Formed in 1980 by ex Teardrop Explodes keyboardist Paul Simpson, The Wild Swans cut a stylishly epic swath through Liverpool’s fertile post-punk scene.
Along the way they spawned two revered splinter projects in Care and the Lotus Eaters, while all manner of other Merseyside luminaries ventured into their orbit (the Lightning Seeds’ Ian Broudie, Pete DeFreitas of the Bunnymen and the Icicle Works’ Ian McNabb to name but three).
Blessed with Simpson’s Bowie-esque looks and voice, an alchemic guitar sound and a lyrical sensibility that seemed to predate Britpop’s romantic mythologizing of England by about 10 years, the Wild Swans inexplicable lack of success was a mystery that looked very unlikely to be solved.
Thankfully their recent decision to reform 21 years after their split has put forward a whole no case for them being one of Liverpool’s most underrated, seminal and downright brilliant bands.
A pair of dates at Liverpool’s increasingly essential Static Gallery saw Simpson present a show with such attention to detail the music itself seemed at first incidental.
Bunting, Union Jacks, a jumble sale and a plethora of waist coats saw the Static transformed into some kind of pre-war barn dance while the stage backdrop of Lyndsey Anderson’s classic tale of public school insurrection, If… only increased the impression of an England that somewhere along the line has gone wrong.
Dressed in a classic Patrick McGoohan style jacket, Simpson is soon exuding a confident elegance that belies what an obviously cathartic experience this is for him. He’s helped and supported along the way by a stellar cast: former Heart Throb Steve Beswick is a propulsive blur on the drums while keyboardist Henry Priestman of It’s Immaterial fame fills the gaps with gorgeous washes of melodic piano.
The twin guitar attack of ex-Spiritualized man Mike Mooney and The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Ricky Maymi is unbeatable as they weave in and out of each other‘s lines with psychedelic élan.
As he introduces ‘The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years’, a spoken tribute to dearly departed Bunnymen drummer Pete Defrietas, Simpson is clearly moved as he recounts how the Wild Swans wouldn’t have existed without his friend’s help and support.
The presence of former Bunnymen bassist Les Pattinson on bass only heightens the poignancy of the moment and from there on in its plain sailing for Simpson as he unleashes song after song of diamond cut elegance and glam-infused wonder not least on new song ‘English Electric Lightning’, a classic travelogue around Britain’s shores taking in William Blake, Douglas Bader and the Toxteth Riots.
An exultant rush through legendary single ‘The Revolutionary Spirit’ is heralded rapturously by the baying crowd who are then taken to greater heights by the introduction of another Bunnyman, guitarist Will Sergant who proceeds to weave his sonic magic across a timely ‘Bringing Home The Ashes’ and the bouncy bagginess of ‘Melting Blue Delicious’.
As he takes the crowd‘s acclaim Simpson bows modestly but this is a personal triumph for a man who deserves the success that has somehow eluded him and instead settled on far lesser talents. A brilliant, brilliant gig.
Review by Jamie Bowman, images by Dave Evans. With thanks.