Tag Archives: Earth Vs. The Wildhearts

Rocks In The Attic #599: Honeycrack – ‘Prozaic’ (1996)

RITA#599In the early to mid ‘90s, when I first started seriously listening to music, I had two great loves.  Aerosmith were always my number one favourite band, but my favourite British band was the Wildhearts. Aerosmith were always a distant prospect, they didn’t tour the UK very often – although I did see them three times in the ‘90s – but the Wildhearts were always much more accessible and easy to see perform live. Always on tour – even when they didn’t have any releases to support – I quickly lost count of how many times I saw them in and around Manchester between 1993 and 1997.

The Wildhearts had great songs and great fans. I was once let into Rio’s, a rock club in Bradford, for free, simply because the doorman, presumably a fellow fan, appreciated the fact that I was wearing a Wildhearts t-shirt. Ah, those were the days.

In 1994, while recording the band’s second full studio album, P.H.U.Q., the Wildhearts’ leader and chief songwriter Ginger fired guitarist C.J. due to personal differences. C.J. responded by forming Honeycrack with guitarist Willie Dowling who had contributed piano and keyboards to the Wildheart’s debut record, Earth Vs. The Wildhearts, and its follow-up, the fan-club only mini-album Fishing For Luckies.

Honeycrack didn’t fit the usual mould of a rock band. Willie Dowling had an androgynous look, to the extent that he looked like a girl I went to school with, and C.J.’s Guyanese and Seychellois descent stood him apart from the – usual – white twenty-somethings ranking among most rock bands. Two other band members were black – third guitarist Mark McCrae, formerly a member of Rub Ultra – a band I saw support Headswim in the same venue I would later see Honeycrack, and a band that would lend its name to a party game among my circle of friends – and bass player Pete Clarke. The only member of the band who looked like a normal white guy was drummer Hugo Degenhardt.

The band’s record company, Epic, tested the waters with a pre-album single, Sitting At Home, in late 1995. I bought this on the strength of C.J. and Dowling’s history in the Wildhearts, and I wasn’t disappointed. Essentially a re-tread of the Wildhearts’ T.V. Tan, the song is similarly written around an upper-register earworm guitar riff, with lyrics evoking the guilty pleasures of staying in.

But it was the b-sides to Sitting At Home that got my attention – If I Had A Life, which would be re-used on the album, the awesome 5 Minutes, which sadly wasn’t, and a bouncy cover of the Beatles’ Hey Bulldog. These were the days when I used to listen to a band’s b-sides as much as I would their album tracks. I was happy to see that right from their very first release, Honeycrack seemed to be as proficient at releasing decent b-sides as the Wildhearts were.

RITA#599b[I often regret the fact that I more or less stopped buying records in the mid-‘90s. I did buy the odd thing on vinyl, but in general like most music buyers I mainly bought CDs (until I switched back to records around 1998). However, if I had restricted myself to only buying records, I would have missed out on a heap of CD-only material – particularly b-sides, and let’s not forget that a lot of contemporary albums were only released on CD. Case in point: in 1994, I was quick enough to order the Wildhearts’ Fishing For Luckies mini-album. Rejected by their record company, it was offered to fan-club members only as a throwaway release in limited quantities. Pre-internet, I wrote a cheque and posted it away, hoping that I had acted quickly enough. Sure enough, a couple of weeks later – probably ’28 days or more’, as everything seemed to take by mail order in those days – a jiffy-bag turned up on the doorstep with the 6-track CD inside. If I had purchased only vinyl back then, I would have missed out on this – such a milestone album during my teens.]

I played Honeycrack’s Sitting At Home single repeatedly until I heard that the band were to play at the Hop & Grape in Manchester (now the Academy 3) in February 1996. I bought tickets and went along with friends. One of the best things about the Hop & Grape is that the room is so small, the band usually enters the venue through the same door as the audience. Arriving early to check out the support band and drink beer, I was sat against the windows on the stage-left side of the room when Honeycrack walked in, making a bee-line for the green room. Seeing no other way around, C.J. stepped over my stretched out legs, to get past me. This blew my mind as a 15-year old – I had just come into close contact with a Wildheart!

I remember the gig well – they played all four songs from the Sitting At Home single, and the rest of their set was filled with songs from the as-yet unreleased album. Prozaic eventually saw the light of day in May 1996 and, as was customary back then, I purchased it on release day.

The album is a much poppier affair than I was expecting. Where the Wildhearts always straddled the line between metal, rock and pop, Honeycrack were a bit easier on the eardrums. It’s still a rock album, but not quite as heavy as the Wildhearts’ output. The imprint of C.J. and Dowling’s former band is easy to hear though – lot’s of stream of consciousness vocals, à la Caffeine Bomb, multiple sections to each song (it’s as much prog-pop as it is rock-pop), and harmonies galore (each of the five members contributed vocals).

The band seemed to have a bit of a push behind them. Epic got them spots on Top Of The Pops and TFI Friday, but the album didn’t go anywhere, peaking at an unremarkable #34 in the UK charts. I went off to University and sort of forgot about them, given the amount of new bands I was exposed to there. After they parted with Epic, they released a single, Anyway on EG Records – the last thing I bought of theirs – before disbanding. In 1997, Anyway would be re-recorded by Dowling and used as the theme tune to the Channel 4 show Armstrong & Miller – the last piece of Honeycrack genius I remember before I closed that chapter of my life.

Dowling and C.J. continued to form several other bands following the demise of Honeycrack. C.J. eventually re-joined the Wildhearts in 2001, and it was great to see that classic Earth Vs. line-up play in the Manchester University Debating Hall (now the Academy 2) in 2003. Weirdly, Honeycrack drummer Hugo Degenhardt got more exposure anybody elsee from the band, joining the Bootleg Beatles and touring the world as Ringo Starr between 2003 and 2016.

Hit: Sitting At Home

Hidden Gem: Animals

RITA#599a

Rocks In The Attic #86: The Wildhearts – ‘Earth Vs. The Wildhearts’ (1993)

Rocks In The Attic #86: The Wildhearts - ‘Earth Vs. The Wildhearts’ (1993)Aside from older bands – Aerosmith and AC/DC specifically – The Wildhearts were probably my favourite contemporary band when I first started listening to music. I really don’t remember why but I bought the Suckerpunch CD single – still one of my all-time favourite singles mainly due to the strength of its B-sides – and I was hooked.

I could never understand – as you never do when you’re young and you don’t really understand the music business – why The Wildhearts weren’t more popular than they were. In the mid-nineties, they were the darlings of the British rock press, and their singles were sold in enough quantities to usually make the Top 10, securing them a spot on Top Of The Pops. Fans didn’t just like The Wildhearts – they loved The Wildhearts. Once at Rio’s in Bradford, I was let into the club for free by the bouncer, simply because I was wearing a Wildhearts T-shirt.

When touring this album, their set at 1994’s Reading Festival was memorable when their bass player – Danny McCormack – dislocated his knee doing a star jump during the first song Caffeine Bomb. Instead of stopping, he was propped up onto a flight case, and played the rest of the set (in blinding pain). I think it’s things like that which really made them real. Can you imagine Jack White doing that? Or the Kings Of Leon?

Their other big draw is that their B-sides were just as good – if not better – as the material they would put on their albums. So fans were rewarded by decent songs every time they released something, whether it was a full album or a single (or even a fan-club only album like the very limited original version of Fishing For Luckies, which I still have on CD and always look up in Record Collector to see how much it’s worth these days).

In that decade, out of all the bands I liked, I must have seen this band play live the most. I rushed out and bought tickets to their tours, even when they didn’t have an album out to support. Unlike most bands, they used to tour continually, and their gigs were always well attended by fans in black smiley-bones T-shirts with the ironic catchphrase ‘Demand The Right To Be Unique’ scrawled across the back in white lettering. I can’t remember how many times I saw them, but it must have been something like 6 or 7 times within the space of 3 or 4 years.

I even had a pen-pal (a pen-pal!) around this time – who I met (I don’t know where) through our mutual love for the band. Unfortunately for her, living in the USA, she didn’t get to see them play live too often – if at all – so I used to report back to her every time I saw the band play, and we would share bootleg tapes of their shows. Ultimately I think we lost touch when the internet replaced such archaic forms of communication.

When I went to University, and my musical tastes broadened, I fell out of touch with what the band were doing. I still bought their stuff, but 1997’s industrial-sounding Endless, Nameless turned me off them completely. I saw them live again in the early 2000s, and thankfully they had gone back to their early days, wearing leather jackets on stage and playing material from their early years.

Just listening to this album brings back so many memories – probably just because I went to see them play live so often. I remember driving to Warrington to see them play once – at Parr Hall – and we pulled over to ask a couple of locals who looked like rockers for directions. They said they didn’t know where the venue was, so we eventually found it ourselves, and ended up standing in the queue behind the guys we had just asked for directions (seems that Warringtonians either aren’t too friendly, or they’re not great at giving directions). Another time, I saw them support AC/DC in Manchester – one of my all-time favourite gig line-ups – and I was amongst a very small group of people (there were maybe 5 or 6 of us) moshing to them amongst the older AC/DC fans.

This album is dedicated to Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson, who died not long after it was recorded. He plays a guitar solo on the great My Baby Is A Headf*ck – his final recorded appearance.

Hit: TV Tan

Hidden Gem: Everlone