One of my bigger musical regrets is not catching the first Stiffs tour back in 1977, particularly when I had every chance to do so. Taking its name from the independent British record label of that period and described variously as the Live Stiffs Tour, 5 Live Stiffs and Stiff’s Greatest Stiffs – Live! it featured five of the imprint’s top acts zig-zagging their collective way across Britain on what was a huge 24-date promotional package tour.
Sharing the bill back in October and November of that year were Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric and Larry Wallis. The tour stopped off at Newcastle Poly on the penultimate date of that tour and even though I was studying there at the time and was on campus that Friday night for reasons that are lost in the mists of time, and somewhat inexplicably, I chose not to go.
By then one of those artists, Wreckless Eric had already released his first 7” single for Stiff Records and this record, ‘Whole Wide World’ and the man born Eric Goulden’s then time with the label are often the very same breaths in which his name is mentioned. This might well suggest that his career (or “careering into a brick wall” as he dryly described it on the Marc Riley radio show just the other night) somehow began and ended in 1977. Yet in more than 40 years since then he has not only released countless other top recordings but has shown a huge appetite for constant touring. And as tonight’s performance will go on to clearly prove neither Wreckless Eric’s talent nor his career is defined purely by this time that he spent with Stiff Records.
Having relocated to upstate New York a few years ago, Wreckless Eric is now back again in his home country at the start of what is a 14-date tour of the UK to promote his forthcoming album, Transience. The new record is due for release on the 19th of May on Eric’s own Southern Domestic Recordings and he duly treats us to a veritable hatful of songs from it. ‘Dead End’, ‘Indelible Stain’ and his latest 45, ‘Tiny House’ – a thunderous blast of contagious joy – confirm that age has not withered any of Wreckless Eric’s supreme ability to knock out a powerful pop tune, one that still marries his keen ear for a melody with an insightful, often oblique, and occasionally wistful view of the world around him.
Aided and abetted by the former Death in Vegas and The Thrashing Doves alumnus Ian Button – at seven years Eric’s junior, he is apparently the “eye candy” of the show – on a combination of bass, drums and second guitar, the extended ‘California/Handyman’ brings a touch of psychedelia to the party. It is the final track on the new album and here it sees Wreckless Eric moving onto keyboards and is anything but “embarrassing beyond belief”. In introducing the song as such Eric is clearly mindful of the fact that many of these new songs are getting their first public airing. But any anxiety he may have had about performing them live is entirely misplaced. Take it from me Eric, they sound great.
Eric is also very keen not to be labelled as some sort of heritage act. The very fact that the bulk of tonight’s setlist is drawn from Transience and its predecessor from last year, Construction Time & Demolition (from which ’40 Years’ is most poignant) knock any such suggestion way out into the long grass. But whilst he is not the type of musician who is more than happy to rest easy in the comfy armchair of nostalgia, he equally does not reject his past. Tonight, he also gives us some wonderfully nostalgic moments courtesy of 1978’s ‘Take the Cash (K.A.S.H)’, a darker, more open-tuned blast of ‘Hit And Miss Judy’ from the following year and, of course, ‘Whole Wide World’ itself which closes out this great show and makes me think that maybe missing out on that Stiff Tour nearly 42 years ago isn’t such a big loss after all.
Photos: Simon Godley
More photos from this show can be found HERE