There’s something special about a Ginger Wildheart tour and his most recent run around the country feels more special than most. Having had to cancel the Hey! Hello! tour twice, once because of Ginger going into the hospital due to his battles with depression and once because of Hollis leaving the band, it is a pleasure to see the great man on stage enjoying himself after a while away. Throw in the reunions that have happened with Danny McCormack at a couple of the shows and the whole thing has an even bigger party vibe than usual.
Which must add to the heat in Stereo, which by the end of the night has failed to be a room and has become sweat. So much sweat. Massive Wagons are opening the Scottish leg of the tour and both in Glasgow and Aberdeen they deliver a set so consistently good that having only seen them twice you already feel like you are taking them for granted. This is NWOBHM but played by a band a quarter the age of most of the groups giving you that style of music and it makes it feel young and exciting again. Set closer ‘Fee Fi Fo Fum’ is a particular highlight and Massive Wagons are the perfect party starters.
Ryan Hamilton & The Traitors are a very different proposition. Rather than fist clenching metal, this is earnest rock and roll that bears similarities to Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. There is a section of Wildhearts fans who are therefore a bit sniffy towards it – I hear one guy compare them to Abba, which I believe was meant to be an insult. Despite this Hamilton appears to grow in stature as the two shows go on and when he loudly decries those standing at the back of the venue talking while he pours his heart out in Aberdeen it feels like a coming of age moment. It also adds an extra bite to ‘Freak Flag’ that turns at least this particular listener into a fan. If you like your rock and roll to have a bit of soul, then Hamilton is the man for you.
It’s no insult to say that everything pales to the main event, and these shows are special not only because it’s great to see Ginger on stage but because there is an argument to be made that the solo material he is bringing out at the moment is his very best work. GASS is a treasure trove of incredible music, and he combines sing-along numbers like the surprisingly cheerful sounding ‘Do You?’ – considering it’s a song about suicide – with older material like the so catchy that your trousers are around your ankles, and the warts are already growing before you know what happened, ‘Mother City’.
There are Silver Ginger 5 tracks as well with the three punch of ‘Take It All Why Don’tcha’, ‘Anyway but Maybe’ and ‘Sonic Shake’ opening the show and of course, untouchable solo material or not, The Wildheart numbers get an airing, and they are as good as ever. Tracks like ’29 x the Pain’ seem determined never to age and the sing-along that ‘Geordie in Wonderland’ inspires is always a highlight.
And all of this is delivered by a band which somehow makes you wonder whether Ginger is the coolest person on the stage. Conny, Denzel and Toshi are certainly up there as three of the men who could challenge him, and they sound like they’ve been playing together for years.
It’s easy to slip into hyperbole about these shows. My love for Ginger is pretty evident and the fanbase he has built up over the years is rabid. However, there is little exaggeration in saying that when you put this rock and roll show up against nearly anything else going at the moment, it’s going to come out on top. Three great bands playing great music in small venues that serve a lot of beer. It doesn’t get better than that.