As one of Liverpool’s favourite sons announces a spoken word evening at the British Music Experience, Getintothis’ Banjo looks at Pete Wylie’s story so far
Pete Wylie may be said to be many things. An essential part of Liverpool’s post 70s music culture, a nearly man, a catalyst or even Liverpool’s best songwriter.
Whatever other description you could throw at him, he has always been one thing; a great talker. Wylie’s interviews have always had one thing in common, a torrent of words that often took reporters by surprise.
TV presenter and journalist Mark Ellen tells of a time when, as a try-out for a presenting job, he was given the task on interviewing Wylie. Ellen turned the mic on and Wylie then talked non-stop for the whole 15 minutes of the interview, with Ellen’s only contribution being ‘Amazing. Pete Wylie everyone.’ Ellen was given the job as the show’s producer told him he had really got Pete Wylie to ‘open up’. If only they knew, the real trick was getting him to stop talking after just 15 minutes!
He also became known as something of a ligger. In 1986, the Melody Maker named Wylie Ligger Of The Year. When asked what he wanted on his gravestone he replied ‘Pete Wylie plus one’– the words that appeared on a thousand guest lists.
What sometimes got overlooked in the midst of all this was his music. As publicist Mick Houghton said, ‘He started to become Jimmy Tarbuck when he should have become Bruce Springsteen.’ But, Wylie made some of the biggest, brightest and best music to have emerged from any city in any era.
After a few short lived but still legendary groups, Wylie formed Wah! Heat with drummer Rob Jones and Bassist Washington. Their first single, Better Scream, made the country sit up and take Wylie seriously for the first time and is still regarded as one of the classic songs from the Post Punk period. Various name and line up changes followed as Wah became a Wylie vehicle.
Fame found Wylie when Wah were offered an appearance on Top of the Pops when some other, lesser band cancelled. Wylie rightly recognised this as his big chance and appeared in a black coat, white silk scarf, big hair and eyeliner. The nation fell for the song’s Spector-esque charms and, for a while, Wylie was big news.
His impassioned voice and ease with an epic ballad should have marked him out for a long career. But Wylie was a contrary bugger and refused to play the game. John Peel once remarked ‘he’s the kind of bloke who does things at his own pace, for which I admire him enormously. And they were with Warner Brothers previously and there was real conflict between the two of them because they wanted him to conform to an idea that they had of what he should be and of course he is not the man for that sort of thing.’ Peel continued to champion Wylie, once controversially commenting on Top of the Pops when he played his first solo single ‘If that doesn’t make No.1, I’m going to come round and break wind in your kitchen’
Wylie and Wah continued to make excellent huge-sounding records, but major success eluded him. Then came the accident. In 1991, Wylie was leaning on a fence when it gave way and he fell 20 feet to the ground below. The accident put him in intensive care, breaking his sternum and nearly sending a broken bone into his heart. There followed a long period of physical and mental recuperation.
But, Wylie being who he is, he eventually found his way back to making music. The Songs of Strength and Heartbreak album followed and comes highly recommended to all those unfortunate enough not to already own this gem. And now, forty years on from the release of his Better Scream, Pete Wylie returns with new album, Pete Sounds.
Along with this, the British Music Experience, at Liverpool’s Cunard Building, presents Pete Wylie Talks, a chance to hear the man himself talk hold forth about his music and his life,: the highs and lows, and the things that have happened along the way. A statement from the BME reads ‘We have got a few hours planned on the night but that wont even begin to scratch the surface for a man who has a legion of brilliant stories and who is a natural born story teller! And for those lucky enough to get a ticket Pete is bringing along his guitar, so it is safe to assume he will treat us to a song or two along the way.’
Whatever else he may be, Pete Wylie is always entertaining. We’ll see you there.