The Wildhearts are a British rock group originally formed in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. The band's sound is a mixture of hard rock and melodic pop music, often described in the music press as combining influences as diverse as The Beatles and 1980s-era Metallica. However, this characterization is denied by the band, who see their influences as being far broader, as shown in the song "29 X The Pain", which lists many of group leader Ginger's influences. Despite several top 20 singles and one top 10 album in Britain, the Wildhearts have not achieved major commercial success, owing in part to difficulties with record companies and many internal problems often relating to recreational drugs and depression. Much of the band's early career was affected by bitter feuds with their record company, East West.
In the band's turbulent and unpredictable history, band members have regularly been replaced, with the only constant member being the band's founder Ginger (birth name David Walls) - the singer, guitarist, and predominant songwriter. Several band members have appeared in the line-up more than once. The band has also been split up or placed on hiatus by Ginger multiple times. The most recent recording line-up convened in 2006 but went on hiatus in late 2010. Ginger reformed the band once again for a special one-time appearance in December 2012, which has been extended to touring in 2013 and 2014.
The Wildhearts formed in late 1989, after Ginger was sacked from the Quireboys. An often-told story from this time period is that Ginger decided to start his own band after falling down a flight of stairs with a bottle of Jack Daniel's but emerging with the bottle intact. Had the bottle smashed, he would have slit his wrists with the shards, but instead he resolved to form a band in which he could exercise his songwriting skills, rather than just playing guitar as in his previous bands. Throughout the band's career, Ginger has written almost all the songs himself.
Initially called the Wild Hearts (two words), the band originally included singers Snake (ex-Tobruk) and Dunken F. Mullett (ex-Mournblade), who both joined for short periods. Nine demos were recorded in 1989 and 1990 with Snake singing on four and Dunken on five. These demos remain unreleased and displayed a sound resembling Guns N' Roses, with the Wildhearts sound still to be developed. Some of the demos were produced by Ric Browde and intended for an EP release that never materialized, though these demos are occasionally found on unofficial releases. In March 1991, Ginger reluctantly took over on lead vocals despite his reservations, as he has never thought himself a good singer.
After many early personnel changes, the line-up solidified around Ginger on guitar and vocals, CJ (Christopher Jagdhar) on guitar and vocals, Danny McCormack on bass and vocals, and Dogs D'Amour drummer Bam. This line-up released two EPs in 1992, Mondo Akimbo a-Go-Go and Don't Be Happy...Just Worry.
The first album:
In 1992, drummer Bam returned to Dogs D'Amour and was replaced by Stidi (Andrew Stidolph). To follow up their first two EPs, the Wildhearts recorded demos for their first full-length album, which were released as Earth vs the Wildhearts without re-recording. The singles "Greetings From Shitsville" and "TV Tan" were underground hits in 1993. Stidi left the band shortly afterwards to be replaced by Ritch Battersby, just in time for the recording of the single "Caffeine Bomb", a UK chart hit at the beginning of 1994, helped by a memorable video in which Ginger appeared to vomit into CJ's face. The band appeared on Top of the Pops with Ginger wearing green welding goggles. The debut album was reissued in late 1994 with "Caffeine Bomb" tacked on as an extra track.
The Wildhearts next planned a double album, but East West vetoed this plan during the recording sessions. Instead the band released a collection of six of the more eclectic tracks on a fan club-only release entitled Fishing For Luckies in early 1995. This EP, which would be re-released in 1996 with more studio outtakes as Fishing for More Luckies, included the notable track "Geordie In Wonderland". Ginger offered this track to Kevin Keegan and Newcastle United F.C. as a potential team anthem, but was graciously turned down. The track was performed on Top of the Pops with Wolfsbane's Jeff Hateley, painted in Toon Army colours, on mandolin. Other noteworthy tracks included "If Life Is Like A Lovebank, I Want An Overdraft", also released as a single, and the 11:24 epic "Sky Babies." Despite frequent fan requests, this track was rarely performed live, reputedly because of Danny McCormack's inability to remember his bass parts throughout the entire song. In 2003-2004 the band began to play "Sky Babies" at nearly every show with new bassist Jon Poole.
The second album proper was to be known as P.H.U.Q.. Midway through the recording sessions, Ginger (in a move he later claimed to regret), fired guitarist CJ, and some of the album's tracks were recorded without a second guitarist. P.H.U.Q. was released in May 1995 and reached #6 in the British charts, making it the band's most successful album. Shortly after the album's release, Mark Keds of Senseless Things was drafted as second guitarist, but lasted just one recording session, in which he appeared on the B-sides for the single "Just in Lust". Within a few weeks Keds was sacked after disappearing to Japan for a farewell tour with his old band. The Wildhearts were again down to a three-piece (Ginger, McCormack, and Battersby) for a few months, and even performed a few gigs in this incarnation. The band resolved to return to a two-guitar formation, and after requesting demos and holding auditions, hired the previously unknown Jef Streatfield.
By late 1995 the band were finally fed up with their record label and set out to tour Japan and the UK, determined that they would split up the band unless East West would release them from their contract. The tours were a resounding success and eventually the band managed to escape their record contract.
Round Records era:
In early 1996 the Wildhearts claimed to have recorded two new studio albums, which would be released via East West on the band's own record label, Round Records. Only some of the songs saw the light of day, in a revamped version of the previously fan club-only EP Fishing for Luckies with eight new tracks bringing it to full album length. An additional album of new material was never quite finished, although leaked copies were distributed as the Shitty Fuckin' Stupid Tracks bootleg. These rare tracks were officially released by East West in 1998 as part of the Landmines and Pantomimes rarities compilation, although the band claimed that they had not approved this release and urged fans to boycott the record. These tracks were never officially acknowledged as part of the band's corpus of material, although several songs have since appeared on live sets. "Tom Take the Money" has been performed a number of times by Ginger at his solo acoustic appearances, and during their 2013 spring tour several tracks off the album were offered for audience selection.
Endless, Nameless era:
In 1997 the band signed to Mushroom Records, and set about making another album. This album abandoned the band's former pop rock leanings in favor of a more distorted and less commercial sound. Fans were initially confused by the first single, "Anthem", released in July 1997, and by the time the album itself, Endless, Nameless, was released, the opinion of fans was divided, with some calling it a masterpiece and others calling it an aberration.
In November 1997, shortly before the release of Endless, Nameless, Ginger decided to split the band due to musical differences and drug problems (affecting bassist Danny McCormack in particular). A scheduled British tour was canceled, though the band did manage to complete a short tour of Japan as a farewell to fans.
Multi-formatting and singles:
Due to their large output of songs, but shortage of album opportunities due to conflicts with East West Records, the Wildhearts have long been known for a large number of extra tracks released as B-sides on CD singles. Prior to 1997 the band would release one version of a single which would contain two or three B-sides, and the B-sides were never album outtakes but would be recorded specifically for the single. Some of the A-sides, such as "Caffeine Bomb", were also recorded specifically as singles and did not originally appear on an album.
Starting in 1997 the Wildhearts began to release multiple formats of singles. Previously, the band had been strenuously against multi-formatting, regarding the practice as a rip-off to fans. However, during the Endless, Nameless period the band released the two singles from the album in multiple formats, including two CD singles with two B-sides on each, and a 7" single with one B-side, with all the songs from the "Anthem" single being cover versions. Many of the band's fans were angry about this practice, with some even handing out fliers against the practice outside Wildhearts shows. Ginger reacted with frustration, saying that they were simply trying to bring more music to the fans. A change in chart eligibility for singles was probably also responsible, as a four-track single (or EP) would no longer be allowed to qualify for the British singles charts, but multiple formats were allowed with a maximum of three tracks or unlimited remixes so long as the running time was under 20 minutes. The band's label may have insisted on these changes as the only way to compete in the singles market of that time.
The band have continued to multi-format since 1997, in particular with "Top Of The World" in 2003, consisting of three CD singles, two with two B-sides and one with one B-side and the video for the song. The band have also continued to specifically re-enter the studio to record brand new songs for B-sides. During the band's reformation in the 2001-2004 period, they amassed enough B-sides for Gut Records to release a full-length album consisting only of B-sides, Coupled With.
During the 1997-2001 period the band members concentrated on their respective side projects, although the most recent line-up of Ginger, McCormack, Ritch Battersby, and Jef Streatfield reformed a few times for one-off gigs and tours of Japan, where the band had always had a strong following.
In early 2001 Ginger announced that he was reforming the Earth vs the Wildhearts lineup of the band for a tour later that year. This lineup (consisting of Ginger and CJ on guitars and vocals, Danny McCormack on bass and vocals, and Stidi on drums) soon ran into difficulty due to McCormack's battle against heroin addiction, and on several dates of the comeback tour Toshi (from support band AntiProduct) stood in as bassist. By 2002 McCormack was once again clean and the band started recording a new mini-album and also toured the UK. The tracks intended for the album were released in the UK in late 2002 across three formats of the "Vanilla Radio" single, and as the mini-album Riff After Riff After Motherfucking Riff in Japan. "Vanilla Radio" reached the top 30 in the UK singles chart, and in early 2003 work began on a full-length album. However, during recording, McCormack checked himself into a rehabilitation center to deal with an alcohol problem, leaving Ginger to play the bass parts on the songs that were newly recorded for the album. McCormack's place in the live band was filled by "Random" Jon Poole, who had already worked with Ginger on his Silver Ginger 5 side project.
The album The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed, released in 2003, had a very commercial sound, full of short simple pop songs with little of the heavier rock style which often featured on previous albums. The band also managed to get a US record deal with Gearhead Records, which released Riff After Riff in 2004, a compilation of songs from the UK post-reformation singles (all of the songs from this release are also found on the Gut Records compilation Coupled With). Riff After Riff was the Wildhearts' first US release since Earth vs the Wildhearts in 1994. The release was also promoted by a tour, mostly as the support band for their ex-support band, The Darkness.
Then in early 2005, Ginger dissolved the Wildhearts again, citing a mixture of his own personal problems and a lack of commitment within the band. He briefly joined the Brides of Destruction before setting out on his own as a full-time solo artist. In typically unpredictable Wildhearts style, Ginger then reformed the Wildhearts once again for a one-off gig at Scarborough Castle (Rock In The Castle) in September 2005. The 1994-1995 line-up of Ginger, C.J., McCormack, and Ritch Battersby played at this gig.
Once again, the Wildhearts reformed in December 2006 and played a single live show at the Wulfrun Hall in Wolverhampton. This line-up saw Ginger joined again by C.J., Ritch Battersby and a new bassist, Scott Sorry (ex-Amen). This line-up soon became official, with plans made for a new album in 2007.
In January 2007, the band spent a week in Tutbury Castle recording vocals and finishing their new self-titled album The Wildhearts. The album was released on 23 April, preceded two weeks earlier by the download-only single "The Sweetest Song". The album received favorable reviews in the British rock press, with the Sun newspaper giving it 5 out of 5 ("probably the rock album of the year") and Rocksound magazine also giving it full marks (10 out of 10).
The band were to play a handful of shows across America, but due to delays in their Visa application they were forced to cancel the US tour. The band ended up playing multiple sold-out dates in New York, one of which was aboard a ferry. The band made up to their American fans for postponed gigs by playing very long sets of approximately two hours each night. An extensive UK tour followed in April and May. "The New Flesh" was released as a single on 1 October 2007 and became the first proper release from the self-titled album. The video for the song was shot in black and white and featured a number of children, including Ginger's own son Jake. The band released "Destroy All Monsters" as their next single. The video had a heavy theme of violence and horror.
On 19 May 2008 the Wildhearts released the all-covers album Stop Us If You've Heard This One Before, Vol 1.. Artists covered include Icicle Works, Fugazi, Helmet, Lee Harvey Oswald Band, The Distillers, The Descendents, and The Georgia Satellites. The first version of the album was a download-only collection of 12 tracks, followed by a full release with 15 tracks. In mid-2008, Rhino Records also released the three-CD compilation The Works. Described by the band as "licensed but unofficial," the compilation consists of album tracks and B-sides from the 1992-1996 era at East West Records.
The band traveled to Denmark to record their ninth studio album, ¡Chutzpah!, which was released on 31 August 2009, followed by a tour of the United Kingdom in September and October. At these shows, the band played the new record in its entirety, followed by an encore of older songs. Around the same time as the release of Chutzpah!, they won the award for Spirit of Independence at the 2009 Kerrang! Awards, as well as playing on the Bohemia stage during the very first UK Sonisphere Festival; a four-day music festival designed by those formerly behind Download Festival.
On 25 November 2009 The Wildhearts announced the release of ¡Chutzpah! Jnr., a mini-album composed of tracks recorded during the Chutzpah sessions that were either unreleased or only appeared as bonus tracks on the Japanese version of ¡Chutzpah!. The eight-track CD was publicized as only being available at concerts during the coming "Merry Xmess 2009" tour. However, this news caused something of a backlash from some fans, and resulted in band leader Ginger advocating the distribution of tracks via file sharing technology, as well as vowing that the album would be made available at future shows beyond the Xmess tour. The mini-album is now also available via the Wildhearts online store.
2010 to present:
In 2010 Ginger joined as the guitarist for former Hanoi Rocks frontman Michael Monroe, who played the Download Festival on 12 June 2010. Ginger also performed as a solo act at the festival, arriving with a large band of acoustic guitar players dubbed "Guitarmageddon." Only Wildhearts songs were performed, as was the case for the Ginger & Friends December 2010 tour of the UK. The Michael Monroe album Sensory Overdrive, featuring Ginger, was released in 2011.
In December 2010, Ginger stated that he is unsure if the Wildhearts will ever reform. It would appear that the departure of Scott Sorry and retirement of Ritch Battersby led to the hiatus. Following this particularly with his renewed solo career, Ginger publicly stated a number of times on Formspring that he had absolutely no desire to revisit the Wildhearts and considered that period of his life over. Despite this, Ginger announced in August 2012 that the most recent Wildhearts line-up will reform for a one-off appearance in December. The Wildhearts' songs "Geordie in Wonderland" and "Dreaming in A" appeared in the 2012 UK feature film Life Just Is.
On 10 December 2012, it was announced that Scott Sorry had left The Wildhearts due to family commitments. He was replaced by former bassist Jon Poole for the December 2012 reunion show. The band went on to play a number of shows in early 2013 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of Earth vs the Wildhearts, playing the album in its entirety for the first half of the concert and allowing fans to choose the rest of the set list by means of voting between a choice of two songs at a time for the extended encore. Such was the anniversary tour's success that a second leg took place in June of the same year. The Nottingham Rock City performance would subsequently be released as the 2014 live album Rock City vs The Wildhearts. Another UK tour took place in April 2014, this time with Scott Sorry back on bass. 2015 saw the 20th Anniversary of the release of P.H.U.Q. and another successful tour, this time with Jon Poole on bass duties.
Ginger - vocals, guitar (1990-1997, 2001-2010, 2012-present),
CJ - guitar, vocals (1990-1994, 2001-2010, 2012-present),
Ritch Battersby - Drums (1993-1997, 2005-2010, 2012-present),
Scott Sorry - bass, vocals (2007-2012, 2014-present),
Jon Poole - bass (2003-2005, 2012-2013, 2015-present),
Jools - bass (1990-1991),
Pat Walters - drums (1990),
Dunken F. Mullett - vocals (1990),
Snake - vocals (1990),
Bam - drums (1990-1992),
Danny McCormack - bass, vocals (1990-1997, 2001-2003),
Andrew "Stidi" Stidolph - drums (1992-1993, 2001-2004),
Willie Dowling - keyboards, piano (1993-1994),
Devin Townsend - Guitar, Vocals (1994),
Mark Keds - guitar, vocals (1995),
Jef Streatfield - guitar, vocals (1995-1997),
Toshi - bass (2001),
Simon Gonk - drums (2001),
Formations (since 1990):
Timeline (main recording members):