“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.
“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.
The post-gig piddle is usually a good chance to overhear some opinions. Men’s mouths are never freer than when they’re standing side by side with their comrades in urination, having just drunk beer and witnessed live rock ‘n’ roll. If Prime Minister’s Question Time was held in the bogs of the Camden Underworld on a Wednesday night, we’d get to find out what was really goin’ on.
The show-off in question is actually Warner E. Hodges, a founding member and mainstay of Nashville’s finest rock ‘n’ roll outfit, Jason and the Scorchers – the band that, in the early ’80s, put a steel-toed cowboy boot up the backside of country music, opening it up to the post-punk generation and making cult heroes of the band’s members, not least Jason (Ringenberg) and Warner.
The last train home would be leaving at 11.37pm. Pretty good. The gig, at Brighton’s Engine Room on the seafront, was bound to be over by 11pm, so I should have had plenty of time for a leisurely stroll back to the station. And I probably would have if Ginger’s car hadn’t broken down en route to the venue (the word ‘diesel’ was tossed about), leaving a roomful of fans anxiously eyeing their watches.
One guy in a Fishing For Luckies T-shirt started asking around for floor space. He had the same problem as me and Matt, one of my two gigging partners this evening: a last train back to London was unlikely to be caught. Matt started fiddling with his swanky internet-enabled phone (’tis pure witchcraft, I tell thee), searching for train times from other stations that we might be able to get a late-night cab to. I called my wife Tara to ask her to double-check the times on the (proper) web. Alas, it looked like we were stuffed – unless we fancied hanging around platforms until 3am.
Down the decades, entire libraries’ worth of words have been written about rock ‘n’ roll’s life-affirming properties.
I’ve read some of it. I’ve enjoyed some of it. But I’ve also yet to read a single line that sums it up better than the closing line of Valor Del Corazón, the first fully-fledged solo album from Ginger, creator and creative of The Wildhearts, whose last proper long player, 2003’s The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed!, sounded like the work of a band who’d found something approaching contentment for the first time in their 14-year history.
Unfortunately, the following year Ginger watched his life fall apart around him. An open letter to fans on The Wildhearts’ website detailed the horrors he’d been through. It was a messy, tragic story, at the root of which was a failed relationship. It appeared that everything that followed was an attempt to escape the sadness he felt, and nothing worked – until he hooked up with producer and friend Ralph Jezzard to begin work on what was to become Valor Del Corazón.
It’s like something from a movie. A fantasy sequence in High Fidelity, perhaps?
The camera, in a low shot, glides through the studio door and into the control room. On the floor lies Danny McCormack, curled up in the foetal position, purring like a cat. Pan up over a table strewn with empty beer cans: Special Brew, Guinness, Tennent’s Super, K, Becks.
Nearby, there’s a tray of stewed coffee and a stack of unused mugs.
Tilt up to see Ginger sitting in the producer’s chair, with the engineer they call Fully at his side. They’re both rocking backwards and forwards in an excited fashion. Pan right. Stidi is sitting forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He’s bouncing up and down like someone just lit a firework near his backside. All eyes face forward.
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.”