The Wildhearts - O2 Academy Newcastle 28.01.2020
2019 saw something that many thought was near impossible - The Wildhearts, once again, rising from the ashes. Their fans’ favourite line up (the 'P.H.U.Q.' recording team of Ginger, CJ, Danny and Rich) reformed to record an album and EP of new material that appeared in many writers' end of year “best of” lists as well as touring as much as they physically could do. It looks as though the band are carrying that momentum forward into the new decade.
A miserable and cold Newcastle at the end of January might not seem like most people’s idea of fun but tonight sees a near sold out Academy is buzzing with anticipation. Team Beard (myself and fellow 3 Songs & Out member, the excellent photographer Gordon Armstrong) have both been looking forward to tonight with a real sense of anticipation, it’s a tour bundle that has people really excited to see. The Wildhearts and Backyard Babies were contemporaries of each other in the past and, to my knowledge, this is the first time they’ve done a major tour of the UK together, so you can sense a real tingle of excitement from us people in front of the stage. First up though is the American band CKY.
I’ll admit I didn’t really know much about CKY before the gig and thought that their addition to the bill felt a little bit, well, odd. All I kind of knew is they had some connection with “Jackass” and one of their songs appeared on a Tony Hawk game, but the band are so much more than that. On this tour they’re playing as a duo comprising of guitarist/vocalist Chad Ginsburg and drummer Jess Margera with a hidden laptop adding extra backing. I know this isn’t much to some people’s liking and I can understand that but, at the end of the day, they’re utilising whatever tools they feel appropriate so they can play live. Many other bands do it secretly so why can’t these guys do the same without getting grief for it? The band kick off with a heavy 'The Human Drive In Hi-Fi’, Chad prowling the front of the stage like a wild creature as Jess smashes out the rhythm, before tackling ‘Sporadic Movement’ and ‘Attached At The Hip’, the latter two coming from their 2002 album “Infiltrate Destroy Rebuild”. In fact, most of tonight’s ten song set draws heavily from their first two albums with only ‘Replaceable’ and ‘Head For A Breakdown’ coming from “The Phoenix” (released in 2017). My girlfriend is a longtime fan of the band and she’s more than happy with their song choices tonight, as am I. I mistakenly thought of them as being more “Metal” than they are but instead they have a cool sludgy groove to them. The band forge on through some backing and amp issues and close their grungy influenced set with a storming ‘96 Quite Bitter Beings’. They may have been the odd addition to the bill but I’m certainly pleased they were part of it.
Backyard Babies return to Newcastle again in a supporting role (their last time here saw them blow headliner Black Star Riders off the stage) and they’re all grins as they take to the stage to their customary Sex Pistols intro music. The Swedes have been around now for a good few decades now, offering their audience a blend of glamorous Punk and sleazy noise wrapped up with a catchy Pop coating (think a mix of The Clash and AC/DC and you’ll get an idea). Frontman Nicke Borg is a ball of hyperactive energy, covering every inch of the stage with his guitar. To his left stands Dregen, a man who could easily pass himself off as the son of Keith Richards, not just in looks but the way he effortlessly draws riff after riff from his carved guitar (a guitar that needs to be seen to be appreciated). The rhythm is absolutely nailed down by Johan Blomqvist and Peder Carlsson on bass and drums respectively. There’s nothing overly flashy in what they do, other than the occasional sample triggered by Peder, but everything they do is done to perfection. Their seventeen song set (yes, that’s right, seventeen songs with five of those coming from their encore) covers every aspect of their career and it’s then that you realise what a strong catalogue these guys have to draw from. There’s not a dud in the set from opener ‘Good Morning Midnight’ to encore closer ‘People Like People Like People Like Us’, each one a blast.
Nicke jokes that the band always seem to tour the UK in January which prompts some laughter from the audience. He’s charismatic on the mic, as is Dregen who gets to lead the band through a bouncing ‘Star War’ from “Making Enemies Is Good” half way through their set. They both make use of the small raised platforms above some of the monitors, both throwing classic Rock god shapes, spinning and leaping from them. Nicke comes a little bit of a cropper at one point in the night as he just misses one of them and falls forward. He’s lucky that he doesn’t fall off the stage completely. My heart goes up into my throat as he manages to stop himself and you can’t quite tell if he’s grimacing in pain or laughing at himself before he’s back up and playing as if it never happened (he later reports online that other than some scrapes to himself and his guitar he’s okay which is a relief as that could have been really nasty). A few minutes later and he’s back up onto the platform again, playing away before leaping high into the air.
Their set is literally a blur, all songs, shapes and high energy, leaving us all breathless by the end. Anyone who hasn’t heard the band before are converted by the Swedes who seem genuinely humbled and thankful for the audience’s response. After tonight’s showing by the band you’re left with a couple of questions. Firstly, how’re these guys not huge? I mean, they have everything you could want from a Rock-Punk band. Also, how the hell are The Wildhearts going to top that performance?
I’ll admit that I’m a longtime fan of the band ever since I saw them supporting Love/Hate at the Mayfair here in Newcastle a good few years ago. It’s great to see them playing new material rather than consigning themselves to the Rock nostalgia circuit which some of their peers seem to have adapted themselves to, getting money for another “best of” set on some rolling 90’s Rock band package tour. Part of that comes down to the band’s frontman/singer/heartbeat Ginger. He’s never been one to take the easy option that’s offered, and it came as a bit of a surprise when he announced that The Wildhearts were reforming and that, unexpectedly, there was going to be new material. That material, last year's album “Renaissance Men”, more than surpassed expectations with the band easily adding more classic songs to their repertoire.
Talking about classic songs, the band open tonight with ‘Everlone’, a left field choice from “Earth Vs. The Wildhearts” but a one that has the audience bouncing along with abandon. It’s swiftly followed by the relatively fresher ‘Diagnosis’ from last year’s release and a lean ‘Vanilla Radio’. The spiralling riff of ‘Greetings From Shitsville’ is so potent it could kickstart the heart of a cadaver.
‘Let ‘Em Go’ shows that the band’s trademarks of big riffs and bigger vocal harmonies is still their main signature, with CJ’s singing the vocal break on the track a real treat. ‘The Revolution Will Be Televised’ is an overlooked gem from the band and it’s nice of them to acknowledge the Scott Sorry era of songs.
Ginger admits early on that both himself and Rich are both suffering with massive hangovers but that the crowd is firing them up. In fact, Ginger flails around his dreadlocks so much you never would have guessed if he hadn’t have said anything. CJ bounces and walks around his side of the stage in constant circles, never standing still for a moment. He’s clearly in his element on that stage. Rich, sitting at his drum kit to the stage rear, has never been one for theatrics or flamboyance. It’s all about nailing that beat consistently which he does effortlessly. Best of all though is bassist Danny who grins from ear to ear. I’ll admit it’s so good to see him back upright and onstage with The Wildhearts, especially after having lifesaving surgery to amputate one of his legs below the knee a few years ago. At one point he accidentally knocks his mic stand over which leads to Dunc, the band’s almost-as-famous-as-they-are roadie, to run onstage to put it back up, all while Danny is laughing and tickling him as he tries to do so.
The songs keep on coming, all of them pure gold. Gordon, the other half of Team Beard, said it perfectly when he mentions online that in Ginger we have one of the greatest British songwriters in Rock, which I completely agree with. Each tune is filled with hooks and is more catchy than the latest cold bug going around. New song ‘Dislocated’ can sit comfortably next to older classics from their catalogue like ‘Sick Of Drugs’ and it doesn’t feel out of place. Follow that with ‘My Kinda Movie’ which catches me by surprise and then the band sprint towards the finishing line with ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’ which is introduced by their frontman as something you might have heard on Top Of The Pops years ago.
After a couple of minutes to allow the band to get some oxygen back into their lungs, Ginger sits in front of the kick drum and starts strumming the opening chords to the unofficial local anthem ‘Geordie In Wonderland’ which has all of us locals singing and shouting along at the top of our voices. And then we’re presented with a closing ‘My Baby Is A Headfuck’ which still sounds great now is it did nearly thirty years ago, and then we’re all being asked to make our way outside by the venue’s security staff.
Outside sees everyone happy and cheery with tonight's show (other than a handful of people who didn’t like CKY’s approach to their music which I have no problems with), grins are spread across everyone’s faces while people start to adjust to the ringing in their ears. It might be a cold, late January night but we’re all feeling pretty warm and buzzing inside. A lot of people are already buzzing excitedly about catching other dates on the tour while others have already bought tickets to Ginger and Danny’s hometown gig in April. Despite all of the night’s bands having a legacy that stretches back for, collectively, a good few years, each band felt fresh and vital. You won’t be seeing any of these guys moving to the nostalgia circuit anytime soon, especially not after tonight’s performances, something we’re all really thankful about.
The Wildhearts - https://www.facebook.com/TheWildhearts/
Backyard Babies - https://www.facebook.com/backyardbabies/
CKY - https://www.facebook.com/ckyalliance/
Photos - G's Gig Shots
Review - Scott Hamilton