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Wild Swans - Liquid Mercury

  by John Clarkson

published: 29 / 11 / 2009

Wild Swans - Liquid Mercury
Label: Occultation Recordings
Format: 7"


Evocative and reflective new single from reformed Liverpool-based group, the Wild Swans

When the reformed Liverpool-based group the Wild Swans returned this summer with ‘English Electric Lightning’, their first single in over twenty years, they finally lived up to all the immense promise that they had long hinted at, but which until then had evaded them. The Wild Swans drew brief notoriety in 1982 with their debut single, ‘The Revolutionary Spirit’. Although ‘The Revolutionary Spirit’ was poorly recorded, its A side in mono and its B side, ‘God Forbid’, in stereo, its sparkling combination of chiming guitars, spiralling keyboards and singer Paul Simpson’s lofty vocals won it instant acclaim in the British music press and several ‘Singles of the Week’. The Wild Swans, however, broke up shortly after its release in sudden acrimony. Although they reformed in 1985, and subsequently released two albums, 1988’s ‘Bringing Out the Ashes’ and 1990’s ‘Space Flower’, neither recording had the grandeur or the magic of ‘The Revolutionary Spirit’. ‘English Electric Lightning’ was, however, splendid. A six minute ethereal-sounding paean to everything in history including Johnny Rotten, Geoffrey Chaucer and Margaret Thatcher that Simpson thought was good and bad about Britain, it had the same sense of epicness as ‘The Revolutionary Spirit’, but, better recorded and less lyrically abstract, was the stronger record. Its B side, ‘The Coldest Winter in a Hundred Years’, was equally powerful, a spoken word monologue taken from Simpson's forthcoming autobiography and, which set against a backdrop of shimmering guitars and keyboards, told of the early years of the Wild Swans in 1981 and 1982 and Simpson’s experiences living in a dilapidated, tiny Liverpool flat with Echo and the Bunnymen’s then drummer, the late Pete de Freitas. Simpson has admitted that he has never got over the sense of loss and betrayal he felt at the Wild Swans’ early collapse after ‘The Revolutionary Spirit’. For his latest single, ‘Liquid Mercury’, which comes before an album which is due out in the middle of next year, he has returned again in his thoughts to the early 80s and the initial incarnation of the Wild Swans. ‘Liquid Mercury’ in other ways as well has a similar symmetry to ‘English Electric Lightning’, being released on vinyl, this time on 7” rather than 10”, and, while its A side is again sung, its B side, ‘The Wickedest Man in the World’, is another spoken word piece. ‘Liquid Mercury’ is a wistful ballad, which, with swirling pangs of guitar, and soft flurrying wheezes of keyboard, has Simpson half mournfully, half nostalgically looking back on those early years of bedsit living and recalling the Wild Swans’ original guitarist, Jem Kelly (“Rodney Street, 8 pounds a week was ankle deep in snow/And ‘J’ was there with flaming hair, I couldn’t let it go.”). It is lovely and, at two and a half minutes in length and one of the shorter songs in the Wild Swans’ canon, breezes by quickly and seems over almost as soon as it has begun. As good as it is, one is left, however, feeling that Simpson and his realigned group are just warming up for ‘The Wickedest Man in the World’, which proves to be amongst the most powerful and is certainly the most poignant song that Simpson and the Wild Swans have recorded. Written shortly after the death of his father in 2002, it tells of a walk as New Year’s Eve turns into New Year’s Day along a murky River Mersey (“The River Mersey/70 miles of chocolate coloured sludge/dead cats and condoms.”). Simpson is in dark, reflective mode as Ricky Reni Maymi, Mike Mooney and Les Pattinson’s cascading guitars and Ged Quinn’s tumbling, jazzy rushes of keyboard vibrate against each other. After thinking about a girl, nude, that he once slept with, and then the harrowing memory of his father laid out, hours dead, he reflects, “What happened to me? /I used to catch midnight boats to the Hoek of Holland/make love to punk schoolgirls in shower cubicles/ drink Benylin for kicks/steal poetry, do acid for breakfast.” The circumstances and the events might be different, but Simpson might be speaking for middle-aged men, aware increasingly of their own mortality and with a sense that time is running out for them, anywhere and everywhere. When he concludes some moments later in the chorus at the end of the song, “For me, each year gets just a little tougher to get through/the regime just a little tighter/ the stars a little more distant”, the effect is both spine tingling and heartbreaking. With ‘English Electric Lightning’, Paul Simpson and the Wild Swans released one of the early contenders for a single of the year. With ‘Liquid Mercury’, they have come up with something which is every bit its equal.

Track Listing:-
1 Liquid Mercury
2 The Wickedest Man In The World

Label Links:-

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Interview (2011)
Wild Swans - Interview
John Clarkson speaks to Paul Simpson from Liverpool post-punk band the Wild Swans about his group's first album in twenty two years, 'The Coldest Winter For a Hundred Years'
Interview (2009)
Interview (2003)

live reviews

Static Gallery, Liverpool, 23/7/2009
Wild Swans - Static Gallery, Liverpool, 23/7/2009
Guest writer Alan O'Hare watches the reformed Wild Swans make a stunning return to the stage after a twenty one year absence at the first night of a two evening residency at the Static Gallery in their home town of Liverpool

digital downloads



English Electric Lightning (2009)
Magnificent ten inch vinyl only single from Liverpool-based group the Wild Swans, who, reforming after an absence of two decades, have at last matched their early enormous possibility

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