Danny Wilson are not an easy band to get hold ofat short notice. Ifyou don‘t catch them at breakfast-time in their hometown of Dundee then you have to wait until they get home mid-evening from their day‘s labours in Stuart Adamson of Big (‘ountry‘s rehearsal space. miles from any shop. in the wilds of Fife. The group have been commuting there daily.
meeting in an early-opening pub in
Dundee with packed lunches in hand. first to write songs for their second LP and then to rehearse for their current tour. the nucleus of ch Grimes (bass. keyboards. percussion) and brothers Kit (keyboards. vocals. percussion. accordion) and Gary (singing and guitar) (‘lark expanded to a nine-piece band. the same team that they took to the States when they supported Simply Red on tour last year.
But who are Danny Wilson. and how can they tour America on a hit single. with a frighteningly successful group. while still only able to undertake a tour ofsome oftheir home country‘s smaller venues‘.’ Ged. who spent a while singing and playing guitar in an accordion band in his youth. and former altar boy Gary left the place of their birth to make it in the music business. forsaking the city with the dubious honour of boasting more pubs per head of population than anywhere else in the lTnited Kingdom fora grim Battersea squat.
After three yearsof banging their heads against a brick wall they moved back up to Dundee without a recording contract to show for their pains. and teamed up with Gary‘s brother Kit Clark. five years their junior. who was at that time working towards a place in RADA. Perhaps in honour of Kit‘s thespian activities they named themselves Spencer Tracy. but that bid for fame-by-association was cut short by the threat of a multi-million dollar lawsuit frotn the deceased Tracy‘s estate. Undaunted. Ged. Kit and Gary instead named themselves afterthe 1951 Frank Sinatra flick .lleel Danny Wilson. which shares its
; title with the first Danny Wilson LP.
As time went on the group realised that since they had returned from London the musical mood had shifted enough to allow them a foot
in the door. 'I'houghtful. audible
‘ lyrics and hummable melodies augmented by technically
Song. as snobs would have it — were back in fashion. and Danny Wilson had them all in abundance.
The challenge from Dundee was
1 eventually picked up by Virgin
Records. now about to reissue. for a third try. the captivating ‘Mary‘s Prayer' (which received a boost from an unexpected quarter when a convent took a block order. possibly on a misunderstanding). in a bid to make a hit of the song that a massive number of Radio One listeners voted their favourite non-Top Forty single of 1987. In the States the single was more profitable. giving Dundee‘s
1 most important musical export since
the wayward talents of Billy
3'l‘he List 18 31 March 1988
Dundee band Danny Wilson talks to John Dundas about their broadening horizons.
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MacKenzie an American hit single while they were still virtually unknown in their own country.
‘I was just amazed.‘ says Ged Grimes now. ‘at the number of people over there who knew what we were doing. It‘s funny. because things take so long in America to build. “Mary‘s Prayer“ became a hit over a period of about five months. That‘s just unheard of here. lfa record hasn‘t done anything within the first four weeks. it‘s bye-bye time. But over there the record had
gradually been picking up territories.‘
Sounds more like the Primaries then American Top Ten. A lot of groups are overawed by the States because it's the home ofso many of their influences. Had it been like that for Danny Wilson‘.’
‘No. not really. I mean. a lot ofthe older stuff. Burt Bacharach and that. but quite a lot ofthe stuff we like is European: Yello. Abba and stuff like that. It‘s funny. because the modern American sound projects a whole thing that‘s really similar. I think that a lot ofpeople who bought our first album over there are a bit surprised that it wasn‘t an album full of “Mary‘s Pray'er“s. that it had a lot
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Ged recalls a huge difference in the attitude of the American music press compared with that which prevails over here; the ‘hip Melody Maker. NME thing‘. The ‘hip' press was quick enough to jump in with accusations that Danny Wilson were plagiarising early-Seventies mega-group Steely Dan. True enough. there are moments on Meet Danny Wilson that recall their studiously cool and quirky predecessors. particularly a track entitled ‘Five Friendly Aliens‘ (a personal favourite). but Danny Wilson can‘t maintain the former group‘s arid detachment for the full length ofan album. Their classy and stringently-crafted songs owe more to Bacharach and David than Becker and Fagen. ‘Ruby‘s Golden Wedding‘ would be an oddity on anyone‘s set-list. summoning up ‘In The Neighbourhood-style Tom Waits with a near-cacophony of brass. supplied on the record by Lester (Defunkt) Bowie‘s brass ensemble.
‘We‘ve got to turn into another band before we actually do that song live. drag on this tuba — the pedal
steel player plays the tuba on it. It‘s actually one of the numbers that‘s worked really well. The only problem is the physical dragging on ofthe instruments. It‘s one number we really wanted to do in America because a lot of the Americans were saying. Ah. Yeah. it‘s a great song. but it‘ll never work live.
First ofall they can‘t believe you‘re playing what is in a waltz time. It's one ofthe numbers that‘s really important to us because it‘s that different to the rest ofwhat we we do.‘
What with the LP being mainly overlooked by the music-loving public when it came out. Danny Wilson are still in the frustrating position of promoting a record that they now consider to be old news. ‘Mary‘s Prayer‘ is. says Ged. one of the oldest songs that they do. and finds that the situation makes him feel out ofsync. But the band always has been out ofsync in different ways. Starving in London. they saw around them bands blatantly emulating what was in the charts. or whatever else was going on at the time. to get ahead. while Ged and Gary were persisting in their old-fashioned view of what constituted a song. tempted enough occasionally to doctor their sound to get some kind of record company reaction. And their eventual success took place not when they took the path to London in an attempt to get noticed. but after they‘d jacked it in and moved back to Dundee to make demos. The usual story is Band get modicum ofattention; Band move to London: Band face the eternal scorn ofthose left at home for ‘selling out‘ and ‘forgetting their roots‘.
‘Yeah. that is actually true.‘ Ged affirms. ‘Myselfand Gary. we went down to London and had a band down in London. Some of the comments from musicians that had been working in Dundee and had been down in London! They had been bumping into my father or phoning my mother up. saying “Don‘t worry. Mrs Grimes. they‘ll be back.“ Because they had all went and done it. That‘s never bothered me. people‘s attitudes to you broadening your horizons. I think people who are angry at you for doing that probably have no experience ofbeing away or taking risks. People back home had this idea; “Great. they‘re doing really
well“. and that wasn‘t the case at all. It‘s a funny thing. There‘s a certain section of people that have got cynical attitudes. Some people don‘t have the spirit to get out and travel a bit. they‘re quite happy with what they‘ve got.‘
None of Danny Wilson have any immediate plans for leaving Dundee. nor does it seem as if they will antagonise their neighbours with ostentatious displays ofwealth.
‘I never really think about it. I‘d like to pay up my video. buy some new records. Money has never been a massive incentive. The only thing about doing this is that it‘s what we’ve always done. since we were at school. The most excitement, the most pleasure I get out oflife is when I‘m working.’(.lohn Dundas)