Manchester, England indie-pop star goes glam on new record
By Jeff Maisey
American fans of Brit-pop and the long celebrated Manchester scene that spawned such notable acts as Pulp, New Order, The Smiths, Oasis and the Buzzcocks may not be as familiar with the music of Vinny Peculiar, but in the UK he’s a well-established recording artist and poet hailed in national aural press like Uncut, NME and Mojo.
Vinny Peculiar, aka Alan Wilkes, has nine full-length albums to his credit. Other People Like Me, released this fall, is a slight departure from his other works in that he openly and with full-throttle passion journeys sonically into his teenaged years when he dreamt of being a glam rock star such as David Bowie or Marc Bolan of T-Rex. The ten studio tracks are a well-crafted mix of his early ‘70s inspirations as well as his notable Manchester indie-pop sound. In fact, guitarist Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs of Oasis plays on the album.
Vinny Peculiar, as it turns out, is a friend of Lynne Seagle, executive director of Hope House Foundation, the community non-profit that produces Stockley Gardens Arts Festival in Norfolk. While Peculiar is visiting for the holidays, he’ll perform a one-off, free concert at Colley Cantina on December 28.
In advance, I raised the following questions to learn more about the tunes on Other People Like Me.
How has Other People Like Me been received in the UK?
There have been some great reactions, especially from the press, people love writing about new Vinny Peculiar records...
What are some of your favorite review quotes from UK press?
Here are a few that have caught my eye; there are more on the website www.vinnypeculiar.co.uk.
“This one’s a stunner!” ***** -- Dirty Impound [Dirty Impound is a California-based Zine of cool new music...
“When you listen to a Vinny Peculiar album you cannot help but think that you have come across his diary and as you sit and read it you feel both uncomfortable and wonderful all at once. His music is littered with the complex and yet everyday emotions that the masses go through and it is reassuring to know that we are not alone in our ponderings and self analytical behavior.” – Subba Cultcha
“Imagine a surreal episode of My Two Dads where said fathers are Jarvis Cocker and David Bowie, who bully their child into liking them and everything they like, like glam stomp, kitchen sink vignettes, mordantly witty lyrics, nostalgia, dreams and a sneer, and you‘re ready for Vinny Peculiar, Manchester’s premier forward thinking backward looking song smith.” – Whisperin’ and Hollerin’
When you've been performing this material in the UK is it with full band?
I did a mini tour [ 6 shows] earlier in the year with a full band; more recently I've been touring with a girl singer/pianist showcasing old and new material alike. She's known as The English Crumpet, she looks like Felicity Kendal and sounds like Carol King...
When we last talked in-person, you had an idea to make this a Glam Rock project. How did things change once in the studio?
The Glam in Other People Like Me is still there, it's just not as in your face as Bolan or Sweet...more the pastoral elements of Hunky Dory.
There are several lyrical references to the 1970s and "my generation" within the songs. Are you reaching out to listeners now in their 40s, 50s and 60s through this album?
I like to think I'm a pan generational artist - all comers welcome, but yes the song “My Generation” [I said goodbye] revisits my youth and asks the question 'what became of us' - so an older demographic is on the radar
I think "My Generation" is the perfect opening track. It's upbeat, very Beatles and Who-like. What influenced this song?
My cousin, in a Christmas meet up a couple of years ago, updated me on various exploits of people I hadn't seen since leaving school, that was part of the catalyst; what they were doing now; people I'd not seen in ages; amazingly a number of them turned up to shows on the recent UK tour which was really sweet, sentimental, nostalgic...I said goodbye but I never really left them or where I'm from behind, hence the song…
I hear a fair amount of Pulp in "Judy Wood." Your thoughts on this track?
“Judy Wood” is one of those snippets of memories rolled into one type tracks; it's mostly set in 1972 and stars my brother, the dole, and a few key people I knew back then. I like Pulp, so thanks for the comparison - the sonic template for this tune was Bowie, especially the ‘na na na’ chorus with the Mick Ronson guitars- of course no matter how much you try and reference your heroes the end result is essentially Vinny Peculiar...I hope I've referenced things in a good way and there is a semblance of self amongst the references
The very opening of "A Vision" reminds me of Rialto, where the first vocal melody reminds of Bread's "If." The chorus melody of "I had a vision" is very uplifting. Discuss how you put this song together?
Rialto yes, they were a band I enjoyed and thanks. Interesting you picking up on Bread. Yes, it definitely is a Bread type chord progression - I wrote most of the album on piano and my playing is not exactly sophisticated - but it's quite liberating and at the same time a good discipline doing things in a different way. When we toured with a band early in 2011 I did half the set on piano and half on guitar. “A Vision” is a song about a hallucinatory type breakdown I had sitting at a bus stop in 1984 - it was one of those meltdown type moments that you never quite get over.
"Other People" features some big guitar, including the initial part that takes me back to T-Rex. Can you provide insight about this tune?
The Gibson Les Paul features a lot in this one. It started out as a lyrical piece but in the end I dropped all the words in favor of the groove, the T Rex stomp and the chant...sometimes these last minute changes work for the better; the backwards guitar at the start whilst being something of a cliché was actually done on two inch tape like the Beatles would have done...
As for glam rock, I thing you nailed it on "Art Thief" where the opening melody is similar to Sting's "Set Them Free" and the music swings like David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel." There's even a Bowie-esque line "none of it was true. What can you tell me about this song?
“Art Thief” is a stomp of a song. “Rebel Rebel,” yes, that was in our sights, the words sort of grew out of nothing as opposed to being pre-planned and contextual, sometimes the old school Kerouak flight of ideas mode works although I do a lot less of that than I used to do. Bonehead from OASIS plays the rhythm part – incidentally Bonehead and I are currently working on a new album which should see the light of day early in 2012.
I also heard Bowie ("Andy Warhol"-like acoustic guitar) on "Christo & Jeanne-Claude." What are your thoughts?
Well you'd be right there. The “Christo” song is possibly the biggest steal on the album; it was nice doing a song in the style of another. I don't usually borrow so obviously but this is one time I most definitely did! I also happen to love Christo and Jeanne Claude, their work ethic, their self-belief and their artistry, they are the most fittingly heroic of artists.
"Theme Fifteen" is obviously very different in its electronic, experimental nature; a sort of Spiritualized-meets-Tangerine Dream piece. I don't imagine you perform it live very often, eh? You'd be right there; this is a studio track, experimental, inspired by Low, the Berlin Bowie masterpiece.
"Artrockers" was featured on a sampler CD produced by Word Magazine. The song has a nice flow and strong, memorable vocal melody in the chorus. Did you consider this track to be the "single" from the album?
I was chuffed Word Magazine included this track on the monthly CD cover-mount. It came out of the blue. This kind of recognition, especially from such a well-respected magazine, can only help spread the word. I never considered it to be a single. Perhaps I should have.