Fan Story: Carrie McMillan
Music has always played a major role in my life from my earliest memories. I’m a terminal rock chick; the only lullaby that got me to sleep as a baby was Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke On The Water’, and my first concert was Whitesnake when I was only seven years old. Even sat upon my dad’s shoulders, I could still only see the very top of David Coverdale’s curly mop. Despite this lifelong obsession with all things rock, and the countless concerts I’ve attended over the years, it still came as something of a surprise just how much impact one band has had on all aspects of my life. That band being The Wildhearts.
The love affair was to begin in March 1992 when a friend offered me a spare ticket to see Love/Hate play the Bristol Bierkeller in exchange for a lift to the gig. The Wildhearts were the support act and they caught my attention immediately in a way few bands have done since. They completely blew Love/Hate off the stage, and I lost interest in the headliners within two songs, and wandered off to buy an early copy of the video ‘Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes’, and chat to Ginger and Danny (not so much of a conversation with Danny truth be told as the combination of loud gig and very strong Geordie accent meant I didn’t understand much!). By some miracle, I didn’t wear out my video before ‘Mondo Akimbo A Go-Go’ was released, and I finally had some more tracks to listen to.
The first headline tour in June 1992 was one big adventure. I roped in a willing accomplice and we travelled across the southern half of England, going to any gig deemed commutable in an evening. This included the fans-only gig at Nomis Studios where – because we were the only fans not to follow the band back out into the foyer after their set – we ended up helping out the roadies, Goz and Winkle. As a direct result of that, we were immediately commandeered the following night almost as soon as we arrived at the band’s first ever London headline gig to help again – not that we were complaining, we got to watch the entire set from the side of the stage whilst being asked to do complicated things like hold maglites! We also got invited to the end of tour party, in no small part because I had a car! That pretty much set the pattern for any following tours, support slots, one-off dates – my travelling companion occasionally changed, but the adventures never stopped. And the only thing that equalled the excitement of the build-up preceding a gig, was the buzz you were left with afterwards. You never left one of their gigs disappointed.
As well as the experience of the live gigs, you had the quality of the songs. Every single was released with previously unavailable B-sides, any one of which was worthy of a place on an album. And you could pretty much guarantee to find a song to match your mood, no matter what it was. From the fury of ‘Suckerpunch’, to the slicker bounce-fest that was ‘Nita Nitro’, to the melodic beauty that was ‘Beautiful Thing You’, they were tough enough for the boys, whilst remaining tuneful enough for the girls. They were a fantastic combination of melody and harmony without compromising on how hard they rocked, and managed to appeal to both the punk and the metal crowds without actually belonging to either. They were unpredictable enough to be interesting, and approachable enough to be accessible to the fans – you could pretty much guarantee bumping into them before a gig if you wandered into the pub closest to the venue. With all of this, it’s little wonder that they attracted such ardent followers nor that the fans took them so completely to their (wild) hearts.
Whilst I appreciate that the band continued to grow in popularity after their demise – and being a person that did get to see them many times live I could be accused of being selfish – I would have preferred the band not to have reformed. Whilst the later tours and albums were undoubtedly good, indeed better than many of their contemporaries they just seemed to lack some of the passion and honesty that I so loved about the band initially; some indefatigable quality was missing. I’m not denying it was great to hear the songs live again, and a reunion tour would have been a thing to savour and enjoy, but, like relationships, bands end for a reason, and you rarely find that same magic lasts for any period of time if you go back. And whilst I know I will be accused of being biased because of my friendship with Danny, it’s not the band without him in it. I appreciate that both Toshi and Jon Poole stepped in during very difficult circumstances, and I certainly don’t condone some of the comments Jon in particular had to deal with from some of the fans, but whilst guitarists and drummers have changed over the years, for me Danny and Ginger have always been there, and it wouldn’t be the band without either of them. Ginger was the driving force and ambition of the band, but Danny was its heart.
Besides which, when you see all the top class bands that rose from the ashes of The Wildhearts, why would you want to rewind the natural process? No matter what your musical preferences, chances are one of those bands would have appealed to your tastes. Ex-members have gone on to form bands such as SilverGinger 5, The Yo-Yo’s, Plan A, Bubble, The Jellys, and Grand Theft Audio. And that’s just to name a few. I discovered the Yo-Yo’s and Plan A in that time-honoured fashion, through support slots. I first saw the Yo-Yo’s supporting the Backyard Babies on their ’98 tour, when my mate and her husband dragged me out to shake off the blues and self-doubt I’d been left with at the end of a particularly destructive relationship. I knew the Yo-Yo’s were Danny’s new band, but that was the extent of my knowledge. As soon as they started playing, it became immediately apparent it was very much my thing. There was that familiar excited feeling in the pit of my stomach. I loved the songs, the fact that there was no one singer gave the band a real group camaraderie feel, and I dragged myself out the next night to see them again, and a further two nights of the tour. I will forever be grateful to The Yo-Yo’s for reminding me of who I was. Plan A I actually saw supporting The Yo-Yo’s at the Garage. I’d gone alone as my now-husband wasn’t going to get back from work in time, but by then I’d been to see The Yo-Yo’s so many times there were always people at the gigs I could hang out with. Whilst a completely different sound to the Yo-Yo’s, Plan A also had that same quality that set your pulse racing, the hairs on the back of your arms standing to attention. I woke my husband up at 1.00am when I finally got back home from London to tell him all about them, as I was sure they were very much his thing, and I was too excited to wait till the morning. Probably just as well I was proven right, or we might never have made it up the aisle! SilverGinger 5 was actually one of my many purchases through ChangesOne, and I was absolutely blown away by the album. It wasn’t The Wildhearts, it was different. But it was absolutely brilliant on its own merits. Having heard The Wildhearts for years, and then the SilverGinger offering, it made it easier to understand how frustrating it must have been for a man of Ginger’s talents to not make a bigger mark in the industry. Whatever your personal feelings on the man, he can definitely pen a tune!
The bands directly descended from The Wildhearts aren’t the only reason the band made such an impression on my music collection. Whilst largely ignored by the mainstream media – despite, at my count, no less than seven Top of the Pops appearances – they did leave their mark on the music scene. Bands obviously influenced by The Wildhearts popped up everywhere, the most obvious being 3 Colours Red, although I don’t think I ever once saw them acknowledge that influence despite having been done no harm through a support slot before anyone had really heard of them – and the Backyard Babies, who were always more than vocal about it. And the countless bands you checked out because they were touted as influences, bands you saw touring with them, or further offshoots of the family tree – bands such as The Toy Dolls, Rachel Stamp, The Black Halos, Sugarsnatch, to name just a few of my favourites.
Music aside, The Wildhearts have had a fairly impressive impact on my personal life as well. The companions that travelled with me on the various tours may have occasionally changed, but each and every one, without exception, have remained amongst my best friends to this day. The band caused varying degrees of friction and jealousy in my personal relationships, outlasted most of them, and were the reason I was introduced to my soul mate and the man I would end up marrying: some mutual friends introduced Dave and me because we both loved the band so much. I am lucky enough to be married to a man for whom music is equally as important in his life, and for the first time understands my passion for the bands I love, and, as a result of this, I know that when we’re old and grey and senile we’ll still have plenty of things to talk about. Indeed, since being asked to pen this essay, it has led to many a conversation between us as we reminisce about the many gigs we went to through the years. As a direct result of this union is the centre of my world, our two-year old son, who already only really considers it music if it’s loud with lots of guitars and drums. He already has his own portable stereo and knows how to use it!
I have met many of my nearest and dearest friends through my times at Wildhearts and related bands gigs. One of my very best friends was Jef’s girlfriend at the time I met her, and the one person I can always rely on. About 50% of my friends have come about as a direct result of time spent going to gigs and socializing, and these are long-standing friendships, not just ones that last as long as the music is playing.
Of course, many would consider me lucky to count both Danny and Jef amongst my friends, but to think that is purely because of The Wildhearts link is an insult to them both. I know as well as most that Danny has his demons, but, when he’s in control of them, he is one of the most genuine and caring and funny people you could ever wish to meet. To those of us that know him and love him, the frustration at watching his considerable talents wasting away through drug abuse, is second only to the absolute horror and stark terror at watching someone so dearly loved and cared for disappearing. I hate that drug with a passion and still hope that Danny will beat it one day, although I admit that hope fades as each year passes. But I cannot turn my back on him, it’s Danny and you can’t help but love him. I will never forget the pep-talk I got from him the night before I got married, when I was absolutely terrified of having to walk down the aisle and stand up in front of all my nearest and dearest. He told me to “Walk down the aisle like you own the place” and was honoured that I’d chosen The Yo-Yo’s’ ‘Sunshine Girl’ to walk down the aisle to. And Jef is without a doubt one of the most honest and genuine and salt-of-the-earth type chaps you could ever wish to meet, from the moment you meet him. Jef never fails to make you feel important, special and funny, and has been involved in just about every important milestone in my life since I met him, both the highs and the absolute worst. During the most tragic event of my life, when I lost my daughter halfway through my pregnancy, Jef not only travelled all the way to be there to support us through the funeral, but told us it was an honour to be there. He’s also without a doubt the most underrated of all the ex-members of The Wildhearts.
Despite knowing how huge The Wildhearts had been in my life for so long, it still came as somewhat of a surprise to me to see just how far-reaching into all areas of it their influence has been. All the important friendships and relationships have either come about as a direct result of the band, or been enhanced by running in conjunction with it. I have a very happy marriage to a wonderful man I consider to be my soul mate, the most gorgeous son in the world (I know every parent thinks this!), some of the most genuine and caring friends I could wish for, and a whole bunch of memories that will never be forgotten. Not to mention a fine record collection. It’s fairly safe to say that it’s nigh on impossible to completely extract the band from any area of my life – and when it’s had such a positive influence on most of it, why on earth would I want to?
Having just read the read the piece I wrote for Gary’s book, I felt I needed to write an extra piece, as that was written some 11 years ago now (that two year old boy I mentioned is now 13 and we are also blessed with a now 10 year old girl!) Whilst I stand by everything I wrote at that time, I felt it was worth adding a little bit, as in typical Wildhearts style the contrary bastards came back a couple years later and proved me wrong.
I was delighted when Ritch re-joined the band, no disrespect for any of the other drummers who are great players in their own right, but for me he made the sound so much bigger. It was Ritch that made me realise just how much difference to a band’s sound the drummer can make. Then Scott Sorry joined on bass, who I was vaguely aware of through his stint with Amen. When I first caught that line up, the energy and enthusiasm seemed to be back – slightly different to be sure but the band seemed to have a new lease of life. The songs gave me goosebumps again, in particular “The Revolution Will Be Televised”. Whilst I couldn’t go to the gigs as often as I once had, being a responsible mother (ahem,) I did go to those I could. Further down the line, Scott Sorry’s other project, Sorry and the Sinatras, burst onto the scene with an amazing debut album. And like all of my favourite bands, they were even better when you caught them live. Yet another offshoot of the Wildhearts ever-growing family tree producing more music for my collection, more great gigs to add to the memories.
Unfortunately due to being skint for some time, I’ve missed out on many of the pledges over the last few years, so I’m lagging way behind on Ginger’s back catalogue now. I missed the first version of Hey! Hello! and just watched from the sidelines as the arguments raged online about the best line up, the best versions of the songs etc etc. So Hey! Hello! Too was actually the first time I heard the more pop-tastic offering from him. That album is an instant feel good classic, the sort of album you look forward to playing loud in your car on a summer’s day. When I first listened to it, I was actually travelling back from a funeral through freezing fog – the polar opposite of the feeling it inspired. I heard it through once, and immediately hit play again – by which time the catchiness of some of the tunes meant I was already singing along. Unfortunately, when taking my son to see the Wildhearts for himself, I missed the Hey! Hello! support slot earlier in the evening. Absolutely gutted as would love to see the songs played live, and typically they seem to be on hiatus at the moment (I have a 10 year old daughter desperate to go and see them!).
So some 25 years after I first caught that band, the Wildhearts, live and still I’m finding either the band themselves, or other projects from members past and present, dominating my record collection. Whilst my views may differ from many fans, that’s the beauty of the band – something for everyone, and it would be a boring world if we all thought the same thing. For my part I will ever be grateful to Ginger, and all the other members, past, present and future. My life has definitely been greatly enriched due to one band and its legacy.