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Ginger Wildheart - The Cluny, Newcastle 17.04.2022

Tonight feels like a celebration, a coming together of people; of faces familiar and strange. Sometimes things like this can feel uncomfortable, like the moment your parents bring your baby photos out when you’re introducing them to your new girlfriend. When distant and disparaging worlds cross and intersect with your reality. One slight slip and everything goes back out of focus, but, for tonight, everything holds and it feels glorious.

The Cluny is something of an institution on the Newcastle gig circuit. Nestled away in the Ouseburn valley to the east of the city, it's far enough away to discourage the casual crowd. Split over two stages you can get a great mix of artists local and established playing there on any given night. It's a right of passage for any touring band trying to make it, a stepping stone for the up and coming artist that's starting to get more of a media focus. For established artists, it offers something a little more intimate and quirky; if you're wanting something special this is the Newcastle venue for you. Good food, a wide range of beers, a sticky floor and a decent in-house set up makes it an ideal stop off.

There's a flood of red light on the stage and a good sized audience to welcome Carol Hodge, a Yorkshire lass with a catalogue of songs that are ready to break your heart. Carol has carved a career as a touring and recording musician for many artists, notably Steve Ignorant of Crass fame, and as one of Ryan Hamilton’s Harlequin Ghosts. Tonight though, she's opening the shenanigans for the first date of Ginger Wildheart's "April Fools" tour. She's got plenty of songs to draw from with three albums to her name and is already working on a fourth. On the evidence of tonight she won't be seen as a backing musician for much longer. Her songs and performance are confident and strong.

Taking a seat at her keyboard, she's resplendent in some black and white striped dungarees (well, she is in Newcastle), sparkly bolero top and and purple glittery Dr Martin's while "sweating like a nun in a cucumber patch", she opens with "Stop Worrying Baby" from 2020's "Savage Purge" album. Carol's voice is incredibly strong and warm; it has the power to comfort and stir some deep emotions inside you at the same time. “You Don’t Dream Enough” is a tale about assessing your life and seeing what’s good in it and it seems the perfect tale to highlight the past two years even though it was written a couple of years before the pandemic. Carol tells us how her life has been challenging but if there’s something that shines through her songs it’s one thing: hope. She tells the us that she’s not drank alcohol for a while now and how much better she’s feeling because of it.

“The Witch Is Dead” from her debut “Hold On To That Flame” was written on the day that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher passed away and Carol tells us that she wanted to look at the event in a different way. It’s still the tale of the destruction the woman and her party caused in this country, but it’s mourning the damage rather than hating the person. She closes her set with “Twenty Miles Up” from last year’s “The Crippling Space Between” (which if you don’t have you should really rectify), getting the crowd to join in. It’s not just her songs and performance that wins everyone over, it’s Carol herself. Her honesty and genuine warmth lights up the venue brighter than a thousand lights.

The past few years has been tough on the entire industry but for Ginger Wildheart it’s been particularly tough. From fighting his Black Dog, something he’s been very public and open about, to the band he is integral to falling apart, the past few months have not been kind so it's understandable that he's made his "April Fools" tour a real family affair. His dog Maggie wanders around the venue throughout the night, his partner Jane is tour managing and helming the merch stand, and his son Taylor is acting as roadie for the tour. He's joined by the previously mentioned Carol and former Wildhearts/Silver Ginger 5/Ginger Wildheart Band member (heh, I said member) Jon Poole on another acoustic to supplement Ginger's playing.

The night is certainly relaxed and a bit more chilled than the last few times Ginger was onstage with an emphasis on songs and having fun. If you're expecting an acoustic rehash of Wildhearts singles you'll probably be quite disappointed as although he dips into their back catalogue, it's more for some rarities. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, shall we? We're thrown an immediate curveball with "When She Comes" from 2007's album "Yoni" and it's quite clear that we should be expecting the unexpected. Poole lives up to his nickname of Random by spending a good minute or so towards the end of the song pointing to the back of the room and saying "What's that over there?" repeatedly, leaving Carol collapsed over her keyboard in a fit of giggles. It's followed swiftly by "Boxes" from "Headzapoppin" which was recorded, according to Ginger, in a hurry to make money. You might think that with something like that it would be throwaway in quality but he has a habit of writing strong songs almost in his sleep.

Up next we have "Why Aye (Oh You)" the opening track to the new/old album "The Pessimist's Companion". To explain, it was originally released a couple of years ago but it's now getting a commercial release after being picked up by Steve Van Zandt's Wicked Cool label. It's got some extra songs and a fresh mix across the tracks. Ginger has always had a love or Americana, something that dates back to the early days of The Wildhearts as b-side, and one of my personal favourites, “Bad Time To Be Having A Bad Time” is up next, followed swiftly by “I Wanna Be Yours” by punk poet John Cooper-Clarke (which suits Ginger’s voice so well) and hen the new album’s title track, which Ginger tells us is about his dog Maggie and how much she means to him.

“Inside Out” is as gorgeous as ever, the audience singing along to this gem of a song. “How I Survived The Punk Wars” is reworked slightly for the night. It’s loose but it shows that Ginger is having fun tonight, poking fun at himself for forgetting lyrics and keys for songs (which Carol occasionally has to remind him about). His smile speaks louder than any PA can go.

“Paying It Forward” has us all singing along, its positive message carrying us along. He even pulls out a song by Newcastle legends Lindisfarne, who he refers to as the British version of The Band (I think he’s onto something there). “Run For Home” instantly transports me back to being a kid in my dad’s car, a magical and forgotten memory of time spent with my old man before the world starting creeping in and spoiling everything. And how do you follow that? By playing the unofficial Newcastle anthem “Geordie In Wonderland” with a crowd that bellows out every word and every note of the mandolin solo. During the song, Random disappears from the stage only to return a few minutes later exclaiming that he was desperate for a piss only to find the toilet occupied by Taylor having a shit. Yep, this really is a conversation that was had onstage.

Random is given his own time in the sun. An accomplished musician himself with several albums to his own name (as well as a spell in Post Punk legends Cardiacs), he plays “Unemployment Man” and “D’ya Feel Lucky” from his solo project The God Damn Whores, the latter morphing into “Very Very Slow” from Ginger’s “555%”, before he treats us to a snippet of “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, complete with yodelling.

Forgoing an encore, Ginger leads the audience into a medley of the themes from Taxi and Cheers, before closing with a raucous Wildhearts song “29x The Pain”, another b-side but a one that is taken up as an anthem to the legends and influences that flow through Ginger’s veins. It’s odd to think that a song that should almost be an afterthought is bellowed as loudly as any of their hits. “ See you in December” Ginger announces, his grin wide enough to span the Tyne across to Gateshead as he holds his hands in prayer and thanks to us all.

I walk away feeling a warm glow deep inside me. Tonight has felt vital, a deep and personal connection to a musician and songs that have been a part of my life for over thirty years now. Singing along with Ginger and the audience has felt like the missing piece of a puzzle. I’ve been to many gigs over the years, a few of them since the long drawn out end of covid and tonight brought everything back. Music can be a force of change, it can motivate you and bring you solace. It has a healing element than can remind you that you’re not alone on this rock that slowly spins on and on. Singing along to Ginger’s words tonight has brought us all together in a communion of shared joy and happiness, a magical moment that binds everyone in The Cluny together. We all hug and say our goodbyes knowing that the past few years are behind us.

“How can I get down,” Ginger reminds us, “when I’ve got all my friends around?”

Well said that man, well said.

Photos - G's Gig Photos

Review - Scott Hamilton


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