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We know how it goes

By JD Beauvallet


The Wild Swans were among the founders of the Liverpool scene and now they’re back. It won’t do your nostalgia any good, mate.

Sometimes you can end up making irrational decisions out of sheer romanticism. For instance, you might end up organising a concert in a provincial town by an English group nobody’s heard of just so that you can get the sleeve of their one and only single signed… But then that’s how songs become part of your life: For a long time The Revolutionary Spirit (1982) was the only entry in the Wild Swans’ discography and it was – and remains – the sepia-tinged soundtrack to my youthful years in Liverpool. With its wonderful gently melancholic blue sleeve, its uninhibited lyricism and its Olympic flame, the band’s only single went on to become the template for a whole local scene, all those little scallies with fingernails bitten to the quick and wounded hearts, from The Lotus Eaters to The Pale Fountains. Well, at least, that’s the official, legendary story of one of those singles the encyclopaedia describes as “seminal” – and God knows this one deserves it, as it nurtured the local scene even more than the Mersey, teaching Liverpool how to conjugate Scott Walker and Burt Bacharach in either the present or the future tense. But when you’re 20 years old and find yourself in Gambier Terrace, looking out of a house window onto the mists of the Protestant cemetery, you just don’t have that kind of hindsight and depth of vision as you hear this huge, intimately chaotic song, a youthful whirlwind teeming with the elation of freedom and a muddled sense of nostalgia for those carefree days. All that the flamboyant pianos, fretful strings and flaming song of The Revolutionary Spirit were saying was: "we’re young, we’re proud and we're cursed”. And they know all about curses in Liverpool. What kind of Faustian pact or bet with the Devil must the city have made to explain the bad luck and defeat that still dog the place to this day? With its run-down romanticism and its lavish portrayal of despondency, a whole religion has been built on this single (White Lies, for instance, are the latest heirs), combining as it does the haughty dandyism of Tom Verlaine and the accursed lyricism of Paul Verlaine in one rare moment and, let’s face it, that’s all you need when you’re 20.

A message from Liverpool, in perfect French, arrived recently to rekindle the flame, saying that The Wild Swans are reforming. With a single in a forgotten format (10" vinyl, now that’s real class), they’re just like a Dorian Gray figure, and nowadays they sing English Electric Lightning with exactly the same teetering grace, naive fervour and outdated elegance. The long, complex ‘b’ side, The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years, is all about Liverpool, its myths and its dead. There’s never really any way out of here.

Original French text