BIG INTERVIEW Ginger Wildheart: 'Music is the sound of emotions, it taps into something indefinable'

Ginger Wildheart of The Wildhearts, live in London, 2018, on the Britrock Must Be Destroyed tour. Picture: Roberto Gasparro.
Ginger Wildheart of The Wildhearts, live in London, 2018, on the Britrock Must Be Destroyed tour. Picture: Roberto Gasparro.
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That The Wildhearts even exist in 2018 is something of a miracle. Since making a splash with their debut EP Mondo Akimbo A-Go-Go in 1992 the band's career has at times resembled a soap opera.

Led throughout by Ginger Wildheart, there has been drugs, drink, break-ups, self-sabotaging acts, record label spats, side-projects aplenty, and reunions, as nearly 20 different people have passed through the ranks. There's even been an amputation. But thanks to Ginger's uncanny way with a chorus and a bag-full of classic rock riffs over eight albums, songs like Caffeine Bomb, I Wanna Go..., TV Tan, Vanilla Radio and more have endured.

And now they are part of the revolving circus that is the Britrock Must Be Destroyed tour, which sees The Wildhearts share headlining duties with fellow stalwarts of the '90s scene, Reef and Terrorvision, plus Dodgy in support. Each night the order of the top three changes so they all top the bill at various stops.

'We’re as surprised as anyone else to be taking part,' laughs Ginger when The Guide asks him about joining the tour.

And that name – was there ever really a Britrock movement?

'There was no such thing. There was a few different things invented by journalists to capitalise on whatever was going on, like Britpop, but Britrock didn’t matter to anyone in a band or who was buying records.

'Do you remember, at that time there were all these different names for things? [Short-lived London-centric dance scene] Romo – that was my least favourite one. This makes as much sense as a Romo tour, but as long as people are happy and buying tickets, and the audiences leave the shows happy, then that’s good enough for me.'

Fair enough. What about the other bands on the bill? All were at their commercial peak in the '90s, but all still have devoted followings.

'We never did tour together back then, we were just coming up at the same time, and they were in the charts every other week when we weren’t in the charts, so we knew of each other and we’d bump into each other.

'We weren’t really close, or hanging out mates, we were aware of each other, but The Wildhearts weren’t really in competition with anyone, we did everything for the audience.

The Wildhearts, live in London, 2018, on the Britrock Must Be Destroyed tour. Picture: Roberto Gasparro.

The Wildhearts, live in London, 2018, on the Britrock Must Be Destroyed tour. Picture: Roberto Gasparro.

'I don’t know how the other bands feel about The Wildhearts but I can honestly say they didn’t bother us either way – we certainly didn’t mind them!'

While he may not have had a problem with other bands, music journalists were another matter. They once famously marched into the offices of metal Bible Kerrang! and smashed up a writer's desk for printing rumours about the band.

'I had no beefs with any other bands that I can remember, but journalists used to wind me up something rotten, well, the whole industry did because it was all based around a bunch of BS premises that had nothing to do with actually making music. And a lot of the time it would ruin the art of making music because of these ridiculous standards they used to hold up – things you had to do to fit in, or they’d only work with bands who looked like or sounded like this other band.

'And the journalists were just as bad, the magazine policies were all about featuring whatever reminded them of what was current. A lot of our favourite bands were getting ignored left right and centre, so we didn’t feel that bad when we got ignored too.'

So they were marching to their own beat?

'We were, but we were also aware of how stupid the whole thing was because everyone was so enamoured with America. The truth was American bands had to come over here first to get noticed, it was the same for everyone from Nirvana to Hole to Mudhoney, they all had to come over here.

'The American bands used to have more respect for the UK bands than the UK press had. The whole thing was up it’s own backside.

'Then Britpop happened and it was all that sort of foppish, student-y types making music and at no point were rockers actually appreciated. But rock music is still doing really well – they were wrong then and everything they were wrong about then still applies now.

'Rock music is here to stay whether people think it’s cool or not. And the Britrock tour is a perfect example of that.'

Earlier this year the prolific Geordie released his seventh solo album, Ghosts in the Tanglewood. When we spoke, Ginger had just done his first shows to plug the album, supporting The Levellers.

'They were great, it was lovely to be nervous again. It was a full, packed house to people who largely didn’t know who the hell I was so it was just like starting out again, when I was a kid and trying to prove to people I was worth listening to, that’s what I find exciting now.

'Not taking anything away from playing in front of your own people, playing in front of strangers is scary and I like things that are scary.

'The Levellers’ audience is like The Wildhearts audience – they give people the benefit of the doubt, so it’s a challenge, but a welcome one – you feel like you’re playing to people who are actually listening.'

Late last year he went on the first ever acoustic Wildhearts tour, which was just him and his most enduring foil, guitarist CJ.

'We always said we’d never do it because there was no point, but then we got a bit older and thought it would be really nice for people to actually hear that we’ve got decent melodies, there’s good harmonies – we’ve got decent voices! 

'Usually there’s so much noise going on people can’t hear things like that, let alone appreciate them. We thought before we brought The Wildhearts back out this year, we’d strip it all down and remind people that the songs are strong enough to last, and it worked on that basis – people really enjoyed hearing the songs like that.

'It was great fun, and we earned a fortune. That’s never a reason for doing anything, but it’s a lovely added bonus.

'The Wildhearts always prided ourselves on quality, even if the lifestyles weren’t always consistent with that, the music always had to be of quality that we were happy with.'

This tour will see a line-up of the band, which while all four have spent lengthy periods in the group, last performed together in 1993.

'It’s the classic line-up of me, CJ, Ritch [Battersby on drums] and Danny [McCormack on bass]. People say once a Wildheart always a Wildheart, so everyone who’s ever been in the band, I still consider a Wildheart, but this is the one that people really wanted to see, it’s the one people first heard about when we first came out.

'We thought, We’re all still alive after all these years, it would be criminal not to do something with each other before one of us pops our clogs. Or in Danny’s case, clog.'

Danny, now clean, had a lengthy and well-documented battle with drink and drugs. But in 2015 he suffered an aneurysm and complications resulted in his lower right left leg being amputated. He returned to The Wildhearts fold in 2016 for the first time in more than a decade.

'He’s learning to walk on one leg with a crutch, he’s out of his wheelchair and he’s very determined. Since he’s had his leg amputated the guy’s more positive than I’ve ever known him. I wouldn’t say it’s a good thing, but sometimes the traumatic things in life can also be the things that make you appreciate what you’ve got.'

Ginger claims to have more patience as he's grown older, but the focus of his ire has changed.

'I’m still annoyed and frustrated by things – politics, people’s personal politics, people’s injustice, intolerance, those things really bother me now, politics didn’t bother me as a young man, I was just militant. But now it actually frustrates the hell out of me how anyone can think that treating someone badly no matter how it benefits them is okay.'

The last Wildhearts album was 2009's Chutzpah! and there's good news for fans – it looks like a new album is on the cards. Does the new material reflect a more political outlook?

'It’s in all the new Wildhearts stuff because I get to shout. That frustration with life and with certain things is evident in the Ghosts in the Tanglewood lyrics, but it’s a little more considered. The Wildhearts is always going to be howling at the moon. We get to shout about things in The Wildhearts as opposed to having a nice discussion with the acoustic music.'

Ginger is not without his own demons. He has had a long battle with depression, which last year saw him hospitalised after a messy incident involving a fan at a live show and, according to his own Twitter account, a subsequent suicide attempt.

How is his mental health now?

'It’s a daily battle, every day is a fight and today is a good day. For me getting off medication was pivotal, it was really destroying the quality of life for me – that was last year. I ended up back in a hospital and changing my medication again, but I came out and I thought, you know what, I’m going to do this myself and see what it’s like and if I have struggle, at least I’m going to learn from it, and use problems to sharpen my sword on, so to speak.

'And it’s been great for me, there’s been certain things that are really good to me – being of service to my family, being mindful and being there and being present, which medication wasn’t allowing me to.'

He's also given his support to The Samaritans. He released a one-off single in 2016 for the charity, and proceeds from Ghosts are also going to them.

'At a certain point in people’s struggles, in the face of mortality and when suicide seems like a reasonable option, the Samaritans are literally the last call that you make. The Samaritans are the difference between life and death in so many cases, especially with a medical profession not being… they try to help with the resources they’ve got, but they are massively underfunded. The government seemingly don’t care, and people are left to their own devices, and suicide is an option for far too many people these days.

'The Samaritans can be the difference between that being a problem or being a solution.'

When asked what role has music played in his mental health, he's emphatic: 'I think music is medicine. Music is the sound of emotions, it taps into something indefinable. If it was definable, the government would be taxing it and making money out of it.

'Fortunately I can write music, so I get twice the bang for my buck, but I need to listen to my own music, I need to listen to others’ music, the communities that come about because of music.

'There’s something primal and supernature, not supernatural, about it – it’s a very organic thing that taps into something very basic in us and speaks to us on a level where we’re reduced to being children again.

'In life we grow out of that and start thinking we know all of the answers, music shuts that part of the brain off, opens you up to suggestion and lets you relax for once.'

However, the fans will have to wait to hear that new material.

'We’re going to be sticking with the hits on this tour – I want our audience to be singing louder than their audience.

'Reef are the ones who had the big hits, but I don’t really care who was the most popular band, only who has the loudest fans, and my money’s on ours.'

Britrock Must Be Destroyed is at Portsmouth Guildhall on Saturday, May 26. Doors 5pm. Tickets £34.04. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk