Ian White hadn’t banked on playing a song called Dean Martin’s Hangover in front of George Best. This is exactly what happened, however, at some point in the early 1990s when White’s Edinburgh-based band The Wendys appeared on Granada TV arts magazine show, What’s New, alongside the former Manchester United footballing superstar. Also on the bill were Christopher Biggins, theatrical maverick Ken Campbell and comedian Donna McPhail. Given Best’s well-documented problems with alcohol, however, it was him who was most on White’s mind.
“He was tiny,” says White of Best. “It was great meeting him, but I was so concerned about playing Dean Martin’s Hangover in front of him. It was all laid out with round tables, and we had to play it again and again like you do when you do TV, and there’s George at the front table. He wasn’t drinking, but we had a chat, and he didn’t say a word about it. He was actually really quiet.”
Things weren’t quite so quiet afterwards for guitarist White, vocalist Jonathan Renton, his bass playing brother Arthur Renton and drummer Johnny MacArthur who made up The Wendys.
“It was the end of series wrap-up party, and it was also the wrap-up party for Cluedo as well,” says White of a game show based on the board game of the same name, and which saw all manner of the era’s celebrities take on the mantles of Professor Plum, Miss Scarlet and co.
“It was like like Stella Street. You’d be standing next to Tom Baker in the canteen, and Richard and Judy were walking round joined at the hip. We walked off with as much wine as possible.”
Dean Martin’s Hangover eventually surfaced on the second Wendys album, Sixfoot Wingspan, released in 1999 on White’s own Starshaped label. Twenty years on, a brand new edition of the record reveals a band who fitted in perfectly with the early ‘90s zeitgeist, and should by rights have been bigger than they were.
“It’s a record I’m really proud of,” says White, “We recorded it in all these different places over five or six years. Jez Kerr from A Certain Ratio helped us out on bits, then we did stuff with Jamie Watson at Chamber Studio in Edinburgh, so it’s got all these different writing and production styles.”
The record was mastered by Bunt Stafford-Clark, who has worked with everyone from Scritti Politti to Salif Keita.
“I couldn’t believe how together it sounds sonically,” says White.
For a one-man micro-label, getting the record out there in a pre-digital age was something else again.
“So few people probably actually heard it. We had no distribution, and a lot of it was done through mail order. I was being sent twenty dollar bills from America wrapped up in pages of a magazine.”
Formed in 1987, The Wendys were part of Edinburgh Musicians’ Collective, before eventually signing to the Manchester-based Factory Records, then in the thick of Madchester. The connection came about after Derek Ryder – dad of Shaun – took a shine to The Wendys when they supported Happy Mondays at the Venue in Edinburgh.
“That was the Bummed tour,” White remembers, “There were 120 people in the Venue, and half of them were there to see us.”
The Wendys eventually joined the Factory roster at a party in the label’s new office. A delighted looking Derek Ryder appears in a photograph celebrating the signing.
“It all felt quite surreal,’ says White. “The people at Factory couldn’t be friendlier, but a lot of people understandably saw Factory as being about Manchester and the north of England, so we were very much the outsiders. It was just incredible to rub shoulders with these people who had been really big influences on us.”
The band’s debut album Gobbledygook was produced by Ian Broudie, and with their next record, the I Instruct EP, produced by Jimmy Miller, The Wendys’ future looked bright. As documented in Michael Winterbottom’s comedic fictionalisation of the Factory era, 24 Hour Party People, alas, Factory went into messy financial freefall, and collapsed in 1992.
“The label went belly up about a week after we’d spent a cheque on equipment,” White remembers, “and we had to take it all back after spray-painting an amp.”
After Sixfoot Wingspan, The Wendys eventually fizzled out, with White releasing records by The Cherryfire Ashes and Bendy Toy, the project of Stephen Evans. More recently, White has teamed up with former Foil and Lowlife guitarist Hugh Duggie as Sons of the Descent. A debut album, Lazy Glamour, was released in 2017, before they were joined by Evans. A second full-length release is due later this year. Singles by Jonathan Renton’s new project, Social Leopards, and his brother Arthur as A.A. Renton, meanwhile, are due any day on White’s Brawsome Productions imprint.
The Wendys themselves have regrouped several times, most recently in 2017 at Audio in Glasgow and at the Shiiine ON festival in Minehead. With much of the set culled from Sixfoot Wingspan, the current re-release looks set to reclaim a lost classic.
“I think it channels a whole period of time for a band that had some degree of credibility, but who relatively few people saw or heard at the time,” says White. “It’s the underbelly of the mid to late ‘90s, so dip in, see what you like.”
The Herald, January 11th 2020