Ginger Wildheart: my life in 10 songs

Ginger Wildheart
(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

Since first bursting onto the Britrock scene in the early 90s and tearing his way through everything from grindcore and noise pop to bawdy country, folk, punk and everything in between, Ginger Wildheart has been busy. Considering you could pick one song from each of his musical projects and still have far too many to fill out a top 10, we decided it best to let the man himself guide us through some of the most significant songs in his extensive repertoire.

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The Wildhearts – Inglorious (Fishing For Luckies, 1994)

I Wanna Go Where The People Go is always the song I feel could have given The Wildhearts massive success. That said, I don’t think success and tonnes of money suits everyone, and it definitely wouldn’t have suited us – I’d probably be dead! The P.H.U.Q. album was originally supposed to start with Inglorious: we wrote and rehearsed a double album, but the record label just wanted the first album again. So we took all the long songs they didn’t want and put them on an album called Fishing For Luckies, which we sold to the fan club.

The reviews started coming in for Fishing For Luckies and suddenly the label wanted the songs back… so we told them they could buy them! But then, that was our future with East West; they didn’t know what we wanted and didn’t particularly care until people said they liked it. Inglorious is still great fun to play: it’s got this odd structure where it sounds like it could be classic but also doesn’t sound like anybody else. That song could have propelled us where people wanted us to go and if it had been included on the second Wildhearts record, things would probably have been very different.

Silver Ginger 5 – Monkey Zoo (Black Leather Mojo, 2000)

I was living in Japan when we put Silver Ginger 5 together. My friend Danny Deen, who had designed the art for some of The Wildhearts’ singles and the P.H.U.Q. album, had died, so my relationship with Japan ended when I had to come back to attend his funeral. I wrote Monkey Zoo about how love and death can affect you, how you don’t prepare for goodbyes and that you certainly don’t get to prepare to say goodbye to somebody, so end up having to do it when they’re in a box. It’s one of the songs that had an emotional resonance that I feel elevated that album beyond just a vanity project. 

We almost burned down Rock City on the tour for that one, too. The venue that was made completely of wood and let us use all our pyro was fine, but Rock City – this stone monument that no tornado nor end of the world could knock down – set on fire. Our pyro went through the ceiling and into the cladding inside the roof. We didn’t know anything about it until we saw the Hell’s Angels that used to run the place charging down the corridor with fire extinguishers!

Ginger – The Man Who Cheated Death (Valor Del Corazon, 2005)

Valor Del Corazon was my first solo album. I’d just broken up with the mother of my eldest two kids, so it was a massively emotionally fractured time. I moved to LA with my friend [and future Wildhearts bassist] Scott Sorry, into this lodge house on a ranch that was supposed to be built on a Native American energy vortex. I wasn’t into ghosts and believing stuff like that, but things got weirder and weirder until Scott got so freaked out he left me by myself in the lodge house. 

This one night, there were so many bangs and knocks, and I could hear what sounded like people running about downstairs. It was the night of a thousand cuts where I was just hoping to make it to morning, and being in the emotional state I was, I felt like I’d gone mad. The next morning it felt like there was a hole in the top of my head and it was connecting me with something; The Man Who Cheated Death appeared fully formed. I recorded it and it was like a cover version I’d played loads of times. I’m not sure I can take the credit for it, really!

Ginger – Jake (Yoni, 2007)

The cardinal rule is that you’re not supposed to write about your kids, and if you do, then for God’s sake don’t name the song after them! I obeyed neither rule and wrote Jake. I was writing and recording Yoni, The White Album [the nickname for The Wildhearts’ self-titled 2007 record] and Market Harbour all at the same time. They were all very different, but it felt like that’s what you should do: rather than putting inappropriate songs and ideas into a Wildhearts album, just spread it across a few different records. 

Jake was one of those songs where I wasn’t really in charge of writing it – it was my emotions doing all the work. It was a really creative peak in my life. We recorded Yoni in Tim Smith’s studio. It was perfect: Frank Zappa was dead, so the way I saw it, Tim Smith was the only living true genius. I’d stay at his house a lot during these recordings, so I spent a lot of time with him which was really lovely. Tim had a hand in scoring the strings on Jake too, which was a massive box ticked off.

The Wildhearts – Slaughtered Authors (The Wildhearts, 2007)

Slaughtered Authors is one of those songs we don’t do now, because it’s so fucking hard to play. It was the first song we wrote for The White Album and the gap between Wildhearts albums felt so big we came back asking, ‘What do we even sound like?’ We wrote that one and it was like, ‘Ah, yes – let’s do ten more of those’. It’s such a long song we had no idea if it was going to bore the audience, but when we finished the song there was a silence and then everyone started clapping and cheering like mad. 

Scott Sorry had joined the band and he had this youthful zest we’d lost a long time ago, reminding us why it was good. There’s a lot of dark times associated with The Wildhearts so it's hard to just go, ‘Yeah let’s get back together, this’ll be fun’ because if there’s one thing it’s never, it’s fun. Scott came in and provided the fun. While we were recording The White Album he was also in this shed learning all the songs so we could play some shows and make some money for Christmas. He’s just tireless and worked so hard – it kicked us up the arse.

Ginger Wildheart – Time (555%/100%, 2012)

I was ready to quit the music industry when I went in to do 555% because it wasn’t working for me. I couldn’t get record labels to do the records I wanted to do and they wanted me to make things I didn’t want to make. I figured I’d get one final album, take all the song ideas I’d got and that would be my swansong. I put it onsale and it went from strength to strength. I spent ages during the recording of the first and second sessions putting ideas on my phone, but with the third album my phone shit the bed and got rid of all the demos. 

We’d decided to go to Spain on a family holiday, so while everyone was on the beach for Christmas, I was in the apartment writing another album in the week before I went to Denmark to record it! Time came from that and is such an odd song; an odd arrangement enhanced by the musicians I was working with at the time. Jon Poole and Denzel, Chris Catalyst, Victoria Liedtke and even Rich Jones managed to come in on it. Willie Dowling was involved in the production… it was just a really satisfying performance.

Hey! Hello! – Swimwear (Hey! Hello!, 2013)

I actually wrote Swimwear for Michael Monroe, after working with him on his first album. He decided for his second record to just write with the band he’d got, so I ended up sitting on this song until I decided to record it myself and put it out as a single. I never do just two songs though; 2 soon became 5, then 7 and I thought ‘I might as well do an album.’ Someone once said Hey! Hello! was like the Sex Pistols and Abba making an album together, and that’s not a bad comparison.

After 555% I’d had so many people say they loved Victoria [Liedtke] and my voice together, and at the time I was going through tonnes of vocal problems (which all turned out to be mental issues, nothing physical), so I wanted a singer and Victoria was the first and last name that came up. We recorded it with Russ Russell – whose work you’ll know from Napalm Death – and the idea was to make an ugly-sounding pop record, with no idea if it would work until it came out and people loved it, which goes to show you shouldn’t just listen to critics.

Ginger Wildheart – If You Find Yourself in London Town (G-A-S-S/Year of the Fanclub, 2014)

G-A-S-S [Ginger Associated Secret Society] was a really creative year [Ginger released three new songs each month, alongside two demos, essays and diaries on a fan club website]. It was intense and very, very involving – there was absolutely no rest, often working through the night to get everything up for the launch the next day on the first of the month. There are so many songs – like The Pendine Incident and Toxins and Tea – that still feature in my solo sets, but If You Find Yourself in London Town was the one I liked the best. 

I’d never written a song to myself. Moving from the North East to London, the culture shock is like nothing you’ve ever experienced and I had to go make all the mistakes myself. The wrong people, the wrong substances, the wrong habits, areas… I did it all. It was great writing a song to that kid that took the Clipper bus that took about a month and a half to get from South Shields to London. Now my kids get to read it and puzzle over ‘Don’t go following smiling strangers to the toilet’. 

Ginger Wildheart – The Daylight Hotel (Ghost In The Tanglewood, 2017)

In many ways, Ghost In The Tanglewood was another rebirth because I was struggling a lot when it was written. I was in a hospital and calling it The Daylight Hotel because I couldn’t divulge the name of it and the people I wrote in the song were the ones I could hear in the halls. Drugs in the hallway, people realising they’d fucked up after going back on the booze and then trying to get back in only to be told they needed to dry out… people crying in the next room on suicide watch. 

I needed the stability of being around people who knew what it was like to suffer and there’s no better place than places like this where everyone’s already an expert. It’s a shame that people with mental health issues don’t have an alcoholics anonymous or narcotics anonymous where they can come and get more out of the experience than they could with decades under a therapist. The best thing about my stay was the people, so I made sure to sing it to everyone so they weren’t offended. It was lovely and it’s such an organic song.

The Wildhearts – Dislocated (Renaissance Men, 2019)

We were on the ‘Britrock Must Be Destroyed’ tour with Terrorvision and Reef, thinking, ‘Let’s just get on stage and see what happens’. We soon realised we felt great every time we were on-stage, so we thought we should capture that feeling while it lasted and it stopped sounding good! It was one of those times where I thought, ‘I should probably write a song’, and Dislocated just came out – I knew it was a Wildhearts song for definite. 

Ritch [Battersby, Wildhearts drummer] and I have a kind of telepathy when we play, where he just knows where I’m going. The first time we played Bloodstock, he couldn’t play with us and we realised just how hard the song is to play. We had the Terrorvision fella [Cameron Greenwood] fill in, and he’s a wonderful drummer but he just couldn’t understand how it was put together in the first place. You basically have to abandon every idea of how to actually play drums and just go into song mode. It’s invariably the highlight of the show when we do it and I’ll never get bored of it. It was great to write our first album again – we hadn’t done it in a while!

The Wildhearts’ new album 21st Century Love Songs is out September 3 via Graphite Records. The band play Bloodstock on Friday August 13 and tour the UK in September.

Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.