It must be every band’s dream to have been championed by John Peel, broadcast god of new music. When Pete Wylie played a live session with his band Wah! Peel introduced them on air as ‘the mighty Wah!’ they became superheroes overnight. And the name stuck.
Wah!, Wah! Heat and The Mighty Wah! names have changed over the years, but Pete Wylie has been at the heart of all incarnations. He describes himself as “Part-time rock star, full-time legend”. If you trace the Liverpool family tree for the art indie-scene in the 1980s you’ll find Pete cropping up all over the place. He was there the night cult punk venue Eric’s was raided, performing with The Psychedelic Furs, no less. He befriended Mick Jones and supported The Clash on tour in Paris 1981, and he collaborated with Bill Drummond from The KLF.
Talking to me from the steps of Disgraceland, his “palatial home” in Toxteth, about The Pete Wylie Show, he has dropped the Wah! moniker. What can we expect from the real Pete Wylie? “I’m a one-man theme park” he says. The show will be a mix of recordings and impromptu storytelling “a conversation with the audience, mostly one-sided, like a night out in the best pub in the world.”
Expect some maverick moments. He once toured with The Mystery Girls (homage to New York Dolls) supporting Sham 69 “a punk, skin-head, sub-Clash band.” Dressed in his mother’s nylon, floral blouse and gold-buttoned raincoat with a toilet seat round his middle. He said “it’s the first time I’ve ever seen an audience take a step back.”
There’s a restless energy to his stream-of-consciousness chat which rapidly changes tack. He breaks off to say hello to his cat Iggy and later spots a bassist he hasn’t seen for 10 years “I’m just having a gab” he shouts across the street. It occurs to me I am already in The Pete Wylie Show, this is just another portal.
Will he play an acoustic set? There will be laptop rerecordings of songs, with me playing guitar over the top, he says. The Story of the Blues, Better Scream, Seven Minutes to Midnight – all the comeback songs, bigger than life. “It’s all I could afford” he says playfully, “all my mates are either successful, retired or dead.”
His first band was Crucial Three with Ian McCulloch and Julian Cope, he describes the Liverpool scene at the time: “Eric’s, the club we all met in was a supercollider, we bounced around like a lab film of all those photons and electrons.” He saw The Stranglers for 60p. And the Sex Pistols in November 76 “they weren’t good that night, it was an off performance.” The Clash played in what he calls “the greatest night Eric’s ever had” it changed his life, he went on to roadie for them in London and tour with them in his own right.
One of Pete’s fated charms is to be in the wrong place at the right time. He played Eric’s the night the police raided and shut the venue down. He said: “We knew they were coming, it was horrible, they ripped the place apart. Liverpool’s a hard town but that club was one of the cleanest.” Remarkably, a live recording of the gig exists with Pete’s voice shouting “the police are coming”.
The tape passed into the hands of John Peel and sparked his interest. “I’ve had great luck and terrible luck, but I’m standing here, feeling optimistic” he says – “I’m the anti-Elvis!”
The Pete Wylie Show comes to Worthing’s The Factory Live on Sat 29 Feb 2020.