The Wild Swans - Captain's Rest, Glasgow, Tue 7 Jun, 2011
Reignited version of iconic Liverpool post-punk group
Heroism comes in many forms, but Paul Simpson's ongoing awfully big adventure fronting his reconstituted, reconfigured and - on this showing on the first date of a short UK tour - thoroughly reignited Wild Swans nom de plume is a sublime experience that falls somewhere between a vintage copy of Boy's Own magazine brought to life and an indie supergroup in excelsis.
In a set gleaned largely from new album, The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years, it's a call to arms from the off, with Simpson's lyrics a one-man campaign against the worst excesses of urban regeneration, his beloved Liverpool in particular seen through a mix of rose-tinted yearning for the days that defined him, and an impassioned despair at the 'dark satanic shopping malls' that have wiped out the fields where Simpson used to play.
Set to the shimmeringly busy jangle of former Brian Jonestown Massacre guitarist Ricky Mayme - fresh from an unspecified brush with the local constabulary and putting his own stamp on a sound patented by original Wild swans guitarist Jeremy Kelly a good two years before Johnny Marr did something similar in The Smiths - and underscored with the FX box textures of ex Spiritualised and Lupine Howl sonic architect Mike Mooney, the result is a gloriously contrary counterpoint of the melancholy and the triumphal. With Simpson looking a little bit Mad Men in dapper suit and retro tie, and where Mooney cuts a coolly studious dash with his glasses perched on his head, Mayme is a more ebullient figure, bouncing along to every upbeat flourish he and his comrades have just carved out.
At the back of the stage, former Echo and the Bunnymen bassist Les Pattinson, similarly suited and booted, provides ballast and authority, as does drummer Stuart Mann, a Wild Swan for a mere two days on the night, and with only 'a rehearsal and a quarter' under his belt according to Simpson. Off to the sides, long-haired keyboardist and album producer Richard Turvey rings out the sort of classically-inclined piano flourishes that original Swan Ged Quinn (now a respected fine art painter who designed the cover of The Coldest Winter and is still clearly a Wild Swan in spirit) used to play out.
The Wild Swans template, then – a broodingly Blakean romanticism made by and for serious young men – remains the same. Yet, despite Simpson's elegiac world-view as explored through a series of lists that recall original Mersey poet Adrian Henri as they counterpoint idylls of old Albion (or old south Liverpool, really), with the all-pervasive curse of supermarkets, Sun reporters and Cash Converters that blight inner-city living as highlighted in the soaring Play For Today scenario of 'English Electric Lightning', there's nothing po-faced about it.
Simpson seems relaxed, dedicating 'Chloroform', about Simpson's grandfather fighting in the first world war, to Drew Mulholland, aka Glasgow's electronic boffin Mount Vernon Arts Lab. A fellow traveller from both parties days on the Gloucester-based Ochre Records when Simpson was releasing pretty electronic instrumentals under the name Skyray (Ochre was also the home of Echo and the Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant's 'psychedelic trip-scape' project, Glide), Mulholland had gifted Simpson a vintage army arm-band, a gesture Simpson wished to gratefully acknowledge.
While 'God Forbid' retains the busy musical urgency of its 1982 recording produced by Echo and the Bunnymen drummer Pete de Freitas and released as a double A side twelve inch single with the anthemic 'The Revolutionary Spirit' on Bill Drummond and Dave Balfe's myth-making Liverpool-based label, Zoo (their finest release ever, according to Drummond), Simpson's delivery is less excitable, more composed and fused with the wisdom and experience the last thirty years has brought to the song.
With 'Bringing Home The Ashes' revived from the second, late 1980s major label incarnation of The Wild Swans, new material blurs seamlessly into old, even as some wag calls out for 'Flaming Sword', the 1983 single released by Simpson's post Swans collaboration with Lightning Seed in waiting Ian Broudie, Care. By the time Simpson and co climax with a rousing 'Revolutionary Spirit', it's clear that, after three decades in the wilderness, Simpson's mission at the vanguard of The Wild Swans might just have been accomplished.