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Vinny Peculiar - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 24 / 4 / 2019

Vinny Peculiar - Interview


Singer-songwriter Vinny Peculiar talks to John Clarkson about his latest solo album 'Return of the Native', his forthcoming tour and the album he is working on with a new band project.

Cult singer-songwriter Vinny Peculiar is presently undergoing an especially productive period in his long career. The former mental nurse released last year his fourteenth album 'Return of the Native' in his recording career which began in 1998. A concept album inspired by his return to his native Worcestershire after many years of being based in Manchester, it opens with 'The Grove and the Ditch', in which he looks back with bittersweet nostalgia on his teenage years in the early and mid-1970s, where, amidst youth gang wars, he attended discos in his village's cricket club and walked miles there and back to see T. Rex at gig at a local venue. 'Malvern Winter Gardener' captures the plight of an ex-rock star now scratching out a living as a gardener in the former venue in Malvern where his band once headlined. 'The Singing Schoolteacher' tells of a different music star, Peculiar's one-time English teacher Clifford T. Ward, who after leaving teaching had a briefly successful worldwide career as a folk star. Both 'On Rainbow Hill' and 'Game Over', which come towards the end of the album, reflect with stark, often brutal honesty on the long-term relationship break-up that precipitated his return to Worcestershire, and find a guilt-ridden Peculiar taking all the blame for the romance's demise. Vinny Peculiar will be spending May on a lengthy tour across the UK in supoort of fellow singer-songwriter Wreckless Eric. On top of this, Peculiar is currently working on a band album. Peculiar's previous group Parlour Flames, which also featured ex-Oasis guitarist Paul 'Bonehead' Arthurs, released an eponymous album before splitting in 2013, and the new group has been born out of the ashes of that group, featuring as well as Peculiar on vocals and guitars its other members, Ollie Collins on bass and cello, Rob Steadman on keyboards and Che Beresford on drums. In our fifth interview with him, Pennyblackmusic spoke to Vinny Peculiar about 'Return of the Native', the tour with Wreckless Eric and his new group. PB: Your last album ‘Silver Meadows’ was a concept album about a mental institution. Many of the songs on ‘Return of the Native’ were inspired by your return to Worcestershire after many years away. Did you set out intentionally to write a second concept album? VP: No, I don’t think that I did. It just happened that way (Laughs), I suppose because I was reminded by moving back there of my past memories of the Midlands. It was more of a fluke, but once I got three or four songs written it seemed to work. All of the songs are based around and near where I am now which is Worcester itself. ‘The Grove and the Ditch’, for example, is a song about turf wars and gang wwarfare which was very prevalent when I was at school. In the Lower Sixth I would regularly get chased by someone confusing me as a gang member (Laughs). That comes partly from personal experience, but for the purposes of songwriting I have dolled it up a bit. All the references in that song, such as the Winter of Discontent and Tony Blackburn’s emotional meltdown on Radio 1, are from the period in the early and mid-‘70s when I was at secondary school. I suppose it is quite memory-centric really, which seems to happen a lot with my stuff actually (Laughs). PB: Your upbringing and coming of age has provided you with a lot of songwriting material over the years, and none more so than on his album. Your childhood and teenage years don’t seem to have been especially dysfunctional and quite normal really, but you do make the ordinary extraordinary. Why do you think that you keep returning to your childhood and teens in your songwriting? VP: I guess that is a more powerful period than you realise at the time. It helps you make connections with yourself as an adult. Interestingly, however, the next record, my new band project, which I am just finishing now is very much set in the here and now. I have dropped some of that for the new record. PB: Much of the music on ‘Return of the Native’ has a 1970’s glam rock or psychedelic sound. Was that again conscious? VP: I like glam rock a lot. I did an album where I did what I thought was my best shot at glam rock called ‘Other People Like Me’ some years ago, but I wanted that relentless driving, thumping, clapping, tsunamic thing on ‘Return of the Native’. There is a song called ‘Man Out of Time’ on the new album which is again very glam rock with a big riff and lots of clapping and chanting. I am a sucker for a little bit of post-Sweet magic (Laughs). PB: The character of the briefly famous rock star you describe on ‘Malvern Winter Gardener’ is another reoccurring theme because you also had a character like that in ‘Never Heard of You’ on the Parlour Flames album. You will have met plenty of rock stars. Have you come across lots of characters like that? VP: The character in the Parlour Flames song was someone that I knew quite well when I was living in Manchester, but the character in ‘Malvern Winter Gardener’ is more imagined . It comes from a whole load of conversations that I have been having in local musical shops. Whenever I have been looking at guitars there has always been someone wanting to talk about Ted Turner from Wishbone Ash living in Malvern. I was a big fan of Wishbone Ash when I was a teenager, and that intrigued me a lot. I name check Ted Turner in ‘Malvern Winter Gardener’. A couple of the people that i have met in music shops told me that the cover of the Wishbone Ash album ‘Argus’ was shot on the Malvern Hills and I believed them so referenced that in the song, but I have now been corrected. Someone has been emailing me saying that the cover of ‘Argus’ was actually shot in Spain, so I got that one wrong (Laughs). PB: The Singing Schoolteacher’ is about the folk singer Clifford T. Ward, who was a teacher at your secondary school before his music career took off. How well did you know him and did he teach you? VP: He taught me English for a year, and then I went on to a different English teacher. He was great. He had incredibly long hair which endeared him to all the lads in the school, and he took quite a maverick approach to teaching. If you didn’t want to be there he would say, “It’s poetry today. You can go and do something else if you are not interested in being here. I don’t care.” (Laughs). Immediately all the kids thought, “Oh My God, what is going on?” Then we all stayed and knuckled down for him. He was coming to the end of his teaching career and his music career was about to take off. That song was just based on the fact that I knew him pretty well at school. I loved Paul Simon and we had lots of musical chats about him. Almost as soon as he left our school he had a Top 10 hit with a song called ‘Gay’, which was a sort of ballad. It was a big deal locally when he was on ‘Top of the Pops’. Pretty much everyone who knew him at school was watching it. We all felt had made it in a funny kind of way when that happened, and that comes across in the song. PB: Your songs have always been a mixture of the true and the imaginary, but both ‘On Rainbow Hill’ and ‘Game Over’ seem to be your most confessional and probably deeply personal songs since ‘And Then the Darkness’,which was about the death of your uncle and is on the Parlour Flames album. You’re pretty tough on yourself in them. Did you have think hard before putting them on the album? VP: Yeah, I did. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. In fact I wrote quite a few songs of that sort of ilk, but only two made it onto the album. I thought I could live with those two. They are quite frank and open-ended. I don’t know if that is a good thing at times. I sometimes think that these things are better disguised. I tend to just run with a direct approach to writing, and see what comes out. In a perverse way even though a song like ‘Game Over’ is quite a harsh song it has been quite cathartic too. They have both been part of the moving on process. PB: You have a new band project... VP: It is a new band made with the musicianS from the Parlour Flames record. It is a lot more noisy than the stuff I have been doing recently. It has a more expansive sound, more of a guitar wig-out vibe. PB: Does it feature all the same line-up who were originally in Parlour Flames? VP: It is Parlour Flames minus Bonehead. He was going to do something and play on it, but he ran out of time. I have written all the songs, but it has been great to bounce ideas more consistently off a band. It has been much more collaborative, and is much more integrated with the musicians. We have done a lot of that thing where with the benefit of the internet we can send files and parts to each other, and that is the way we have formulated this record . PB: Are you going to call yourselves Parlour Flames? VP: No, we are not. We have got a couple of names lined up but we are not quite sure yet. I think I know what we are going to be called, but we are saving the name until the album is done, and then we will make some kind of announcement and crack on with the inevitable grind of social media (Laughs). PB: When do you see this album coming out? VP: We are just finishing the album now, and would like to put the album out before Christmas and ideally in September. It is a very crowded market before Christmas, so there may be some merit in waiting until January next year. It will give us time to make videos and do all the things that we need to do. PB: You said that this album is set in the here and now... VP: It has been very much inspired by watching a lot of episodes of ‘Newsnight’, and the modern political catastrophe that we find ourselves in. There is a real element of political disquiet running through it. I didn’t vote for Brexit. I voted to remain but it is not strictly just about Brexit. It looks at the absurdity of present day political life, and some of the expectations that we have on politicians, and the way the system works rather than the way it is meant to work. I don’t have any answers. I just have some observations about the absurdity of the situation (Laughs). PB: How did the tour with Wreckless Eric come about? VP: I supported him in Manchester, and then I supported him in Worcester. At the Worcester gig we went out for food before the gig, had a nice chat and he watched my gig. He was very complimentary, and then the opportunity came up to support him on this tour and I was more than happy to do so. I am doing ten dates with him across May. I am looking forward to it. They are a nice crowd are Eric’s crowd. The shows we did before were well-received. It is going to be nice to do a tour that I haven’t had to organise as well. The gigs are all over the place as well which is great because it is good to play in different areas. The problem with organising things yourself is that it can be a bit hit and miss in terms of how it goes. Manchester and Liverpool are usually good, but in other eras there can be less of an uptake. It depends upon how well known you are in a certain demographic. PB: Do you have any other plans for the future? VP: I have a number of acoustic songs, and I am pestering my daughter about singing some of them with me. She is so busy but has a nice voice and that may or may not happen. My main focus after this tour is, however, the band album. PB: Thank you.

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Vinny Peculiar - Interview

Vinny Peculiar - Interview

Vinny Peculiar - Interview

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