Rock ‘n’ roll has its best of halcyon adventures. Those somewhat fortuitous journeys of discovery, the voyage for kindred spirit and the quest to find the likely lads with whom to share a tilt at one’s musical calling. Wrexham, via a wide-eyed awakening on a school trip in Germany, taking in York and Saddleworth… well, it’s unique to say the least.
I’m drinking with Huw Roberts (Vocals and Guitar) and Sam Gill (Drums) at Parr Street Studios in early January and the glacial assault outside is subsiding. Together with Neal Johnson (Bass), who’s still navigating his way here, Huw and Sam create psychedelic rock music as THE WILD EYES.
“We (Huw and Sam) became really good friends later in school,” Huw asserts, from behind a flopping, Mark Gardener-style fringe. “It sort of hinged on his school field trip to Germany; we both picked German ‘cos you got to go on this holiday. I took my guitar with me, I’d only been playing a year but I was already like ‘I can’t go anywhere without my guitar.’ And we just bonded, over a shared love of music. And 10 years later its come full circle, we’ve both got this shared obsession with Krautrock.”
An obsession that continued after Sam left their native Wrexham to study in Liverpool and Huw headed east, taking root in York. The pair communicated via a constant stream of letters and cassette’s down the M62, before a case of celestial intervention brought Neal into their lives.
Huw: “I was up in York and one day I got this phone call. The guy at the other end of the phone said, ‘I heard you like early Verve? Do you wanna meet up.’ It wasn’t fashionable at all at that time to be listening to early Verve and I was like ‘yeah alright, Ill meet you tomorrow at the minster.’ So I turn up the next day at York minster and theres Neal.” At which point Neal appears in the bar, perfectly on cue, as if a divine apparition.
The urge to enquire as to how Neal attained Huw’s number in the first place doesn’t come over me. The story on its own is too good. As Huw points out, “the need to come up with a tale of a Jorvik Viking coming to you in a dream and alining musical stars isn’t required,” and indeed, may appear too realistic in comparison.
“We’re sat in this cafe and I’m like, ‘So do you like The Jesus And Mary Chain?’ and Neal’s like, ‘Yeh’. ‘The Velvets?’ ‘Yeh’. ‘My Bloody Valentine?’ ‘Yeh’. And that was it really.”
And so it was, The Wild Eyes were born, with Saddleworth expatriate Neal and Huw joining Sam in Liverpool around four years ago, to devise their deranged optical assault on our fair city. But, coming from Wrexham and Saddleworth, did that bring a certain perspective to their music?
“Its hill music man,” Huw confirms. “I couldn’t wait to get away from Wrexham, but in a way it does you a favour, because it turns you onto rock ‘n’ roll. The first time you hear it, that moment, it presents a world to you, a whole new place that you can escape into. You’re hungry for it. In a place like that, it was an event when the NME came out on a Wednesday and you were there at your newsagents waiting for it. You feed off it, saving up your dinner money to spend on singles.”
“We’d be down at Our Price on a Monday, just waiting for it to open,” Sam chips in.
It’s a link which ties many bands from across provincial Britain; rock n roll providing an alternative, another world and a release. It can also often find young minds reaching for psychedelia. The Wild Eyes are fans and friends of Bido Lito! favorites The Lucid Dream, who still reside in their Carlisle exile, way away from the scents and distractions of the metropolis, but free to hone their own mind-bending, localised sonic universe.
Huw: “In a small town it’s about escapism, and that probably pushes you towards psychedelia. So you take that with open arms and, with a bit of weed, some hallucinogenics, it just creates different world to escape into.”
Sam: “It’s completely hinged in the music. If you wanted to go somewhere, you had to put a record on.”
The Wild Eyes early incarnations where particularly fluid, including a drummer who, according to Neal, “…moved to China to just get as far away from us as fucking possible…” and eventually, after the frustration of, as ww puts it, “trying to find a drummer, one that wasn’t mentally ill and off having secret babies or whatever,” the band reverted to another tactic. “In the end we gave up on trying to find a drummer and concentrated instead on making drum backing loops. They were really crude, there was literally just one drum beat that we could make that would go round and round.”
Huw: “But it converged with a year when we were listening to a lot of Krautrock and I was absolutely obsessed with the ‘Neu-beat’” (which Sam demonstrates on the table with consummate ease… more on that shortly), “so it worked well for what we were doing and led us down a path where we could try to blend the bigger sounds of rock n roll with space, and probably made us a bit more modern or forward looking, which we’ve always tried to be.”
A forward moving outlook which allowed them to combine live drums via Sam, with the drum loop backing tracks that, upon early outings had been particularly divisive, resulting in the band “clearing a few places out.”
Huw: “Yeh, we were probably more extreme than we thought we were. To us it was just normal.”
After a while Sam picked up his guitar less and less, preferring to sit behind the kit playing along to the drum beats, before eventually playing the tracks live himself. And it is here where The Wild Eyes strangeness comes to the fore, they are a diverse beast. Their New Year’s Eve live performance at Static Gallery saw the band give a masterclass in psych-infused, pop hooked garage… it was The Stooges circa-1968, with Huw, a wild, lean Welsh Iggy. I Look Good On You, is as sexy and essential as The Stones at their Pamela-Des-Barres-cavorting best. Yet, the band’s minimal recorded output to date, could be the glorious long lost demo tapes of Kember and Pierce; Kosmos hinting at Sound Of Confusion’s cerebral inducement. The Wild Eyes present the possibility of a band at the cusp of carving their own impression in the rock face of their influences.
And this is a carving that, rest assured, will be rough round the edges, with sagging, drug heavy bags under lustful eyes. Its one imbued with the danger of rock music at its seductive best. Music can often now be seen as too calculated, too careerist and just too fucking prim. A situation Huw laments, “Rock ‘n’ roll needs to be plugged in and primal. This music is the preserve of freaks and weirdos, it belongs to us. The money men got hold of it a long time ago and they still let the freaks and weirdos run it while they could make money out of it, whereas now, that’s been cut out and its getting further and further away. It used to be that kids took sanctuary in this music and lost themselves in it. You want to see a band that excites you and thats so limited now.”
When Neal says that, “…you’ve got to transcend your influences,” you know that this band are comfortable with what they are looking to achieve. The challenge presented currently is to hone their two divine personas, into a coherent and equally attractive whole, the sensual and attractive persona of Jane from ‘The Three Faces Of Eve.’ I’m confident that she’ll be tasty as hell.