A SONG to describe the life of Wylie? Neil Young’s Like A Hurricane? His own Heart As Big As Liverpool, perhaps?
The Mighty Mouth of the Mersey, as someone (him, possibly) once referred to Pete Wylie, is a whirlwind of emotions, positivity and energy. A whirlwind that away from his music and public persona may occasionally peter out, but never on record or on stage.
From the 100mph debut single Better Scream to nuclear war warning Seven Minutes To Midnight, top three hit anthem Story of the Blues, Motown-esque Hope, call to arms in a time of strife Comeback, pop singalong Sinful and love song to his hometown the aforementioned Heart As Big As Liverpool, Wylie’s music has spanned genres, climbed mountains and fallen back down them — almost literally.
He has recorded only sporadically over four decades, partly due to his own wilfulness, sometimes falling out with the music business in general and partly due to breaking his back falling through railings into a basement in Liverpool’s Upper Parliament Street.
Pete never wanted it any other way though — apart from the fall — as he explains: “I have never looked at this as my job. I am an artist who sometimes happens to collide with the music business. I have fallen out with it a lot of times but I don’t stop playing or writing.
“If you condense my career, the last 40 years there’s actually a brilliant ten-year career in there because I do try to take breaks between albums.
“I broke my back in 1991 and I still came back six years later because that’s how long it took me to recover and in a sense I am still recovering.”
His Sheffield O2 Academy gig on June 15 will be career spanning — from debut album Nah = Poo! - The Art of Bluff, through the politicised A Word to the Wise Guy, several solo albums, a big gap and the tremendous anthem-powered Songs of Strength and Heartbreak to recent Pete Sounds — but it’s about much more than music for Pete. “I want to remind people that I have a good history but that doesn’t mean the present and the future are not good. My voice is better, I play guitar better and my confidence is higher.
“I do all the big songs, modern versions of them without changing the feeling of them and I’ll do songs off the new LP Pete Sounds, and there’ll be plenty of stories and joking around. It’s the Pete Wylie Show so it’s a mix of stuff. I like to give people value for money and people often say it’s a shame you did so many songs because you could have told another story.
“I get to tell people what I think, have a laugh and hang out with people I don’t know. I respond to what is happening around me. It’s always a great night out. It’s basically me standing in my living room but on stage and it’s relaxed but I become intense when I’m singing.
“The gigs are nice. There’s no mosh pit, not that there ever was, I was far too elegant or drunk for that. I give it everything though and it’s great to play and sing the songs as they were meant to be done.”
Wylie has always been a campaigner and, as well as speaking up for his hometown through and after the Thatcher years, he’s worked with Paddy Hill and the late Gerry Conlon from the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four in the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation and, proudly the Justice For the 96 Hillsborough victims campaign. He also once asked Mike Tyson outside for a fight, Tyson turned him down.
“I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve but I’ve never made my music unapproachable. I might have stood on my soapbox but there’s always been energy and emotion.
“People in Liverpool always spoke up and fought back. Communities are damaged that will never recover. Places like Liverpool and Rotherham have faced the biggest cuts in budgets in the country because of what they are and what they represent.
“This year was worse regarding Hillsborough because no-one thought that they would still be fighting for justice 30 years on.
“Heart As Big As Liverpool is used in the Hillsborough documentary with the names of the 96 people who were lost. I am proud and humble and I am glad, but I’m ashamed that a song has to be used for this.
“The people of Sheffield are stuck with this as well and the trauma affects them and a lot of other people out there. That is why the people on the Justice tour spoke for the people who can’t speak.”
He’s on a roll now... “I’ve always been a supporter of underdogs. I was excited when Leicester City won the Premier League and even though we (Liverpool) are great now we’re still the underdogs because of Manchester City. Even if we don’t win it (Premier league — they didn’t) it’s still been a fantastic year and that’s how I feel about my career. I’ve had some incredible musical holidays and others when the plane didn’t even take off.
“Premier League players on ridiculous wages should give something back to older players. There’s enough money for everyone on the planet. If someone doesn’t want to do anything for themselves we can still help them and they wouldn’t be out robbing or doing other stuff.
“Younger people have started to speak out about injustice and climate change and I think that’s important. The intellectual elite that I talk about in Story of the Blues 2 are wrong. People don’t go to yoga retreats to find out the truth, they just survive. They haven’t got the time for that.”
Emotion, underdogs, energy are words that resound through his — horrible word — career — and he has never been afraid to cross bridges many musicians wouldn’t, and sometimes it has cost him.
“It’s always been the thing with me. I used to get stick at school because I listened to everything from Motown to Bowie and Deep Purple and Tangerine Dream. People used to say you can’t like this or that. I like changes and that’s probably why I like David Bowie. It’s also why I always changed the band name.
“If someone did a tribute to me, and I can’t imagine they would because they wouldn’t have the madness, but they would get the hits without having to put up with the other stuff and you’d get it free in the pub on a Sunday night.
“Dave Simpson, the writer from Leeds, said he was talking to a mate who said I was the big star that never was. I’d got the music, looked a certain way and got the gob on me but just didn’t do it.
“Right at the beginning people thought I talked a good fight but would never do it, but then I did Better Scream and people realised I had what it takes.
“I was signing copies of Pete Sounds and sending them out at the end of the Pledge campaign and by the end I’d got really good at it, just like I have at making albums. I get really good at it and everyone stops making them. No-one makes them anymore.”
He cares and that’s why he goes back and back again to his songs, re-imagining and re-recording them. “I played just about everything on the records and when I don’t I tend to get really good people in but it doesn’t always end up like the song I hear in my head.
“I’ve always gone back to songs and re-recorded bits and expanded sections or written new words.
“I’m writing a book called the Mighty Memwah! and that’s helping me remember things and bring them back.”
Despite qualifying for a bus pass — and he uses it — he is optimistic about the future and not just looking back as new (as in he released it this decade — his joke) album Pete Sounds proves with anthemic songs of love, justice, injustice and anger.
Age is no barrier. “I went to see Mott the Hoople in Manchester and Ian Hunter is nearly 80, but he is as good as he ever has been and still looks the same. It shows that just because you are getting older doesn’t mean you have to go rubbish.”
In fact, while conceding he could have scaled the heights of fame with a bit more luck and willingness to play the industry game (a must if you’re gonna make it these days), he’s happy with where he is and concludes (not literally) fittingly with: “My epitaph will be “Pete Wylie: he wasn’t bad.”
The Mighty Wah! Presents the Pete Wylie Show is at O2 Sheffield on Saturday June 15. Tickets are available from www.ticketmaster.co.uk/event/1F005673A7434323