God's Busker (I Wish You'd Believe Me)
When 'Come Back' was released I was 16 and ghastly and in love with someone who didn't fucking care. I probably also wore fingerless gloves and used Country Born hair gel.
Pete Wylie, on the other hand, was a lush-lipped rock god, a Scouse Travolta, a bequiffed titan of passionate pop. I regarded him - now, bear with me on this one -as an icon on the same level as Prince, Prince in Purple Rain mode, the personification of cool pop lust. Maybe it was just the quiff and the trenchcoat. But did Wylie ever really wear a trenchcoat? Was I getting them mixed up even then? I see from my Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles that "Come Back" entered the UK charts on the same day as 'When Doves Cry'. That could account for it. Maybe if you remember the eighties, you weren't really there - something to do with Country Born hair gel seeping into your brain. Anyway, there they both were, Prince and Pete, and their multiple pseudonyms trailing behind. And somewhere along the line, it all went horribly wrong for both of them.
But that's relative of course. Prince had a high-profile falling-out with his record company, and a massive loss of self-imposed quality control after the early 90s, but I suspect he can still afford to buy a round when he's down the pub with Wendy and Lisa, and have enough change for a couple of Lotto tickets. Wylie fell off a wall and crippled himself, then fought and lost a bitter custody battle for his daughter. And when I saw him a few months ago, at Garage in Highbury, he was bottom of the bill to Spear of Destiny (fronted by a man whose main claim to fame is denying he shagged Boy George) and the Alarm (fronted by a man that BG wouldn't have touched even when smacked off his face).
Wylie's still a star in his own universe, even though in our world the quiff seems to have slipped down his face, morphing into something that might be a goatee, might be a Zapata tache, but you can't tell because the chins get in the way. Prince used to have the same sort of facial hair confusion, but not the chins.
"This is the Silver Jubilee of me not getting on with it," he quips, like an existential Jimmy Tarbuck. Hell, the most Crucial of the Crucial Three, translated into a nostalgia-tour spear-carrier, part Bobby Chariot, part raddled busker. This was, of course, the man who inspired John Peel to declare, on Top Of The Pops, "If this doesn't get to number one, I'm going to come round and break wind in your kitchen." Or was that Altered Images?
Then he plays his heartstopping music, and the hairs stand up in places where I didn't know there were hairs.
It should be pitiful. But, like all true stars, from Daniel Johnston to Darius Danesh, his piercing self-belief gets him through. The voice is still there, the songs still stand up, like a hungover gospel choir. When he reaches what should be the big orchestral riff in "The Story Of The Blues", he's all on his lonesome, and he's forced to sing his own "doo doodle-oo"s and it's not just unfair, it's beyond sinful, it's a tragedy that Sophocles or Alan Bleasdale couldn't have spawned. In our prosaic, Blairy world he's only an out-of-shape, out-of-contract Scouser on stage, but, for a few moments, his own universe takes over. He's in a strawberry jam session with Johnny Thunders and Gilbert O'Sullivan, the Drifters and Nancy Sinatra, the Guildford 4 and the Hillsborough 96. He still believes what I believed 18 years ago. But he has to believe it, because we both believed in him.
This summer, on Clapham Common, receptionists and insurance salesmen squeeze into their Grange Hill uniforms and frug ironically to what they think is an '80s soundtrack. One or two of them even don legwarmers, and it's so ironic, innit? Big mobile phones. Sinclair C5s. Stuart Maconie and Paul Morley and that brain-damaged woman who "writes" for The Sun, pontificating about deely-fucking-boppers. Martin Kemp used to be a musician, y'know. And the ersatz Zammos and Trishas and Tuckers might catch 'The Story Of The Blues' between 'Love Plus One' by Haircut 100 and 'Best Years Of Our Lives' by Modern Romance. And that's when they sneer, shrug, and step off the dancefloor for a non-free Club Tropicana cocktail.
Of course, I'm guilty of the same pick-and-mix nostalgia. I saw the video for 'The Look Of Love' on VH-1 the other day, and isn't it so glossy and ironic, and Morley's in it, and doesn't he look young and thin?
And when I was 16 and ghastly and in hateful love, I almost believed in God. My favourite movie was A Matter Of Life And Death. God looked a bit like the bastard offspring of Prince and Morrissey, with subtle overtones of Paul Morley, and I thought the staircase to heaven was like the escalator at Piccadilly Circus tube station. And Pete Wylie, if there really was a God, would be his personal jester-cum-busker.
© Tim Footman 2002