Images taken from my own collection. Click for a larger view.
There are great records which become lifelong favourites, and you are normally able to remember where you were the first time you heard them. In this particular case, I was sitting in the unglamourous setting of a lorry parked at Stansted Airport (pre-revamp) in the dying days of 1982.
My grandad was a lorry driver, and in the school holidays or on weekends I would accompany him on various trips. Stansted was a regular run to collect a cargo that had just arrived by air (usually tangerines or suchlike). On one occasion we actually got snowed in there, but that's another story...
Anyway, on this particular occasion we had arrived early in the morning, and Mike Read's Breakfast Show was on Radio 1. He casually mentioned that the next record was a new one by a new band from Liverpool called Wah! and proceeded to play Story Of The Blues (part 1) (there were two parts as it turns out, but more on that later).
Wah!, it transpired, had also released records as Wah! Heat, and would release more as The Mighty Wah! (amongst other permutations), but essentially consisted of one Pete Wylie. He was embarking on a career of frustrations, occasional brilliant hits, falling out with record companies, and occasional mentions in the "does anybody know where he is?" sections of music magazines. In late 1982, however he seemed destined to be the biggest thing on the planet when this absolute anthemic stormer came out. I may have been only nearly 10 years old at the time, but I was already obsessed with music and knew brilliance when I heard it.
From the off, a pounding rhythm and strings grab you - it sounded unbelievable coming out of the radio at that time. Then Wylie launches into a lyric of sadness and regret... but of what? A lost love? Being let down by a friend? Generally kicked in the teeth by life? It's vague, but in a way that leaves it open wide for each and every listener to put their own spin on it - not as easy as it might seem. The wall of sound in the choruses contrasts nicely with the more understated verses, before a repeat chorus feels like the whole caboodle has been double tracked again for maximum impact, and then it's into a repeat of the intro, repeated with female backing singers' "oohs" before fading into the ether...
Except it doesn't quite. Flip the record over, and The Story Of The Blues (part 2 - Talkin' Blues) fades the whole thing back in, as Wylie recites a call to arms to the lost, disaffected, dejected, to stand up to their situation and say "I'm not gonna take this any more!!!", or words to that effect. Like one of those drunken moments of alarming clarity that hit us all at some point, this is Wylie's, caught on tape for posterity with full on backing.
Wylie has a superb knack for creating really big records, the sort that reach into you and grip you by the heart. Sometimes they have gotten noticed (Come Back, Sinful), whilst at other times they have gradually found a loyal following, such as the majestic Heart As Big As Liverpool, since adopted by Liverpool FC fans, apparently to Wylie's great pride. Maybe one day he'll finally deliver that billion selling album masterpiece he deserves to. Maybe he's not bothered, happy with the following he already has.
Story Of The Blues remains his greatest commercial success, however. It peaked at number 3 in early 1983, and has appeared occasionally on those ragbag 80's compilations (often erroneously credited to The Mighty Wah!), but taken on its own merits it still shines brightly. Both bitter and life affirming at the same time, like a beam of sunshine through a crack in a dark cave.
Here's part one... Thanks to YouTube user SparkyMusic1
FIND IT ON:
The Handy Wah! Whole (Castle/Sanctuary CD 2000)