Words and Pictures: Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media
Following several Birthday Bash events at KOKO in Camden and The Forum in Kentish Town, the annual Ginger Wildheart Birthday Bash returns once more to its spiritual home at The Garage in Islington.
The venue was a complete sell out. With the order of play also returning to the fan favourite of “Ginger on stage for the duration, joined by various friends throughout the night, culminating in a joyous sing along for all concerned,” it was set to be great, great fun. Obviously, advertising is easier when it simply says Ginger Wildheart plus Friends. As you read the article, recognising the number of artists due on stage over the course of three hours, it rapidly becomes obvious that this isn’t just a simple jam session. To organise, prep and corral the best part of 30-40 musicians on and off the small stage at The Garage is a feat in micro-management. To get them all lined up and in the building in the first place is impressive enough (although the date does tend to stick in the mind given this event has been running for over ten years now) but watching them troop on and off like the best Broadway musical really is something else. Major kudos to all involved in the set up. Ginger on Broadway launches in 2020 – maybe!
With many fans sampling the Famous Cock (the pub on the other side of the road… get your mind out of the gutter people) for a few hours before the show, by the time the doors opened a stream of happy smiley people were lined up ready to get into Ginger’s greatest hits from the last 25 years.
When the musical output from Ginger covers so many bases and genres, it provides ample opportunity to break a show up into different segments and the Birthday Bash is the ideal occasion to showcase everything he’s become known for.
Beginning with an acoustic set focused on recent album ‘Ghost in the Tanglewood’ Ginger was joined initially by Emily Ewing providing supporting vocals and Matthew Colley on keyboards. It shows the strength of your back catalogue when you can begin a show with some of the most passionate, emotive material (in my opinion) that you’ve ever written and still have enough to keep going for another two and a half hours afterwards. “The Daylight Hotel”, “Paying It Forward” and “The Words Are Gonna Have to Wait” generate the first sing along of the evening and a smiling Ginger, clad in a Cheap Trick jacket then commences the run through of the largest setlist (taking up the side wall of the stage) as he introduces an ever revolving band of musicians to the stage.
With Keli Compulsive, Givvi Flynn, joined by Toshi & Ai from Hey! Hello! the ‘band’ then ran through some of the G.A.S.S. material. With Ginger casually asking if the crowd remembered the fan club set up to deliver new material every month for 12 months, the songs served as an ideal reminder of just how good that material was. The excitement of getting to the launch day each month to hear material like ‘The Last Day of Summer’, ‘Only Henry Rollins Can Save Us Now’ and the epic ‘The Pendine Incident’ will have seen many fans returning to that era of Ginger’s music on the way home or the following morning. It may well have been hard work but hearing them live makes us wish for G.A.S.S.2
‘The Uninvited’ sees Dave McPherson join them on stage and for ‘Adrenalina’, Kelii and Givvi administered the shot to the heart with more great vocal work.
With a pause and a nod to the audition process when Hey! Hello! were looking for a new vocalist to replace Hollis Mahady, Ginger is joined by The Rev, Ai, Toshi and vocalists, Givvi, Elosie Kerry, Laila Khan of Sonic Boom Six and of course touring regular Cat Southall essentially pulled out a Blues Brothers moment and put the band back together. Energised, angry, especially with The Rev singing on ‘Perfect’, they even find time to play one of Cat’s compositions from her concept driven solo album.
Loud and Fucking Clear (Hey! Hello! song) (with Givvi Flynn), Let’s Get Emotional (Hey! Hello! song) (with Eloise Kerry), Perfect (Hey! Hello! song), Glass of Champagne (Sailor / Hey! Hello! song) (with Laila Khan), One Day at a Time (Cat Southall cover), This Ain’t Love (Hey! Hello! song)
Another acoustic break which provided a timely reprieve in a venue which was, by that time, sweating from the walls and ceiling, saw Ginger joined by cellist Maya for a few cover songs including Hüsker Dü’s ‘The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill’, Glen Campbell’s ‘Wichita Lineman’ and ‘Free Fallin’/American Girl’, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ timeless classics that, thanks to Ginger suffering slightly with cold \ throat, came across as one of the perfect moments of the night with his voice imitating Petty perfectly. If only Ryan Hamilton had been there as well. Maybe next year!
The side door of the venue was then flung open once more and Andy Brook, Rags, Jamie Oliver (from UK Subs and not the Chef), bassist Jason Knight and long time compatriot Alex Kane rolled onto the stage. Forming the back line for the next few songs, an up tempo and punked up set saw Jim Jones singing AC/DC’s ‘Live Wire’, Pandora artist Ray Zell, achieving a dream of his and performing Aerosmith’s ‘Lick and a Promise’ on stage. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Proud Mary’ saw another Hey! Hello! audition hopeful James Byron Norval deliver a haunting vocal performance and then the band closed with ‘I Think I Love You’ with Alex Kane front and centre.
Holding onto the back-line, David Ryder-Prangley joined them on stage for Silver Ginger 5 classic ‘Girls Are Better Than Boys’ which got everyone bouncing before surprise guest Bernie Tormé arrived to run through ‘Star’ and the Gary U.S. Bonds song, ‘New Orleans’.
As Bernie left, the cheer that greeted Backyard Babies guitarist Dregen almost lifted the roof of The Garage. Moving to the position of bassist, Ginger, Dregan, Alex Kane and Wildhearts drummer Rich Battersby then proceeded to lay waste to some of the Super$hit 666 songs as well as a storming cover of Motörhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’.
You Smell Canadian (Super$hit 666 song) / Superpowered Superfly (Michael Monroe cover) / Johnny B Goode (Chuck Berry cover) / Ace of Spades (Motörhead cover) / Star War Jr. (Super$hit 666 song)
Having already expended some two hours of music for the masses, the evening closed, as hoped for, with a Wildhearts set which saw Ginger joined by CJ, Toshi and Ritch. That of course wasn’t it for guests though as long time friend, Camden Rocks creator and current member of The Professionals Chris McCormack, Hands Off Gretal’s Lauren Tate and more added extra zest to the acidic snarl of the classics that couldn’t fail to get the room moving as one heavy sweaty mass of happy.
As Ginger reflected on what a bad year it’s been, we can only think that events such as the Birthday Bash offer a cathartic release for him. The smile was there as the set drew to a close and if anyone can help seal the moment, it was Frank Turner. Closing with ‘Shitsville’ and ’29x The Pain’ and having Frank front and centre is an inspired choice and now becoming a must see moment at these events.
Suckerpunch (The Wildhearts song) (with Chris McCormack & Lauren Tate) / My Baby Is a Headfuck (The Wildhearts song) (with Chris, and Mike Scoble on harmonica) / Sick of Drugs (The Wildhearts song) (with Paul Gautrey) / Caffeine Bomb (The Wildhearts song) (with Jay Butler) / Don’t Worry ’bout Me (The Wildhearts song)
Someone That Won’t Let Me Go (The Wildhearts song) / Greetings From Shitsville (The Wildhearts song) (with Frank Turner) / 29 x the Pain (The Wildhearts song) (with Frank Turner)
Pretty much 3 hours of perfection and the best way to end 2017. A very welcome return to the format we all crave for every December 17th and all that remains to be said is “See you all next year for the BritRock tour, the acoustic shows with Levellers, festival appearances with The Wildhearts and hopefully more including another show just like this one.”