Ginger Wildheart Birthday Bash ’13: Koko, London – live review
17th Dec 2013
Andy Santiago, our resident Ginger Wildheartaholic, makes the trek down to London from York to check out the latest in long line of legendary Ginger Wildheart birthday wing dings.
A cold, wet and utterly miserable Tuesday night in Camden Town isn’t my idea of fun, however on this occasion, there is nowhere on the entire planet I would rather be. Something beyond special is about to happen.
As ever, the nearest pub to the venue is located and Mrs Santiago and I elbow our way to the bar through the sea of smiling faces, smiling faces that are reflected by the beaming skull and cross bone logos on their various T shirts.
A man at the back of the room produces a camera and shouts something I can’t remember and the whole room raises their drinks and cheers while he takes a picture. And then it happens. A spontaneous eruption of the classic anthem ‘Geordie in Wonderland’. Complete strangers embrace and eyes fill with tears of joy. Ladies and gentleman, this is the Ginger Wildheart’s family and it’s the bosses birthday that we are all here to celebrate. And celebrate we will.
Crossing the road to the venue Koko, and joining the line to get in, the rain is doing nothing to dampen the high spirits and yet more sing-alongs happen. We enter the building and as I’ve never been here before, the first thing I do is check out the surroundings. This has to be one of the most impressive venues I’ve ever been to. An elegant theatre complete with many levels of balconies, intimate boxes all decorated in plush red and gold. Spectacular. Now, let’s get to the bar and get down the front!
Armed with a can of Red Stripe, the wife and I get to our chosen spot and await the support (I guess) band of the evening, making their live debut, it’s Ginger and Victoria’s project Hey! Hello! and I’m well up for this!
Around 8pm the unfeasibly healthy-looking birthday boy takes to the stage, complete with a rather fetching white suit, black tie and shades combo and Hey! Hello partner, the hyper-active Victoria to his left. First song ‘Black Valentine’ is played and the assembled sing every word at a ridiculous volume. Ginger has recruited a selection of leather-clad Asian Rock Gods to flesh out the ranks of Hey! Hello! from a studio-based duo to a full live band and they throw some outstanding ‘Rock’ moves. Even the tiny lady behind the drum kit is effortlessly cool. ‘Feral Days’, ‘How I survived the Punk Rock Wars’ and last song ‘Swimwear’ flew by and that was the brief but stunning debut all over. Ginger throws his shades into the crowd and introduces the familiar ‘Ginger Wildheart’ band to the stage and we’re away!
I knew this was going to be a long night as previous Birthday Bashes have always featured a lot of special guest musicians and friends, but the cast list was truly unexepected. I’m not even going to attempt to remember all the names, the order of appearance and what they performed, but I’ll mention those that I can manage to recall!
After the GWB played a couple of songs from the ‘555%’ album and ‘Body Parts’ from the forthcoming Pledge album ‘Albion’ the first guest was introduced. “The man with the coolest name ever” according to Ginger, it’s Jefferson Angell from The Walking Papers. He guested on vocals on a couple of tracks, one notably being the first ever live performance of ‘Lover, it’ll all work out’ from the previously mentioned ‘555%’ and then he was gone.
At this part of the gig, there was a revolving door of guests, the line-up onstage was constantly changing, Ginger took a back seat where lead vocals were concerned and that’s where the guests came in.
Not just a guest but a whole band arrive in the form of American rockers Starz who covered The Wildhearts classic, ‘Loveshit’ with Ginger now on bass duties.
I’ve seen Ginger in various incarnations, probably more than any other band or artist, literally hundreds of times, and I’ve never seen him having so much fun. The huge, shit-eating grin never left his face for a second and the crowd were right there with him. I’ve always said that Ginger-related gigs are a hugely communal events and this was exactly that.
First real jaw-dropping moment of the night was when Ginger brought out a full-on soul diva in the form of lady called Yolanda. Jesus, what a voice. Think prime-time Aretha Franklin, multiply that by 10 and you’re still not even close. I don’t think she even needed a mic, such was the power of her voice. Incredible.
Aided and abetted by Sami Yaffa, Bernie Tormé and some fierce vocals and harmonica courtesy of Paul-Ronney Angel, they tore through some righteous blues standards that was a departure from the more ‘Rock’ nature of the night.
“Ladies and gentleman, please welcome to the stage a man who has been out all day busking in aid of the homeless, Mr Frank Turner.”
Frank fucking Turner!!! Didn’t see that one coming at all!
“Can I just say what a fucking honour it is to share a stage with this man” said Frank as the crowd went even more ballistic, “Here’s one you all know so sing along” A cover of Tom Jones’ ‘Delilah’!
My recollections start to get a little blurry round about this point in the proceedings but Beki Bondage and Rat Scabies came on, ‘Neat, Neat ,Neat’ and ‘Smash it Up’ and a couple of other songs that I think were also Damned covers were blasted through.
A raucous rendition of the MC5 classic ‘Kick out the Jams’ brought the main set to a close. At this point I think Ginger had been onstage for over 2 1/2 hours and it didn’t look like this was going to be over anytime soon.
He returned alone apart from his guitar and as he picked out the opening of ‘Geordie in Wonderland’, for the second time that night, hearts were sung out. This time with our lord and saviour (copyright Dom Lawson) leading the choir!
After all the guests and talent that had been onstage throughout the course of this special evening, how could the bar be raised further? Easy, come on down CJ, Rich and ‘Random’ Jon Poole. Fuck me ragged, It’s The Wildhearts and they’re playing ’29 x the Pain’!!
Like this was ever going to be the end, even more guest action in the form of Brian Tatler from Diamond Head came on and joined the band, cranking out the classic that Metallica have been covering for years. That’s right, it’s, ‘Am I Evil?’ which neatly blended back into familiar Wildhearts territory, the delightfully sweary ‘My Baby is a Headfuck’. By now the already frenzied crowd were close to meltdown and a feral ‘Suckerpunch’ was served up, doing nothing to calm the masses!
Ginger had recently mysteriously mentioned on some social media site that he “predicted a new singer for The Wildhearts” prompting much speculation from fans. This was proved to be true when Frank Turner returned to the stage to take lead vocals on the anthemic ‘I Wanna Go Where the People Go’. Towards the end of the song the entire cast of the night returned to the stage to join in on backing vocals. Even the most famous guitar tech ever to come from Doncaster, Hot Steve was bellowing down a mic!
And that was it for another year. I really can’t explain why that was the first Birthday Bash I’ve been to but it’s now carved in stone that I’ll be attending every year from now on. An absolutely life-affirming and celebratory gig that there’s no way anyone could have left feeling disappointed or short-changed from.
Over the years, I’ve been to a ridiculous amount of gigs, but that will be one I’ll never forget, truly the power of Rock ‘n’ Roll was in Camden last night and Christmas came a week early.
All that remains to be said is Happy Birthday Ginger and thanks for inviting us to your party. See ya next year!
As a footnote, I have to mention The Wildhearts are touring next year with Hey! Hello! as support (see poster top right). I implore you, get a ticket and go. From their website:
Hey! Hello!’s much anticipated first UK tour will be in April 2014, supporting Ginger’s ‘other’ band, The Wildhearts.
The Wildhearts will see Ginger reunited with his bandmates CJ & Ritch, and will welcome the return of Scott Sorry on bass. Scott Sorry: “After a four year long break, I am excited as hell to hit the road again with The Wildhearts. April couldn’t come soon enough.”
On behalf of Hey! Hello!: “Ginger and I are so excited to finally be able to take Hey! Hello! on tour,” says Victoria Liedtke. “It’s been a long time coming!”
- Tue 8th April Wolverhampton, Wulfrun Hall
- Wed 9th April Bristol, Academy 1
- Thu 10th April Manchester, Academy 1
- Sat 12th April Nottingham Rock City
- Sun 13th April Newcastle, Academy 1
- Mon 14th April Glasgow, ABC
- Wed 16th April Cambridge, Junction
- Thu 17th April London, Electric Ballroom
All words by Andy Santiago. More writing by Andy on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.