a fast-paced punk tune that seems to breeze by in the blink of an eye. And bloomin’ 'eck, it’s loud! As I squash up against a speaker stack, trying to take some decent photos, I’m almost deafened.
Next up is a tune vaguely reminiscent of The Wildhearts’ Nurse Maximum - the verses, anyway. Swagger is the word. It’s not until the third song, though, that I start to take everything in. The whole band looks at ease. Danny’s talking to the crowd between songs, making jokes and just generally proving what a lovable guy he is.
With all four members singing, The Yo-Yo’s really take flight. For their fourth gig, they’re a bit good, really. Arty-farty descriptions can go take a jump, 'cos as Danny says, it’s “rock ‘n’ roll music”. And whatever the term means to you, you’re bound to find at least a little piece of that in The Yo-Yo’s.
Some people have commented on their similarity to the Ramones, who are obviously a big influence. But it’s not that easy to label them Ramones clones when they’re just as likely to launch into some very cool Jason and the Scorchers-style country rock ‘n’ roll, or take things into vaguely Pixies-esque territories (eg, the sublime slowie Too Lazy To Bleed). And when they hit their full pop stride, on songs such as Time Of Your Life and You Got Me Out Of My Mind, they’re groovin’ along with Elvis Costello. It’s that broad, it’s that good and it’s that simple.
As the band bring Rock City, and their all-too-brief set, to a close, the crowd at the front of the stage start chanting: “I’m in love with the rock ‘n’ roll world.” They’re asking for The Wildhearts’ Anthem, but I’d like to think they’re also telling Danny that everything looks rosy from where they’re standing.
The Yo-Yo’s? Go catch em.