Ginger Wildheart, Annual Birthday Bash, The Forum, December 17 2016

Words & Pics: Adrian Hextall / MindHex Media

Having attended most of the Birthday Bash shows, what initially started out as a ‘Ginger & Friends’ approach over the course of 3 or so hours has now morphed into a 6 hour extravaganza with multiple bands on a bill that suits all tastes of music. 

With The Forum doors opening at 6pm and The Wildhearts not due to finish until midnight, it was clear that this was going to be a messy one. The local pubs were packed with people sporting Wildhearts and Ginger shirts, drinks were flowing, old acquaintances gathered to discuss, evaluate and reminisce about All Things Ginger Wildheart. 

For those that stepped out of the pubs early enough and made their way to The Forum, they would have been presented with the surreal sight of an Elvis impersonator fronting a band that did mash ups of classic Nirvana tracks flavoured as only the King could do. 

Elvana

Novelty act, tribute or just plain barking? At some level it’s possible that all three apply to Elvana. Decked out in a rhinestone suit that latter day Elvis seemed to favour, with the rest of the musicians looking like a respectable lounge band, their approach either raised a few smiles or left a strange taste in the mouth with a few wtf moments. 

Comments from some people in the crowd suggested fun was had although the comment of “It would help if he actually sounded like Elvis” was heard a few times. Certainly there were highlights such as mashing up Territorial Pissings and Suspicious Minds, creating ‘Territorial Minds’. When it works it’s definitely great fun. When it doesn’t we get a mash up of Rape Me and Love Me Tender, creating ‘Rape Me Tender’. Just felt wrong. 

The Main Grains

Having suffered an aneurysm Main Grains front man and former Wildheart, Danny McCormack recently discovered that the blood supply to his leg was compromised that sadly resulted in a below the knee amputation. It was therefore uncertain initially if Danny & Co. would be able to play on the December tour with The Wildhearts but, ever the trooper, Danny, with the help of some physio, crutches and a chair centre stage, brought to mind the phrase “The Show Must Go On” perfectly. It became a theme for the rest of the show later in the night as we find out much to our amazement. 

The set was good fun. Danny perched on his chair was as energised and enthusiastic about his band and the reception he got from the wonderfully loyal crowd. Opening with ‘Unscrewed’ and delivering a great cover of The Undertones ‘Teenage Kicks’ , the set gradually took on new meaning with everything that’s happened to them with ‘What We Gonna Do Now’, and closer ‘Keeping On Keeping On’ which sums up the ethos of the band. Let’s hope they do.  

The Dowling Poole

If you don’t know The Dowling Poole yet then you should. If you saw and heard them for the first time at the Birthday Bash then you’re probably already converted. A bit of background research shows that the band was formed by songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Willie Dowling (ex Honeycrack/Jackdaw4) and Jon Poole (ex Cardiacs, current Wildhearts bassist). Having met when recording and producing Ginger Wildheart’s award winning, top-ten “555%” album, the two ‘shy’ musicians (aren’t they always?) finally decided to contact each other and TDP was born. 

With two albums under their belt now, the opportunity to see them on a large stage with the fabulous Givvi Flyn completing the front of stage line up, the full electric band experience of The Dowling Poole was able to let loose with the sort of songs that Britain has almost forgotten how to make. Described by the band as an eclectic and contemporary sounding mix of semi-psychedelic pop, somehow quintessentially British-sounding, laced with harmonies and a multitude of influences from the best of 50 years of rock and popular music, the songs look to The Beatles, 10CC and The Kinks for inspiration.

Givvi is covered in the Union Flag clothing and sports some rather fabulous and (as I understand it) very expensive shoes to compliment the look. Poole looks like a true English gent, albeit one that probably needs sectioning. Sporting Elvis’s other pair of sunglasses, Dowling’s knack for harmonies and the multi layered vocals made the set an absolute joy and a great opportunity to soak it all up before the manic energy of Hey! Hello! entered the fray. 

Hey! Hello!

Introducing Cat Southall as the band’s new lead singer (which means album number 3 should be pretty special) Hey! Hello!’s The Rev confirmed what a lot of fans had been hoping for since the band’s second album had been released with multiple singers. Cat, a live favourite is a confident and deliriously happy Welsh lass who never stops smiling throughout the excellent set the band deliver. She portrays the perfect mix of the former Hey! Hello! vocalists and has no problems in delivering tracks from either of the fine albums the band has released to date. 

Swimwear’, ‘Burn The Rule Book’  and ‘This Ain’t Love’  get the crowd bouncing around with Ginger apparently happy enough to play primarily in the shadows at the side of the stage allowing the rest of band to take the lion’s share of the limelight. What initially appeared to be the big man allowing colleagues to have their moment would later turn out to be something more serious but more on that later. 

With ‘Glass of Champagne’ cut to allow the night to progress on time, ‘Black Valentine’  and ‘Kids’  resulted in a huge bounce and sing along from the audience raising smiles high. Both The Rev and Toshi were a whirl of activity, bouncing around Cat whilst timekeeper Ai kept everyone in check with some precision drumming. As they closed off the set it marked another highlight in an already excellent evening.

  Jim Jones and the Righteous Mind

The new band from former Jim Jones Revue / Black Moses / Thee Hypnotics front man, was an interesting addition to the bill. History and awareness of Jones’ former acts meant the crowd were certainly focused on  hearing what the Righteous Minds could deliver. 

With a Tennessee like approach to the music, Jones came across like a cross between Nick Cave and Johnny Cash. It presents yet another style of music for a crowd with seemingly sponge like abilities to soak it all up and then some. 

The response as the set continued increased exponentially and as the slot drew to a close, rapturous applause signalled a huge victory for the band with many proclaiming they were THE support of the night. We did though still have Dirt Box Disco to follow… 

Dirt Box Disco

Having seen DBD at a previous Ginger Wildheart bash, the April 1st show had left me fairly nonplussed about the band. For whatever the reason, Dirt Box Disco just didn’t do it for me that night. As such, coming up to the main support slot, the assumptions were high that the best support of the night had already played, that DWB would have nothing really to offer. 

How wrong can one person be? The set, comprising many of the same songs as performed just a few months ago took on a whole new life and energy. With a pint in one hand and the other, a fist in the air, I, along with a large proportion of the crowd simply engaged and, sloshing pints around, spent the following 45 minutes bouncing around the floor of the Forum.

With WEAB.I.AM, the rather chubby clown fronting the band, suffering from a cold and slowly losing his voice, yet still happily entertaining the crowd, it fell to ‘technically inept’ guitarist Spunk Volcano (yep, that’s a thing!) to bolster the vocals. ‘Standing in a Q’ saw the crowd pogo their way through the song, proving that the band had really hit the nail on the head with their performance, something that Ginger confirmed later during the Wildhearts’ set when he asked for cheers for the support bands. Dirt Box Disco won by some margin. Fair play to a band that initially seemed a surprise choice for the main support slot.

My Life Is Shit’, ‘I Don’t Wanna Go Out With You’  and ‘Let’s Get Wasted’  draw equally enthusiastic responses from the madcap bunch that are completed by Danny Fingers on lead guitar, drummer Maff Fazzo and Deadbeatz Chris on bass. This was how to win a crowd over.

The Wildhearts

And so to the headliners. For the first time in years, the Wildhearts’ tour featured Danny on bass once more during the encores, something that, naturally, had spiked interest in the fans and by the time the band arrived on stage, the crowd were chomping at the bit. 

Opening with ‘Sick of  Drugs’, ‘Vanilla Radio’ & ‘TV Tan’, to say the band hit the ground running would be an understatement. Hit after hit followed and the band produced a supercharged performance that felt like it eclipsed the P.H.U.Q. anniversary shows. All the more impressive was the fact that Ginger was clearly ill. His reserved appearance and performance during the Hey! Hello! set was less about letting his band mates shine and more, it would appear, down to the fact that he had a sickness bug / virus that took hold long before The Wildhearts had arrived on stage. Ever the ultimate showman and never (NEVER) wanting to let his fan base down, Ginger refused to cancel the show and went ahead with a black dustbin on the stage which he proceeded to fill at one stage thanks to a vomiting session.   

With the main set delivered, thanks to electrifying efforts from CJ, Ritch and Jon, it wasn’t long before the encores were upon us and Danny’s chair is returned to the stage. Ginger’s sick bin, right next to him on stage remains a familiar sight to Danny who often partook of a cleansing in the earlier days of the band. Thankfully though, a sick as Ginger was, the band still managed to bring their A-game, with ‘Overkill’, ‘Suckerpunch’, ‘Head fuck’, ‘Geordie..’ and the classic ‘I Wanna Go..’ closing the night. 

Pushing midnight and with Ginger clearly not well enough to continue, the usual closer ‘29x The Pain’ was left out but the crowd remained ecstatic. A tour-de-force performance from everyone concerned and a festival sized bill to keep the public happy. Roll on next year. 

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