The Wildest Card (the making of the album 2007 - 2008)
In January of 2007 I received a call off Alan Wilson (our debut albums producer) who told me he's putting together a new label called Cherrybomb Recordings (a division of Cherry Red Records) with a couple of new bands already signed up and of would we like to be part of "Fucking too right I do!" I said. I really wanted to follow up our last release with a stronger production and songs. This reignited my fire to keep us going and I had something to strive for. Unfortunately for my current line up at the time it was too late.
To cut a long story short, we managed to run ourselves into the ground after over a decade playing constantly without a pause. We butted heads over musical direction, cancelled practises, frustrated with not being able to get any further up the ladder in our musical endeavour and the only thing that mattered to me was making this new album but the rest didn't see that as a priority. So we called it a day.
Within two weeks I thought "Bollocks, I'm not going to let those chumps fuck up my dream" So I kept the name of the band, the songs and the record deal. I just needed a new line up with enough fire in their bellies to do it. Now you might call me an egotistical prick, but I was determined to get stuck in, no matter what. Sure I could rattle on about the last albums line up folding (see the biography) but it would take away the emphasis of what was to come and it's not about them. This is the story Liam Revenge (rhythm guitar and vocals), Keith Green (double bass), Neil (the Wolf) Holden, myself and the alliance we forged which was meant to be and something that had to be done.
Now I had already met Keith a few times over the years and I bumped into at Strummercamp (our second to last gig) and asked him how's he doing and he told me he's getting fed up of his band as they weren't doing anything or practising. I knew he already had the chops having cut his teeth previously with established bands like 'The Frantic Flintstones' and 'The Rhythmaires'. I also bumped into Liam Revenge who I knew of, but had barely ever spoken to until our last gig where he said the same as Keith. It appeared we all had something in common. So I managed to track them both down, recruit them and they seemed keen. And of course there was Neil (The Wolf) Holden who lived a short walk from me at the time. We first met on a train back from Manchester three years earlier coming back from a NOFX gig. I had gone to see a band called "Swingin' Utters" on the bill and we got talking as we were both wearing their T shirts. Good to know someone else who rates the same band I thought. Both mine and Neils bands would often cross paths on the same bills here and there. We would often meet at a local Rock/Metal pub 'The General Havelock' in Preston to chat and drink and stuff. So he really seemed the obvious choice and I knew he wasn't big into Psychobilly but that didn't really matter. He knew his Rock n Roll and would break a hell of a sweat firing on all cylinders like a crazed wolf man possessed and made those drums sound like thunder. Lets just say I didn't hire him for his flashy image! Liam as I understood was completely T-Total, a non drinking, none smoking, a vegetarian and a jumped up little so and so. The opposite of me but also a potential wannabe frontman which could have been a dangerous mix. (you can never have too many of those in a band as I had previously learned) So I wondered whether or not he was going to be trouble from the off. He had his moments for sure! The plus side was that I wouldn't have to worry about him being plastered before a gig and there would be more free beer for the rest of us. The only snatch was that he didn't drive (and still doesn't) Keith as I suspected was a little wary of me, probably after hearing horror stories off a former drummer of mine who he just so happened to be in a band with before then. Also I learned early on that Keith was dating one of Liam's ex girlfriends, which could have resulted in a awkward tension within the band. But they seemed happy to play together regardless. She never attended any of our gigs mind you. It was a funny old set up really but despite any whiff of doubt between us, we all gave each other a chance and as it turned out we had this great work ethic towards the music. Personally we bounced off one another. This was a new band all over again. Liam I found to be quite funny and spirited, he was our very own Alan Partridge with attitude. But furthermore he was dedicated and wanted to be there. Keith was very astute, he was a natural on the double bass and could have probably mastered any genre of music round it. Be it Jazz, Blues, Rockabilly, you name it he would write bass lines there on the spot and was chuffed to be working on original songs for a change. Being the oldest of us all he had been doing this long before any of us picked up an instrument. So it was good to get an insight of his history in bands and he may have appeared to look serious but after a few scoops, he was just as daft as the rest of us. Neil would always arrive at practice with a large bag of cans to share. So I couldn't ask for more really.
This new line up soon got a live set together played the first gig at the end of August at The Solway Festival up in Silloth, we worked on new songs. I already had "No Expectations" (about everything and nothing changing and taking nothing for granted) "Beggars Belief" (about people with double standards) "One crack of the whip" (a pop at everyone in general ) arranged with the last lot. "English country guard on" (I was reading a lot of about "Broken Britain" at the time and how there was too many unprovoked attacks on people) The rather Ramonesy "Talkin' New York City" (an autobiography of the band setting off with high hopes and dreams us while referring to a ship as a metaphor) "Blacklisted" (a dig at all the snobs on the scene) , "Madame Butterfly" (a wayward girl I once acquainted, but I'm to polite to name her!) I remember Keith suggested a key drop at the end of the latter. There was "The Wildest Card" (probably me at my very harshest lyrically) and we gave it a Mötörhead kind of riff throughout) We also had the self deprecating "So I hold on" which was a bit Social Distortion. I told my myself I need to be more open new ideas with these guys and as a result it felt more like a band collaboration than before.
I arranged studio dates for April 2008 at Alan Wilson's Western Star Studio down in Paulton near Bath which would give us some time to work it. We were going in practice rooms twice a week to be double sure. We toured in Belgium in February and things were looking up for me and the boys and thats when unfortunately the shit always hits the fan. as far as we're concerned. Around the same time we were hit with the drastic news that Keith's ears were whistling louder each time we played. He had the dreaded tinitus. One of the worse things a musician could ever receive. He told us he couldn't play live with us for much longer ever again. We were all saddened and gutted to find out. We all met and suggested after all the work he'd put in that we should still record together and he was more than happy to.
Our songs were cooking with gas by the time we headed down to record. I knew that we couldn't play all of the songs live due to fitting older songs in so I wrote some just specifically for the album. "Henry Chinaski" was one being a slower bluesy number. I going through a surge of reading Charles Bukowski at the time and really marvelled at his character who was into hard drinking, gambling womanising and writing trashy poetry. There was "Main Sprit Weind" which I bought a cheap 12 string accoustic for, Liam played lead guitar on that one and Alan Wilson played organ. I also played a little mandolin there too. With that one we really threw of the shackles and added a bit of folk to our mix and lyrically about a Preston alley off the main drag, its name always intrigued me, just off the trendy but rough end of the city. "Self made cell" (a full on Psychobilly stomper about an online degenerate trolling people and going off onto illegal sites) I dropped that one on the boys at the 11th hour giving them little time to learn and arrange it. Keith I remember really getting cross with himself in the studio clenching his fist every time he made a fluff, but eventually he nailed it. It was great working and catching up with Alan Wilson again after a good few years. He amused us with band stories in between takes with his Bristolian West Country drawl. We all went away doing impressions of him as I'm sure he was doing the same with us. Liam suggested we have a sample to kick start the album so we had Alan mix in recordings of what sounds like a radio being tuned in and we sampled the actor Burgess Meredith as Mickey in the film Rocky II where in a scene just before he makes Rocky chase the chicken. You get the picture.
After the recording we came home and tried to figure out what we wanted for the artwork. I remember wanting to call the album "Not clouded". Keith suggested we call it "The Wildest Card" after the song and have a few playing cards scattered on the cover. We got local artist Tim Bridges on the case right away. I think we had just a couple of gigs left with Keith around then, the last one being at The Shay in Halifax where some of those photos on the inside sleeve were taken, the rest were took in Preston on Main Sprit Weind and in the pub respectively.
We looked for a replacement for Keith a had little joy. Originally on a temporary basis, a brass necked Liam boldly volunteered as we had a gig in Manchester supporting The Quakes (Liam's gig too as he was promoting) in three weeks time. So he practiced like a man possessed and transformed himself into fairly decent beginner and once again we were a new band. The next few gigs went that well we decided to remain a three piece as the band was a few years earlier. Liam wasn't in a rush for going back to guitar so soon as he was getting more female attention than ever before on his new big toy...."The little turd!"
The album was released on CD in October 2008 in the midst of the credit crunch and then eventually the recession. The labels main distributor 'Pinnacle' collapsed and they only got so far over the world. We we're met with rave reviews here and there, I can't remember seeing a bad one to be honest. DJ Mike Davis of Radio 1 gave us some air on his "Lock Up" show in the wee hours. Unfortunately our label mates 'Scourge of the River City' and Judder and The Jackrabbits' had both split up by then leaving us the sole working band on the label and the company didn't want to invest anymore money in new bands after this. So CherryBomb Recordings was in next to no time more or less defunct. I remember thinking if they had let us scout for some talent around then I'd have said get some proper hard working class bands who've got some substance like "Aces & Eights" from Leeds and the up and coming "Graveyard Johnnys" (look how successful the latter became) Only soon we realised the world had changed. iTunes was in full force and streaming sites like Spotify were only round the corner. Less people wanted CDs but people bought them off us as memorabilia at our gigs. In fact we've shifted a good few copies over the years bought more and cleared up again. Today I'm down to my last three and I'm struggling to get hold of anymore. I have seen them going on Amazon from £1.95 up to £15.95. So if you still own a copy look after it. It's now a rarity.
The three of us carried on being a three piece into this decade. We toured up and down UK and over to Belgium and Holland. We played some storming sets at The Strummercamp and Bedlam Breakout festivals. Keith would sometimes come with us for the crack and maybe get up for a song or two here and there. Neil quit in 2010 due to health issues and wasn't enjoying the repetitive gigs anymore. We replaced him and continued into the following year before going under an indefinite hiatus with Liam having left for South Africa. In 2014, a revitalised Neil, a recent returned Liam and my rejuvenated self gave it another go. So we were back gigging before we knew it and loving it again as much more.
I think everybody played their parts well on 'The Wildest Card'. Hearts were worn on sleeves, warts and all. But I have to hand this one to Keith more than anyone. He gave it what for, knowing full well he would soon have to exit the band for good and it was good to see his bass playing praised in reviews. This album completes a trilogy of our efforts throughout the 2000s and a few songs off it still sit proudly in our live set today and for all I knew back then it could have easily been our last. It would have been a huge mistake to have ended the band the year before. So I dare you not to at least tap your foot during the opening bars of "Talkin' New York City" You would have to be a chump not to.
Subsequently Liam left the band in 2015 and has gone back to his first love of playing rhythm guitar, only this time taking up lead vocals fronting his own punk rock band in London 'The Randy Savages' Neil is still behind the kit, breaking a sweat and drumming like a motherfucker. Keith guested on our last album playing on one track. Me and him often talk about getting together to do some acoustic project for YouTube, when time is not a benefactor. I sure hope we can get round to it. In fact all four of us discussed doing a couple of songs during one of our gigs to mark the occasion, but with time, distance and commitments here and there, it wasn't meant to be. Hopefully we can all get together at some point have a pint and Liam can drink a gluten free, vegan smoothie and we can reminisce about the time when we played The Wildest Card.