Fan Story: James Tomlinson
5 October 1988 was the first time I remember thinking about the ripple effect. It was an episode of Doctor Who and The Doctor was pondering adding sugar to his tea and the subsequent potential impact. Of course, such actions are completely mundane at the time – it’s only when you look back you realize just how much of your life can be traced to a single event.
Five years later, I was in a book store in Colwyn Bay run by a friend of mine. He played me a CD he’d just bought, describing it as the ‘future of rock’. It was ‘Earth Vs The Wildhearts’ and, from the first crash of ‘Greetings From Shitsville’, I was hooked.
It sounded like nothing else that was around at the time, a mesmerizing concoction of excitement, power, and brilliance I had been longing for without even knowing it. My prized Metallica back cat faded to black behind a new lord and master and, if I had believed in God, mine was now decidedly Ginger.
Fourteen years later, I’m sitting at my PC thinking back on just how much that one song changed me, how so many of the fantastic experiences in my life have been as a result of the passion spawned from hearing that single track (Thanks, Ed).
I realize now that I was a relative latecomer to a band which had actually been doing the rounds for nearly eighteen months before the release of its debut album. This meant that I missed the controversy over Neil Jeffries’ KKK ‘Mondo’ review, but I was quick to rectify that with a spending spree on anything WH related and, by the time the ‘P.H.U.Q.’ album was released, I was a bona fide fan champing at the bit.
But ‘P.H.U.Q.’ didn’t sound like ‘Earth Vs’ at all; it was a far more mature beast, stormingly inaccessible at times, and yet delicate and subtle at others. Even the anthemic ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’ (which had grabbed the headlines before ‘P.H.U.Q.’ had even been mentioned) seemed far removed from the comfortable simplicity of ‘Suckerpunch’ and ‘Caffeine Bomb’. I was uneasy; it was so very different from what had already claimed the throne of perfect. This was a dramatic change, yet another new sound.
But then wasn’t that why I had loved ‘Earth Vs’ in the first place? – because it was a new sound? Would I really have welcomed an ‘Earth Vs’ replica? – I mean, what would be the point? Then, without even realizing it, I embraced the new offering and even placed it above its predecessor in the perfection stakes. Perhaps my musical tastes changed to accommodate the new Wildhearts material, or perhaps, and I think this is more likely, The Wildhearts taught me what good music really was.
When ‘Endless Nameless’ came along in ’97, I was so bowled over I actually took a week off University to listen to the CD. Thankfully, my friends understood this and kindly covered for me while I scrutinized the sonic eruption in painstaking detail. Maybe that wasn’t the point – after all, how many CDs do you listen to that closely? But, having dedicated myself to the band I felt I must love this impenetrable beast gracing my stereo. It wasn’t an easy road, but eventually it did make sense, and nowadays I have a very special place in my heart and my life for the tracks from this album. Listening to ‘Urge’ live still has the capacity to affect me quite unlike any other song.
So here’s the thing, here’s what I think makes a Wildhearts fan and, if you, dear reader, take only one thing from my input to this tome, let it be this: I believe the Wildhearts have achieved such success (both commercially and artistically) and appeal to so many because of the variety of their style. They encompass almost every genre imaginable which means anyone with an appreciation of any style can find at least something in at least one of The Wildhearts’ tracks. How many bands can claim that?
In light of this, it’s fairly easy to see why the band has such a dedicated and devoted fan base – despite the greater than normal quantity of fuck ups that have surrounded them.
In early 1999 I met an inspirational character by the name of Jean-Paul Storrow and we decided to create a Wildhearts website entitled FiveMilesHigh (after J-P’s rather excellent WH fanzine). We started small, but built it up quite quickly, creating sections for other bands we liked (mostly those with Wildhearts connections).
In 2000 we took another leap into the world of promotion and, by January 2001, we were putting on an all-day show at the Mean Fiddler in the centre of London to a capacity of one thousand punters in aid of Cystic Fibrosis. A few months later, we began a four week residency at The Borderline in London, followed closely by a six month residency at the W14 Club in West Kensington. Inspired by the variety of excellence in the Wildhearts, we were promoting the very best of UK rock ’n’ roll, and everyone seemed to be lapping it up.
We hosted a number of ‘special’ events, including two ChangesOne showcases and a summer event entitled DamoFest to celebrate the return of Oz based WH fan Damo to the UK. By this point we had also taken on management of the UK Rock band B*Movie Heroes (featuring Neil Phillips whom we knew from The Yo-Yo’s days) and were promoting a series of acts across the whole of the UK – including the massively talented Danny Frye whose one and only UK tour was a FiveMilesHigh promotion.
In addition to this, we were managing websites for numerous acts affiliated with FiveMilesHigh (including the awesome Plan A featuring ex-Wildheart Jef Streatfield) and starting up our own record label SixFeetDeep Records to push the amazing talent we had encountered through FiveMilesHigh (including the hugely underrated CherryKicks). [As of April 2007 – archive available here] FiveMilesHigh is still going strong, and the promotions (now entitled Flight 51 and managed by J-P) are now more sensibly based in Bristol.
The Wildhearts have also had a huge impact on my personal life. Most of the people I now consider friends were introduced to me at various gigs and events, or online via the Wildhearts Yahoo Group. My flat has become a stop-off point for many touring bands, or mates visiting the South West for gigs etc. Even when visiting far off countries such as Japan, I have managed to seek out fellow Wildhearts fans.
It would be unfair to list the names of all the fantastic fellow Wildhearts who have played such a major part of my life, but there is one name I feel I must mention here, someone who inspired me along with so many, and someone who truly deserves a place in my personal Wildhearts history; the one and only Trace. Hon, you were one of the strongest, funniest, kindest, and most energetic rockers I’ve ever known. I miss you.
Reading this back, it is quite astonishing to think that literally everything can be traced back to that one Wildhearts track in Colwyn Books. I wonder where I would be had I not gone to visit Ed that day. I’m glad I did.