Classic Rock

Ginger Wildheart

A core, prolific presence throughout Classic Rock’s lifetime, Ginger Wildheart reflects on the immortalit­y of the guitar, his first tour with Motörhead and being dead “for thirty-six hours”.

- Words: Dave Ling Photo: Will Ireland

South Shields-born David Walls has pursued a varied and certainly colourful career. Best known as leader of The Wildhearts, he has also worked with Avenger, the Quireboys, The Throbs, Silver Ginger 5, Supershit 666, Mutation, Brides Of Destructio­n, Hey! Hello!, and the Michael Monroe Band, among others. A long-term sufferer of mental health issues, Ginger’s life has been equally unpredicta­ble. He attempted suicide after assaulting an audience member during a gig in Ballymena, Northern Ireland – and Tweeted that he was “fucking gutted” to have failed.

Back in 1998 you welcomed the launch of Classic Rock, and wrote some reviews in the early issues. In many ways you’ve been a part of our extended family ever since.

Yeah, and I felt even more at home when Scott Rowley became editor [in 2004] and added some punk rock. I’m thankful to be part of your family because the only two music magazines that I read are Classic Rock and Vive Le Rock. For twenty years, Classic Rock has been the only magazine I’ve read cover to cover – except for Viz.

That didn’t prevent you calling us out when you felt we were wrong. For example a couple of years back when the format of the live reviews pages changed.

You were threatenin­g to turn into Q magazine. The lives pages are the first ones that I go to each month. I don’t always have time to go and see young bands, and I want to find out what’s going on. When you guys started giving three or four pages to establishe­d bands, well… leave that to

Q who don’t have any roots. Classic Rock is all about its roots.

Before we came along you had spotted a gap in the market?

Absolutely. Kerrang! has gone up its own arse, out its mouth and back up its own arse again. Classic Rock has always been about its reporters – people like Geoff Barton were the royal family of rock writers. And it doesn’t rely on trends. Just like cars, movies and guitars, it’s not going away any time soon and it deserves serious coverage. So you’re not concerned in a negative way about the future of rock?

No. I was there at the end of the 1990s when everyone sold their guitars to buy a Roland TB-303 [bass synthesise­r]. People would ask [adopts patronisin­g voice]: “Are you still playing the guitar? And plugging it onto your amplifier?” Where are those fuckers now? No, the guitar will never die. It’s the sound of sex and it’ll never go out of fashion.

What advice would the fifty-three-year-old Ginger Wildheart offer to his thirty-threeyear-old self?

“Do everything that you’re doing, because you’re going to survive anyway – get yourself stuck in, ankles-deep.”

There was so much I wanted to do, with or without the approval of my management or record company. I wanted to experiment with a lot of mind-altering things, some of them drugs, but with my spirit animal being Lemmy there was no way I would settle for the boring, easy option. On our first tour with Motörhead, [guitarist] Phil Campbell asked: “If there’s anything I can do, just name it.” Since I was a kid I’d wanted to take a line of Lemmy’s speed, and it just so happened Phil had some. Three days later I was still awake.

The past eighteen months were extremely turbulent for you.

I’m doing a book with Mick Wall, who’ll drag that stuff out of me. Let’s not discuss it [the incident in Northern Ireland] here, because it isn’t something to talk about lightly. Mental health problems are fundamenta­l and complex, not rational or linear. You can believe something at one point in the day, and five minutes later have a completely different opinion. I would hate anyone to read about my experience and consider it advice. Yeah, it’s been turbulent, but I’m hard to kill.

Did you really want to kill yourself?

I did kill myself. I was dead for eight minutes. And then I was on a life-support machine for thirty-six hours. I’d had so many interventi­ons in life. If I was religious I’d just blame God and say the Lord saved me, but I’m not. This year I went as low as I could possibly go. I also saw the dark side of the medical profession, and I’ve come of out believing you cannot rely on the system. You have to figure out how to get through it yourself with your skills, a good fan base and a community that supports you. A good dog is another massive help [laughs].

You swore there’d never be another Wildhearts album, but now there is. What is it about the chemistry of the four members?

My friendship with Danny [McCormack, bassist] is at the centre of it all. We look at each wondering: “How are we still here?” I’ve no idea how I didn’t die – it’s not like I looked after myself, or had a glass of water instead of a drink.

What can you tell us about the new record? It’s called Renaissanc­e Men, and it’s fucking great. It’s so beautifull­y disjointed, but held together by the fact that it’s the Wildhearts. There are long songs and tons of riffs, also those melodic songs that shouldn’t work but do because it’s us. Nobody except Classic Rock talks about rhythm sections any more but Danny and Ritch [Battersby, drums] is an exceptiona­l one. We’re not angels and we don’t always get on great, but the music overrides that.

“I’ve no idea how I didn’t die – it’s not like I looked after myself, or had a glass of water instead of a drink.”

What does 2019 hold for you?

Besides the Wildhearts album, which comes out around May, accompanie­d by a tour, there’s a second record from G*A*S*S called Mark II. I’ve also made a new solo album, The Pessimist’s Companion, which I’ll take on the road in February and March. If you liked Ghost In The Tanglewood [2018], it’s in the same vein. I’m going into this new year with great optimism.

Ginger’s fan-club compilatio­n G*A*S*S Mark II is out now via Round Records.

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