Tag Archives: 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

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Rocks In The Attic #448: AC/DC – ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ (2000)

RITA#448.jpgI saw the mighty ‘DC the other night in Auckland, my third time seeing the band. As you would expect, it was exactly the same as every other time I’ve seen them – but to be fair there was enough different this time round for it still to be interesting.

The biggest difference was the line-up – due to ill health sadly forcing his retirement, rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young has now been replaced by his nephew Stevie Young; and original drummer Phil Rudd, arrested recently for hiring a hitman to take out two men, was also out of the picture, replaced by the man he replaced back in the ‘90s, Chris Slade. The best joke I heard about Rudd’s arrest was that he was mistakenly overheard just saying that the band needed a couple of hits.

That was the thing I was most looking forward to with this concert – the return of Chris Slade, the drummer who drove the band through the Live At Donington concert film. As New Zealand music journalist Simon Sweetman has correctly pointed out, Phil Rudd could never play Thunderstruck correctly, there was always something missing. Slade played on the studio version of the song from the Razors Edge album, and his approach to the song takes it to another level, not least for those great side-bass drums he has positioned on either side of him.

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Seeing the band on stage without founding member Malcolm Young was heartbreaking. Malcolm has always been a rock on stage, standing in the shadows but always there holding the rhythm. The only positive outcome was that his position went to a family member (who looks so alike Malcolm that the casual onlooker probably wouldn’t even notice), and to complete the illusion Stevie even used Malcolm’s guitar – a Gretsch G6131 Jet Firebird with the neck and middle pickups removed.

The show wasn’t without its hitches – Brian Johnson missed his intro to Sin City (“Diamonds…”) and caught up with the second half of the line. The ego-ramp was really underused, with Angus and Brian only venturing out it in the final bunch of songs. There were a few sound issues early on, with Stevie’s guitar deadly quiet until they fixed it.  Angus’ guitar tone sounded a bit digitally enhanced – not something you want to hear from a guitarist so heavily associated with keeping it old-school. And the band didn’t play The Jack – the first song I learnt to play on the guitar – and as a result there was no slow blues played during the set.

But for all the cons, there was more than enough pros (a lot of the women in the audience looked like pros actually – lots of 40 year old faded blondes, with missing teeth, dressed as 20 year olds). They played two older songs, High Voltage and Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be (both from the Live At Donington set-list) which I was very happy to see. I’d never seen the band play Have A Drink On Me (from 1980’s Back In Black) lie before, and that was such a surprise and so unexpected, I initially thought Angus was playing the intro as some kind of blues throwaway snippet into another song. For the same reason, it was also great to see them play Shot Down In Flames – another deep cut off n album overshadowed by hit singles (in this case, 1979’s Highway To Hell).

Angus’ playing was still very fluid for a 60-year old, and there was no evidence of ‘locked-up fingers’ syndrome (that blighted Jimmy Page at Zeppelin’s O2 reunion show). And perhaps as a nod to his advancing age though, Angus didn’t do his momentum-stopping mid-set strip-tease, thankfully keeping his shirt on for the second half of the show. Rock N’ Roll Ain’t Eye Pollution and all that.

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The crowd was very interesting in fact. All ages were represented, the youngest child I saw couldn’t have been any older than six or seven, and while it wasn’t a completely 50/50 gender split, I’d estimate about 40% of the audience were chicks. There were some proper low-lifes there though. I expect if Auckland Police looked into it, there would have been a distinct drop in the number of burglaries reported on the night – all the no-mark bogans were wearing their best black t-shirts at the AC/DC show.

The set-list didn’t feature any songs from 1995’s Ballbreaker or 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip, the record I’m supposed to be talking about here. Both albums are solid efforts and I’m surprised they didn’t play just one track from each. I guess they have to be vigilant with this though. Not every studio album can be represented – there are seventeen of them!

While I enjoyed Ballbreaker, leading me to see the band for the first time on that tour (supported by the Wildhearts no less), I prefer Stiff Upper Lip of the two. It’s a bluesier, low-key affair – but it didn’t do very well in terms of sales, selling half what Ballbreaker and its follow-up Black Ice did. I even skipped that tour, busy playing with my own band at the time.

I’m sure there’ll be another album though, in four or five years. And another tour hopefully. Here’s to the 2020 world tour!

Hit: Stiff Upper Lip

Hidden Gem: Hold Me Back

Rocks In The Attic #424: Guns N’ Roses – ‘Use Your Illusion II’ (1991)

RITA#424The companion piece to Use Your Illusion I, this one was always my favourite of the two, really just because it has You Could Be Mine on it. In the early ‘90s, when I first heard this album I was already a huge movie fan, and so I knew the song like the back of my hand from its appearance in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

Listening to the album twenty four years later, it feels more and more bloated with every listen. The record kicks off with Civil War which immediately leaves a sour taste in my mouth, being the last song that Steven Adler played drums on before he was unceremoniously kicked out of the band. When they said goodbye to Adler, they also said goodbye to the one component that brought swing to the band.

Matt Sorum may be a fine replacement, but he’s nothing special – a rock by numbers drummer, with none of the groove that Adler splashed all over Appetite For Destruction. Adler is sorely missed, and instead of sounding sleazy, the overall sound is too polished, too safe to be considered dangerous. If anything, it just made me mad that people would lap this turgid crap up by the bucketload, but only a few years later one of my favourite British rock bands, the Wildhearts, would sell a decimal point worth of records in comparison – even though everything they released was innovative, energetic and more interesting. There are more riffs in one three-minute Wildhearts song than in an eight minute GNR epic like Estranged or November Rain.

Use Your Illusion II also gives us Get In The Ring – a huge, embarrassing mess of a song aimed at the band’s rock critics. In this sickeningly jolly, uptempo number, Axl Rose embraces his southern hick sensibilities and calls out several journalists who had stuck in his craw over the years. His vocals sound like the sort of thing you’d hear in a trailer park around midnight on a Friday, before the camera crew from Cops turns up, and an overweight police officer jumps on somebody and shouts “Stop resisting!” as he employs  excessive force. Instead of sounding dangerous, Axl sounds pitiful. What a way to prove your critics right.

I’ve never owned The Spaghetti Incident? I have no reason to. After this, GNR were dead to me. And I wouldn’t even consider listening to Chinese Democracy. What a fall from grace. At one point, Guns N’ Roses were the biggest rock band in the world – but history keeps confirming that they really only had one great album.

Hit: You Could Be Mine

Hidden Gem: So Fine

Rocks In The Attic #319: Rainbow – ‘Down To Earth’ (1979)

RITA#319As far as records signed by famous dead drummers go, this one’s a beaut. I found this in a record store in Manchester, with ‘To Lesley, Best Wishes, Cozy Powell’ scrawled on it in biro. My Mum’s name is Lesley, so if she developed a love for late 1970s rock, I could always present this to her as a gift. Given her predilection for Cliff Richard records, I think this one will stay safely in my collection.

Back in 1994, when I was too young to go to music festivals, I remember I had a video that I had taped off MTV. To promote Donington’s Monsters of Rock festival in 1994 – the one headlined by Aerosmith and featuring a great supporting bill of up-and-coming bands like The Wildhearts, Terrorvision and Therapy? – they had put together a show of bands who had played Donington in the past.

It was that video that got me into a lot of bands – at that point I had developed a love for Aerosmith, but I hadn’t been exposed to much else. Most importantly the show closed with a performance of For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) from the AC/DC Live At Donington film from 1991. I’d never seen the mighty ‘DC before, and that performance – the sheer bombast of it all – turned me on to the band big time.

One of the other videos they played to represent past Donington highlights was Rainbow’s Since You’ve Been Gone. The band had headlined the very first Donington back in 1980, and without any footage from that appearance to show, they opted to show the cheesy music video for the song instead. It’s such a fantastic song, hardly the most representative song to showcase Ritchie Blackmore’s band – it’s essentially a pop single – but it’s something that always gets me reaching to turn the volume up.

Hit: Since You’ve Been Gone

Hidden Gem: All Night Long

Rocks In The Attic #239: Terrorvision – ‘How To Make Friends And Influence People’ (1994)

RITA#239Terrorvision were one of four British rock bands that I followed avidly in 1994 and 1995 – alongside The Wildhearts, Skin and Therapy? I’ve always disliked that question mark at the end of that Irish band’s name. If I mention them at the end of a sentence, it immediately looks like I’m doubting myself. But yes, I’m pretty sure it’s them I’m talking about! I managed to meet all four of those bands except- sadly – The Wildhearts, who were my favourite contemporary band at the time.

This album was very important to me at the time of its release – if only in that it proved to me that rock music doesn’t always have be serious and glum. It was also nice to introduce the album – and its big single, Oblivion – to my guitar teacher, who really got off on the jazzy Major 7 chords that guitarist Mark Yates peppers throughout his playing. It’s full of great songs too – five very strong singles even – which always helps, and the album cover is fantastic.

Speaking of Mark Yates, me and a friend spotted him once after a gig in Bradford’s Rio nightclub. I went over to ask him if I could have a photo, and being more than a little drunk, I held the camera far too close to our faces. The flash blinded us, and it even knocked me over I was so unsteady on my feet.

Incidents involving cameras and Terrorvision seem to go together. At a record signing in Huddersfield, the band’s singer Tony Wright stopped me, holding up the queue behind me, to ask me about my camera – my second-hand Olympus Trip gifted to me by my parents. He was very excited to see such a nice camera. When I asked one of the band’s hangers-on to take a photo of me next to the band, she cut me out of the shot so all you can is my left ear. Excellent.

It seems like I did a lot of stupid things when I was a Terrorvision fan. It must have been the band’s zaniness rubbing off on me. At one gig in Leeds – just after I’d sold a spare ticket to a tout, queued up, been searched by the bouncers, and was walking into the venue – I felt my inside (denim!) jacket pocket, and had a slight panic attack. That day, I had walked into university with the firm intention of removing a road sign next to the building where my lectures were. We had named our covers band at the time – Primitive Street – after this road, so it only seemed right that I should remove the sign to decorate my bedroom, or our rehearsal room. Walking into the Terrorvision gig, I suddenly put my hands on the bulge next to my ribs – a huge nine-inch screwdriver I had taken to aid my act of road-sign theft – and wondered how on earth I’d not only managed to get through the rest of the day without noticing it was still in my pocket, but more importantly, how a trained bouncer had missed it when he searched me. I tried to keep out of trouble for the rest of the night, but it wasn’t hard to mosh with such a hard and heavy tool about my person: is that a screwdriver in your pocket or are you just far too excited to see this band? etc, etc.

Hit: Oblivion

Hidden Gem: Middleman

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Rocks In The Attic #190: Supergrass – ‘In It For The Money’ (1997)

RITA#190I remember being at University when this album was released, and seeing the music video to Going Out. I hated it. It was everything that Britpop was in my eyes – twee, kitsch and horribly self-confident.

Then I heard Radiohead’s The Bends, and my tastes started to soften. Prior to this, I was stuck in a world of sleeveless denim jackets, guitar solos and ‘heavier than thou’ rock and metal. Listening to The Bends, I realised that there could be a lot of good material to be found in this genre – as long as I stayed away from the overtly-kitsch stuff.

This was all cemented when I bought a compilation CD called Danger Zone. This mainly consisted of heavier examples of Britpop, like Blur’s Song 2 and Supergrass’ Richard III. Aside from that Going Out video, the only thing I knew about Supergrass was that catchy Alright single from their first album, which was exactly everything I hated about Britpop – smiley, over-confident drivel.

When I heard Richard III, I changed my mind about the band instantly. I couldn’t believe that such a poppy band was capable of recorded a tune that rocked out more than the rock music I was listening to at the time. There’s a lovely bit in the song when the drums fall out after the chorus, and the guitar plays a two-chord motif. When the bass comes in as a counterpoint, it sounds as though the guitar is changing key, but it’s just a trick of the ears. This to me, was of greater musical interest than any British rock bands of the time like The Wildhearts and Terrorvision.

I’m not a huge fan of Supergrass’ first album. I’ll listen to it, and enjoy it when I do, but I think In It For The Money is a masterpiece (and a huge step forward from their debut). As a guitarist, it’s fantastic to come across such an album full of riffs and chord progressions you want to play. Richard III, Sun Hits The Sky, Tonight and Late In The Day all feature really nice guitar parts that are seem to be natural progression to ‘70s guitar-based rock. I owned the guitar tab book for it at one point, but must have sold it when I was losing ballast to emigrate to New Zealand.

It took me a long time to realise but it’s so important not to listen to what the music press says, especially when they’re pigeon-holing a band into a specific genre. For me, Supergrass are the personification of how dangerously misleading such labelling can be. I was only fortunate to see the band play live once, at Glastonbury in 2004 but I immensely enjoyed standing in the rain in the Pyramid field watching them race through their afternoon setlist.

Hit: Late In The Day

Hidden Gem: Tonight