By Kris | July 20, 1999
Clam Abuse Live at the Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth · 20th July 1999 · Review by Darren Stockford
“So, Ginger, when are The Wildhearts getting back together?”
Running Ginger’s web site, acting as a go between for the fans and the artist formerly known as Mr Wildheart, me and Tara get to read an awful lot of letters that feature this question. Sometimes it’s the whole point, other times it’s a sneaky PS. It’s understandable, I suppose. The Wildhearts changed people’s lives. They were more than a rock ‘n’ roll band, they were a way of life; a year zero for people fed up with being force fed mediocrity. But… aw, come on, folks, the band split up a year and a half ago, it’s time to move on. There’s no mileage to be gained in sitting on your backside waiting for the past to overtake you. Don’t you wanna be, y’know, surprised?
I think it’s safe to say that the Clam Abuse album came as a bit of a surprise, even to its makers. Apparently, the condom split while Ginger and ex-Life, Sex And Death guitarist Alex Kane were having a quick knee trembler in preparation for the fully blown shagfest that is to be the Silver Ginger album. The resultant offspring was christened Stop Thinking, for obvious reasons.
Taking their cue from the inspired lunacy of mid-to-late period Beatles albums, Ginger and Alex knocked up some amazing songs in a broad range of styles (including country and western, Europop, opera, and, of course, ‘Beatlesque’), and spent just one month recording and mixing the record. A mere two months later, it was in the shops – three months from start to finish; an amazing achievement in the 1990s, though something that Ginger has wanted to do for quite some time (he was talking about releasing two or three albums a year as far back as The Wildhearts’ debut).
And now… this. The tour. 15 dates around the UK, with the one-man Tyla show in support – an excellent bill for both band and fans. Tyla, on his first lengthy UK jaunt for many a year, not only pulls in a few extra punters (and, of course, gets some decent exposure in front of a Clam Abuse audience), but also provides the ideal drinking buddy for Ginger. Everyone’s a winner, baby.
Naturally, impatient little scamps that we are, me and Tara decide we can’t wait ’til the final London date, and make our way down to Portsmouth to catch the second night of the tour. When we arrive, around 6 pm, we poke our heads around the door to Tyla’s dressing room, where we find Tyla, Ginger and – the first surprise of the night – Danny McCormack, sitting around having a quiet booze.
Danny is his usual chirpy self, anecdotes tumbling from his lips at the rate of one a minute as he puffs on a slim cigar. It’s impossible to be in Danny’s company and not feel completely at ease. The guy is on a constant high. He’s here tonight mainly to lend Ginger some moral support, though he also gets involved in the evening’s entertainment, playing acoustic guitar on the first and last songs in Tyla’s set (Billy Two Rivers and Only Girl I Ever Loved). His presence gives everyone, both on- and offstage, a massive lift.
Ginger spends about 20 minutes soundchecking, playing mostly off-the-cuff blues licks. For some strange reason, he’s wrapped a scarf around his mouth, outlaw-style. As I move in to take some pictures, he starts posing.
“That’s the one!” I say, referring to his ‘devil sign’ rock star pose. “That’s the cover of the next album!”
“Yeah!” he shoots back. “I dunno whose next album…”
Alex arrives a short while later, and the pair run through a few songs with the backing tapes. It’s weird at first, hearing a full band but seeing just two guitarists. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to get used to it, though. Once the wall of sound hits you and the tunes start to fry your brain, you quickly forget that half of what you’re hearing is on tape. In less talented hands, this could be a complete nightmare. Instead, it’s… a very pleasant dream. The half dozen of us who are standing around watching the soundcheck are singing along like it’s a proper gig. I shoot Danny a huge grin across the room. He catches and returns it. Let the madness begin.
And madness this surely is. With their faces whited up in a ‘scary clown’ stylee, Ginger and Alex become Clam Savage and Clint Abuse, the two ringmasters in a circus that prides itself on providing the best entertainment seven quid (plus bar bill) can buy.
The thing I find most disconcerting – at first anyway – is the fact that Clam and Clint really are characters. This isn’t Ginger and Alex, it’s performance – almost theatre. For part of the set, Clam has an American accent when talking, and there’s plenty of vocal sparring between the two musicians. I’m not sure how much of it’s rehearsed and how much is spontaneous. Some of it’s indecipherable (to my ears, anyway), though it’s easy to pick up on the spirit of what’s being said. Clam seems to slip back into Geordie for a while, before picking up the American accent again – most noticeable when urging a woman in the crowd to “touch my guitar, baby…You can touch my guitar, baby… Oh, oh, OH MY GOD!”
Most of the album is played (no Barney Sings The Blues, natch), along with a newie (the Alex-penned Let’s Get It On), a cover (Blue Oyster Cult’s Godzilla), and three Wildhearts B-sides (Give The Girl A Gun, Skychaser High and Beautiful Thing You). And if you’re wondering how they pull off Unlucky In Love, with its female perspective lyric, wonder no more. Clam sings it, substituting all the “I”s with “she”s. Simple but effective.
The percussion on the Wildhearts songs sounds a bit clanky and basic, having been rerecorded for this tour, but the backing tapes for the Clam Abuse tracks sound great. They aren’t straight steals from the album either. For instance, set opener She’s So Taboo goes off into an extended ‘jam’ at the end. This gives the gig more of a ‘live’ feel than simply playing along with the standard, released version of the track would. A lot of work’s obviously gone into making the show as close to the spirit of a totally live gig as possible.
Bearing in mind that this is only the second time Clam Abuse have played live in front of an audience, tonight’s show works better than it has any right to. The crowd are amazingly receptive to the new stuff (‘amazingly’ because the album was only released the day before), and interact with the band as if they’ve been following them for years (one excited chappy grabbing the microphone and shouting “rock ‘n’ fuckin’ roll!” repeatedly as the ‘Buse bring Beautiful Thing You to an end). OK, so there’s not much dancing down the front (save for the people who come crashing through from the back whenever a Wildhearts song gets an airing – jeez, have some fuggin’ respect for your fellow gig goer, people!), but that’ll come.
For me, this feels like a major homecoming. It may sound like hippy-dippy bullshit to you, but as the closing strains of There’s Always Someone More Fucked Up Than You echo around the building, I swear get an almost overwhelming feeling of love, warmth and happiness.
Me and Tara head backstage to grab our bag, popping in to say goodbye to everyone before we head back to our hotel. It’s been a long day, and I’m drunker than I’ve been in a good while. We find Ginger sitting flaked out on the sofa in Tyla’s dressing room. I ask him how it was for him. The gist of his answer is “great, but weird.” I don’t think he’s quite taken it all in yet. This is just the start of brand new adventure.
Before I get a chance to tell Ginger what I thought of it all, Danny comes in, reaches for an unopened family pack of salted peanuts, unzips himself and dips his trouser snake into the bag, making a joke about nuts which inspires more groans than giggles.
“Don’t tell Tyla,” says Danny, laughing. “He’ll probably come in and eat ’em!”
I can’t help wondering about the two egg mayo sandwiches I’d pinched from the very same rider earlier in the evening… nah. I mean, he wouldn’t… would he? Aw, stop thinking.
Clam Abuse, I think I love you.
Pictures: Darren Stockford