VINNY PECULIAR is a man with a charm all of his own – he openly proclaims a love for words and he obviously cares about where he puts every word in every song, songs which he sings with passion and above all else, for me, a kindness. No wonder he’s been described as a “warm hearted Morrisey” (Q Magazine).
I was lucky enough to meet and hear this lovely fella playing at a bohemian cafe in Liverpool (The Naked Lunch named after a wild book by Beat generation writer William Burroughs) in front of a receptive audience on a Saturday night April 21st
All he needed to capture our collective attention was his voice, his wit, a guitar and smattering of accompaniment by a second musician on piano (Rob Steadman) – plus a new album “Return of the Native” (officially coming out in May 2018 though I’ve managed to buy a copy) to play from and a choice from back catalogue spanning over 20 years of another 11 albums
For those of you who have never heard of Vinny Peculiar aka Alan Wilkes, a man who hails from Worcestershire but seems to have made a name for himself in Manchester, his credentials include collaborations with former members of Oasis, The Smiths, Aztec Camera and the Fall. His past works have involved people such as Jah Wobble and Bill Drummond of KLF.
The accolades are too many to mention but involve high praise from a list of established music media outlets including the likes of Rolling Stone Magazine, BBC Radio 6, the NME and Uncut Magazine comparing him to a cross between Jarivs Cocker and famous Liverpool poet from the 60s onwards Roger McGough.
Sitting in the window seat on a high table at the back with a coffee then a beer, I went off my own impression of him playing in front of me in Liverpool. OK, so funnily enough it was pretty much the same as the great quotes. To my ears there was some spattering of a Marc Bolan meets Donavon in his Sunshine Superman electric phase. A pure English eccentricity with a twinkle of fun mixed with sorrow and a bit of righteous anger at life. Then there was this Julian Cope thing going on too – the playful poetic psychedelic songwriter. A fine tradition to be part of with a 2018 freshness and an in-the-moment emotion laid nicely on an icing top.
Nostalgia about Worcestershire is the theme of his new album and it blew me away (something I’ll come to later). It took his music somewhere else again and took me somewhere new while driving around Lancashire for my own gigs and guitar teaching.
The first people to congratulate for making this Saturday night cafe gig truly work though was the audience. They, mostly, fully engaged with the artist Vinny and gave him the platform to be creative and put us all in an emotional space with his stories and stories within songs. They managed to shut up and listen and gave Vinny Peculiar the respect songwriters need if we don’t want them to bugger off and do something else while we stay at home watching Netflix ( I like Netflix, mind, but you know what I mean).
Of course though – once capturing everyone’s attention – Vinny had to deliver. Which he did. The focus and concentration created an atmosphere and a space – a performance space to do something in.
The Gig Itself and Vinny Himself
It was a small cafe space and Vinny was wandering round chatting to people dressed in his stripey t shirt and skinny black jeans looking slightly Andy Warhol-like and giving us all a hint that Liverpool is secretly the equivalent of the New York art scene. It was already fun just being there – which makes a change for me having blasted out so many paid pub covers gigs recently. A real gig! With an air of anticipation.
Our drummer is a mixed media artist and an art teacher and personally I’ve always liked it when songwriters dare to cross the borders in art forms from music to poetry to literature to painting. It reminded me of opening night at an exhibition, so I was chuffed to be there. Then came the matter of overcoming the embarrassment of asking Vinny outside the cafe onto the pavement for a quick interview.
Thing is, I trained to be a newspaper print journalist at Preston Poly in 1990 and only worked full time on local papers around the country for a few adventure packed years. Since 2005 I’ve been working full time in music and teaching – teaching guitar, playing gigs, running events and occasionally teaching or doing support in education. I’ve never stopped writing, filling up notebooks, doing blogs, endless songs but…
So I started asking questions and Vinny started coming out with these full on, articulate statements about music – which I’d invited in the approach. He seemed an unpretentious congenial guy.
I began to jot everything down in the old shorthand (100 words per minute Darlington College 1991) on a notebooke before, feeling a bit silly inside, I remembered that I would probably not be able to read any of it back anymore. Oops.
Thankfully though I’ve spent decades teaching myself to listen to people and remember what they were talking about and be genuinely interested – I used to be such an intense and wired and fired up and dreamy young guy I could barely focus sometimes – so all was not lost. Plus I could read back some of it back and made notes.
Yes music has changed so much thanks to social media, thanks to online streaming, and Vinny was quick to convey the change from sitting round a glowing telly watching Top of the Pops to looking for a niche market to survive and be heard by an audience drenched in online choice and distractions.
The thrill of finishing a new song, he explained, is as good and fresh as it ever was. It’s just the practicalities of getting it out there that have become so complex perhaps nobody truly knows how to navigate the musical stream.
At least now young people share their music with their parents and people of all ages embrace all kinds of genres with an open mind. Back in the day, as they say, Vinnie’s own father, like many fathers, disapproved of new fangled pop music even to the point where he once burnt a copy of Vinny’s NME to purge the world of its existence.
The Live Performance
Vinny set the tone for the evening with a poem and then a story within a song – reminiscing about the heady days of the 80s when had his hair cut short at the back to be like Terry Hall of The Specials. When we perused through stacks of vinyl at the record shop with our new styles on display.
“Oh the mirror” he muses before launching into his chorus of “A Vision” with gentle self mockery and a melodic hook. And on we went…occasionally heading into the lyrical detail of Vinny’s former life as a psychiatric nurse and the grim charm of the wards, before we ended up with the likes of “Jesus Stole My Girlfriend” and persuading the audience to sing along with “Sometimes I feel Like a King”
Vinny is an animated performer who enunciates all his vocal lines with a clarity that shows he has something to say and it’s fun to contemplate. You can’t help but like the man and wish him well with his endeavours.
If you are already a fan or a new listener I truly recommend giving a listen to the new album Return of the Native (yes – named after that classic Thomas Hardy novel you may have studied in sixth form literature classes). Check out his website. The producer, Dave Draper, has really added something to Vinny’s sound. The extra electric guitars, for instance, have accentuated Vinny’s tendency towards Engish pyschedelia dreamland with even a punky/glam rock edge to some songs. I love bands like the Coral and Dodgy or concept albums like the Kink’s The Village Green Preservation Society (released 1968) so this was right up my street.
This man knows how to write a melody and how to talk to his listeners and what he wants to say – you can only stand back and admire his work.
“New album ‘Return of the Native‘ is now here in the physical sense , you can listen stream and pre order via the Bandcamp link, or pre order the CD directly via the site – pre ordered CDs will be released end of April. Please do support and share with friends and of course spreading the word on social media is always appreciated. The band on the album are the same band I’ve used for the last three releases. Paul Tsanos on Drums, Bobby Kewley on Bass, Rob Steadman on keys, and Leah Walch makes a welcome return on backing vocals. Worcester musicians Dan Bramhall &Wes Dance also contributed percussion and guitar. The album was produced and mastered quite brilliantly I like to think by Dave Draper at UNIT 31 in Pershore. I really hope you enjoy the album. I’m really pleased with it and after a shaky start its now comfortably holding its own alongside the others. Rob and I are playing shows over the summer incorporating the new songs, we’d love to see you there, the GIG page has the details. Thanks ever so for supporting it means a lot, best wishes all, VPx”
Mike Kneafsey is a working musician and songwriter with Sweeney Astray.