Ginger Wildheart, with Carol Hodge, Ben Marsden and Baz Francis – The Waterloo Blackpool Thursday 14th December 2023.

Ginger Plays The Wildhearts – an acoustic evening celebrating the music of The Wildhearts

Words: Helen May / Pictures (C) Louise Newiss

Ginger Plays The Wildhearts – an acoustic evening celebrating the music of The Wildhearts: support by Carol Hodge and Ben Marsden and Baz Francis – The Waterloo Blackpool Thursday 14th December 2023.

Baz Francis

Baz Francis rocked up on stage festooned in a tinsel garland he cheekily said he’d stolen from Carol Hodge who was due to appear after him with Ben Marsden. Sporting a black and white ‘Beetlejuice’ robe, armed with a Godin electric guitar, he opened to a friendly crowd at The Waterloo in Blackpool.

Some brief online research tells me, the musician started out his career with his first band Mansion Harlots in 1997 before going on to form Magic Eight Ball in 2004. He took tracks from both bands and put them into his energetic solo set.

Baz cuts an interesting image as a performer, his sharp facial features and shaved head, softened by his jocular patter. ‘I’m celebrating getting through Christmas commercials and pantomimes with Jason Donovan,’ he joked, before launching into a Magic Eight Ball song ‘I Just Love You More For Christmas’. The upbeat, punk-inspired, bouncing track is a cynical poke at the festive season. His music is lively, dark and I’d say influenced by the Manic Street Preachers as his vocal was at times reminiscent of James Dean Bradfield of the internationally acclaimed band, which is no bad thing.

Carol Hodge and Ben Marsden

Carol Hodge and Ben Marsden, both solo artists in their own right, have joined forces on the ‘Ginger Plays The Wildhearts’ tour of the UK.

They played a fun set that got the crowd foot-tapping. Ben’s smile is hard not to find infectious as he looked every bit in his element, strumming his acoustic guitar. Carol, too, matched his enthusiasm, and the warmth they had on stage together was apparent.

Their tunes were easy to listen to and at times cheeky and irreverent with punk-garage influences. This wasn’t surprising as Ben is in a UK punk-garage band called The Spangles, and Carol is with The Ignorant Band, playing the songs of Crass, on their recent tour.
Mid way through their set, they sang out ‘The Only One’ – a track from Marsden’s ‘100% Heavy Metal’ album (available on bandcamp) which, for me, was a highlight of their set. The uptempo love song saw their voices blend in harmony and they complemented each other perfectly. Carol talked about their appreciation for being at The Waterloo which is one of the region’s finest live music venues and a coveted place to play for many UK bands. She also delivered a heartfelt message that recent times have seen the closure of 120 live music venues in the UK, which is a sobering reminder that without ticket-paying audiences special nights of live music just won’t happen.

Both Carol and Ben have so many songs between them they were able to play musical tennis by prompting each other and taking it in turns to do songs from each of their respective back catalogues. All in all, a professional performance delivered by two great musicians who looked like the best of friends having a great time.

Ginger Wildheart

Blackpool’s Waterloo Bar welcomed rocker Ginger Wildheart to the stage with rapturous applause and smiles.

It had been busy enough for the support acts but when I looked around as Ginger opened his set, the crowd swelled, and people were now standing shoulder to shoulder to show their love and support for a man who has reached rock legend status.

Ginger has now been in the music business for more than 30 years, delivering a raft of tracks with the Wildhearts – known for pop-thrash tunes with a hint of Metallica vibes and the Beatles – and Ginger Wildheart’s lyrical prowess at being able to pen a banging tune that also cuts emotionally.

As he stands there in his faded-grey jeans, T-shirt, red and white spotty shirt and trademark Dreadlocks, the most prominent impression I get from him is that performing live means something to him. His eyes are sincere and his focus direct. During some of the quieter moments of the gig, in his dialogue with the crowd, I can feel the connection he has with the audience, and you can see it, too. When Ginger laughs, faces in the audience smile, mirroring his emotion. There’s a mutual appreciation there. As a frontman taking an audience on a journey – especially as a solo performer – is not for the faint-hearted but it is a skill he has clearly mastered, or he has reached a point where he is comfortable enough with the vulnerability of it. Either way, he did a superb job of keeping the audience in his space and they were all hanging on his every word. Three decades of playing live obviously provides a musical education but Ginger had another thing on his side – his fans absolutely adore him. And, I mean, seriously adore him.

This was to be quite an unusual night as listeners soon realised, there was no set list. This show was totally off-the-cuff. This news came as a massive delight to the fans who already knew what they wanted him to play. And more than that, it didn’t matter, if Ginger didn’t know the words. They knew every line and intonation of the song and were enthusiastically signing back to him. Every time a song came to an end and Ginger asked ‘what next’, there was a scramble of voices clamouring over one another, shouting for their favourites.

‘Girlfriend’s Clothes’ – a track from The Wildhearts’ album ‘Fishing for Luckies’ blistered out with Ginger’s ripping husky vocals and was notable for its bouncing rhythm. The crowd, caught in the moment, were nodding, enthusiastically. ‘The Miles Away Girl’ – a track from ‘Earth Versus The Wildhearts’ followed – a punk thumping track with simple lyrics that repeat with an infectious catchy chorus. ‘29X The Pain’ (which you’ll find on the compilation album The Works which included previously unavailable B-sides) was another favourite of the night and saw Ginger shine out, gleeful and triumphant that the magic and majesty of his music was sounding as fresh as it was when he wrote it. The song is about the uplifting effect music has on fans and is a lyrical list of influences that have shaped Ginger’s songwriting in which he name-checks The Ramones, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Sex Pistols and many more. Ginger also played ‘Sick of Drugs’ off the Fishing for Luckies album which was a great version. The song was played by the Wildhearts on Top of the Pops back in 1996 and was still a winner with those attending.

The night rounded off by having all players on stage for the last few numbers and a marvelous version of The Price – penned by Carol Hodge (off the album Vertiginous Drops) which was epic and beautiful. Ginger is easy to like with his soft Geordie accent and down-to-earth persona. I’ve never seen him play before and he is definitely one of those people who are full of life-force.

Ginger’s backdrop of the evening was not rock pyros and festival sized flames tonight but a fake fire hearth, complete with burning log fire on the back projector at the Waterloo and a Border collie dog – I think he said was his beloved Maggie – who would come in sporadically to check on her owner and give him a little kiss, too.

It made the gig feel like going down the pub with an old friend. His bandanna made him look like a rock pirate, sharing tales of his journey through life including his experiences – like the highs and lows of the tides and the angels and the villains he had met on the way. He looked happy and in a good place, orchestrating a night of folk, punk, heavy metal splendour that was a rare treat for Wildheart fans.

The Ginger Plays The Wildhearts show tours throughout 2024.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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