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Vinny Peculiar - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 16 / 7 / 2020

Vinny Peculiar - Interview


Cult singer-songwriter Vinny Peculiar talks to John Clarkson about his latest solo album 'While You Still Can' and his forthcoming next projects.

“All of a sudden all the elements that we have taken for granted in terms of promotion, selling records and playing gigs have all been thrown off a cliff,” says Vinny Peculiar at one point in his sixth interview with Pennyblackmusic, “and nobody knows how it is going to pan out.” Peculiar is on the phone to Pennyblackmusic to talk about his fifteenth solo album, ‘While You Still Can’, which was released on his own label Shadrack and Duxbury to strong reviews at the end of last year. Once described by’ Uncut’ as “the Tony Hancock of pop,” Peculiar (who was born Alan Wilkes), has been releasing albums of literary pop since 1998 that have combined social concern, irreverent humour, true and not-quite-so-true confessions and nostalgia for his late 60’s/early 70’s upbringing. Since 2016, his recordings have, however, become broader-themed. ‘Silver Meadows’, his album of that year, was inspired by his many years working as a mental health nurse before he went full-time with his music career, and tells of the lives of the staff and patients in an imaginary mental institution. 2018’s ‘Return of the Native’ was influenced by his return to Worcestershire where he spent his formative childhood and teenage years after over three decades living away because of work firstly in Birmingham and then Liverpool and finally Manchester. ‘While You Still Can’ is another ‘concept album’ of sorts, and focuses on the British political landscape in the wake of Brexit. It was recorded with a band of Che Beresford (drums), Ollie Collins (bass guitar) and Rob Steadman (keyboards), who have appeared on many of Peculiar’s albums since the 2013 self-titled only album of Parlour Flames, a short-lived group of his which also featured Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs from Oasis. Opening track ‘Vote for Me’ sets out with black humour a blueprint of much of which is to follow on ‘While You Still Can’, focusing on the soon broken promises and cynical opportunism of politicians, especially at election time. ‘Diane Abbott Takes a Selfie’ reflects on the increasing narcissism of so many of our so-called leaders, who would rather grab a photo opportunity than deal with the major political issues, and ‘Question Time’ tells of a rising MP who suddenly vanishes after being stalked by a mentally ill man. The penultimate track ‘Man Out of Time’ – the one non-political song – is a laugh-out loud funny number about a man who is permanently trapped by the years that have defined him between 1972 and 1975. ‘Let Them All Take Drugs’, the final track, however, closes the album on a dark note, and is about a government’s think tank’s proposal to encourage people to take Class A drugs so that they are less liable to be a political threat. Vinny Peculiar was intending to spend much of this year touring with a new band to promote ‘While You Still Can’, but his plans, like all musicians, have had to go on hold because of the pandemic. He has, however, had a profitable lockdown, working on material, as he reveals to Pennyblackmusic, on two new projects. PB: You have always been concerned with social issues. Do you see ‘While You Still Can’ as your most political album? VINNY PECULIAR: Yes. I have an interest in politics, but normally don’t want to air in public my political views. I think that this is as probably as close on this album that I have come to it (Laughs). PB: Did you set out with ‘While You Still Can’ to write an album with another theme again or did that just develop as you started writing material for it? VP: It happened because at the time I was writing material for it Brexit had just gone through, and the divisions in the country that resulted from it were becoming increasingly more apparent. It automatically became the theme for the album. Although it is not a strictly preachy album, it was informed by the chaos and the uncertainty which we all seems to have drifted into. PB: You name check politicians like Dianne Abbott, David Cameron, Anne Widdecombe and Ed Ball on ‘Diane Abbott Takes a Selfie’. Your main criticism of them seems to be that they are more interested in their public profile rather than the political issues they are meant to be dealing with. VP: I find it bizarre that there is so much personal image-making in politics, and so many well-known people are so interested in promoting what amounts to personal vanity. It is about the rather ridiculous level of political selfies (Laughs). PB: ‘Question Time’ is about a rising politician who may or may not have been murdered by a mentally ill man. Was that inspired by the murder of Jo Cox? VP: Not specifically, no. There are a large number of people who have been stalked and harassed, usually through social media. Death threats are not uncommon on Twitter, and 'Question Time' is an extension of that kind of premise going wrong. It is a fictitious possibility scenario about a woman who is trying to crack on with her life but who is stalked. PB: Possibly the most disturbing track is the last song ‘Let them Take Drugs’ which suggests that some politicians would like to use Class A drugs as a form of social oppression. VP: I read an article about the prevalence of various Class A drugs at various times of radical struggle, such as the Paris riots or the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the writer of the article was arguing that drug legislation was actively relaxed because the more people that were able to take hard drugs the less people were in a position to protest and be serious in terms of challenging the establishment. I built on and extended on that idea in 'Let Them All Take Drugs'. PB: ‘Man Out of Time’ is about someone who has been defined by the years 1972 to 1975. That is a period which you keep returning in your songs and which was the time of your own mid-adolescence. Do you see those years as your happiest time? VP: There is something about the time we get inspired by and discover things, and certainly the teens is often era-defining when it comes to that. That is where our associations end up and we often return to times of excitement and inspiration. I wouldn’t say that it was my happiest time, but it was certainly one of the most memorable (Laughs). PB: You originally planned to release ‘While You Still Can’ under a band name. Why did you decide to release it as a Vinny Peculiar solo album? VP: It is probably the most band-ish album that I have ever done and we thought about it, but in the end Che Beresford and Ollie Collins, while they were both keen, couldn’t commit to it. They are full-time musicians. They are gigging four, five times a week in normal times with bands and going on tour. It was very hard for them to commit to the ongoing creative process and the financial commitment to making and putting out a record, so in the end we carried on doing it the way we have made the last few records together. They played the bass and drums, Rob Steadman played some of the keys, and I sung and played the guitar and the rest of the keyboards. PB: The cover art is spectacular. Where was it taken? VP: They are images taken by the Manchester photographer Paul Cliff. They were all taken in Bury, Manchester, and they are all photographs of the locations and houses of young men who were killed in the First World War, and they are part of a project and an installation that Paul worked on. It just seemed a great fit for the album in terms of the the title as well. There is a bleak sadness in Paul’s photos that none of these lads got to lead a life beyond nineteen years, twenty-two years, however old they were, and these locations are photos of the locations as they are now. PB: You have been spending your time in self-quarantine working on new material. What direction do you see that taking? VP: It has been great having the opportunity to do that at home for such an elongated period. I have got a couple of different projects on the go at the moment. I started a series of songs based on well-known contemporary artists. I have been working on that, and I have also been revisiting some other songs that I have been written over the years but have never released. I have got about twenty old songs or alternative versions of old songs that are currently being mastered by a friend, Dave Marsden, who has produced a lot of my stuff over the years. I am not really sure yet whether it is going to be one new album or a couple of EPs. I am still thinking things through, but hope to release something early next year. PB: Your last three albums have all been themed. Will your next album of new material be entirely about artists? VP: I am not sure. There are a couple of songs that I have written recently that have been inspired by social distancing and quarantine and are about isolation. I have done five or six songs now on the artists’ theme. I have written songs about Francis Bacon, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. I have also got odds and ends of other songs. It may be less thematic this next record, but we will have to wait and see. PB: Are you a person who spends a lot of time in art galleries? VP: I do like art galleries. I go to Tate Liverpool and Tate London quite a lot. That is probably the extent of my gallery-ism (Laughs), and I have been to Leeds Art Gallery a couple of times. I have never trained as an artist, and while I have dabbled I am not particularly good at it. It is, however, always a world that has fascinated me, and there is strange kind of appeal for me in Modernism in particular (Laughs). PB: Are these song biographical sketches or appreciations of the artists involved? VP: They are a bit of both. They involve a bit of biographical summary, but also some personal references too and are about how I have related to them. PB: With regard to these unreleased tracks, how far do they go back? VP: Some of them go back to the ‘90s. I played in various different bands when I was still living in Liverpool. We recorded some really good, high quality demos in studios there as we chased the golden ticket. There was still some money in the music industry then, and like a lot of musicians of that era I was looking to secure a record deal. I put a lot of time into making demos and hawking them around the music industry, but it didn’t work out for me. Some of the demos from that time are going on this outlet collection. PB: Is the rest of the material more recent? VP: Yes, more or less. I thought it would be a good project to work on this year as I thought when I first started it that I would be doing more live gigs and less writing, but because of social isolation and being at home so much I have ended up doing a lot of work on that and starting the project about artists as well. I didn’t think I would have ended up writing that until after a doing wave of band gigs to promote ‘While You Still Can’. It is ironic really because I have just got a great new band, a couple of really great lads and really good players from locally, and we had just been rehearsing and we were about to book some band shows when social isolation came in, so we have got this really well rehearsed band that hasn’t played any gigs yet. Hopefully at some point soon we will be doing band shows again. PB: Thank you. Photos by Joe Singh

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Vinny Peculiar - Interview

Vinny Peculiar - Interview

Vinny Peculiar - Interview

Vinny Peculiar - Interview

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