Book Review: Gary Davidson – “The Wildhearts: Zealot in Wonderland”
The thing about The Wildhearts is, they don’t really do casual fans. Mention Ginger and Co to someone these days and you will most likely be met with one of two reactions; either a look of total bewilderment, or a declaration that they are the greatest band that has ever bestrode God’s green earth. As Ryan Jarman from The Cribs sagely observes in his heartfelt foreword to this book, The Wildhearts tread a fine line between cerebral and incredibly primal. Basically, they make music for greedy bastards. You want metal? Pop? Punk? Rock? Look no further. You want passion? Humour? Authenticity? Excitement? They’ve got it in spades. It’s this everything including the kitchen sink approach that inspires such devotion from those in the know. Given the level of fanaticism for all things Wildhearts, it was only a matter of time before someone put pen to paper and wrote a book about the band. Step forward Gary Davidson.
Gary Davidson loves The Wildhearts. No, I mean he REALLY loves The Wildhearts. And just so you understand my full meaning, I say this as someone who has seen Ginger in various guises around 40 times, has a smileybones etched into my skin and owns pretty much every note of music the band have ever recorded. Zealot in Wonderland is a fans eye view of the history of Britrock’s finest told from the start, beginning with a support slot for Love/Hate, and the Mondo Akimbo A Go-Go EP. For Wildies fans who were there at the time, this book is pure joy; a chance to relieve the history of the band as we experienced it at the time in those heady pre-social media days, through magazine interviews, eagerly awaited new releases, the odd TV appearance and – of course – live. (As an aside, your humble reviewer is stunned he didn’t meet Mr Davidson earlier, given the amount of times we attended the same gig). It makes for a wonderful stroll down memory lane and, bizarrely, serves as a great companion piece to Ginger Wildheart’s own Songs and Words book and his first-hand account of events.
Where Zealot really succeeds though is in the decision to anchor this spotter’s guide to The Wildhearts to Davidson’s own life. Wildhearts fans are a unique bunch, more of an extended family than followers of a band, united by a delightfully peculiar world view and a fierce passion for music. As the book progresses, Davidson weaves the history of the band around his own tale, told with honesty and self-depreciating humour. The manner in which The Wildhearts become the soundtrack to the pitfalls and victories in Davidson’s own life is what makes the book so relatable. When Davidson details his struggles with depression in unflinching detail it makes for tough reading, but will ultimately be the reason Zealot resonates with many.
Towards the end, Zealot catches up with itself, and Davidson finds himself in the strange position of writing about writing the book. However this results in some of Zealot’s most intriguing moments, as Davidson relentlessly pursues an interview with the band ending in an uncomfortable encounter with Mr Ginger Wildheart himself. It’s rather touching that this second edition of Zealot includes an epilogue that brings a lovely sense of closure to these events.
Ultimately this is a tale of fandom in all its weird, wonderful, obsessive glory. And in the same way that I can read Fever Pitch without giving a fuck about Arsenal, it’s the passion that shines through that will make this book enjoyable to more than just the Wildhearts hardcore. If that’s not reason enough to make you part with your hard earned pennies, a percentage of the profits for this second edition of Zealot will be donated towards the medical funds of Wildheart bassist Scott Sorry, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour in late 2017. Those Wildhearts fans, they do love to pay it forward. Valor.