This edition of Indieterria will profile an artist who is not a new starter. To be honest, he is well established and enjoys cult status among music fans. However, discovering new music doesn’t mean only cheeking out musicians on their first demo. There is a lot to learn from artists of all ages and all periods. As John Peel would say – you cannot limit yourself to one genre or one decade. It was a pleasure and privilege (to quote a classic) to sit down with Vinny Peculiar and talk about his art and music. And we will admit, we learned few things. Now, we wait in anticipation to see Vinny perform at Marr`s Bar on September 22 for Musicians Against Homelessness. Read on!
Man of many talents
Alan Wilkes, better known as Vinny Peculiar, is one of the most respected and original artists in the music business today. Splitting his time between his native Worcestershire and adopted home in Manchester, he has established himself as a poet, musician and writer. Finding a spare second in his busy schedule, Alan sat down with us to talk about receiving his own blue plague, new album inspired by growing up in West Midlands and charitable efforts to support local events.
You are a man of many talents – a performer, musician, poet, writer and educator. What is the difference between Alan Wilkes and Vinny Peculiar? Are you one and the same or is Vinny simply your artistic alter ego?
Vinny Peculiar: Thank you, I try and dabble in a few different things. Sometimes they work out but I’m most comfortable as a musician/songwriter. The Vinny Peculiar alter ego has been around for a while now but deep down, I’m one and the same person. The real difference is, I get to elaborate and take more risks as Vinny – perhaps the function of the alter ego is a permission to lose yourself. You’ve got me over thinking this one!
So far you have released 13 albums and EP’s to great critical acclaim, with genre-defying releases such as “Other people like me” or “Non Compliance” among them. If you could choose one record from your catalogue that you value the most, what would it be and why?
Vinny Peculiar: I’d go for “Ironing the Soul”. This record has got me a lot of breakthrough press and I made it with a band of mates in Liverpool, during stolen overnight studio time whilst trying to hold down a proper job! There’s certain urgency about it and some of those 4am vocal takes seem suitably desperate for the songs. Nowadays, I’m spending weeks editing acoustic guitar parts on a Mac which is not quite the same buzz. “Ironing the Soul” is kind of an oldschool.
Vinny Peculiar is independent music press darling. Uncut magazine called you “an under sung national treasure” and “Tony Hancock of pop”; Q Magazine heralded you to be “a warm-hearted Morrissey” and The Irish Times convinced their readers you are the missing link between Jarvis Cocker and Roger McGough. How do you feel about those comparisons? Are they something you personally agree with?
Vinny Peculiar: Music press darling you say? Hmm, I’m not sure about that but yes; I have had some great press from the major glossy UK magazines. I think this is partly because my stuff is easy to write about. There is usually a narrative story and some quotable lyrics. UNCUT named one of my songs the fourth best song title of 2004 with “We Tried to Drown Our Music Teacher in 1974”, you can see what I mean.
Your musical style escapes every attempt at classification, forcing reviewers to come up with pretty interesting suggestions such as poetry punk, urban lyricists or even “a beautiful blend of Americana, poetry, indie-pop and busker-punk”. It must be satisfying to see them grind their teeth in frustration every time you release new material. Do you still consider yourself to be part of outside pop movement?
Vinny Peculiar: Yes, I don’t see music as a defined genre thing; often the most incongruous elements can make a song work or not. I try to be driven by what particular song needs. It doesn’t always work, mind! My Outsider status is probably always going to be a given. I’ve never been the new EMI Darling, or even the New Old Man on the Block. I was rather a late starter in the songwriter game! What I try is to follow the Ray Davies model and just “keep on working”. There comes a time when you write and perform because that’s what you do and over analysis is futile, so I tell myself…
Many of your songs are autobiographical. You grew up in north Worcestershire village of Cathill, in a strict Methodist home. Your childhood experiences, vocational training as a nurse and a serious illness in the family are recurring themes in your lyrics. Mental well-being and finding hope against the odds seems to be very important to you.
Vinny Peculiar: Autobiographical, yes. I think most songwriters write about themselves under some disguise; some do it better [or worse] than others. And yes again, for me personally, holding your head up is everything. We are such a marginalized society and we need hope more than ever. I have found that sharing experiences, often everyday ones, in songs and poems really helps. I try and bring this model to the workshops – people have so much to express, much more than they realise and it can aid their self-esteem and mental well-being. That’s my plug for the workshops done!
You have strong ties not only with Worcester but also with Manchester to the point of Manchester Evening News claiming you as the city’s own. For many years you have collaborated with the Mancunian finest – Andy Rourke of the Smiths, Bonehead of Oasis or the members of the punk group, The Fall. You also supported the renovation of the iconic Salford Lads Club with frequent gigs. Do you feel at home in the north?
Vinny Peculiar: It’s been fascinating to be back home and closer to family. I’ve ended up writing songs based on local events and issues. At the same time, I love The North. I’m still working on the “Silver Meadows” stage play in Liverpool. It’s taking forever to refine, get the right actors, but we are still hopeful it will come off. I was at Salford Lads Club recently and got awarded a blue plaque; other recipients included Wayne Rooney and Maxine Peake. It was a great promo idea for the club, and I was stupidly happy to receive it. I’m planning another Lads Club Fundraiser before Christmas, date to be confirmed shortly.
Your artistic escapades link you closely to the eccentric genius of Bill Drummond (KLF, SOUP ART) – master of anarchistic and thought provoking happenings and art installations. Can you tell us more about your co-operation?
Vinny Peculiar: I was the Artist in Residence [Musical] opposite Bills Artist In Residence [Visual] at The Cathedral Arts Festival In Belfast in 2005. Bill and I shared a flat for 10 days and I went on to do many house concerts with him as part of The Soup Line Project. Bill would make soup and deliver a lecture and I would play a forty minute set of songs. I still keep in touch and look forward to the all new singing, dancing and thought provoking KLF! I also have the dubious honour of being auctioned song by song by Bill in Kensington, Liverpool at the demolition of a high rise block – he managed to sell a one to one version of “Confessions of a Sperm Donor” to a local business woman for £200. It was quite a night…
Recently your album “Silver Meadows (Fables from the Institution)” has been turned into a stage play by Liverpool writer Ian Salmon. The initial reviews are fantastic. Where did the idea come from and where can we see it?
Vinny Peculiar: The Silver Meadows songs came from my time working in long stay Learning Disability and Psychiatric Hospitals. The album is set in the mid-1980s at the dawn of Community Care. The songs are character driven, they tell little stories of big changes. We’ve had an initial full run through before an invited audience and I’m still working on the fine details of the production. These things take a long time as they involve so many different people, including funder. It is never straightforward, but we are determined it should be seen…
On 22nd of September, you will return to Marrs Bar in Worcester to perform an acoustic set during Musicians Against Homelessness concert in support of Crisis, an nationwide charity helping homeless people to find a stable and permanent accommodation. Are you planning something special for the night?
Vinny Peculiar: I’ll be doing the Mars Bar show with Rob Steadman, my regular piano player. Rob was in Parlour Flames with me (the band I formed with Bonehead). We’ll be playing songs from the new locally themed album including “The Malvern Winter Gardener” and “Droitwich”. It is scandalous that we still have such a housing homeless crisis in the UK and we fully support the work of Crisis. I’m really pleased to have been asked to play this gig.
We know you are currently working on a new album inspired by Worcestershire and your childhood in Bromsgrove. Several demos have already been posted on Sound cloud website. What else is planned for the nearest future?
Vinny Peculiar: My forthcoming gig highlights include playing The 100 Club in London with Chris Difford, the date has not been confirmed yet. I’m excited about that, we recently supported him in Malvern and he is a very decent chap, too. The new album will take some time to finish, it is due early next year and we will be touring to support it. I have formed a new band with local Worcester musicians: Dan Bramhall (drums), Wes Dance (guitars) and Rooney Wooster (bass) and we are recording a new live EP soon too – I will let you know when it is ready!
You can follow Vinny at the links below:
If you want to see Vinny Peculiar play Musicians Against Homelessness concert, tickets are a £5 and can be bought from the links below:
To find out more about MAH visit Musicians Against Homelessness on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/mahgigs/
Hoping to see you soon,