Other People Like Me (Shadrack & Duxbury)
Arguably the true heir to Ray Davies, Bromsgrove born Manchester based Alan Wilkes has been knocking out albums on a regular basis for over a decade without troubling the national consciousness. Which is a sad loss for the national consciousness, because each one has been better than the last, veined with wry wit, incisive observations, touching humanity, and a 60s suburban English cultural sensibility (his label's named from kitchen sink escapism drama Billy Liar), summoning comparisons to not only Davies, but Babybird, Jarvis Cocker, and Morrissey.
The ever upward progress of his talent is unabated on this, his ninth album, only this time, opening with the jogging My Generation (I Said Goodbye) he’s predominantly set his memories to the early 70s with lyrics that reference Alice Cooper on Top of The Pops, Terry Hall haircuts, signing on, TitBits magazine, Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World and husband and wife modern artists Christo & Jeanne-Claude who even get a whole song named after and about them.
With Luke Haines and Bonehead providing guest guitar slots, it’s a slightly more electric and at times rockier affair than past outings, but as ever it’s the songs, the melodies and the lyrics that are the sharpest attributes.
Nostalgia inevitably has a tint of melancholy about it. Judy Wood has the subject’s brother dying in a boating accident and her father drinking himself to death while the glam rock riff stomping Art Rock wittily acknowledges growing older with a line about young guns shooting “from the replacement hip” and the autobiographical Square One has him recalling the English teacher who ‘knew every lad from the waist down’, smoking in the toilets at his granddad’s funeral, stealing cream eggs from the post office and, following a fairground carousel solo, the fear and longing of adolescence.
But it’s the past that makes you who you are, so the final song, Something and Nothing has him showing his kids around the old town, telling them stories (like seeing the old cigarette factory burn down in 1973) about growing up, affectionately remembering the years that have gone by and ending on the optimistic note that ‘perhaps in the future, when the time’s right, we can start all over again’.
The album ends with an instrumental, Theme Fifteen, ambient noise from which emerges what sounds like church keyboards. It conjures thoughts of music playing over the end titles of a film and I’m struck that Vinnie Peculiar may well be music’s answer to Terence Davies, these songs his distant voices and still lives.
DIRTY IMPOUND ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
|After spending much of the period 2004-2007 strongly recommending his fantastic body of work, VINNY PECULIAR somehow dropped off W&H’s radar. I can’t really explain why we didn’t seize upon his 2009 release ‘Sometimes I Feel Like A King’ (with The Blue Poppies of Ambrosia), but it’s the only one of the previous seven VP studio albums – and the masterful ‘Whatever Happened to Vinny Peculiar?’ compilation – not to have been given the critical once-over round W&H Towers.
But hey, stuff happens, so there’s no reason why the W&H campaign to have Vinny Peculiar recognised as a national treasure can’t recommence in 2011, especially when the pointedly-titled ‘Other People Like Me’ is yet another compelling and quality-stuffed outing from the man with the lugubrious delivery and highly singular vision of Pop as he thinks it should be.
So who is Vinny Peculiar then? In another life he still occasionally communes with, he’s also been known to answer to the name Alan Wilkes. He’s based in Manchester, but has strong links with both Liverpool and Birmingham and, as one of a cadre of writers who have compared him to the likes of Martin Newell and Jarvis Cocker, I can only concur about his ‘quintessential’ English approach to the off-the-wall Pop gems he fashions at regular intervals. At the time of writing, his enviable back catalogue remains relatively untouched by the masses, but with a CV including collaborations with Bill Drummond, tours with The Killers, Edwyn Collins and British Sea Power under his belt and previous line-ups including three ex-Smiths and members of Aztec Camera and Oasis, his is a remarkable story of DIY perseverance.
So let’s go back to the future. Vinny’s new album ‘Other People Like Me’ was recorded proudly in vintage analogue with long-time producer/ collaborator Rob Ferrier and a band including drummer Neil Carter and bassist John Thirlwall, plus some suitably impressive guest slots. The squalling guitars on the opening ‘My Generation (I Said Goodbye to...)’ are played by former thorn in the side of Britpop, Luke Haines, while the feedback guitars mussing up ‘Art Thief’ are played by ex-Oasis luminary Bonehead.
Many of the album’s themes – adolescent insecurity, voyeurism, misplaced sexuality and middle aged angst – will be familiar to long-time VP acolytes, but this time around ‘Other People Like Me’ seems like a ‘concept’ album of sorts in that several of the songs re-connect with the early 1970s and a world where Glam kings David Bowie and Marc Bolan strutted their stuff on TOTP.
Vinny’s revisited these halcyon times before of course (2004’s ‘Growing up with Vinny Peculiar’ includes a ditty called ‘We Tried to Drown Our Music Teacher in 1974’), but this time he takes a detailed walk down memory lane and summarily stomps on the rose-tinted glasses. Set in 1972, ‘Judy Wood’ tells a gripping tale of loss and alcoholic misadventure (“Judy’s brother died in a boating accident/ her father hit the bottle before he died”) with help from graceful piano, stirring strings and just a hint of Bowie circa ‘Hunky Dory’, even if the lyric perversely references ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ instead
‘Other People’ and ‘Artrockers’ also take their cue from the Glam era, but ‘Art Thief’ is better still. Fuelled by a ballsy guitar riff, it could be the album’s very own ‘Rebel Rebel’, if it wasn’t tempered by experience, the passage of time and some very witty lyrics (“young guns shoot from the replacement hip”) which only gently bemoan the fact the author won’t see 25 again. Then there’s the inspired ‘My Generation (I Said Goodbye to...).’ With Luke Haines’ abrasive guitar overload picking a fight, Vinny responds with a curious mixture of bile and resignation (“I said goodbye to my generation, I never heard from them again”) and the whole thing ends up sounding like a brilliantly unlikely anthem.
Elsewhere, the autobiographical ‘A Vision’ (“I had my head shaved at the back like Terry Hall in 1984/ I was waiting at the bus stop, heading off to work at the mental hospital”) brings us a little closer to the modern age, while on ‘Square One’, page three stunners, test matches and tangerine underwear (“flashing above the bridge of thighs”) are all on the agenda. The understated ‘Something and Nothing’ seems to bring us slap bang into the present, with Vinny calling a truce with his past (“I showed my children around the old town/ the little things they do make you feel so proud”) and sharing his roots with a newer, maybe less cynical generation. It sounds like a natural conclusion, though there’s still the brief ‘Theme Fifteen’: perfect fare for when the titles go up with a keyboard hymnal gradually rising from the ambience like the organ on Blackpool promenade.
‘Other People Like Me’, then, is yet another collection of suitably eccentric, yet curiously elegant confessionals from one of the UK’s most criminally under-rated talents. It really is high time you made room in your heart for this peculiar, but highly likeable man.
Vinny Peculiar online
Reviewers Rating 8
Nostalgia’s not what it used to be...
Imagine a surreal episode of My Two Dads where said fathers are Jarvis Cocker and David Bowie, who bully their child into liking them and everything they like, like glam stomp, kitchen sink vignettes, mordantly witty lyrics, nostalgia, dreams and a sneer, and you‘re ready for Vinny Peculiar, Manchester’s premier forward thinking backward looking song smith.Throughout this sublime album, references are made, to name a few, to 1972, 1973, 1984, Roxy, Ferry, Mott, Bowie, Cadbury’s Flake adverts and working in a mental hospital. Who else has released an album that covers such things. Not this year, but ever? Although sonically it’s nothing like it, 'Other People Like Me' is a kind of English answer to Josh Rouse’s 1972, in so much as it sounds like an old record, it references the past and it has an overwhelming air of nostalgia.
Starting with 'My Generation (I Said Goodbye)', all guitar glamstomp, men in working clubs, dinner in the bin and it becomes obvious, very early, that this is definitely not Kansas, Toto. If only there was another way of saying kitchen sink vignette, but that’s as accurate a description as you can get for this and what follows. 'Judy Wood' is destined to be a fan favourite, warm and comforting na na na na’s with Alice Cooper on Top of the Pops, its sublimely and achingly nostalgic. What follows; smoking B&H, Terry Hall haircuts in 1984, art-rockers, T-Rex riffing and nods to all the good stuff of the 70s, makes for a strangely comforting and comfortingly melancholic record. If success was commensurate with talent, Vinny Peculiar would himself be referenced in the future post-modern style releases by future kitchen vignette writing students of the past.
A splendid success
Sounds XP Review
There are many mysteries in this world but the biggest one for me will always be how Mr Peculiar avoids world domination.
His latest album, ‘Other People Like Me’, could be his best one to date. It is hard not to be biased where Vinny is concerned for I do not hide the fact that I adore him but I must adorn my musical objective cap and validate this album as if I am unaware of his genius.
My favourite track on this album is ‘Judy Wood’. It’s what Vinny does best. He tells a story with effortless emotion. It’s so simple and yet so thought provoking. Who would have thought that singing a group of ‘Nah nah nah’s’ could be so poetic?
'Christo & Jeanne-Claude' is a catchy tribute to the married artists of the same name who were known for their environmental works. Vinny uses his lyrics to describe their work and their own ponderings on their work. It’s nothing short of brilliant and something I believe that they would greatly approve of.
Other notable tracks include ‘Something and nothing’ and ‘A Vision’ though to be honest the whole album is one long ‘notable track’ feast.
The last song on the album, ‘Theme fifteen’, is void of lyrics and it is kind of fitting for I find myself at a loss as to how to put into words the musical experience that Mr Peculiar offers.
When you listen to a Vinny Peculiar album you cannot help but think that you have come across his diary and as you sit and read it you feel both uncomfortable and wonderful all at once. His music is littered with the complex and yet everyday emotions that the masses go through and it is reassuring to know that we are not alone in our ponderings and self analytical behaviour.
In conclusion ‘Other People Like Me’ proves once again that there is nobody quite like Vinny Peculiar and I have decided not to share him. He’s all mine.
From Penny Black Music
Vinny Peculiar: Other People Like Me
Reviewed By: Anthony Strutt
Label: Shadbury and Duxbury
Manchester's finest singer-songwriter Vinny Peculiar returns with a fine clutch of new material on what is his ninth album.‘My Generation (I Said Goodbye) is reminiscent of mid period Beatles, and has a vocal style from Vinny that recalls Nick Cave. Former Auteur Luke Haines adds some savage guitar to the track.
‘Judy Wood’ is much calmer and reflective, sounding at one level a lot like Hefner, but also having a middle of the road 1970’s style. ‘A Vision’ is as English as fish and chips, while vocally it is another trip down memory lane.
‘Other People’ has a groovy guitar line that recalls Marc Bolan, while ‘Artrockers’ recollects early decent Pulp and is very observational.
‘Art Thief’ opens with big guitars and has the brash style of the 1970’s New York Dolls, while ‘Square One’ is much softer, very English again and also autobiographical. ‘Christo and Jeanne–Claude’ is well delivered and is like a solid 1970’s Bowie or Cockney Rebel number.
‘Something and Nothing' is a slow burner, melodical and recollects early Divine Comedy. ‘Theme 15’ is a short sci-fi like instrumental, which ends the album in a pleasant manner
Anyone can write a song. Learn three chords in a couple of weeks, buy a rhyming dictionary and knock something out. For your next song, add a new chord, maybe a minor one, they are good. Read a book, watch a film and borrow an idea for the lyrics. This is how many songs are written - they are almost constructed. It doesn't mean that they are bad songs, it just means they didn't demand to be written, they were conjured into being. But there are people who write songs because they have to, because there is an itch demanding to be scratched, an energy which has to be dissipated somehow. I suspect Vinny Peculiar is such a songwriter. Other People Like Me is his 9th (I think) album, and whilst I'm pretty sure he will carry on writing and recording songs, regardless of how well this album does, it's an album that deserves an audience.
There is a deliberate 70's feel to the music throughout Other People Like Me, there are big glammy guitars stomping all over the place and Alice Cooper and Bowie are namechecked before the end of the second song. Add to this the fact that the album was recorded in an analogue studio and you could be forgiven in thinking that this record is an exercise in nostalgia. But even though Peculiar is looking back lyrically and musically, there is a remarkable vitality to the record, an energy and imagination to spare. And there are of course the lines that only Vinny Peculiar could write:
'The tangerine underwear of nubile young mothers, flashing above the bridge of thighs.
Where we hid and gawped and giggled with joy. You naughty boy.'
This could go down very badly with Mr. Peculiar himself, but, lyrically at least, certain songs here bring to mind some of Springsteen's finest (although Springsteen himself rarely, to my knowledge, addresses the coloured underwear of young mothers). They are songs concerned with the past, with people and places from a life lived a long time ago, stripped of highways and americana, and set instead on the bench opposite the Forest Pub, the war memorial next to the dairy on Meadow Lane. What Peculiar understands is that these seemingly nothing places are the centre of the universe, at least for a time, to the people who grow up there. And if there is any justice Vinny Peculiar's new album will receive at least some of the attention usually lavished on Springsteen.
Other People Like Me is a personal and ambitious album, without doubt one of Peculiar's best. And a special mention must go to what is essentially the closing song, Something And Nothing, a beautiful song with the simple refrain: 'It was something of nothing. But it meant everything to me.' Because that's the truth isn't it? It's always the small things in the end. And if you still need any persuasion, remember, this is the man who wrote Jesus Stole My Girlfriend.
IRISH TIMES- Whatever Happened to Vinny Peculiar
***When a hugely talented singer-songwriter has been a ‘best-kept secret' for this long, the temptation to surrender his integrity to the velour-tracksuit end of consumerism must be great. Bluntly, that's not Vinny Peculiar's style. Not for him a clutch of cheesy, anthemic declarations or hollow, imaginary emotions. His are the tragic/comic little stories of rejection, failure, TV programmes and hospital visits that really make up our lives, yet they are told with a poignancy, subtlety and witty eccentricity all too rare in today's mainstream. Working in symbiosis with the lyrics, the musical styles are therefore as eclectic and richly textured as the tales they convey. Ostensibly a collection of rarities and out-takes spanning 1989-2003, this stands up surprisingly well as an album for existing fans and, for the uninitiated, an excellent introduction.
Whatever Happened To Vinny Peculiar (Shadrack and
His family know him as Alan Wilkes, but under his musical pseudonym the
Manchester based Ray Davies joins the likes of Stephen Duffy, Jarvis
Cocker, Billy Bragg, Chris Difford and Morrissey as one of the few
distinctively English voices in contemporary music, even if he does
have a clear fondness for old school country in his melodies and
Babybird is probably the nearest comparison (though you might add Badly
Drawn Boy if you subtract the Springsteen) and he does a nice line in
self-deprecating deadpan humour that's seen him dubbed a musical answer
to Tony Hancock for his witty vignettes of everyday small town life and
Not the official follow-up to Growing Up With Vinny Peculiar, this is a
collection of out takes, obscurities and alternate versions that have
stockpiled between 1989 and 2003. Laced with trademark ruminations on
life, love, failure and, on the bitter Showcase Time and Big Star's
ironic cabaret pop, fame, it's far more than some shelf-clearing
Favourite Boy-Girl Song brings Bolan and the Sufer Furries together
over a warm shandy, Jesus Stole My Girlfriend is a witty variation on
the love triangle ("we go to bed but we don't make love because her
thoughts are lost to the one above") while the stripped down acoustic
Big Grey Hospital is an altogether more serious look at "lives destroyed
by institutions", sharing thematic concerns with the spare How Come The
Revolution and the spangly rock operatic Operation.
Elsewhere Slow Television is a bluesy slow pulse that borrows Bowie's
Five Years drum beat (and the singer's slur) for a scalpel sharp
dissection of a tacky medium as life metaphor while Uno Disco is the
song that could have saved Pulp's career and Working Class Escape the
number that would have put a golden sheen on This is Hardcore. But then
most artists would kill to be able to come up with material Vinny keeps
in his also ran drawer.
Whatever Happened To Vinny Peculiar?
SHADRACK & DUXBURY
4 stars ****
Superb collection of offcuts and obscurities spanning 1989-2003
Belying its inferior connotations – and with new LP Revolt Into Style imminent - this selection of outtakes and alternate versions is uniformly excellent. Peculiar (aka Manchester-based Brummie Alan Wilkes) is clearly a waggish Northern humorist in the same vein as Morrissey, but delivers his tragi-comic asides with the menace of Luke Haines and the doomed allure of Ian McCulloch. Already some years old, "Showcase Time" and "Slow Television" are prescient, damning indictments of Generation X-Factor, whilst "Uno Disco" is a smart exercise in cabaret-glam. Touchingly too, the institution-railing "Big Grey Hospital" recounts the fate of his late schizophrenic brother to disquieting effect.
Songwriting’s Angel of the Odd, Vinny Peculiar is like a celestial observer of the small, unseen dramas of daily life, dramas which can so quickly turn to crises. His sage approach is to comment but not to interfere, with a cautionary tone that says, ‘you know how this’ll turn out, don’t you?’ Two Fat Lovers is a tale of love in a time of mortgage-slavery, healthless food and endless reality TV, a tragicomic ode to gluttonous cushion-farters everywhere. The lilting guitar chords and nodding rhythm lend a suitably touching and melancholic soundtrack to the lovers’ oblivious lives, while Peculiar notes, "as the years pass them by, they get the nasty friction burn to the thigh.”. Curiously old-fashioned yet very much of our time, this is vintage Vinny
'Ironing The Soul' (Uglyman)
When people attach a label like
'quintessentially English' to a
musician, more often than not it's
seen as a polite description of an
artist whose appeal stops at the border (and frequently well before that). Vinny Peculiar should not be saddled with such a description. Characteristically, he is
indeed the most English of contemporary songwriters - confessional, deadpan and with the driest of humour - but he harnesses an appeal that is essentially global.
Documenting tales of romance (the truly striking 'Jesus Stole My GirHriend'), unrequited love ('A Beautiful Woman In Public Sector Management') and, with a uniquely edgy whisper, death ('Suicide Dad'), 'Ironing The Soul' is a splendid album. Weaving an impressive montage of stories together with a host of well-drawn characters, all different yet all strangely connected through their apparent separation from society, Vinny Peculiar has run his wand through the underbelly of society and unearthed a collection of heart-warming lales that can't help but draw comparisons with Nick Cave. It may have been made in England yet 'Ironing The Soul' is instantly accessible wherever you are; it is musical poetry personified."""" Matt Brown Logo Magazine
One has to go back to Robyn Hitchcock in his mad 1980s days to find cheeky song titles like "We didn't paint our nails when we fought the Germans" or "We tried to drown our music teacher in 1974." It's a kind of nutty, easy charm that only the English engage in. I blame the Goon Show and Python. But like Hitchcock, Vinny Peculiar balances things with a gentility that embraces masturbators, God's receptionists, pedal steel melancholics, and graffiti bandits. There's an overriding feeling of youth just a few years on, a couple decades under their belt and hindsight already starting to kick in, that moment when you realize that being "attracted to the politics of freedom" isn't the same as being free. This is "Punk Rock Dreaming" with a "stake inside your heart." Clothed in the same soft fabric as Prefab Sprout's Two Wheels Good or Stephen Duffy's Lilac Time , Peculiar offers a lot to grow up on, heady chamber pop with a humorous edge. Less twee (or self-hatingly arch) that, say, Belle and Sebastian, Vinny employs the mechanics of angst to mine the passions that explode when one is young. If I were 20 years younger I'd already be locked up in my room with this on repeat. As it is, it made me happy sad in the very best of ways.
Vinny Peculiar “Growing Up With…” (Shadrack and Duxbury Records 2004) ¨“Flatter and Deceive,” the opening track from the last album by the “mild-mannered male nurse called Alan Wilkes” aka Vinny Peculiar, was one of the songs of 2002 – self deprecating, nostalgiac and uplifting to the point of sentimental self destruction (for the listener at least), it showed the levels of approaching brilliance Wilkes can reach with his alter ego when he puts his mind to it. “Growing Up With…” is more of the same on the one hand, but it feels like a more cohesive offering on the other and is perhaps the stronger album of the two. There’s nothing quite as outstanding as the aforementioned opener, but there’s plenty to enjoy all the same. “Confessions of a Sperm Donor” begins with the wonderful couplet “I used to be a feminist, I used to be a freak. Sold my sperm for bus fare I got £15 a week” – and indeed lyrically the album is devastatingly funny and occasionally moving almost right the way through. Songs like “Everlasting Teenage Bedroom” and the New Order-esque “Replica Shirt” slowly build into americana-tinged anthems of elation and firm belief, often underlined by an implied if not overt political vibe which hints at his past history as a Labour Party (back when it was a labour party) activist – there’s a rebellious streak of course that goes to the heart of Vinny Peculiar’s music, most evident on tracks like “Root Mull” (about a graffiti artist causing havoc through an over-indulgent town) and “Punk Rock Dreaming.” His skills at social commentary are second to none, perhaps to be expected given his background, but that doesn’t stop it being impressive from listen to listen – his tapestries of society and characters draw you in time and time again. Occasionally, it feels a little too syrupy musically – the female vocals can be a bit too sweet, the harmonies a little too Carpenters – but it’s a deep and intelligent album despite that, and really deserves to be taken seriously in its own right, genre pigeonholding notwithstanding. Mark Whitfield
UNCUT ALMOST FAMOUS FEATURE
Manchester mental nurse turned 'Tony Hancock of Pop'
Wasn't he in Durutti Column? Nay lad, that'll be Vini Reilly, though our Vinny also hails from the north and shares the same muse of deadpan glibness as other singersongwriters raised beneath the Trans-Pennine drizzle, notably Pulp's Jarvis Cocker and the Grand-Duchy of Glum himself, Morrissey. Last year, Uncut summed him up by declaring, "if Tony Hancock made pop records they'd have sounded like this': His humour is grim right enough, so it's no surprise that his record label. Shadrack & Duxbury, takes its name from the firm of undertakers in Billy Liar. And when not singing sweet ditties about failing to drown his Bowie-hating music teacher in 1974, he works shifts as a psychiatric nurse.
Why haven't I heard of him? Probably because he's an old Labour Party activist who doesn't believe in swapping his principles for a wad of cash and five seconds on CO:UK. In fact, "give or take the odd broken-hearted gap", he's been writing and recording bittersweet songs of exceptional poignancy for the past 20 years. Some were self-released collaborations with friends (under aliases like Goldwire and Goodness Gracious), while there have been four proper Peculiar LPs including 2000's spoken word odyssey, NonCompliance, and its excellent follow-up Ironing The Soul, praised in Uncut as "a splendid dose of self-deprecating mirth somewhere between Badly Drawn Boy and Babybird':
So what's he all about? Songs like "I Work For God" and "Jesus Stole My Girlfriend" explore religion, history and personal relationships with equal measures of wit and pathos, while "Suicide Dad"takes a scalpel to New Labour and the Child Support Agency. He describes his latest album, Growing Up With Vinny Peculiar as "a mix of myths and misdemeanours, disembowelled personal history and scrapbook confessionals':
And the tunes? Think easy-listening melodies fleshed out with rippling guitars, gentle flutes, Farfisa organ, programmed drums and imaginative samples, Maudlin Mancs can see Vinny compering and performing at his regular night, the Kitchen-Sink Disco, held the last Friday of every month at the Star & Garter pub. The rest of us can catch him live when he tours the UK in February and March.
Growing Up With Vinny Peculiar (S&D)
'home truths wrapped in melody'
Listening to Vinny Peculiar makes you realise that 99 out of 100 singers, including some of your favourite ones, don't inhabit the real, recognisable world, Vinny, however, is thoroughly in tune with the modem world. He considers the ethical problems posed by IVF in 'Confessions of a Sperm Donor', and 'Replica Shirt' makes a case for football as the definitive statement of the human condition. Instead of angst, the dominant emotion here is poignancy. Instead of power chords, the music is gentle and tuneful. Honest, witty, incomparably savvy about pop culture, Vinny's songs make you smile and for the duration of three minutes plus, they manage to make the world a better place.
(8) MIKE BUTLER - City Life
IRISH TIMES Tony Clayton-Lea
Ironing the Soul Hug Records *** Manchester must just be full of melancholy quirky singer songwriters these days and here’s another to add to that lengthy list. Vinny Peculiar [as opposed to Vinny ha ha?] is Alan Wilkes and Ironing the Soul is a minor delight; a charm fest of songs populated by marginal figures and dysfunctional personalities. Suicide Dad [‘hosepipe or analgesic, tell your mummy I feel sick’] is about as bleak and Smiths like as it gets but the best aspect here is the leavening effect of Peculiars dour Mancunian humour. As such he finds in even in the most mordant scenarios a witticism and a pun. Musically it’s quite textured- a full if subtle band sound with lots of handclaps and instrumental charisma. A reference point? Like Vic Chestnutt tooled up for an armed robbery.
Over the years, your reviewer's broadly held the belief that the strangest of professions are breeding grounds for the best pop stars. Let's face it, if it wasn't for the gravediggers we'd probably never have had Joe Strummer, Dave Vanian or, er, Rod Stewart, while the teaching profession's thrown up brilliant weirdness ranging from Bob Pollard from Guided By Voices to Killdozer's Michael Gerald. Yes, I guess it also accounts for Sting, but hey: no argument's foolproof, right?
Anyway, one unlikely profession that has previously produced a couple of superb performers (admittedly from different ends of the spectrum) is psychiatric nursing. After all, both Thom Yorke and Kevin Coyne have served rock'n'roll and all its' foibles well and we'd be considerably poorer without either's back catalogue.
But now a third name should also be added to that list. You probably haven't heard of a mild-mannered male nurse called Alan Wilkes, but in his stage capacity as VINNY PECULIAR, there's every chance you will run across him. Certainly if he continues to make records as rich and strange as his debut "Ironing The Soul."
Actually, Vinny's just released this album's follow-up, but first things first. Vinny/ Alan's based in Liverpool and has rightly been receiving a small acre of good press for "Ironing The Soul." Indeed, from the opening track "Flatter And Deceive" alone, you know you're onto something good as there aren't many people doing this on a small budget with the audacity to kick off with a mini-Spectorian epic, replete with piano, gospel choir, strings and big tambourines. Lyrically, he's very witty and droll too, as lines like: "I'd go to festivals, I'd go abroad, I've still got "Sleeping Gas", but not "Reward" prove.
Actually, if you're fond of pithy British wordsmiths such as Jarvis Cocker, Luke Haines and - especially - Steven Jones of Baby Bird, then the chances are Vinny will be your bag. Tracks like "Suicide Dad", the amusing sexual fumblings of "Dirty Weekend" and "Jesus Stole My Girlfriend" are all well-observed and couple pretty melodies (a little Fender Rhodes here, some expressive pedal steel there) with descriptive narratives. "Dirty Weekend" (sample lyric: "I played the Gigolo, you played the whore") especially, wouldn't be too out of place on Pulp's "His And Hers" and is even better for taking place in Scarborough.
So far, so pastiche, you could say, but that would be to sell Vinny short as he's clearly a keen observer of life on his lonesome and for all their surface wit and sardonic asides, there's an affecting emotional pull to "Ironing The Soul"s best songs such as "Forgive Me" and the closing "My Father The Organist". Both songs touch on Vinny's favourite obsessions: religion and mental health and both are truly excellent. The first opens with the killer couplet: "Who stole the Christmas money from your Gran? Now it's too late to pay it back, she's dead and gone" and gets even better. The fact it's hitched to a sublime melody doesn't exactly harm its' chances either. "My Father The Organist," meantime, is a fine way to sign off: a low-key acoustic confessional with echoes of early Bowie and a simple, but beautifully-observed paean to the inevitable betrayal of faith.
OK, so in places it doesn't quite work so well - the fraught drama-pop with OTT Glam guitars of "Mr.Low" is merely average, while Vinny's attempts to become the North-West's equivalent of Nick Cave on "Operation" also come to a sticky end - but overall "Ironing The Soul" is a notable calling card from a man whose background has no doubt helped him to cut into life's viccissitudes with the effectiveness of a fresh scalpel. Entrusting your ears to his tender care may well prove entirely beneficial
Recorded in a "cathartic fit of despair" at home on a four-track over the winter of 2000/ 2001, VINNY PECULIAR'S second album "Non-Compliance" is something of a departure and certainly a rugged route march away from the sardonically catchy guitar pop he's moulded into his own image over the past few years.
Alone, intimate and almost voyeuristically personal, the 14 songs here are stark exercises in minimalism, delivered by Vinny in monologue style, with usually only the sparest of keyboard frills for company. Aside from a little textural work on "God Spot", no guitars are detectable at all and the early hours confessional style recalls the maverick likes of John Cale, Julian Cope and Baby Bird's Steven Jones.
And, it must be said, it's wholly introverted stuff. Indeed, if you're expecting the guitar hooks and pithy wordplay you'd usually associate with one of Vinny's records then my advice is to close the door quietly and slip out now. However, if you're drawn to darker nights of the soul, you should definitely stick around, for then there's plenty to relate to.
Opener "Billy Fisher" gives you some idea of the record's looming presence. Built around a nighmare-ish ambient drone, it's the down side of the cheery Billy Liar-style persona of someone who's based their life around deception and is a strange, obsessive reminiscence. "I have created so many lies to justify my weakness" mutters Vinny as the hairs begin to stand to attention on your neck.
"War All The Time"s up next and it's about as close to pop - albeit in a diseased, numbed-out form - as "Non-Compliance" gets, with low-key beats entering the equation. Actually, it recalls the kind of atmospheric setting Martin Hannett used to create for John Cooper Clarke and finds Vinny picking at the scabs of domestic disharmony. "The Christmas crackers are exploding in your face, but you were never here and I was never there in the first place", he relates with both sadness and a tangible air of bitterness.
Domestic unhappiness also creeps into tracks like "Evil Nature" and "Payback Time". The former is very reminiscent of Baby Bird's home recorded albums and finds Vinny suggesting "we buried each other deep in resentment", while "Payback Time" is an ultra-fatalistic mantra which ends in a swirl of electronic locusts and is truly dislocated. Indeed, even when Vinny brightens the corners musically (like on "Uncomfortable" which has a tinge of Xmas and what I think could be a celeste) it's usually in alliance with half-whispered, regret-fuelled musings. The end results are often unsettling, but wholly captivating all at once.
Typically, religion gets a look in on "God Spot" and the kooked-out "Baby Jehovah", where Vinny indulges in a Dylan/ Kerouac-esque stream of consciousness ("Word salad crumbles in vacuum-cleaner cash cow"), while "The Last Day Of Cool" is not a million miles away from the semi-autobiographical set-pieces of the recent VP album "Growing Up With...." Indeed, with its' school-bound scenario ("On the last day of school I set fire to the volleyball nets with a borrowed cigarette lighter"), it's almost the flipside of that album's "We Tried To Drown Our Music Teacher In 1974" and could also be viewed as a blueprint for "Growing Up"s similarly prank-filled "Egg Incident."
So it's undeniable "Non-Compliance" requires a leap of faith if you're expecting a further bout of Vinny Peculiar's bittersweet songs about love, life and loathing. However, the album's superficial miserablism can't destroy the insight and inspiration that's become the hallmark of all Vinny's releases and thus "Non-Compliance" is another worthy addition to a fascinating canon of work. TIM PEACOCK