Part Time Rockstar. Full Time Legend: Pete Wylie.
I like them big. Small is good too. But bloody big is better by far. I love a song that comes straight out of the blocks stridently, like an army, tooled up with all sorts of cool weapons that you know are going to blow something up at some point. Marching, 4/4, shining. A flash of guitar here, a glimpse of thunderous, echoing drum there, an intro that is a shot across the bows of your ADD-inflicted mind.
I am a snob too. Massive snob. And a keen student. Jeez, all I want to know about is all the great music that ever was and all the amazing new stuff. Is that too much to ask? If a list of 100 lost classic albums is printed and I havent got most of them, I get depressed. Stupidly, I grant you. But that’s me.
Being 83 now, many of the musical calender’s doors have been opened to me and I’ve got to look hard in the corners for new stuff that I’ve never heard before. This week Silver Apples, Lift To Experience, yet another old Fall album and Konono#1 have landed on the doormat and made permanent friends with my collection.
It’s sad for me; the decline of record stores. Really though. No I mean: really. Fuxache, the high street music shop was a palace of wonder and discovery. Now I can spend 30 odd minutes in my local HMV and, swear-to-dog, nothing (that I haven’t got) screams “Buy Me NOW!”. Thank fuck for eBay. That shit is limitless. My postman hates me. Still, fuck him, the miserable toad.
This week I got the extra tracks, criminally-out-of-print, CD version of The Mighty Wah’s A Word To The Wise Guy in the post. A tenner! Not £60 like the last few I bid on. Without giving it away, it is amazing. Transported me back a genuinely harrowing 25 years.
Insert wobbly visual effect…
Anyway, balls of steel, eyes full of wonder and dreams of a better world, that’s what Pete Wylie had. And a very big mouth. My wife punched him in the face once. True story.
Pete was a student of the classics, snob, a gob, a giz-a-job, fearless self promoter. Also he made some great records. It took a few attempts for him to get the desired effect but fuck me when I heard ‘Story Of The Blues’ in 1983 on the wireless, I literally got straight on a bus and went to Spillers in Cardiff and bought it. Fucking genius. Spector and Motown and Broadway and Orange Juice and the Bunnymen and some sort of rough edged Northern grit rolled into one.
In that song, his band morphed from the John Peel championed Wah! to The Mighty Wah! Literally, as well as figuratively. No-one questioned it cos any criticism of the rampant egotism behind the move was answered by ‘The Story Of The Blues’. Easily. You’ve heard it, right? Sure you have. It got him a deal with Warners, maybe it was already on Warners. Whatever. Anyway the new album never appeared; much to my disappointment and annoyance. Another amazing single, not un-ironically called ‘Hope’ flopped and he disappeared.
Anyhow, it seems Warners rejected the album as being crap, so Pete took it to Beggars Banquet then went away and added strings, ambition, more strings, madness, black girls, more ambition, several large white country-cottage stylee kitchen sinks, a Scouse poet doing some self-empowerment, Anti-Thatcher rants between some of the tracks and created…a flop.
A working class hero really was something to be in 1984. If you were cool, you were political. If you were smart, you coudn’t help but be politically active. And there was much to be angry about. Unemployment, spreading strikes, economic gloom, violence on the streets, increased powers for the police. Not like now. Oh…. But, seriously, one of the greatest albums ever made. Ever. The soul power and the scope and the scale and the Wall-of-Sound tactics make it sound amazing today. Oh, and the songs. All absolutely massive, widescreen, bleak, optimisitc, surging, noble, romantic chiming calls-to-arms. Didn’t really sound like anyone. All it needed was a come-back hit single to kick it off. Settling on the genius title of ‘Come Back’ (link), I thought Pete was poised to over take his rivals (and ex band mates) Ian MacCulloch and Julian Cope. Lyrics like “Did you ever hear of Hope, Come Back, I’m willing to try”, came soaring, winking and, crucially, swaggering out of the speakers. It seemed obvious to me. Back of the net stuff.
But of course the world disagreed. This is a recurring theme in my life. Or in my favourite music. Or, ha, my record label. You hear a song, a band, an album and think “Fuck! That is a worldwide #1 hit”. It rarely is though. At the same time, I thought Icicle Works would be world beaters, not one hit wonders. Rolling forward, Ultrasound were another. Arcade Fire another. Cept they did do alright for themselves. I am betting Win Butler has a well-worn copy of Ocean Rain somewhere safe.
All these bands were drawing from a rich and varied musical palette. All trying to make MASSIVE rock songs that are also proper pop songs too, with a glint in their eye. All absolutely dead serious and ambitious about being huge, witty, popular clever and fun. I miss that. Can we have it back? Obviously we still have bands going for The Big Music accolades. I think U2* are still going. Simple Minds too. Coldplay. White Lies being the obvious new contender. But fuck me, they are all overplaying the serious’n’important maudlin themes card a bit. Where’s the fun in that?
Big, clever and fun. That is all I ask.
Oh, that and a politicised and angry youth. I had given up on that. But, y’know, 2009 might just surprise me. Half a million on the streets against War In Iraq, being ignored, ought to have been, and was, the last nail in that pipe dream. But mebbe it just needs upping a notch or two. There’ll be rioting on the Champs Elysee, next. And A Bomb In Wardour Street?
*Word just in, U2 have gone a bit kerrazy again. ‘Sexy Boots’, my Mandela’s mobile phone number-ringing arse.