All Mighty: Pete Wylie still believes in love, soul and rock’n’roll (Photo: Robert Farnan, enhanced by Ivan Sestan)
Pete Wylie’s heart may be as big as Liverpool, but he’s a right pain in the derriere when it comes to nailing down an interview. But in this case perseverance finally paid off, with no ‘Getting Out Of It’ for this ever-entertaining ‘part-time rock star, full-time legend’.
“Hello, unknown caller,’ came the voice at the other end of the line at Disgraceland, his home base, not so far from the Mersey (closer to that fabled river than Anfield and Goodison Park, for starters). A few traded excuses followed regarding recent and historical missed calls, Pete coughing up to forgetting his charger while away that weekend playing Bedford and Worthing, his moby dead after a busy few days, getting home to ‘a cavalcade of messages’. Not all from me, I should add.
This does seem to be the interview on my books the longest, I point out. I first looked to track him down not long after an entertaining chat with a fella he used to run around with called Julian Cope.
“I remember him … vaguely.”
That was five years ago, and granted, my timing wasn’t great. It was shortly after we lost Josie Jones, Pete’s former partner – professionally and personally – and that great voice behind ‘Come Back’, ‘Sinful!’, Big Hard Excellent Fish’s ‘Imperfect List’ (updated in 2013’s similarly-powerful ‘And the Question Remains’), and many more classic Wah!-related tracks. I was hoping at the time he might want to talk a little about her impact on his life and career. It was a little too soon though, perhaps.
“You know what, the trouble with timing … there’s always something like that. In the last two weeks I’ve lost Andrew Weatherall, one of my best mates, someone I was going to work with. I’ve been doing a tribute to him on tour. And I’m wearing an Andrew Weatherall t-shirt that I got made. Then the other big one was Pete Fulwell, my friend who ran Eric’s with Roger (Eagle) and then was my manager. He was the single person who was most responsible for what I do. He was the quiet one …”
I got the impression he was happier in the background at Eric’s, and with you.
“Yeah, he always was. He called himself an eminence gris, almost a ghost, and was happy with that. Anytime we did anything he kind of felt uncomfortable to be there in places when things were good. While we were all having a great time, he didn’t feel like he wanted to be there. But he was there all the time and was the person who said, ‘If you don’t record any new songs, I’m going to ban you from Eric’s’. And Eric’s was my whole life.
“Pete was the one who then paid for the demos I did, he put out ‘Better Scream’ and ‘Seven Minutes to Midnight’, my first two singles, and kind of automatically became my manager. And right through from there, ‘The Story of the Blues’, everything, it was Pete who helped make those records, y’know.”
Were you a difficult man to deal with back then?
“I think I’m less challenging now, probably, some ways, because I’ve learned to listen … but maybe I’ve learned to listen too much. I think I was great to be around a lot of the time, but the difficulty came not with Pete, but with record companies. He’d bridge the gap, because he knew what I felt, and knew I had principles and had ideas I wasn’t willing to compromise.
“Record companies don’t just expect compromise – they expect total domination, and Pete would have to find a way. They’d say, ‘This is a great record and we could make it a hit,’ but there would have to be conditions, and I realise in retrospect that Pete took the flak. They’d say, ‘If he doesn’t do this telly show, we’re not going to back you,’ almost like blackmail. I understand their thing now, but I’d have big rows with Pete, say, ‘I’m not doing this shit!’
“Only once did he actually cave in, and I remember it so clearly. He took the brunt of the blame, saying he agreed to it, when he’d kind of been forced to agree. It was the worst show ever, kids’ television, teatime, and genuinely, I’d stayed up all night crying. I did it with Josie, and for once never said a word. Josie had to do the interview because I was furious and so upset. I felt it was the end of the dream. I’ve still got everything I wrote at the time. It was for ‘Sinful!’ as well. I won’t go into the story of the show – it’s too cringeworthy.
“That was 1986, and it wasn’t long after that I stopped making records for a few years. I was working in the studio, but didn’t play live for five years. So whether I’m difficult or not, all the people who could tell you are dead, so I’m okay now – I can tell you anything.
“Pete was a friend as well, and when we parted company, just after my accident, basically because there was nothing for him to do. I took that badly and was very unhappy with him. But when we did see each other, walking down a street, we were back being mates again, and in the last six months he was really helpful to me with something going on.
“But it’s an odd thing – having to get used to so many of us disappearing – from Pete Burns to Josie and … y’know.”
The accident he mentions was his late 1991 near-fatal fall when a railing gave way in Upper Parliament Street, Liverpool, fracturing his spine and sternum, a long period of rehabilitation following. We’ll go further into that period later, but there’s something he touched on there, about that chance meeting with his namesake on the street, and it’s always struck me that while Liverpool’s a big city, it has a small-town feel in certain respects. That’s not meant to sound patronising either.
“Yeah, I’ve always said it’s a big city with a big heart, but a tiny centre. And one of the only good things about Pete Fulwell going is I’ve had really good talks with Henry Priestman from the Christians, who I’d not chatted to for ages, and a whole bunch of friends.”
The reason I brought that up was that I got that impression about scene icons around town from talking to Echo and the Bunnymen guitar hero Will Sergeant, also five years ago, saying he’d often bump into you and others.
“Yeah, for lots of reasons, the small nature of the creative bit and clubland at the centre, you can walk from one end of it to the other, and there aren’t other bits. In other cities, clubs are all over, but if you start at Hope Street, the south end, up to Dale Street, it’s a 10-minute walk at best. So if one club isn’t any good or none of your mates are in one place, you can easily go to another. And I still see Gaz (Gary Dwyer) from The Teardrop Explodes and people from all the bands.
“I played in Leeds last week, some people stayed behind to get things signed, and this fella said, ‘You won’t know me, but my band was called Dead Trout’. And I said, ‘I remember Dead Trout!’ I’d only looked at a poster of one of their gigs on an archive site the day before. So even Dead Trout are still around, y’know! Kind of weird, but I love that. I know some of the younger guys too.”
Talking of which, I was only born in 1967, so …
Ha! And it struck me in more recent times how short a gap it was between The Beatles’ split (irrespective of the fact they left so early) and the next wave of Merseyside success, be that through The Real Thing or that emerging Eric’s scene. Did you ever feel you might miss out on your city’s big moment, with Merseybeat a distant memory and similar opportunities unlikely to come along?
“God, no! Absolutely not. The opposite in fact. Much as I love music and I’ve always been interested in rock history … I’m reading about The Clash at the moment, re-learning … although I’m annoyed I’m not in it …”
Seeing as he’s already wandered off-topic, I butt in there, asking if he means my Clash book.
“I haven’t got it yet – I’m waiting for one through the post. I’ve heard good things though.”
Sound Vision: Pete Wylie among esteemed company in a collage from Martin Carr, of The Boo Radleys fame
OK. That’s on my to-do list this week. Actually, it’s Pat Gilbert’s splendid Passion is a Fashion he was reading, and we get on to the subject of how things Joe Strummer might have said may have been misconstrued, something Pete himself has fallen victim to. He uses the example of slagging someone off on tape while joking, and how any humour in a statement isn’t always conveyed in the cold light of print. And let’s face it, Pete knew and felt he understood Joe well.
We’re soon back on track though, Pete returning to my question, regarding past doubts about making it.
“I’ve had downers, I have anxiety at times, and depression, and wrote about it last year, how because I have my heart on my sleeve and I’m excitable – as Julian (Cope) said in Head On, I was the ‘most enthusiastic person’ he’d ever met – that’s me. As soon as any other person is there, I’m Wah! In a way. But when I come home, I’m just Pete, and that’s a more challenging thing for me.
“I’ve had doubts, and I’ve had challenges, but one of the things I’m loving at the moment – and I said this Saturday night – when I go and play now, it’s with a freedom and it’s all for me and the audience. I don’t owe anyone anything. It’s like a great night out with people who like me. I play my famous songs and a couple of new ones from Pete Sounds. Did I send you a copy?
He didn’t, but I pledged for it, bought myself a copy … and love it. Even the title’s great, right? It’s a life-affirming 65 golden minutes of classic Wah! 21st century style. From the slow-building, stirring ‘70s soul of six-plus-minute opener ‘Make Your Mind Up (Time For Love Today)’, with its modest guitar licks and subtly-layered instrumentation, to the glam-surfing Beach Boys covered by Roy Wood splendour of ‘People (The Rise of Dunning-Kruger)’ and fist-pumping Neil Young rocker ‘Is That What Love Is All About?’ – near-neighbour Ian McNabb and his band would love this, I reckon – onwards, several contenders carry the very essence of the finest Wylie and Wah! moments down the years.
This is, after all, the sailor-capped Elvis-esque alternative preacher who first dented the UK charts in early 1983 with ‘The Story of the Blues’, a No.3 hit, and returned four times: follow-up ‘Hope (I Wish You’d Believe Me)’ reaching No.37 in 1983 and ‘Come Back (The Story of the Reds)’ making No.20 in 1984, before ‘Sinful!’ rose to No.13 in 1986 then No.28 on the back of a revamp with The Farm in 1991. Yep, Pete knows a fair bit about pop craft, and there should have been more hits, not least his gorgeous ‘Heart as Big as Liverpool’ love letter to his home city in 1998. The fact that missed out says more about the butterfly minds and lack of taste among the greater record-buying public than it does about Peter James Wylie.
On those lines, ‘People (The Rise of Dunning-Kruger)’ conveys the very zeitgeist of where we’re at now, with Trump’s America and our own clowns this side of the pond, determined to make us ‘great again’ by ripping away so much of value about us. But it’s not all about finger-pointing politics, and ‘Hey Hey (It’s a Beautiful Day)’, with its slightly off-kilter vocal, takes a Mick Head-like melody and sweet after-the-storm sentiment into Billy Mackenzie and Bobby Gillespie territory, while ‘You + Me (And the Power of Love) is a straightforward love song, reflective yet empowering. And I like to think there’s a next-generation Wylie out there right now with trademark quiff and a badge boldly proclaiming the simple message expressed in that song.
Even though ‘Free Falling’ isn’t a cover, it serves as a respectful tribute to Tom Petty over a ‘My Sweet Lord’ meets ‘Fool (If You Think It’s Over)’ like ’70s summer melody, Aztec Camera reimagined in dreamy CSNY meets Harry Nilsson style. And talking of surefire parallel universe hits – at least 20-plus years ago, when that was still a possibility – the celebratory ‘Can’t Stop Loving You’ is another number I defy you not to sing along, its late-doors Teenage Fanclub-like searing guitar affording this power-pop belter a classily woven-in climax.
I’m in danger of over-using the ‘i’ word, but the piano-led ‘The Whole of My Heart’ offers up a further inspirational soundscape – and weighs in at another seven gorgeous minutes – before ‘Your Mother Must Be Very Proud’ sees Pete at his most bitter but channeled in providing a further state-of-the-nation proclamation amid building, epic orchestration, leading us neatly towards the climactic final pairing, the eight-and-a-half-minute wonder, ‘The Spell is Broken’ – his personal spin on ‘A Day in the Life’ perhaps – and majestic closer ‘I Still Believe (Love and Soul and Rock and Roll)’, with its air of Mott the Hoople and a Springsteen-esque climax, seeing us out on a maximum high, the spirit of Roddy Frame teamed up with Mick Jones also there. Hell, there’s even a little timpani as well as some good old punk rock guitar. And these are show tunes in the true sense of the term.
I mention the length of those songs, all bar three over the five-minute mark, yet nothing’s over-blown here, and all in all Pete Sounds is a cast-iron winner. Commendably, a percentage of sales aided the Hillsborough Justice Campaign too. But how did that crowd-funding campaign work out for its creator in the long run? A lot of artists had their fingers burned when Pledge Music went to the wall. Did Pete manage to avoid losses?
“I lost money on it, but at least I made a record, and probably one of the last records anyone will ever make. That’s how I treated it. I’ve always liked just doing one track at a time, and I’ve never thought about them as albums really, until Pete Sounds.”
It certainly carries the air of a proper, flowing album, and one that fits seamlessly together.
“Yes, and I just knew I might not make another. To be honest though, some people got way worse outcomes – losing lots of money. Six figures in some cases, in America and here. I was nowhere near that – I didn’t have that kind of following. My fans are mean … luckily!”
In light of what he said earlier, I should point out that he laughed as he said that. Just in case you take umbrage. If you dipped your hand in your pocket, he loves you, I reckon.
“I found it hard, because I was out of practise. I saw Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds one Saturday on the Kop, and he mentioned me making an album, saying, ‘It’s hard, isn’t it?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I hadn’t realised how hard’. And this is someone who’s never stopped making records and with – presumably – comparatively vast wealth. That helped, making me realise it wasn’t unusual to feel that way. I didn’t know any people who could do the stuff I wanted to do, but in the end I did it, and it helped me focus. It’s also given me reason to go and play live. In a coordinated way. People keep saying at shows, ‘Please don’t stop again’. I used to always do that, but… time is running out for all of us. The bottom of the egg timer, y’know.”
True. Before you know it, you’re going to far too many funerals.
“Yeah, that’s happened, and I’d rather do gigs than funerals … although they’re thin on catering, obviously.”
Having failed to get you for an interview five years ago, I tried again two years ago, using Pete Sounds and your 60th birthday as my excuse. But I failed again.
“For that birthday I got someone to drive me to the Wirral to get my buss pass, because their office closed half an hour later than Liverpool’s. And I’ve loved it – it’s changed me. I don’t drive, can’t drive, and don’t want to drive, so suddenly I’ve a degree of freedom I never had before. Sometimes I’ll get on the wrong bus deliberately, to see where I go. At one point I’d go to the hospital in Fazakerley in the north end of town – I’m in the south end these days – and my Dad used to live there, so I was familiar with it. I just jumped on a bus, knowing it wasn’t going to get me home directly or quickly, but it was like a tour of my life. It went past where my Dad lived, where Gary Dwyer lived and where I grew up, went past where I’d get a bus and where I bought my first record. And it was incredible, exciting!”
Did I read somewhere that you fancied the idea of running alternative home city tours, an alternative spin on Gerry Marsden’s Mersey ferry trips? I’d certainly be up for that magical mystery tour – sort of a Wah! Ahead tour of Liverpool.
“Y’know what? It’s something I’ve talked about, even this morning, I did a version for Pledge, but the day it came it was absolutely freezing, and a lot of the places I’d have shown have disappeared. Halfway round, one woman in particular was freezing cold, so I said, ‘Look, let’s just go to the pub’. So we did, and I was just telling stories. We never left the pub, and it gave more of an insight. Everyone was really happy with it, and I did a secret show for them upstairs in a bar in town, just for them, which was brilliant. I drank far too much, and it was fabulous.”
Now you’re about to hit 62, what’s the big difference between you now and when you were half your age, around the time of Big Hard Excellent Fish and your Justified Ancients of Mu Mu contribution, post-‘Sinful!’ and that whole difficult period you mentioned (later compounded by his November 1991 accident)?
“The difference is physical – like the pain in my back when I finish a show, although I’m now doing fitness things like stretching, and there’s no reason I can’t be as fit as I was again, to a point. It is strenuous though – I put a lot of energy in, and they’re still long shows.
“Mentally, I’m slightly more reasonable. Someone said after the show on Saturday, ‘How can you still be like a child?’ But it’s not something I try, although I have hinted about my arrested development! but the fact I’ve never actually matured is all part of being a creative person.”
I’d use the word infectious, but maybe that’s not a good one to use in public right now.
“No – ha! I was really ill before Christmas and had to cancel a few shows. I was told I was being sent to hospital. I said I wasn’t going to go, but I’d love to have a disease named after me. And he didn’t laugh. But Christmas morning I woke up and I was fine. So now the difference is that I can do things I want to when I want, there’s a backlog of things I haven’t done that have held me up, and my politics are maybe even more radical than they were.”
Well, we need that kind of fire at the moment.
“Sure. It feels like that. And live, I do talk about some aspects of politics. I also have a motto – ‘give a shit or be a shit’. I’ll never get it through a bar of rock, but it’s a way of saying, care about each other, as was the case with Hillsborough in this city – that sense of caring about each other and a sense of community and solidarity.”
I find it difficult even watching the news on telly at the moment.
“A friend was here last week and said, ‘You do know you’re shouting at the TV?’ But there’s more sense in one of my songs about Thatcher than there is sensible debate on Question Time right now.”
With no dodgy audience members either. Meanwhile, Pete’s back to my question about the difference between the 31 and 62-year-old Wylie.
“I’m heavier, and I’ve got slightly less hair. These are the things … if I could change anything, I’d have more hair. I don’t mind being chunky, but I miss my quiff.
“Politically, I’m at least along the same lines, my attitude to almost everything is the same, and I love a lot of the same music. But there are songs on Pete Sounds I probably wouldn’t have recorded before, because I was listening to different music then. And I wanted to be honest. I didn’t want to create a Wah! tribute band, y’know.”
On that front, the strand running throughout Pete’s music is that big sound. He won’t like me saying this, maybe, but last time I listened back to my Handy Wah! Whole CD, it grabbed me that it took a while to get there, the early material more like the Teardrops and that whole scene. But it quickly evolved. Was there a lightbulb moment en route when he found that anthemic, big sound, I wondered. There are certainly plenty of moments on the latest LP, not least on afore-mentioned rousing closing numbers, ‘The Spell is Broken’ and ‘I Still Believe (Love and Soul and Rock and Roll), where he exudes all manner of Mott the Hoople spirit, as he has in the past.
“Well, I always loved Mott the Hoople, and still do. I went to see them last year in Manchester…”
As did I (with my review here). Great night. Normally far too big a venue for me, but it really worked.
“Yeah, and I always loved them, back to hearing the Island singles ‘Midnight Lady’ and their cover of ‘Downtown’ (both 1971) on Radio Luxembourg. I was also a mad Bowie fan, and ‘All the young Dudes’ was the first record I ever bought without hearing it first. Because I knew it was a band I loved and someone else I loved. And I still play that a lot.
“I’ve tried to rationalise (about that sound), and people say it’s like (Phil) Spector, but it’s not. I understand the comparison, but it’s almost bigger than Spector!
Sometimes, that lack of confidence … when I hear myself sing, I can’t tell if I’m doing a good job and how it will affect your or anyone else. I just have to do what I can do. But what I try to do is make records that sound … let me get this right – I’ve never made this into a sentence before … make records that sound like my favourite records make me feel, when I hear ‘All the Young Dudes’ or Bowie or The Clash or Bob Dylan.
“The way they sound to me, sometimes I’m surprised when I then play those records. I wanna get every ounce of everything into those songs. That’s also my personality. It’s not a con. I’m loud and I’m over the top, and stupid, and funny, and clever, and a political beast. I don’t try to make those records sound like that. And of course, I’ve done a lot of acoustic gigs in the past with the same songs and they’re just as effective – which came as a surprise to me when I first did those things about 25 years ago.
“And songwriting was always important to me when I was a kid. I knew I was writing songs that were memorable for some reason. And I always loved big choruses. However, the way I work now is that I re-record songs like ‘The Story of the Blues’ at home, with Anders (Johnsen) who mixes for me, and I play guitar and sing them live, with the laptop as my band.
“I was fed of up of getting bands together and not being able to afford a band the size it would take to do the shows. Even when I did – when I did a tour three years ago – the guys were all really good, but didn’t have time to learn all the detail in the songs … like the ‘diddle-diddle-duh’ in ‘Come Back’ or whatever. And I thought, ‘I don’t want to do it that way and don’t have to do it that way.’ So I’ve re-recorded everything, and the only people you hear at the shows are me and Mersey, my daughter, who sings with me.”
Mersey’s got a lovely voice.
“She’s a killer, y’know! She’s such a goodie. And I’ve never enjoyed playing guitar as much as I do now. It’s almost like discovering it … like I’ve lost my guitar virginity!”
Similarly, because we mentioned The Clash (not least as Pete has said before now, ‘No Clash, no Wah!’), it was like with Mick Jones. He wasn’t consciously copying all his influences, it was like osmosis. It was all there within, finding an outlet via his playing.
“Yeah, exactly, and people would have a jibe at him, saying he was trying to be Keith Richards, but everyone sounds like someone, even if they don’t know it. I listen back to things I’ve done and go, ‘Fucking hell – that’s such a cop off something else!’ But at the time you don’t realise.
“And Mick (Jones) is the other person who significantly changed my life. He saw something in me before I was in bands. He said I was going to be famous, and gave me that guitar. And we need more Mick.”
Would you be able to drag Mick out again? I understand he does the odd quiet gig down the pub.
“I don’t think so, but when he did the Hillsborough tour with us, I did some Clash songs, and he was such a lovely man to be around. But touring’s really hard for people who aren’t young. It’s hard enough when you’re young … physically. I’m not as flexible as I was. And no matter how good the guy driving me is, I know this sounds petty and smug, but it’s not the shows that are tiring, it’s the travelling and having to live with whatever’s available. I’m not in a position to have big showbiz riders and roadies. Of the people who come on tour with me, none are professional, they all have other jobs. They’re not musicians. I have people I like around me. I don’t have a retinue or an entourage.”
It’s a whole different conversation, but my thoughts go out to new and old bands out there trying to work out what’s happening now the barriers are coming down between the UK and Europe, shamefully.
“Yeah, that’s shocking – the fact that’s changed and it’s going to be so costly. I gave up a few years ago the idea of going back to America. For me to get a visa … last time I went a record company paid and it cost thousands of pounds. And it’s got to be even worse now.
“There’s another difference. I made a joke once which Paul Morley stole the week after on Channel 4, saying a kid goes to his Mum and says, ‘Mum, I want to be a lawyer’, and she says, ‘Listen, get in a band first so you’ve got something to fall back on.” And that’s how it feels to me – the exact opposite of the way it was growing up.
“Someone who works with Anders went to LIPA (Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts) and there’s a simple way for him and his friends to learn a living from music, whereas for me and my contemporaries, it was a risk, a gamble, all the way through. Some say, ‘What did you ever do? You don’t deserve it’. Some bands that never made it say that. But I took the risks, and we were happy to play in pubs for £50. I’ve never had a royalty cheque and money coming in, I’ve signed on … and do you know what? It doesn’t matter to me. Because of that’s what it takes, that’s what I do. If II want to do my music and not deal with lunatics and compromises … y’know.”
Last time I visited the Museum of Liverpool I was pleased to see you there .., if only in a display case.
Do things like that seem unreal at times – realising you’re part of history?
“It’s odd … and I like it. I just wish I was more a part of it. We were talking about people who were important to me, and (John) Peel was another who helped me, and we became mates, y’know. But I’m not in any of the biographies. I’ve got recordings and things he’s written about me, where he talks about how much he loves me – not just the band, me personally. Nobody’s ever asked me.
“Whereas, I’m in Pete Townshend’s autobiography, and he says how he loves my songs. And next to my bookcase, there’s a picture of me with my sailor cap on, ‘Story of the Blues’ era, a painting of me by Pete Townshend. I learned to play guitar by listening to Pete, and he was my guitar hero before punk … and still is. I still do things I kind of inherited from him. And I became friends with him. I’ve called him and met up a few times. And he’s great. So y’know, being part of history ain’t bad, but … I’ve had loads of luck, but some of it’s good and some of it’s bad. From breaking my back, or whatever, to all those fantastic things and the people I’ve met. And the fact I’m still here, y’know … I love it!”
There must be those great moments, like hearing ’Heart as Big as Liverpool’ ring out over the PA system at Anfield on matchdays.
“Oh, again that’s a part of being history which you can’t plan or buy. And I didn’t write the song with that thought. It’s one of the most amazing things. Last season, when Liverpool came back from 3-0 down to beat Barcelona 4-0, they were interviewing Pat Nevin on the radio, Big George at Anfield was playing that, and Pat went, ‘There’s Wylie, singing about heart – that’s how they did it!’. And recently, when the young lads won (the club’s youngest-ever side beating Shrewsbury Town in an FA Cup fourth-round replay in early February), ‘Heart’ was playing, and last year it was playing on the bus tour of Liverpool, and I’m really hopeful this year it happens again.”
And while his team had just slipped up for the first time this season when we spoke – losing at Watford in a game he watched on telly during his Worthing soundcheck – he remains positive, their Premier League title two wins away at time of going to press. That said, his schedule means he’s only seen them twice in person this season. But I told him that’s nothing, seeing as I face 500-mile round-trips to see my beloved Woking’s home games from my Lancashire base.
“Wow, that’s a big chunk … whereas here, it’s £500 to get a ticket!”
Discussion followed about his own recent trip to Woking, paying homage to Paul Weller and The Jam ahead of a show even closer to my old Surrey patch at Farncombe’s St John’s Church, ‘an amazing place where this guy Julian (Lewry) puts things on’, on a trip he also recalls buying himself ‘a good coat at a charity shop in Leatherhead’.
“That’s the side of things I like now. I don’t have to worry about anything. I love the soundcheck, know how to set up, and we have our own stage-set, my Disgraceland Wasteland, our little gang pulling it all together so it’s not the same venue it was the night before or the night after. We’re on a budget – no budget really – and just find stuff around the house, like these masks of me through the years.
Our mutual friend Raymond Gorman mentioned in our 2014 interview how you shared the same manager during his That Petrol Emotion days, and would often be ‘hanging around backstage’. He told me, ‘He was great fun. I was drinking quite a lot around then, so although I’ve had all these nights with him, I just remember laughing my head off but nothing about what actually happened’. Are you still that larger-than-life character?
“Well, I’m working with someone, Clare, who says she’s never laughed so much. Her and another mate have been known to pull up the car while driving, as we’re having such a laugh. It’s like comedy Tourette’s or something. I love all that.”
I mentioned Julian Cope, and in his Head On autobiography he describes with flair the night he met Pete and Ian McCulloch (on his 18th birthday) for the first time, at Eric’s for The Clash’s May 5th ’77 appearance on the ‘White Riot’ tour. Of fellow Crucial Three legend Pete, he recalls ‘a bit of a loudmouth’ he’d noticed in Probe Records, ‘so animated’, wearing ‘a black leather jacket and black combat pants’ with ‘a Clash t-shirt under the jacket which was zipped halfway,’ his hair ‘natural black and gelled into a boyish quiff’, the ‘most enthusiastic person I had ever seen’ … and on his leather was a homemade badge, it said ‘Rebel Without a Degree’.’ Does Pete still have that badge?
“Course I have! I’ve got all those badges, including a big three-inch badge from Eric’s from when Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers were supported by The Police, when they were a four-piece (March 1977, when Henry Padovani was lead guitarist, before Andy Summers stepped up and the band reverted to being a trio). And I’ve got all my Ramones and Clash things, because they still mean so much to me. There’s a plan hopefully for an archive, with photos of everything for people to see, like Bob Dylan’s autograph, my hat from ‘The Story of the Blues’. All kinds of mad stuff from over the years.”
Did you get along to the Cunard Building for the About the Young Idea exhibition featuring The Jam memorabilia? That was great.
“Yep, I did. It was good, yeah.”
By the sound of it, you could fill a room that size with your own artefacts.
“Probably … but I wouldn’t want to dust it. There’s just too much. Clare says it’s like one of those Channel 5 documentaries – she’s scared of coming round and I’ll be under a pile of comics. I said it depends who the comics are. But I’m fine with all that, and there’s a plan to properly organise it over the next couple of years, while I’ve still got some energy, y’know.”
On the back of a Wah!tobiography maybe?
“A memwah! That’s the future, and this is the way of kick-starting those memories. But every time I’ve sat down it takes too long, ‘cos I digress away all the time. I’m going to talk to Clare about it and she can transpose it. Is it transpose?”
Erm, transcribe … unless you’re writing it back to front.
“Well, that’s probably true … that’s the way I talk sometimes. But I’ve got plenty of adventures to mention, and talk about a few in the show. Some of the great things and the not so great. That’s the nature of it.”
We’ve already been talking for an age by this point, but I ask one more question – does Pete still truly believe, as per his inspirational closing statement on Pete Sounds, in the power of song, the power of soul, the power of love, and does he still believe in rock’n’roll?
“I absolutely do. In fact, I believe in it all the more now. Because I’m living proof that those things work … there you go!”
Pete’s Point: The man himself, on the road and likely to be coming to a town near you soon (Photo: Brian Roberts)
The Pete Wylie Show heads next to Newcastle The Cluny (Friday, March 13th), Selby Town Hall (Saturday, March 14th), Edinburgh Bannerman’s (Thursday, March 26th), Stockton-on-Tees Georgian Theatre (Friday, March 27th), Wigan Old Courts (Friday, April 3rd), Ashton-under-Lyne The Witchwood (Saturday, April 4th), Blackpool The Waterloo (Thursday, April 9th), and Cardiff The Globe (Saturday, May 2nd). For further details and to track down Pete Sounds and the back-catalogue, head to his website.