Ginger Wildheart is an alternative British rock institution. He began playing in The Quireboys in 1989, where he made his live debut supporting Guns N’ Roses, before going on to form one of the most important British bands of the ‘90s: The Wildhearts. Outside of that, he’s worked with everyone from Courtney Love to Michael Monroe and Mark E. Smith, and in recent years he’s challenged and redefined the very infrastructure of the music industry. He released his triple solo record ‘555%’ via PledgeMusic in 2012, before breaking away from that model to set up his own online fan club, G.A.S.S in 2014. He also celebrated his 50th birthday last year, and as he enters the second half of his increasingly prolific life, he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
But we already know all this. The sell-out crowd of adoring fans congregated at Birmingham’s Old Rep Theatre have travelled far and wide to hear the uncensored truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth of his incredibly improbable life; the stuff they can’t print in magazines, and the things they won’t say on the radio. And that is exactly what we get. Welcome to the most outspoken and entertaining night of self-exploration and redemption the rock world as to offer: Ginger Wildheart: Songs & Words.
Over the last few years an increasing number of maturing rockers have followed in the footsteps of Henry Rollins and taken to the road to share their stories. Scott Ian (Anthrax), Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver), Corey Taylor (Slipknot) and Chris Jericho (Fozzy) all spring to mind. They’re all dearly beloved over here in the UK, but they’re not really one of us. And despite them all being down-to-earth dudes, they’re still rock stars. There’s a palpable sense in the room tonight, however, that Ginger Wildheart is most definitely one of us. He’s just a regular guy that’s led an extremely irregular life. And he addresses the crowd this evening as anyone would their mates down the pub. He apologises in advance for the length of the three-hour show, and in true theatre style, there’s an interval in the middle of the set.
By the time curtain call does arrive, it’s obvious everyone could’ve quite happily sat through a lot more. Ginger Wildheart can talk for Britain. And tonight proves that Britain – or at least Birmingham – will always listen. He’s humble, hilarious, and honest as he lays his soul bare, sharing his war stories from the last 25 years in and around rock ‘n’ roll. And war stories are the best way to describe his anecdotes. There’s tales of suicide, Thai jails, hotel fires, dead tramps, MySpace girlfriends, ‘Bus Days’ (we won’t go into that one), embezzlement, the Polish mafia, several near-death experiences, and countless incidents of extreme substance and alcohol abuse. And they’re all amusing and distressing in equal measure.
He’s brutally frank when discussing his disdain for rock journalists (one publication in particular) and the music business as well, and anyone looking for proof of how utterly absurd the music industry can be need look no further. Even though he’s enjoyed a long career many musicians can only dream about, tonight brings home just how much bigger The Wildhearts should’ve been, had they not had such rotten luck at every turn. There’s an underlying sadness to their story; they were forever in the wrong place at the wrong time. But perhaps if they had become bigger maybe Ginger would no longer be one of us, still so loved by so many. Ultimately, he blames himself and his band members for “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory”. Yet his infectious positivity, undying gratitude and overriding optimism means the mood never dips for long.
The songs will live on forever too, and tonight Ginger’s brought his old mate Jase Edwards from Wolfsbane along to play acoustic renditions of Wildhearts tracks from the first EP (Mondo Akimbo A-Go-Go, 1992) through to their last album (¡Chutzpah!, 2009). There’s also tracks from Ginger’s vast songbook and various side-projects, including Silver Ginger 5, Ginger & The Sonic Circus, Howling Willie C*nt and Clam Abuse to name just a few. Different record covers highlight the stage as Ginger works his way through his discography and the songs – all so familiar with everyone here tonight – really tie the room together, as the saying goes.
If your interest in rock ‘n’ roll music goes beyond just the music, then Ginger Wildheart: Songs & Words is quite simply the best value night of unadulterated entertainment you’re likely to experience all year. Even if you don’t know anything about the man, you will by the end of the night – perhaps a little too much, in fact. We’ll leave you with these two words: horse semen.
Photos: Jodie Cunningham