Ginger Wildheart: "It was time to divorce the wife and move in with the bit on the side"

Ginger Wildheart & The Sinners group shot
(Image credit: Shirlaine Forrest)

Whatever you might say about Ginger Wildheart, he’s not one to dwell too long on past glories. Less than six months since the band with whom he is eternally associated parted company once more, his new band – with a Southern rock, boogie and country-influenced style – have a debut album out and a follow-up nearly complete. 

Yet it turns out, on closer investigation, that Ginger Wildheart & The Sinners is the result not of a sudden step into new territory, but a long-planned project that he finally has time to devote his full attention to. 

The Sinners formed out of Ginger’s desire for a new project back in the hazy pre-pandemic days of 2019 when, despite the vibrant vitality emitting from the music he was making with TheWildhearts, it was far from a happy camp.

“We weren’t getting on,” Ginger tells Classic Rock over a Zoom link from his kitchen. “We didn’t hang out. And I wanted a bunch of players that, you know, liked each other. This was going to be a happy place outside of the mayhem. 

“The Wildhearts was the big breadwinner, but I kept thinking, ‘Aw, that hat’s getting a bit tight, let me put the nice comfy one on for a while.’” 

He found that sanctuary not among old muckers but from new acquaintances whose music proved the initial draw. That said, he was keen to make sure that they would click personality-wise, too… “I started asking around – d’you know any good bands? Not metal bands, just rock’n’roll bands – country bands even. My friend gave me a Stone Mountain Sinners CD. And I was blown away.” 

The Worcester-based purveyors of “Americana and heartland rock”, led by singer and guitarmaker Neil Ivison and co-songwriter Nick Lyndon, were up for collaborating, but Ginger had something else in mind first: a pint or two.

“I met them at a studio in the middle of darkest Wales. We had the place for a week, potentially, and they were keen to get started. But I was like, ‘Let’s go to the pub!’ Because after working with The Wildhearts it was like, ‘There is no fun if you don’t get on.’ So off we went, no one turned into a lager monster, we all had a laugh, woke up the next day with hangovers and plugged in.

“And that’s what you hear – it was pretty much recorded live. That’s another thing that was never the case with The Wildhearts. The last album was all recorded remotely. People say, ‘That last album was great,’ but I barely remember it. I wrote it, demoed it and people did their parts at home. It wasn’t a band record. But this one very much is.”

Ginger, Ivison and Lyndon were joined by Tri-City Fanfare and Man drummer Shane Dixon, along with guest vocals from Givvy Flynn.

The music, meanwhile, ploughed a notably less intense, punk-fuelled furrow than The Wildhearts, channelling the feel of bands such as the Allman Brothers, Georgia Satellites and Status Quo.

The latter two acts’ back catalogue was raided for a couple of covers, in the shape of Six Years Gone and Dirty Water. But it’s testament to the new band’s songwriting that the original compositions stand out most on their self-titled debut album.

Lately, Always is a sweetly sun-dappled rootsrock lament, Work In Progress is a choogling, Creedence-y joy, Breakout is a lilting trad-folk anthem and single Footprints In The Sand is expertly turned heartland rock benefitting from Ginger stepping back to let Ivison take the mic.

As excited as Ginger clearly is about this new project, though, he admits that it took longer than he hoped to find the time to promote the record and do it justice – hence its release two years after recording. Much of that delay was of course due to his duties with The Wildhearts… until in March they abruptly announced a “hiatus” with all upcoming dates cancelled, due to “personal issues within the band”.

“It was just at the point where I couldn’t stand it another day,” says Ginger. “Even the money I was making – I’d rather be broke than be miserable.

“There was a lot going on… I know there’s rumours it was all one person but it wasn’t, it was like a divorce, there’s not just one element. You try and work through it but if your partner’s not willing to work with you… I did me best, but ultimately it was time to divorce the wife and move in with the bit on the side."

You sense that the thrill of this new relationship is also having a positive effect on Ginger’s mental health, and the struggles with debilitating depression that he’s openly documented on social media in recent years.

“It can happen at any time,” he says of the attacks from the proverbial black dog. “It happened on stage the other day, and I was lucky to be on stage with a couple of people that were really supportive and you know, slowly we got through it. Whereas I had a meltdown before that with The Wildhearts, and they were all pissed off with me.

“I’m like, ‘This is not personal. If after 30 years you still don’t believe that this is legit, then who the fuck are you? And why am I hanging out here?’ I guess some people think that, you know, supporting someone through mental health is weak for some reason. But no one knows the right thing to say or do. So just be there, be present, be supportive. People who belittle your struggle – in the nicest possible way, just fuck them off.”

By the time he did part company with the band he’d made his name with, though, he did so in the knowledge that he had a highly promising new project to pour his energies into. The Sinners toured in October to promote their debut album, and a follow-up is also well on the way to completion. 

It may not be Ginger at his wildest, but he’s following his heart in a way that any fan of his songwriting will relate to.

Ginger Wildheart & The Sinners is out now via Wicked Cool Records.

Johnny is a regular contributor to Prog and Classic Rock magazines, both online and in print. Johnny is a highly experienced and versatile music writer whose tastes range from prog and hard rock to R’n’B, funk, folk and blues. He has written about music professionally for 30 years, surviving the Britpop wars at the NME in the 90s (under the hard-to-shake teenage nickname Johnny Cigarettes) before branching out to newspapers such as The Guardian and The Independent and magazines such as Uncut, Record Collector and, of course, Prog and Classic Rock