Pieces of silver: In the studio with Ginger Wildheart, 26 November 1999
Ginger strikes a match.
“Stop doggin’ meeeeeee…”
The final note of his vocal goes on forever. Babies are conceived, born and reach school age; governments rise and fall; continents drift. And… relax.
Ginger lights a cigarette with what’s left of the match.
“Aw, he’s too cool, isn’t he?” says a smiling Roger Tebbutt, the engineer for the SilverGinger sessions. I can see his point.
The lights in the recording area are dimmed (for atmosphere, I presume). Ginger is standing alone in front of a microphone. He’s been there for about an hour now, “doing the bastards” as he puts it - recording high harmony vocal lines for a song called Doggin’, a bonus track for the Japanese version of the album and a possible single B-side. It’s not a task that he’s been particularly looking forward to, hence the decision to hold it back until the rest of the album’s vocals had been completed.
“Never again,” he jokes between takes. “It’s a blues album, the next one.”
Tim Smith, the producer, keeps saying “and one more” and Ginger keeps obliging. There are an awful lot of these harmony lines to record. Thankfully, almost every take is faultless - or as faultless as rock ‘n’ roll should be.
“There are slight imperfections in there,” says Tim after one take. “But that’s quite nice.”
“I quite like that,” says Ginger through the mic. “Otherwise it’ll be Pink Floyd.”
Back in the control room, Ginger ponders this afternoon’s work: “I expect people’ll listen to this and say, ‘that’s a nice effect he’s put on there’.”
Believe it, kids - this is no special effect. Ginger’s manager, Gigs, does a quick calculation in his head, and announces that by the time the track’s finished, with all the harmony vocals in place, Ginger will have sung the line “stop doggin’ me” a tonsil-tinglin’ 351 times. That’s some coffee he’s been drinking.
Actually, having sampled the studio coffee myself, I’m convinced that this potent brew is partially responsible for the hot rockin’ sound of Girls Are Better Than Boys. One of the shiniest things Ginger’s ever recorded, this song does indeed “sound silver”.
Halfway through playback, Ginger starts doing the classic Tiger Feet dance (a twist of the shoulders a slight bang of the head). “It’s glamtastic!” he says, proudly. And it is. Echoes of Slade, AC/DC and Mott The Hoople bounce around the studio’s walls. The chorus - “I like girls 'cos girls are better than boys” - is so catchy that it’s still buzzin’ round my bonce the next morning.
All the tracks I hear today are in fact rough mixes. There are plans to add to the arrangements with saxophones, gospel choirs, female vocals and, knowing Ginger, a gaggle of stilt-walking geese playing banjos. Expect a rock ‘n’ roll record of mammoth proportions. This could very well be Ginger’s Exile On Main Street, though without the drugs (he’s currently running on nothing stronger than that highly delicious coffee).
Speaking of the Stones, one of the nicest surprises I get this afternoon is the countrified Inside Out. The track, originally aired at last year’s 12-Bar Club gig, has moved on from its acoustic beginnings and now resembles a close family friend of The Wildhearts’ Bad Time To Be Having A Bad Time. Listen out for the 29 x The Pain-ish lyrical nugget “my old friend the blues”, the title of one of Ginger’s all-time favourite songs (it’s by Steve Earle and can be found on his Guitar Town album from 1986). “We play country and western,” drawls Ginger as the final note fades away.
Sonic Shake, meanwhile, has been beefed up, and now includes some extra vocal lines in the pre-chorus. The passionate vocals from the Japanese girls bring to mind the kids’ chants from Pissjoy. It would make a cracking single, though with lyrics like “party girl, she fucked so much she screwed herself to the ground” it’s not exactly daytime-radio fodder.
If bobbing your head violently up and down until blood starts trickling out of your ears is your thing, get a load of Divine Imperfection. Boasting a rollicking AC/DC-style riff, stabbing drum patterns and a guitar solo from Hell, this track can only be described as ROCK. Which is why I write ‘ROCK GEETAR’ in big, bold capitals in my notebook, and for good measure scribble a smaller ‘rock’ underneath. I underline it a few times for extra emphasis.
When the track finishes, everyone is silent for a few seconds. And then a lone voice - I’m not sure who; I’m still feeling dazed - pipes up “ROCK”.
I like being right. (Even when it’s obvious.)
The big centrepiece of the album could very well be something entirely different, though. “It’s a mystery how we keep on seeing it through, here at the Monkey Zoo.” I know that, on a computer screen, those words have no emotional effect whatsoever, but this poppy, dreamy mid-tempo ballad gives me goosebumps today.
As it begins, Ginger wanders over and tells me that he’s hoping to get Robin Zander to sing on it. He also wants Nikki Sixx to play bass on it. The melody is very Cheap Trick, and even in this unfinished form the arrangement is jaw-flooringly detailed. I close my eyes and try to climb inside the song…
Ginger still can’t quite believe what a fantastic time he’s been having these past couple of months.
“Every day I’m impressed to the point of fandom,” he says. “I’m going to miss this time in my life so much when it’s over. I know my focus will neatly shift onto something else, but this is just so much fun I’m sort of dreading it ending. I’m in love with this session. I’ve never said that before.”
Tim says that they’ve set themselves a deadline of 10 December to finish the recording. After that, they’ll decamp to another studio for mixing. And then begins phase two of the SilverGinger plan to take over the rock ‘n’ roll world.
For now, though, it’s back to “doing the bastards”.
More coffee, anyone?
Postscript: SilverGinger became Silver Ginger 5, and the album, Black Leather Mojo, had its Japanese release in 2000. A UK version, featuring a bonus disc of live tracks and demos, followed in 2001.