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The Wild Swans

The Captain's Rest, Glasgow
Tuesday June 7th 2011
Heroism comes in many forms, but Paul Simpson's ongoing awfully big
adventure fronting his reconstituted, reconfigured and on this showing
on the first date of a short UK tour thoroughly reignited Wild Swans
nom de plume is a sublime experience that falls somewhere between a
vintage copy of Boy's Own magazine brought to life and an indie
supergroup in excelcis.

In a set gleaned largely from new album, The Coldest Winter For A
Hundred Years, it's a call to arms from the off, with Simpson's lyrics
a one-man campaign against the worst excesses of urban regeneration,
his beloved Liverpool in particular seen through a mix of rose-tinted
yearning for the days that defined him, and an impassioned despair at
the 'dark satanic shopping malls' that have wiped out the fields where
Simpson used to play.

Set to the shimmeringly busy jangle of former Brian Jonestown Massacre
guitarist Ricky Mayme - fresh from an unspecified brush with the local
constabulary and putting his own stamp on a sound patented by original
Wild Swans guitarist Jeremy Kelly a good two years before Johnny Marr
did something similar in The Smiths - and underscored with the FX box
textures of ex Spiritualised and Lupine Howl sonic architect Mike
Mooney, the result is a gloriously contrary counterpoint of the
melancholy and the triumphal. With Simpson looking a little bit Mad Men
in dapper suit and retro tie, where Mooney cuts a coolly studious dash
with his glasses perched on his head, Mayme is a more ebullient figure,
bouncing along to every upbeat flourish he and his comrades have just
carved out.

At the back of the stage, former Echo and the Bunnymen bassist Les
Pattinson, similarly suited and booted, provides ballast and authority,
as does drummer Stuart Mann, a Wild Swan for a mere two days on the
night, and with only “a rehearsal and a quarter” under his belt
according to Simpson. Off to the sides, long-haired keyboardist and
album producer Richard Turvey rings out the sort of
classically-inclined piano flourishes that original Swan Ged Quinn (now
a respected fine art painter who designed the cover of The Coldest
Winter and is still clearly a Wild Swan in spirit) used to play out.

The Wild Swans template, then – a broodingly Blakean romanticism made
by and for serious young men – remains the same. Yet, despite Simpson's
elegiac world-view as explored through a series of lists that recall
original Mersey poet Adrian Henri as they counterpoint idylls of old
Albion (or old south Liverpool, really), with the all-pervasive curse
of supermarkets, Sun reporters and Cash Converters that blight
inner-city living as highlighted in the soaring Play For Today scenario
of English Electric Lightning, there's nothing po-faced about it.

Simpson seems relaxed, dedicating Chloroform, about Simpson's
grandfather fighting in the first world war, to Drew Mulholland, aka
Glasgow's electronic boffin Mount Vernon Arts Lab. A fellow traveller
from both parties days on the Gloucester-based Ochre Records when
Simpson was releasing pretty electronic instrumentals under the name
Skyray (Ochre was also the home of Echo and the Bunnymen guitarist Will
Sergeant's 'psychedelic trip-scape' project, Glide), Mulholland had
gifted Simpson a vintage army arm-band, a gesture Simpson wished to
gratefully acknowledge.

While God Forbid retains the busy musical urgency of its 1982 recording
produced by Echo and the Bunnymen drummer Pete de Freitas and released
as a double A side twelve inch single with the anthemic The
Revolutionary Spirit on Bill Drummond and Dave Balfe's myth-making
Liverpool-based label, Zoo (their finest release ever, according to
Drummond), Simpson's delivery is less excitable, more composed and
fused with the wisdom and experience the last thirty years has brought
to the song.

With Bringing Home The Ashes revived from the second, late 1980s major
label incarnation of The Wild Swans, new material blurs seamlessly into
old, even as some wag calls out for Flaming Sword, the 1983 single
released by Simpson's post Swans collaboration with Lightning Seed in
waiting In Broudie, Care. By the time Simpson and co climax with a
rousing Revolutionary Spirit, it's clear that, after three decades in
the wilderness, Simpson's mission at the vanguard of The Wild Swans
might just have been accomplished.

The List, June 2011



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