Thankfully Ginger Wildheart is still with us and capable of playing. It’s a fact he underlines several times during his annual Birthday Bash show, casually saying he hadn’t intended having a birthday this year (which might sound a touch melodramatic). But, as he has thankfully proved a failure at committing suicide, he can continue being a success as a great, very productive musician.
Most of the audience are outside before the doors open and, as soon as everyone is inside the sold-out venue, The Garage Ginger comes on to begin his annual night of playing with as many musicians as he can get onto the stage. The opening band are basically Ghosts In The Tanglewood whose album raised money for Samaritans and features Sophia and Givvi on vocals and tambourine, Stix on resonator box, Ai Sugiyama from Hey Hello!, and Mia on cello.
They open with the heartfelt plea for understanding that is The Daylight Hotel with Ginger harmonising nicely with Givvi and Sophia. It’s a nice gentle start. Golden Tears is sad and heartfelt and at the same time (as always with Ginger) quite uplifting. Next, Sweet Wonderlust from his latest album The Pessimist’s Companion makes its live debut. It’s a cool song with plenty of yearning in it, as well as a great cello solo from Mia.
Ginger then dips into The Wildhearts catalogue for the first time this evening with a really cool rendition of Beautiful Me, Beautiful You, a song so obscure he has the lyrics on sheets on the side of the stage. He then announces Paying It Forward as a very important song to him now and it gets the first big singalong of the night as everyone joins in to make sure he knows how much we appreciate he’s still with us.
That concludes the quiet part of the night and results in the first band change with Ginger and Givvi being joined by Share Ross from Vixen on bass, Kavus Torabi from The Cardiacs on guitar, Denzel on drums, and Eloise and Kelli on vocals. They start out good and heavy but reasonably straight ahead on How I Survived The Punk Wars as it sinks in that we really have a Vixen Cardiacs supergroup onstage. Bloody Knees from The GASS Sessions, however, takes a real left turn and is quite Beefheartian and very heavy.
Eloise sings Don’t Stop Loving The Music with The Rev guesting on guitar, as they get bouncy before going a lot heavier on Friend Of Mine with The Rev on vocals and Kavus playing some really twisted guitar. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah is no less twisted but with good shout-along vocals to get everyone going.
There’s another band change as Ginger is joined by guitarist Mark Thwaite (who avoided a Swedish jail while on tour with Pete Murphy), Jimmy Ashurst of Buckcherry, and Jamie Oliver (the current UK Subs drummer, not the chef).
They start with Friends Of Bill, a wonderfully dark song that sounds like it could be Tarantino inspired. Nick Parker then comes on to duet with Ginger on Alvarado On The 2, that’s soon overshadowed by his being replaced by Michael Monroe, who injects a shot of adrenaline into his urgent take on All You Need, the first song he wrote with Ginger. As ever, Monroe is magnetic and all over the stage for a great version of Superpowered Superfly, the second song they wrote together.
They then blow through Taxi Driver with passion and urgency as plenty of us sing along, The Heartbreakers classic I Wanna Be Loved (a sentiment that I think everyone in the room gets), and the primal blast of Kick Out The Jams by MC5 (who Monroe recently supported on the band’s 50th anniversary tour).
As Monroe waves goodbye, out comes Charlie Harper to sing Endangered Species. I actually prefer Monroe’s version, the heathen that I am, and they should have sung it together. Still, it sounds great and brings this part of the evening to a close.
Then, as Ginger explains as they change over, we get the 1992 line up of The Wildhearts performing together for the first time since, well, 1992. Yes, they have Bam back on the drums, alongside CJ Wildheart on guitar, and Danny McCormack seated playing bass. They start with Turning American and, damn, it sounds good even if the lyrics become more worrying with the passing years.
Once Ginger’s explained that most of these songs haven’t been played in a while, they give Liberty Cap a go. It might be a bit rough around the edges but still fizzes with energy, while Nothing Ever Changes But the Shoes has McCormack really grinning about whatever goes wrong with the ending that they’re soon joking about.
In contrast, I’m sure I see a fan or two shedding a tear during Crying Over Nothing. It’s that sort of event for hardcore Wildhearts fans having Bam back, giving it everything on drums. Still, as ever with Ginger, there’s the choppy Something Weird (Going On In My Head) before they try to remember what it was they were Dreaming In A about in the first place.
Ginger thanks Bam for returning to the fold and I’m sure I’m not the only one hoping he doesn’t leave it another 26 years before he plays with them again. While Rich Battersby, his long-term replacement in the band, adjusts the kit to play the rest of The Wildhearts set, McCormack encourages the audience to sing Don’t Worry ‘bout Me. As soon as everyone on stage is ready, the band slowly joins in. They launch into TV Tan, which was the first song of the set Ginger played with The Wildhearts when I last saw them at the start of the month, and it really rocks with everyone singing along.
They’re then so Sick Of Drugs that they rampage through it like a great big party of a song, before we get a dark and urgent version of Nina Nitro, followed by the joyous singalong of My Baby Is A Headfuck.
Frank Turner steps up for Suckerpunch and, as ever at these gigs, behaves like a man who can’t believe he’s allowed to join in. He then leads the room as everyone sings Greetings From Shitsville at top volume.
For the finale, Monroe joins Turner and Ginger to sing 29x The Pain and it’s interesting to see Monroe as almost the backing singer rather than frontman. After many thanks, they close the night with I Wanna Go Where The People Go that, of course, we all sing our hearts out on.
They leave the stage to huge cheers, having played for nearly three hours in total. Yet again Ginger Wildheart’s Birthday Bash is one of the best gigs of the year, and here’s hoping there are many more to come.
Review of Ginger Wildheart’s Birthday Bash @ The Garage on 17th December 2018 by Simon Phillips. Photographs by Trudi Knight.