Creation Records’ Alan McGee is quoted as saying, “Liverpool in the ’80s was like Hollywood to me. The Wild Swans were part of the greatness of that city.” The Wild Swans released one single in 1982 with the help of Echo & the Bunnymen’s drummer Pete de Freitas who not only played drums on The Revolutionary Spirit, but also put up the money for the recording studio. The Wild Swans were the brainchild of former Teardrop Explodes keyboard player Paul Simpson. That first legendary single was nearly the end of the Wild Swans even though it was universally acclaimed. The band fell apart around the time their label Zoo ceased.
Simpson reformed the Wild Swans in the late 80’s with a new line-up, signed to Sire Records in the US and had a few minor college hits with Young Manhood and Melting Blue Delicious. After two albums, once again Simpson saw his band disintegrate around him. Both times Simpson was not ready for it to be over. He still had some kind of burning desire. He felt as though he had not yet done what he had set out to accomplish, but it seemed as if the Wild Swans tale had come to and end, until four years ago when Simpson declared on the Wild Swans mySpace:
“This unhappy band has been unfinished business for me for over 20 years, haunting my days and nights, obsessing my thoughts at the expense of my health and sanity. I never got over the sudden implosion of the first incarnation and was devastated by the crash and burn of the second. In returning from the ambient wilderness I am not trying to recreate the unique sound of any of the former members, how could I? It is the original spirit of the group I am after, the original blueprint for an English electric brotherhood. I formed and named the band shortly after leaving The Teardrop Explodes back in 1980, individually recruiting the members and establishing both the look and the compass direction. I lived and breathed The Wild Swans Mk. I and was traumatised to see it seized and taken from me, so this shouldn’t be viewed as a reformation or even an exorcism, it is a continuum; different but the same”
Over the last four years a new Wild Swans has taken form. Unbeknownst to most of us, Simpson hand picked his band, tapping former Echo and the Bunnymen bassist Les Pattinson, Ricky Maymi of Brian Jonestown Massacre, Mike Mooney of Spiritualized and Steve Beswick formerly of the Heart Throbs. Simpson has taken his time with Wild Swans mark III, but his methodical, deliberate approach has paid off with the best record of his career.
The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years is an album that plays like a nostalgic love letter to his home town of Liverpool. The record begins with Falling to Bits begins which acts as both a roll call and a wake up call, “This town is falling to bits and I don’t like it” Simpson sings. His blood is boiling, but he’s older and wiser. Wise enough to know that if he’s got the pop hooks, you will pay attention. The next song Liquid Mercury swoops in and feels like your at the pub recalling old times with Pattinson’s throbbing bass in background. Chloroform goes further back in time with Simpson recalling stories of his grandfather in WW I, his father in WW II, and himself buying old army boots from the vintage shop. Simpson has an axe to grind with the present, alluding to the fact that we’ve never known hardship and how everything is cheapened and taken for granted because we’ve never suffered or sacrificed. He pines for an English Electric Brotherhood, but his land is infected as he sings in English Electric Lightening.
When Time Stood Still sees Simpsons speeding back to his boyhood home, hoping he can make it back home with bald tires and burnt out break light. He’s aging and wonders if he can ever get back to the time of his childhood feeling as though he’s missed his chance to spark this Electric Brootherhood himself. You get the feeling he’s doomed to nothing but futile sadness in his endeavor and the music’s ringing guitars evoke a happy sadness that comes with all this nostalgia and missed opportunity.
But wait, it’s not all depressing and hopeless. The song Underwater comes along midway with its beautiful and silvery guitars to buoy our spirits even though Simpson feels like he’s drowning underwater. It’s a weird respite to the album, because although he sings about drowning, he’s telling us about amazing stingrays, coral, octopi, and a girl that saved him from the depths. Does he still have hope for the future, or just hope for himself? Intravenous continues the respite from the concept album. Love has temporarily distracted him from his dourness.
Like all loves though, you eventually settle into day to day life and the romance that temporarily took you over subsides into day to day life, and your concerns and worries trickle back into your conscious. Glow In the Dark is that song, and it’s sinewy guitars evoke those feelings exactly. After the transition, we return to present day reality with My Town. Simpson sings, “My town use to fill my head with wonder, now it fills me with disgust…like Sleeping Gas and Do It Clean. It’s dead, it’s over now.” referring to the halcyon days of Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen.
Can it ever come back, or are we on a slow decline to a vapid society? Will the forests and flowers that once flourished where shopping centers and airports currently exist ever return? Simpson holds out hope as quintilian of atoms cluster and collide on The Bluebell Wood. The album closes with a second glimmer of hope. A short classical epilogue that conjures an image of a butterfly coming out of it’s cocoon.
Bands reform these days on regular basis, but few reform with something to say. The Wild Swans most definitely have something to say, and they say it such an elegant engaging manner. They never had the fan-base to make reforming a money making endeavor, they did it because they had some some unfinished business, something to say. A hungry band in the autumn of their years, making the best album of their career.