DEATH OR GLORY – interview with Danny McCormack bassist The Main Grains/ex-The Wildhearts

I’m with Danny at his home in Newcastle and notice a black and white photo on the sitting room wall, it’s a picture of The Garricks Head pub in South Shields… ‘Yeah my Grandma Pat used to have it’. I remembered I had my first drink there when I was 16 year old. A pint of McKewan’s Scotch, after the first drink the froth covered the caterpillar growing on my top lip… ‘Yes it was a great pub sadly not there now. She used to have regular lock-in’s, the punters staying behind after hours for a few more drinks. A bloke with an accordian would be in, there was a piano player in the corner and we’d all be singing along with them. Smokey tunes, great times and wild night’s, yes, I can remember all that’.

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When living in London Danny McCormack was a member of The Wildhearts. During their commercial peak in the nineties, they recorded 4 albums with their 2nd release P.H.U.Q entering the album charts at no.6. The band also released a bucket load of top 30 singles and they appeared on British tv music programme Top of the Pops. Support slots with Manic Street Preachers, Guns n Roses and AC/DC, they also toured America and Japan. Danny went on to form The Yo Yo’s and recorded 1 album, toured the UK, Europe and Japan then split in 2000. Since returning North in 2003 he has rejoined and left The Wildhearts several times, played with Dog’s D’Armour and with his younger brother Chris in Three Colours Red. The Yo Yo’s also made a brief comeback. Those are just edited highlight’s of his life in rock n roll. But bringing the story up to date Danny has a new band – The Main Grains. Before meeting up I checked out some of their music and watched a video for ‘Unscrewed’. I thought it had a Ramones/End of the Century/ Phil Spector feel to it…
’Yes it’s our nod to Phil Spector in a way. The Main Grains are JJ on guitar, Ginna on drums and Ben on guitar with me on bass and vocals. They are Yorkshire lads so they come up to Gateshead where we rehearse. When we first got together it all fit in place, the playing is tight. That’s what you want. We record the old fashioned way, idea’s on an acoustic first, then get in a room together to rehearse. Bounce idea’s off each other. We need the spark, the energy for it to come together. This time we are doing it ourselves. We’ve had no record company input. So never signed anything, we own our own music. We make our own decisions and plenty people are coming to the gig’s so we are doing something right. We will work with promoter’s to put together a few more gig’s but we are in control, we’ll choose when we want to record and gig’.

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Punk was a big influence in your life, can you remember where you first heard it ? ‘The jukebox man would come around to my Grandma’s pub and say ‘Pat what do you want on the jukebox this week ? She said all my usual’s you know the Patsy Cline stuff, but none of that punk rock music there’s far too much fucking swearing in it haha. My ear’s pricked up like devils horn’s. What’s punk rock ? Then I heard the Pistol’s, Damned, Clash and just loved it. They absolutely blew my mind. I used to play them at low volume so my mother couldn’t hear the swearing. I was playing The Toy Doll’s, still love them to this day, Angelic Upstarts – there was a lot of complaints about them being on stage kicking a pig’s head around with a copper’s helmet on it. But they were only singing the truth you know, reality, have a dose of this folks. I had a picture of them on my wall and there’s the ugly mugs of Mond and Mensi staring down at me haha. Yes I love punk’.

Did you have any hero’s in music ? ‘Nah I was never into the hero worship thing, never looked up to any of the musician’s or band’s really. The only hero’s out there are all the nurses, doctor’s and fireman. They face life and death decisions every day…that’s who real hero’s are’.

When did you get your first guitar ? ‘I got my first guitar one Christmas, it was a classical. The reason I play bass is because two strings snapped and I didn’t have the heart to say to my mam that I’ve snaped the strings because A, I’ll get a clip around the lug for snapping them and B, she couldn’t afford to replace them. I just used to play along with my records with the 4 strings like a bass’.

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Then some mates got together and we done my first band called Energetic Krusher. Ali was on vocals, Hairy the drummer, Louie and Nick Parsons on guitars. Nick went on to do The Almighty. We made an album for a record label down London called Vinyl Solution. We had just split up but never told them. Ali took us for a pint and told us about the record company interest, we all said yes of course we’ll do it. We were 15-16 year old with a record deal, it was brilliant. I remember going to school somebody video taped us in rehearsals. I was really chuffed’.

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‘We got the buzz then, first gig I ever done was amazing. It just felt exactly right. The crowd were going nut’s, we were going nut’s, it sounded tight, in time, in tune. That was at The Riverside in Newcastle.
Later I was working at King’s Music guitar shop in Sunderland it was a YTS scheme getting £27.50 a week. I remember that was my exact fare to get to London and join The Wildhearts’.

How did that come about ?Ginger from The Wildhearts had heard about Energetic Krusher through his mate Panda from South Shields and he came to see us play at The George Ropery in London. That must have stuck in his mind you know because when one of the guy’s left his band Ginger was straight on the phone to me, saying would you come down for an audition.
Well when I got there it wasn’t really an audition because I took some acid and got off with the secretary from the record company. He said ‘You’re in!’ haha. Ginger was a few year older than me and had already been down there a few years and had been in Beki and the Bombshell’s, The Quireboys and a few other bands. You know I was in a band with Ginger from The Quireboys, and Bam Bam from Dog’s D’Amour. At 15 year old I was down the front at a Dogs D’Amour gig then 4 years later I was in a band with him, it was like a dream come true. It was brilliant’.

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Where did you stay in London, did you have any digs? ‘I was squatting in Gingers cupboard in Finchley Road. The woman used to come round for the rent and she started noticing I was there a lot. Who’s he, where’d he come from she’d say. We were rehearsing in Jumbo Studios when we could. I was on dole money, we had nowt. We used to split and share our money to get by. It was £15 quid with Ginger one week then next week he would give me £15 back. It was that hard when we first moved down there. First year we were dossing around cos the band were in litigation. Ginger had signed some deals that weren’t working for us. It was all lawyer meetings, what was going on here you know. We couldn’t record it was frustrating. But you know what it is, we didn’t give a shit, we believed in the band that much.
The songs were flying out of Ginger, he had an acoustic and played me a few tunes, what do you think of this one ? Then another and another, he used to blow me away. Coming out with classic after classic in my book. The guy’s a genius. Nothing but admiration for him’.

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Can you remember first recording with The Wildhearts ? ‘The first album was done in Wessex Studio’s where Never Mind the Bollock’s and London Calling by The Clash were recorded, bit of Queen stuff also done there, yes it was phenomenal. It was a great place. We done demo’s there originaly and they were so good we used them for the album, we tarted the vocal’s up a bit. All done in a week and we had an album’.

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The Mondo Kimbo EP was done down in Wales at Rockfield Studio’s, a very famous studio, a lot of bands recorded there. Around late ’92 we done a lot of small gig’s but the turning point was when we played with Pantera at The Marquee, that was a phenomenal gig. After that we went out with Wolfsbane, Manic Street Preachers, Alice in Chains even Steve Vai. We were building a reputation as a good live band. We were playing tight, a pretty formidable unit. A stand out gig was supporting Guns n Roses in Japan. Ended up going there 7 times’.

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Did you film any TV appearences or music video’s ? ‘As a job, being in a band with a plank of wood and four wires hanging around yer neck doesn’t quite cut it with yer parents, cos they had proper jobs haha. So after we’d done Top of the Pops a few times and they’d seen me on the telly my mam and dad stopped asking if I was going to get a proper job. We used to have a great time on the show, the crowd would go nut’s. I don’t know where they were from but there was a few Wildhearts t-shirts in the crowd. We done it a few way’s, miming, live, sometimes just the vocal’s were live. But we never had a song where it stuck and grew. Our hardcore fan’s would buy the single’s and we would sell enough to get on the show, but never reached further in the charts’.

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‘For the I Wanna Go Where the People Go video we filmed that in New York. We went there for 5 days to do the video and ended up living there for a couple of month haha. We were in a house in Brooklyn it was great fun. For the first month we were in The Chelsea Hotel. One night after drinking in CBGB’s we jumped in the taxi and told the driver to take us to the nearest drug dealer. ’No problem get in guy’s’. The taxi was quickly surrounded by them. The deal was done and we returned to The Chelsea. We laid them out on the bed and looking through them we managed to score some salt and some pencil shavings haha… they must have seen us coming.
We did get some spliff amongst the pencil shavings. The drummer Ritchie put the radio on, lit some candles and we chilled out. The candle was on a wood shelf and he put something underneath so it wouldn’t burn through the shelf. But he put a paper plate under the candle. Well of course we fell asleep and the candles burned through, fell into my bag and set his hair alight. The fire caught hold on the old wooden floor, it was pretty big so I ran into the hallway in my undercrackers looking for a fire extinguisher. Next door and downstairs were making noises about all the smoke, now the fire brigade turned up, there was coppers running about and we were absolutely stoned haha.
The manager came and showed us to another room, he was very calm and said you’re in good company, the only people who’ve set fire’s in this hotel were Sid Vicious and Andy Warhol haha.
Eventually the record company starved us out of New York. They stopped the money going into the bank and we eventuallly went back to the UK to do Top of the Pops. You know I don’t think about those times all the time, just now that you’ve asked but I can see it in my mind and thing is I’m back in touch with Ginger now’.

Where did you go after The Wildhearts ? ’After The Wildhearts I toured America with The Yo Yo’s and the first drive was 3 days – never complained about touring in a van in the UK again haha. We went out with The Backyard Babies and The Murder City Devil’s. We done about 42 states in 5 month, that was briliant. We were on Sub Pop at the time and I recorded around 20 songs with them’.
(Nerd alert: Sub Pop was a USA record company working out of Seattle, famous in the 1980’s for signing bands like Nirvana, Mudhoney and Soundgarden. In 2000 The Yo Yo’s realeased their debut album Uppers and Downers, it was recorded in Trident Studio’s, London).
‘They gave us the backing and at first it looked like a very good deal unfortunately it didn’t work out that way – but that’s another story. Those contracts look like they are written in Latin and I wasn’t trained as a lawyer. But hey, loved my time in that band, got to travel to Japan again’.

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Danny has a lot more stories and will be returning in a few month time but 
before the interview we talked about musicians who have suffered with depression and addictions, or others who had recently passed away. Danny has had his own problems which are well documented elsewhere, but I felt there was no need to repeat them here… ‘What’s in the past is just that, you can’t change it. Just looking forward to playing some more rock n roll. Musician’s aren’t anything special. Me, I’m just a bass player in a rock n roll band. That’s who I am’.

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 The Main Grains.

Catch The Main Grains live at The New Adelphi, Hull on September 22 and at Trillians, Newcastle on September 23. They are supporting The Professionals at The Slade Rooms, Wolverhampton October 27 2017.

The Main Grains have a new single coming out on 7th November 2017 The Rain is Over, What We Gonna Do Now ? and Sock It To Me Baby.

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For more info, tour dates & downloads contact the official website maingrains.com or thru facebook or twitter.

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2017.

 

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