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Ginger Wildheart & The Sinners - Pop Recs, Sunderland 04.06.2022

Sunderland has, unfortunately, seen better days. The town is a showcase for Tory economics. Since the closure of the mining, shipping and steel industries, certain areas of the North East have been in decline. The local Nissan car plant and call centres are now the employers of choice instead. The city centre feels as though it is a constant state of decline and regeneration; as soon as they finish they start back up again. It’s sad to see my home city in such a state, but it feels like it’s never been able to grow any further. Walking through the city centre and it's a never ending sea of grey. The pavements feel greasy and you quickly lose count of the closing down and for sale signs. It feels like a place that’s waiting for a corporation to come buy it up, tear it down and build a nice, clean McCity in its place. The gent unable to walk in a straight line, proclaiming “I’m off ma lips” before 7pm on a Saturday night shows that it runs deeper now than just the physical location.

It’s this location that we find ourselves on day three of “Plat Joobs” (seriously, could we not have come up with something better?). Sunderland is normally avoided on the main gig circuit thanks to its lack of decent venues, but this is starting to change. There’s still a heart beating though thanks to some of the folk from here. The Fire Station, The Peacock and Pop Recs all now offer decent stages and venues for bands.

In fact, you could say that you wait forever for a Ginger related gig to come along and then your suddenly faced with a choice of two on the same night. The Stadium of Light, home ground for Sunderland’s football club, is playing home to ginger mopped, pop muppet Ed Sheehan and his tiny guitar on one side of the Wear. There are tales of a great stage show with lights, muddy sound and bland musical stylings. I’m pleased to find myself on the southern banks of the river, waiting to get into the aforementioned Pop Recs for the second date of the official first tour of Ginger Wildheart & The Sinners.

The room is quite comfy; not too big with bare brick walls and a tall stage to one end of the room. It’s been a pet project of local band Frankie & the Heartsrings, creating a desperately needed arts hub in the city. Various different names have graced its carpeted stage in the past few years such as James Bay, The Charlatans and Frank Ferdinand. It’s almost like a well kept secret and an ideal place for rising bands to play or for bigger artists to put on more of a club show for fans.

Tonight though, we’re treated to Huddersfield’s Handsome Liars as openers. The band are slimed down to a duo for tonight’s acoustic shenanigans, but they’re still a heck of a lot of fun. They take outlaw country, add a dash of punk and serve it all up with a tongue placed firmly in their collective cheek. Davey Clegg, frontman and guitarist, takes us for a trip with lead guitarist Neil Diffley riding shotgun. They open with “Going Clean” and “Put Your Baby In The Bin”, the two opening tracks from their album “Lucky Me”. The pair barely pause for breath, instead using their time wisely to give us a little banter to give us a flavour of what they’re like before giving us the full Handsome Liars acoustic experience. A couple of covers (“Paycheques” by Tex Perkins and a superlative “I Ain’t Satisfied” by Steve Earle) pepper the nine song set and it feels like too quickly they’re closing with “I Had No Idea”, a song about a man who’d fallen for someone without realising that they’re an owl. Yep, they’re that kind of crazy. Good songs and a strong performance win over the mackem audience tonight, leaving the stage well and truly warmed up.

Ginger hasn’t had the smoothest of starts to this year. The Wildhearts appeared to be running well until the back end of 2021 when friction seemed to start derailing everything they’d worked hard to achieve. Never one to slack, he was all ready to go back on the road with Jon Poole for some shows that had been booked a year previous. He’s also been back in the studio recording a pair of albums with his producer of choice Dave Draper, the talent behind much of Ginger’s recent band and solo recordings of the past few years. His previous solo album “The Pessimist’s Companion” has been picked up, given a fresh lick of audio gloss and extra tracks before being released by a record company ran by Steve Van Zandt (Bruce Springsteen’s right hand man and musical foil) Wicked Cool records. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s finally getting to put his band Ginger Wildheart & The Sinners back out on the road.

The Sinners were just finding their legs before covid pulled the rug from under them. A short tour coupled with some writing sessions proved that there was some fuel in this particular tank. Given Ginger’s history of being one of the most prolific writers in music today, two albums have been written and recorded before the fist one has even dropped to the public (Neil Iverson, co-frontman with Ginger, mentions that there were even ideas for a third one already). They are not a band that seems to like staying still, as this tour to promote their new single “Wasted Times” shows.

A good sized crowd has assembled for what could be considered a hometown show for Mr Wildheart who spent most of his early life just up the coast in South Shields. The two frontmen are joined by Neil’s compatriot from Stone Mountain Sinners, Nick Lyndon on bass, and Shane Dixon on drums. All four gents handle vocals which lend to some absolutely jaw dropping harmonies through the night.

They open with “The Road” and “That Smile”, songs totally unfamiliar to the audience. For most bands, pulling a set together from albums that haven’t been released yet would be a major hurdle. Thankfully though, these Sinners have sold their souls for some of the best tunes around. Audience members are tapping feet and nodding heads along in no time. To make sure that there’s some familiarity, the band then drop “The Words Are Gonna Have To Wait” from Ginger’s “Ghost In The Tanglewood” album and a cover of Status Quo’s “Dirty Water” which is the first to feature Neil on lead vocals. They claim it’s their favourite Quo song and, on hearing their faithful version of it, it’s going to quickly become other people’s too.

“Six Years Gone” by Georgia Satellites is up next, with the musicians doing great justice to the unsung classic. “Walk of Shame” teases us all with a taste of album two, a track which shows that they’re not blowing all of their best songs on their debut. Little Feat’s classic trucker anthem “Willin’” drops by, as does the title track of Mr W’s “The Pessimist’s Companion” album, a love song to his dog, Maggie; a collie who’s captured the hearts of many of his fans.

Neil regales us with the tale of their first song written together “Footprints In The Sand”. He hoped to keep the original lyric sheet for it as a trophy before Ginger accidentally spilled his drink on it. “Arms Of Love” from the Stone Mountain Sinners album is up next, which has been re-recorded for album number two, before they close with “I Got You’.

A quick break allows the band to grab a breath before bowling into “The Weight” by The Band. It’s probably this song that show’s where Ginger Wildheart and The Sinner’s routes draw from. It’s a classic track from an underrated classic band; each Sinner handles lead vocals on a verse, showing that they’re not just masters of their instruments. Nick and Shane lock together like a traditional, old school rhythm and blues band. They’re the engine that drives this musical monster on, providing the right level of groove. Ginger and Neil look as though they’re having the best time, swapping lead vocals and guitar lines with big grins on their faces. Allman Brother’s instrumental “Jessica” (better known to most people in the UK as the theme song from Top Gear) sweeps through the audience before a final “Loveshit” from Ginger’s Wildheart days pulls the rug from the audience. To be honest, I feel like they could have done no songs by them and we will would have gone away happy. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it disappear altogether from future tours.

Ginger looks genuinely thankful and happy by the end of the night, clasping both hands together as he wishes us all a good night. The lead up to the gig hasn’t been the easiest of roads with the venue not having a sound engineer until an hour before the show started. Ginger’s mic stand breaks part way through. With no spare one available at all, the offending accessory is gaffer taped within an inch of it’s life to make it serviceable again. In the past this would have possibly brought some anger but tonight it feels more of an irritation that’s overcome.

The audience disperse into the night, trying to beat the lesser ginger’s audience onto the roads as the Sinner machine packs up and get’s ready to head back out onto the road. It feels like Ginger has finally found a musical vehicle deserving of his time and talent. Everyone seems to be working well together, bringing to mind the classic touring rock bands of the sixties and seventies, bands that always seemed to be out on the road while still also managing to release material that never dipped in quality. With at least two albums of material ready to go, talent by the truckload and a work ethic that will keep driving them onwards, Ginger Wildheart & The Sinners feel and sound like a band that has enough momentum to carry them ever onward. The band are clearly not setting themselves any limits and it will clearly benefit both them and us. Long may they run.

Ginger Wilderheart & The Sinners -

Review - Scott Hamilton


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