Ginger Wildheart: the Classic Rock interview

Ginger Wildheart holding a guitar
(Image credit: Will Ireland - Total Guitar Magazine)

He’s the guy whose band The Wildhearts took off like a rocket in the early 90s – and he hasn’t returned to earth yet. He’s the guy who got fired from The Quireboys in the late 80s because he had the best haircut; well, that and his early adoption of speed and coke and thrash and pop and booze – lots of booze – and distorted guitars and… 

Well, you get the picture. He’s the guy who has released dozens of brilliantly inspired singles and albums by dozens of variously titled projects not including the juddering, monumental Wildhearts releases. The guy whose breathtaking range as a songwriter encompasses rock, punk, thrash, country, folk, psychedelia, heartrending ballads, infectious super-pop, teeth-grinding metal, future-shock lyrics and every colour of the rainbow if rainbows included black. 

He’s the guy from Newcastle who grew up the tormented child of a vicious, violent stepfather. Whose mother was beaten bloody until one night she fought back by sticking a ten-inch blade into her aggressor’s stomach. A lifetime fighting depression and anxiety ensued. Along the way there were suicide attempts. 

He is Ginger Wildheart (real name David Leslie Walls) and in September his band released the high-end, ultra-rock Wildhearts album, 21st Century Love Songs. And they’re out there on tour again smashing the world to tiny pieces. 


We first met when you were in the Quireboys, in the eighties. 

You’re the one who’s responsible for all of this. 

That’s kind, but you got where you are today with your own talent and courage

Well, I stuck with it because of your positive words. You don’t get thirty years in this business unless you had some good support. I was living with Ray Zell [creator of the Pandora Peroxide comic strip in Kerrang!]. It was a good time, but you were the one that said people will care if you do something solo. I went, maybe he’s mad or maybe he’s got a point. But I never really looked back. 

What are your memories of getting fired from the Quireboys? 

I don’t have a lot of memories, because I was actually as drunk as they tell people I was. Going to LA with the Quireboys was the first time I’d been on an airplane in my life. I had no idea if I got airsick or not. Then I behaved like any young boy in LA should behave. There was partying, a lot of people doing drugs, and I just went “Hello”, then found out later they were all more into alcohol. But I thought [firing me] was a weird thing to do. 

Sharon Osbourne was managing us, and I was called into her office. Guy and Spike were sitting on a couch, avoiding eye contact. I think Sharon just thought I was going to get a telling off. When they said: “Ginger, you’re fired from the band,” Sharon went: “He’s fired?” As in: ‘What the fuck you firing him for?’ 

But when I was walking around in LA, I had this sound in my head: Cheap Trick melodies, but with really heavy thrash guitars and early-80s punk, like Discharge. Nothing that [the Quireboys] would do.

When I was fired, the only thing I could think of was, well, I’ll form this band that’s a mixture of all these different elements. We did the first Wildhearts album [Earth Vs The Wildhearts, 1993] and I was just expecting the press to all go: “Pop and thrash. That’s not going to work.” 

But everyone gave it five stars, and a lot of people like yourself gave us a lot of support in the early days. I’ve read a lot about Buddhism, and that says there is no past and there is no future, so if something’s on your mind it’s probably because you know you’re going to do it. I knew I was meant to do this, to be a pain in people’s ass and release far too much music and make a lot of noise.

That first Wildhearts album sounded like Mad Max-meets-The Beatles. How do you recall those times? 

It was just non-stop alcohol and speed and then other things, as and when we could afford them. We weren’t sober ever. I remember hearing a thing about Motley Crue where Tommy Lee was going: “We have a few days on water and then we go back to drinking.” I’m thinking: “A few days on water?!” 

I hadn’t drunk water, apart from ice cubes in drinks, for years. We just enjoyed every step of it, thinking we might not get to do it again. It was one of those bands I thought Motorhead would be like. Hanging around with Motorhead must have been better than hanging around with any other band. 

Tell me about your relationship with CJ [Christopher Paul Persaud-Jagdhar, who Ginger originally shared guitar and vocals with in The Wildhearts]. 

It was a complete fluke. I was in a club, and Tattooed Love Boys were playing and I was like, fucking hell, that guy, I’m going to have to meet him and see what he’s all about. We talk, and we like the same music, the same expression, and we were so tight as friends. Couldn’t separate us. He had a girlfriend who worked in a Japanese restaurant. She used to feed us. 

Then we really got into coke. And it distorted my relationship with CJ. My idea of self-importance, that was very much distorted. It went like that for a long time. I thought: “I’ve put this band together, I can do it again. I can find people like CJ”. I didn’t realise that there’s no one like CJ. Who not only plays guitar like me, but sings like me. We’re the same fucking height. Bizarre. It’s finding out about relationships by fucking up relationships and realising that the one constant thing that’s wrong is you.

I remember going to Top Of The Pops with you [in 1995] for I Wanna Go Where The People Go. Oasis were on the show, and Liam Gallagher was giving you the stink eye. You just gave him the face. He was a boy; you were a man. That was the first time it struck me how far you had come since your Quireboys days.

Well, those days were the first time I’d really thought about depression. Which makes a lot of sense why things happened the way they did. Back then no one talked about depression. Especially not from Newcastle. I was finding I was battling something every day that was bigger than Top Of The Pops and bigger than a lot of great things that happened then. 

I started having suicidal thoughts for the first time in my life and there was no one to talk to. There wasn’t support networks for this kind of thing back then. I wouldn’t say it spoiled everything, but it definitely soiled it a bit. I was young, free and having a whale of a time, yet I was carrying this fucking huge weight around that I couldn’t talk to anyone about. I think that informed most of what I did and how I reacted to a lot of things – like nothing’s important. 

That’s when I started thinking: “When’s it going to be?” It hasn’t happened at twenty-seven, twenty-eight, and every year since then I’ve thought: “This is going to be the year where I bow out.” I used to tell people that it’s a good job I’m from England, because if I’d been from America I could’ve got a hold of a gun and then I would’ve just done it one day. 

Cocaine definitely didn’t help, because it completely depletes your serotonin levels. Alcohol is a depressant. If you’re clinically depressed, and you have cocaine and alcohol, they end up killing you one way or another. But fifty-six years old and I still haven’t done it, so it’s looking good.

Was music your life raft? 

I don’t know how anyone can exist without music or seeing the medicinal properties that it has. Whether I’m listening to music or I’m writing it, I’ve got that outlet. I just crawl into my guitar and the emotions come out. And then when that comes out commercially and someone says it affected them, it’s bigger than a hobby. 

Growing up, all the artists I liked weren’t very successful. Sparks being a prime example. It only gets as good lyrically and creatively as Sparks. Other people could describe them as underachievers, but they were my band. Maria McKee never got to be a great star. Fishbone didn’t get to be as big as the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was music first, commerce second, and they kept making it. Sparks have got, like, thirty albums or something now? I’m still catching up.

The Wildhearts broke up the first time at the end of 1997. That was followed by a tremendous outpouring of other projects for Ginger: Supershit 666, Silver Ginger 5, Howling Willie Cunt. 

This carried on through the years: side-jobs like Mutation and Hey! Hello!; the online G*A*S*S* fan club project; online diaries; crowd-funded albums, his own record label, Round Records; guesting with The Throbs, Jason And The Scorchers, Backyard Babies, Brides Of Destruction and many others. 

There have been various solo albums over the years, embracing styles of metal, punk, pop, country, folk, rockabilly and – back with The Wildhearts since 2001 – a kaleidoscope of blends and flavours.

Ever fancy a night off? 

Well, I used to think that you had to choose. Which is why the band split up because I wanted to do something different. Now you don’t have to choose. If I get a song and that’s a Wildhearts one, push it in that bag, or if that’s a Sinners one push it in another bag. Then I’ve got another lot, what am I going to do with them? You put it in another bag and it ends up as a solo album. I feel pregnant with music, it needs to fucking get out. 

If I’ve got something in my mind and I don’t record it, it’ll turn into a virus in my brain. With Mutation, we couldn’t finish the first album, it took years to finish it, but I knew it only had a lifespan of three albums. Creative people, it’s not really a choice, it’s a glorious punishment. I can’t just enjoy being in The Wildhearts, same as the rest of the guys can, because there’s so many problem makers. Or there’s a ballad that I can’t do with The Wildhearts that I need to do. 

The best thing about being a creative person is being led down these weird dark alleys and have no idea if it’s a fucking cul-de-sac or a fucking Utopia. Let’s not get too far down this one, but the alien power of the universe, now that’s finally getting acknowledged and declassified, is that they’ve got a purpose here. They’ve been here forever, they’ve got a purpose, don’t know what it is. Presumably it was some kind of genetic thing, which has always made sense. We were 250 million years of dinosaurs and then humans came along about 250,000 years ago. 

Fucking hell, it’s moving quick. There’s got to [have been] some extraterrestrial intervention. That makes sense of why I’ve nearly died so many times and I’m kept here, because I’m important to someone. I’m not a religious person, and I don’t believe in guardian angels, but it’s definitely weird that I haven’t died yet. Whatever it is, it’s nothing like we think. They’re not putting the keys in the spaceship, flying from Venus to visit us. It makes sense that there’s portals, different dimensions. 

We’re three-dimensional beings, we don’t understand fourth dimensional and fifth dimensional things. So if it is fifth dimensional, we can only see where a third-dimensional being can see. The thing is so out of our understanding. I presume they’re older than dinosaurs, and this planet is a Petri dish. And we’ve just got to ask loads of questions and keep our minds open. It’s the reason why I’ve got so much self-belief in the music that I do. Not as a person, I’ve got very little self-belief for myself as a person. I don’t even think of myself as an artist until I’m talking to you about me.

The last time I heard, you had two children. Have there been any more? 

I still have those two and there’s another one. Two children to one lady and one child to another lady. 

But you live alone? 

No, I live with my dog, Maggie. 

Any later-life regrets about not marrying, or do you see the benefits now of the fact that you haven’t been stuck in one place?

I don’t know about the benefits of not getting married. It’d be horrible to say that. [But] anyone who’s a little bit of a cynic would look up the success rate of marriage and go, like, if I was bungee jumping [I wouldn’t risk it], you know what I mean? 

My ex- who’s got my current kids, we’re best friends, we’ve got nothing but the best in mind for each other and she runs my record label. I know she’s not going to rip me off, because all the money goes to feed our little boy. That’s beautiful that music’s helped feed my family. As long as I keep the quality up. I have a lot of love, which doesn’t always happen when there’s someone hanging around all the time. 

I don’t fight with anyone on a regular basis. It’s almost like this is my payback to get to do this. I don’t want money. I’ve never been interested in money. I just like the idea of not worrying about money. And I’ve afforded myself that. I’ve got a job for life, really. That’s pretty good.

Was there ever a moment in your career where a Sharon Osbourne-type figure approached you? Like: “Stick with me kid, and you’ll have a mansion with a guitar-shaped swimming pool.” 

Yeah, quite a few times. Thankfully none of it panned out. They eventually realised I’m impossible to market. And I realised that they haven’t got my best interests at heart. You just look at the amount of people that are chasing the big payday with the hit. It hobbles people, the songwriter’s success. There are very few examples of it not affecting people negatively. Success and money, it turns people lazy. 

Maybe they were lazy already, but people’s output gets a lot less when they have some success and some money. This management that thought they were going to do that, I won’t cheapen it by saying the names, but I’m glad it didn’t work. Things couldn’t be better for me, because I’m in control. I can do pretty much what I want, as long as I believe in it and the kids all get fed.

You eventually put The Wildhearts back together with CJ back in the band. How did that work in your mind? 

We hadn’t recorded anything for about ten years, but we did used to do gigs, usually around Christmas, so everybody had some money for Christmas. We used to see each other, me, CJ and Ritch [Battersby, drummer], and usually get together at my birthday bash [December 17]. We’d do a little Wildhearts set. We’ve always been really good friends and respect each other very much. Danny [McCormack, bass], on the other hand, went into the wilderness for a long time, lost a leg, terrible nightmare stories that he’s got. 

We did a tour with Terrorvision and Reef [the 2018 Britrock Must Be Destroyed tour] where we said: “Let’s just see if we can get through a tour before we talk about anything else.” We did, and people were saying: “Oh my God, it sounded great.” So, the next thing was I better do [a Wildhearts] album then. At least that will be a snapshot before one of us does die. You know? 

And we’ve just done the second one now. It’s the Wildhearts. We all know this band so well. We know what we’re not going to get out of it, as much as what we’re going to get out of it. 

In what way? 

It’s going to be tiresome. It’s going to cost you things. I’ve always liked pathologically honest bands, like The Replacements and things like that. The Wildhearts is very much like that. You got to be careful expecting too much from it, because that’s not what it is. 

There is something very speedy about The Wildhearts

That will be the speed. 

Yet you wrote a song called Sick Of Drugs

Which was supposed to come out on April the first, but the record company fucked it up. It came out on April the third. 

So it was a spoof? 

Yeah. We weren’t sick of drugs then. Sorry. I am sick of drugs now, though. It looks better when you’re young. But there’s still problems with drugs surrounding The Wildhearts. And there always will be, only now it’s more of a drag. Yeah, back then it was highly ironic. I stayed up all night and wrote Sick Of Drugs and Red Light, Green Light and I wrote them on speed. 

The new album, 21st Century Love Songs, crackles and burns right from the minute it begins. The title track jumps out at you. Sleep Away softens the pace a teeny bit and is uber-catchy.

[Points to the corner of the room] That’s my stereo from the eighties. It still works perfect. I’ve got to get a new stylus every now and again, but I’m still completely addicted to vinyl. Every other day I get a new vinyl, because I’ve won eBay auctions. 

That’s part of the addiction as well. But I’m going back and doing my education on early seventies music that kind of passed me by. Americana and British roots rock. I’ve never got into Wishbone Ash or Caravan. Steely Dan I never got into. But I keep hearing the names and it’s been great. I’m a huge Steely Dan fan at fifty-six years old. 

You say that’s the addiction now. Do you feel that you are an addictive personality, or an obsessive one? 

Yeah, yeah. You could say it’s a healthy addiction now, but I don’t suppose any addiction is healthy. Thankfully I’ve never had to give up all my vices. I still enjoy a drink, which never gets to be embarrassing or anything like that. The things I get addicted to now are just a stimulant. 

I haven’t got a lot of choice. If it’s unhealthy, I’m going to have to wrestle it to the ground and beat it on points. I see a guitar, and I can’t think of anything else other than this guitar; it has to be mine. Even if it’s a bass. I don’t play bass, but I bought a bass recently that I saw and was like: “There’s only one thing wrong with that – I haven’t got one.” I’m still very addictive, but it’s a lot cheaper than crack. And better quality.

I was rereading some of your online diary the other day, and the stuff about your stepfather, and your poor mother, and you and your sister. Have you ever had therapy for it? 

No, not yet. But it’s still an option. I don’t write stuff like that off. I’m actually weaning myself off the last medication I’m hopefully ever going to take. I’m glad that medication helps people get over the hump, but it’s not helping them in the long run, because it just puts these things to one side. 

Yeah. I could go mad about it. I could scream at the unfairness of my childhood, but most people are going through a terrible childhood, especially my generation. They loved you, but they didn’t tell you. They didn’t want to make you soft. You didn’t get cuddles and stuff. No. 

A lot of people that I know went through that sort of thing. Mine was specific to my life, but I don’t think it was any better or worse. A one hundred per cent awful childhood is a one hundred per cent awful childhood, even if it meant missing a Christmas every now and again. 

Mine was a bit more extreme than that. But it made me realise that all I’ve got to do to be a better father than the ones that were there for me is stick around and be supportive. I’m so soppy with my kids. My youngest is now a teen. We’re just so tactile and so loving. He’s got no concept of things not being like that. I can’t change what happened to me, but I can change things for them.

Do you think your childhood traumas became the grit in the oyster that made the pearl, so to speak? 

I’ve got a story I like to tell. First time we did Top Of The Pops it was done on a Tuesday, shown on a Thursday. Life was really chaotic and I put in an appearance [at home]. I didn’t even know what day it was. But it popped up on the telly. I was like: “Huh, this is weird.” And my stepfather went: “David, you’re not much of a singer, are you?” I was like: “I’m on the telly.” He went: “You’re not much of a frontman either, are you? You should probably just get a proper singer in your band.” 

I remember thinking I’ve made this leap from leaving home to currently be on a TV show most people in England are watching, and it meant nothing. I think, could I ever be that dismissive about anything in my kids’ lives? And that taught me one of many lessons on how to deal with things: to not expect things to be good and not expect people to be supportive. Then when you find good supportive people, tattoo them on to yourself, or handcuff yourself to them. Don’t let them go. Because you know what it’s like on the other side. It’s made me a good judge of character.

It’s inspiring hearing you talk. Because I know you have big ups and downs, or have had. 

I still do. 

Is it like: “Today is a good day,” and not over concern yourself with tomorrow, which might not be a good day? 

One day you can wake up good and it could turn bad by the afternoon, and vice versa. You can wake up in a terrible place, and someone, or my dog, will put me in a better mood. What normally happens is I keep myself busy during the day, and then in the evening it hits me. 

It’s just a juggling act to get Maggie for her final walk and then get up to bed and find a movie to watch and then everything is good. Me and my dog have both put on weight because we’re in bed early to maximise the happiness of the day and we’ve both been snacking a bit too much. I’m starting a fast to get into shape, which is going to be fun. She’s not going to like it, but it’s going to be fun. 

There’s a saying: ‘A dog wags its tail, not its tongue.’ 

We’re going to put her out as an emotional assistance dog. I brought her up as a puppy and I’ve trained her. She knows when there’s a wave on the way before I know it. She’ll come up and do this thing where she kind of puts her weight on me and I have to keep a hold of her so she’s engaging me in something. I’m like: “Oh, I wasn’t even aware that I was in a bad mood.” 

Dogs are incredible. For the most part we don’t deserve them, but some of us do. 

The Wildhearts’ 21st Century Love Songs is out now via Graphite Records. They play UK shows in November and December. Tickets are on sale now

Mick Wall

Mick Wall is the UK's best-known rock writer, author and TV and radio programme maker, and is the author of numerous critically-acclaimed books, including definitive, bestselling titles on Led Zeppelin (When Giants Walked the Earth), Metallica (Enter Night), AC/DC (Hell Ain't a Bad Place To Be), Black Sabbath (Symptom of the Universe), Lou Reed, The Doors (Love Becomes a Funeral Pyre), Guns N' Roses and Lemmy. He lives in England.