The second to last show of the year for me in 2017 ended with a bang. I’ve seen Ginger Wildheart in multiple incarnations (The Wildhearts, Hey Hello, solo, etc.) but this was the first time I would get an invite to his birthday bash.
Instead of recapping the event exactly as it went down I thought I would try something different. Several others have already done a great job with a play by play recap of that evening at the Garage with far more access than I had for photos (I was only allowed the first three songs of the three-hour-plus set).
So this is a review of the show from an American Expat point of view. Someone who was aware of the Wildhearts having worked at a record store during college and later their record label in the states, but never diving deep into the records. In fact, I wouldn’t become a hardcore fan until I moved to the UK and immersed myself in Ginger’s home country.
The Wildhearts Invade the States
The first time I came across The Wildhearts I was working in a record store while attending college. The Warner Brothers rep had sent me a copy of Earth Vs. The Wildhearts, and it was fucking brilliant. One of those records that you hear and it’s immediately clear that this is something new and original. It was ahead of its time regarding production, songwriting and overall sound. Enormous hooks, heavy guitars, soaring vocals; I don’t think the record label knew what to do with these guys. Should they market them to the metal fans, rock fans, crossover? What radio station would play The Wildhearts?
It’s something I would come to see over and over again. Breakout buzz band from the UK scores number one record, rave reviews, sell-out gigs across Europe and then the labels bring them to the states and it’s crickets……
But that’s just how the industry works. Sign a bunch of bands, throw them all at the wall and see what sticks. It’s a shameful practice and one that has been disrupted and turned completely upside with the introduction of digital. Most labels fought it instead of embracing it, and that’s the reason that the music industry is in the toilet at the moment, at least the major labels.
What Ever Happened to Artist Development?
It begs the question, does an artist in today’s environment even need a label? I would say no. What you do need is distribution, a manager, and one hell of a good publicist, but that’s another story altogether, now back to Ginger.
I would come across the Ginger Wildheart yet again, but I didn’t even know it. 2012 at the Phoenix club in Petaluma. I got a photo pass for the Courtney Love show and showed up early for the opener. I had never heard of Hey Hello! but the songs were incredible. Even though it was just one person playing acoustic, the songs were brilliant. I bought the CD immediately after the set, but it would not be until I moved to the UK that I realized I had just watched Ginger Wildheart not only open for Courtney Love but also play in her band.
I was still pretty new to photography, so I wasn’t very good at taking photos at concerts. As I look back today at the photos which I never published, Courtney’s band was pretty much in the dark for the first three songs (the limit for press photographers), so I didn’t get any great shots of Ginger playing that night. If I only would have known…..
A Whole New World as a Music Fan
Four years later I move to London for a new position with LinkedIn. (My day job). I didn’t immediately realize how big Ginger was in the UK. I saw that the Ginger Wildheart Band was playing at the now defunct Brooklyn Bowl and that Hey Hello! were opening. By this time I’ve become obsessed with the Hey Hello! record (it’s still one of my all-time favorites) and was warming up to the Ginger solo stuff. The Hey Hello! record is sort of like the Sex Pistols crossed with E.L.O. and a bit of Cheap Trick. It’s one of those records that sounds better with each listen and you find something new within the Phil Spector-esque “Wall of Sound” production in either the stellar four-part harmonies or the provocative lyrics. The opening track “Swimwear” should be nominated for power pop song of the decade. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention, Ginger plays all the instruments himself on the record. Just incredible.
The show that night was brilliant. I thought to myself, is there anything this guy Ginger can’t do? From The Wildhearts to Hey Hello! to the solo stuff and even the chaos that is Ginger’s experiment industrial metal band Mutation, this guy is the musical equivalent of a unicorn. It’s way beyond what 95% of the musicians in the world can do, and he makes it look easy. It’s challenging as a music fan to find anything that Ginger touches that isn’t remarkable in one way or another. He’s got the Midas touch for songwriting.
Hey, I Know That Guy!
The following year I was boarding the Monsters of Rock as one of their photographers, and I saw this guy who looked like the guy playing guitar in Ginger’s band. I walked up to him and said hello and asked. I didn’t put two and two together realizing that he was Conny Bloom, the singer of the Electric Boys.
I fucking loved these guys back in the day. I asked how he finds the time to do both and I he said something to the effect of “Ginger calls and I do the shows, it’s that simple.” For the record, Conny is a superstar in his own right. One of the best guitar players I’ve seen in quite some time, and he’s got the vocals to match. It just added another level of mystique to the power and influence of Ginger in my book.
That brings us to 2016 in London where I got the chance to go and see a proper Wildhearts at the O2 Forum Kentish Town in North London. Hey Hello! was again opening the show, and once again they were brilliant, but holy hell, when The Wildhearts took to the stage the place went bananas. These guys tore through a set of classics that ran the gamut of the entire catalog.
The Springsteen Set
2017 brought me to my first Ginger Wildheart Birthday Bash. Ginger pulled out what I like to call his “Springsteen” set….. three and a half hours of pure genius including a tribute to Tom Petty, a blistering AC/DC montage and special guests for days including Alex Kane, Jim Jones, Bernie Tormé, Backyard Babies axe man Dregen and even a special close out with Frank Turner. Add in sets from Hey Hello and The Wildhearts, and you have one of the most incredible shows I’ve seen this year and beyond.
Another highlight was hearing songs from Ginger’s most recent album, the brilliant country infused Ghost in the Tanglewood. Ginger adds yet another milestone to his already impressive career; a country record that begs the question, is there anything this guy can’t do?
Ghost in the Tanglewood was originally released via PledgeMusic but will see an official release in March. Do yourself a favor and get this record. It’s brilliant.
The Dark Side of Being a Musical Genius
Ginger is quite open regarding his struggle with mental illness and depression over the years, even Tweeting about being in the hospital and suicide attempts. I lost my mother to suicide due to her mental illness when I was 14, and I can tell you that this is serious shit and things can hit rock bottom very quickly. Thankfully Ginger got the help and support he needed to return to the stage later in 2017 with Mutation for a quick tour as well as some Wildhearts acoustic gigs. Again I think this comes back to his incredible community of supporters. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before and it’s sobering to see how quickly everyone comes together.
And Ginger gives back to the cause as well. Early last year he teamed up with his buddy Ryan Hamilton to raise awareness and donations for mental health-related issues, and for organisations such as the anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label and Samaritans. Together, they released “Fuck You Brain” as a single.
Godspeed Ginger Wildheart
Ginger is one of the few artists that really does have something for everyone. It’s both a blessing and a curse I guess, but either way, his fans are some of the most devoted, coolest people I’ve ever witnessed. I think they are his lifeblood and he seems to have found a perfect balance between doing what he wants and pleasing his fans. Those who follow Ginger on Twitter get a candid view into the life of one of the most interesting artists on the planet. And if you can get into the “All Things Ginger Wildheart” private group on Facebook, do it. It’s one of the best fan communities I’ve seen, and I think Ginger follows it pretty closely.
I’m excited to see what 2018 has in store for Ginger. I’m hoping to see him live two or three times this year and bring some new friends along with me. Something remarkable happens when you play Ginger’s music for people who have never heard it before. They immediately become a fan. I remember playing “London Town” for my wife, and she fell in love with the song and later with all things Ginger. The same thing happened at work when I played my co-workers the video. They’re not the biggest music fans, but it didn’t matter. They loved it. They got it. They are now paying attention.
The Wildhearts return to the stage in 2018 here in the UK as part of one hell of a triple lineup that I’m very much looking forward to seeing in London. The Wildhearts, Reef, and Terrorvision hit the Eventim Apollo on May 6th. Hopefully, I’ll be approved to shoot that show and recap it back to you all here, maybe I’ll even land an interview with the man himself. I guess we’ll wait and see. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with one of the most remarkable songs I’ve ever heard. It’s a shining example of storytelling in songwriting and the video compliments it perfectly.
So thanks for all that you do Ginger. Thanks for being so candid and open with your life and music. It’s an inspiration to myself and so many of your fans, and I hope it continues on for many years to come.