It is no easy matter pinning down the infamously irrepressible Ginger -- Wildhearts frontman and tour de force of the eclectic SilverGinger5 -- as I discovered several months ago when I first tried to meet up with the Geordie for a chat. Finally, after their brief sound check in preparation for that evening’s gig, in the garden of the Liquid Rooms, in Edinburgh, 4 months after he originally agreed to an interview, the raucous redhead and I sat down for a chat. Casually dressed in an AC/DC shirt, and responsibly sipping water, Ginger was relaxed, talkative, witty and confident and eager to demonstrate the permanency of his new work hard ethic.
I must confess that at first, I didn’t see the point of Silver Ginger 5. With the success and universal popularity of the Wildhearts, and several side projects already to his name, why bother starting again from scratch? Ginger soon set me straight on the bands history. “SG5 started off as a solo album, just a bunch of songs that I had lying around and I got an advance from a record company in Japan so I just decided to try. I’d always avoided doing solo albums before ‘cause I always thought they were a bit wank and they end up not having any real focal point, and just as a bunch of meandering songs. But things started sounding like a band after a while, and in the course of the recording, we decided to form the band, and take it out live. It was originally called Ginger, and I was trying to sell it to the Japanese, and he said ‘Well, can you think of another title apart from Ginger?’ so I said ‘er…Silver Ginger?’ and he liked that. And then I thought well, Silver’s me favorite color, and 5’s me favorite number, so I thought if I put Silver in front of me name and 5 after me name, I’ll be surrounded by good luck!
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“It didn’t quite work out like that unfortunately, but that was the intention behind it. When I finished the album, I got in touch with the guy who eventually released the album in England and I says ‘Who’s the best lead guitar player you know?’ and he says ‘Conny Bloom, from Sweden’. I’ve met Conny a few times, hanging out in Sweden, and I’ve always thought, well, how come you’re not famous yet? I always thought Conny should be up there with Slash, you know?”
Mmmm… or maybe Slash should be down there…? But let’s keep our claws sheathed for now. When the album was first recorded, there was no UK deal. Surely, I inquired, the decision to take the Japanese offer and make a record for that market, with no guarantee of a release anywhere else represented a considerable act of faith? “Yeah, it was all an act of faith/ stupidity/ bravado! I was sitting in a bar with the guy who runs the record company in Japan and I says, drunkenly, ‘I’ll do some demos, book me into a studio tomorrow.’ So he says, ‘Well, who’s going to play everything?’ ‘I’ll play everything,’ I says -- keyboards, drums; I’ve never recorded drums! I’ve bashed around on them but I’ve never recorded drums. And he took me on me drunken word and booked me a studio, loved the demos and gave me the deal. But with song writing, it’s not so much getting a deal, and getting them out to a large audience, you just want to get them recorded. There ain’t no guarantee people are going to like them anyway. If ten thousand people buy them, or a million people buy them, there might only be the same amount of people who like them. I can’t sit on songs, that drives me nuts, and I cant get to sleep because of the tunes in me head. When I record something it’s kind of exorcised and I never have to sing it again. But just for my own sanity I need to record all of me ideas. And I’m never going to get round to it, ‘cause I’ve got too many ideas! You keep aiming to write a song as good as “For Those About to Rock,” but that’s something you’re gonna find out when you play it in front of an audience, they’re gonna tell you if it’s a classic, an anthem. As far as lyrics are concerned, classic songs are ones that appeal to you, yourself. You can play it to someone else and they’ll say ‘I didn’t get it.’ A “classic song” is broken into so many things. These days it’s the one that did you the best service on the radio. I personally like lyrics, and when I write lyrics, if it rhymes and it’s exactly what I wanted to say that’s me happy right there.”
In fact it has always been lyrics that set Ginger’s songs apart, the hallmark by which his songs are recognised. Does he, I wondered, write from personal experience? Do you have to be in love to write a love song, do you have to be sad to write a sad song? According to Ginger, not necessarily. “No, you have to have been in love, to write a love song, you have to have been sad to write a sad song. One of the songs that we did on the Wildhearts last album was about splitting up with your partner. Well, it’s been ages since I split up with a partner, but it’s still there, I can still go to my reference bank, and draw out some experiences from memory.”
And yet the option of drawing anything from a memory bank has surely not been available for all the experiences that comprise a tour with Ginger. It’s no secret that alcohol and a deluge of drugs from several classes have peppered a rock n’ rollercoaster career, and the very public announcement that during the forthcoming SG5 tour, the singer’s hardworking throat would be refreshed only by mineral water and orange juice, was met with a degree of scepticism and amazement. How long did sobriety last? “Well, I’m not hammering it at the moment! I sobered up to prove that I could, and to get a relationship back with the drink. But the older me son gets, the less I want to be drunk around him and the less I want to escape reality. When you wake up with a really bad hangover, it takes you 3 or 4 hours [of drinking] to get rid of the hangover, and another hour to get a buzz so I just gravitated towards absinthe, which does the whole job in about half an hour!”
A public commitment to touring sober also precluded the possibility of cheating, or of backing out half way through. For a frontman so comfortable with the Excess All Areas of his prior pub-crawl tours, the experience must have been…well, quite a trip! “It was really, really weird. Reality overkill, on every single thing. It was really interesting to see how sober people live. See, I was always scared about getting to bed, I was always scared about how long the day’s gonna last if you haven't got part of the day when you get really drunk. And the day goes faster when you’re sober, ‘cause you’re thinking more! But unfortunately you’re like the first person with a telephone; you’ve got no one to talk to ‘cause everyone’s pissed! It was quite lonely but it was very productive.”
”Musicians want… to redefine the parameters, and they shouldn’t be allowed to have a responsible say, or privacy, because it wasn’t part of the deal when they signed their soul!”
And destructive if Nottingham Rock City was anything to go by! “Oh, that was brilliant!” grins Ginger, clearly relishing the memory. “Okay, the full story was, I’d seen The Toilet Boys set fire to The Astoria, and I was really jealous. I was just thinking oh, man, I’d love to do that! But obviously you can’t rig a fire… so anyway [SG5] set off the firebombs in Nottingham Rock City, and it went through the ceiling and set fire to the lagging behind the ceiling. So there was smoke coming down, but until they lifted to ceiling off and saw the flames, they didn’t realise the extent of the fire! Ironically The Toilet Boys went in there a week later and they were told they couldn’t use any of their pyros, ‘cause I’d set the place on fire -- the idea that I’d got from them in the first place! It was great ‘cause it was a fantastic gig, the band were all really on form, the pyros all went off on time, and we could use the whole pyro show, and it’s the last time that Nottingham Rock City will ever allow anyone to use pyros again! It was a perfect night. And the only thing about it was that I couldn’t celebrate afterwards. That was a bastard.”
Indeed. Some are still feeling the repercussions of that explosive evening, too -- months later, when Danny tried to buy a flat in Mill Hill, his offer was accepted only on the condition that Ginger would not be a regular guest! Does the Wild Man of British Rock ever worry about his influence, and that of his colleagues and contemporaries, having a more negative effect on British youth? Ginger smiles wryly, and nods, suddenly serious -- and seriously close to political. “I think it’s really dangerous that people listen to rock groups, I think rock groups are supposed to be like comedians with guitars, they’re not supposed to be taken literally. It’s a soundtrack to a lifestyle, but they’re not spokespeople and none of them should be spokespeople, because to be a really good rock star you’ve got to be an idiot and idiots don’t make very good spokespeople! Even Frank Zappa couldn’t get himself taken seriously in politics because of his background.
“Musicians want the breaks and then they start wanting to redefine the parameters, and they shouldn’t be allowed to have a responsible say, or privacy, because it wasn’t part of the deal when they signed their soul! They shouldn’t be listened to at all -- they should be funny. You can teach kids that you don’t have to be a complete and utter arsehole to be in a band, you can be smart, you can be intelligent and you can have a future vision, not just living for the day, and not buying into that stupid “Live fast, die young” ethic. That’s surely got to be put to death at some point. The term was invented before there was a living to be made from this business, but there’s an okay living to be made from it! The naivety of it, the Led Zeppelin kind of hedonism was when people were travelling round on horses! It’s part of the history, but its got nothing to do with what’s going on now. I mean, the whole heroine thing -- Danny’s been there -- and he’s got through it and he’s out the other end now and a much better spokesperson for kids that are dabbling with drugs -- I think the only thing you can do is teach kids how you did get out of it.”
Ahh, yes, the Danny-heroine saga. A poignant dedication for “Sick of Drugs” if ever I heard one, but clearly an issue who’s publicity Ginger has strong views on. “I mean, you know Layne Staley died recently, don’t you? That really just doesn’t impress me at all. There are a lot of people doing a lot of rock n’ roll things and the ones that live through it and get out the other end are the ones that impress me. I mean, anyone can die from an overdose, but you know, the people that wise up and discover there is a life outside the party -- they’re the ones that are influential.”
But when a rock star talks of kicking his or her drug habit, they do not mean to imply that henceforth their blood profiles will be a picture of biochemically clean analysis. What he actually means is that he is cutting himself free of his cocaine chain or exorcising his heroine haunt. Fear not -- I’m sure this band still know how to party with a plethora of class B drugs, washed down with copious quantities of alcohol and who are we to harbour any doubts about their ability to keep both feet firmly planted on the "right" side of that thin white line? “I don’t think you can deny that drugs and drink are an integral part of rock music, the same as ecstasy’s important to the dance movement,” opines Ginger, when I bring up the question of the inextricable tangle of drugs in the industry.
“Rock ‘n roll represents a lifestyle as much as it does a music. To me, “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll” is the whole ethic behind it and that should never change. Well, nowadays it represents sales figures and marketing force and all the rest of it, but rock has always been a soundtrack for rebellion and when its not it shouldn’t be called rock n’ roll, it should be called… nu-rock or something!
“Don’t get me wrong, I think nu-metal is fantastic, I think it opened the doors for bands that play loud guitars! This tour has been an amazing revelation, ‘cause there’s been more young kids coming to this tour. When you tour Britain as much as we have, you usually recognise the front row, and we don’t know anyone -- they’re all young kids! They’ve never seen us before, and they’re far too young to have been into the band last time, but now they’re enjoying it because Slipknot have opened their eyes to loud, aggressive music. Although I’m not a fan of their music, I think they’ve done an amazing service for rock music. We made a decision to play venues this small so we could sell them out without a heap of press coverage and hype, and to start generating an image based on what we do and on the fact that the band’s still popular after 10 years!”
What, I wondered, in conclusion, does Ginger consider to be so special about SG5? Why does he bother? “It’s a fantasy kind of thing. I always wanted to go on stage and just blow lots of stuff up, and just set fire to loads of things. It’s kinda of like revisiting childhood. I don’t want the pyro to take over from the music, because there’s a life there. The basic premise was “Can we have lots and lots of pyro? Does anyone mind if we don’t make a penny? And we’ll just bung it all back into pyro.” SG5 is a really great night. There’s no anger, there’s no aggression, its just pure rock fantasy, with lots of bombs. There’s no worry in SilverGinger5, we’re never going to self-combust -- the Wildhearts could go any second. But that’s also exciting in itself!”
The tide may well be changing for Ginger. With such attractive new horizons on every aspect, maybe at long last, not every day is a “Hate the World Day.”