Danny McCormack / Guy Shankland, Neil Phillips and Tom Spencer speak

I, Danny McCormack / Once a Wildheart Always a Wildheart is the new book where the former bassist of The Wildhearts delves into his tumultuous journey of addiction and redemption. MetalTalk spoke with Guy Shankland, co-author of the new book and Neil Phillips and Tom Spencer from The YoYos, the band Danny formed in the late 1990s after the first Wildhearts split.

Interview: Alex Eruptor

“Danny’s is a story that needs to be told because it’s funny and incredible,” Guy Shankland told us. “It’s chaos and sad. I wanted to write the book for Danny and also for myself, but I didn’t want to write just a clichéd rock biography about hotels and groupies and rehab. I wanted a humane story in there as well, and this was it.

“You know, the acid trip that he took when he was 21 had a massive effect on him. When these things go wrong, they can last decades, and he needed someone to help get him out of it.

“We started work on the first couple of chapters of the book, but it was taking a long time. After about a year, I went up to Newcastle, where Danny lives and saw him, and I was just shocked. I saw a man who was just skin and bones, really. Not in the best of health, but very funny and very open, and I wondered what I could do to help. I stumbled on the idea of a Patreon [subscription-based crowdfunding] campaign.

“It worked for everybody, really. It focused me on ensuring we finished two chapters a month and did a diary and interviews. A whole community of people was incredibly supportive, and many people agreed to be interviewed or contribute content to the Patreon.

“What came through mainly was the love people have for Danny, but I don’t think anybody understood just what he’d been through in the last few years. I think the opening chapter of the Patreon shocked a few people.”

I, Danny McCormack / Once a Wildheart, Always a Wildheart
I, Danny McCormack / Once a Wildheart, Always a Wildheart

A second print run of a few hundred copies is nearly sold out. You can read our review of the book here. “We’re now looking at doing a third print run, and Danny is due to appear on the Literary Stage at Rebellion Festival in August.”

Also appearing at Rebellion this year will be Tom Spencer, who plays a solo set on Sunday 6th. Tom was co-founder of The Yo-Yos, having first met Danny when recording backing vocals for The Toy Dolls, but his career has included many notable bands, most recently The Professionals, and Tallywags, who in 2018 released Charge Of The Light Brigade, an unofficial World Cup anthem to help England. A lineup which included Danny.

“I’m proud to have jumped on the Danny rollercoaster for those years,” Tom said. “He gave me higher rock ‘n’ roll status. I gave him the work ethic to see those song ideas through and to put together a band to match. I’m no saint, but heroin is a world I’ve avoided like the plague. I’m terrified I’d like it, despite the destruction I’ve seen it cause.

“Because I was naive to that world, I guess I had the hope, trust and patience it took. We did hit it off straight away on that journey up north to record with the Toy Dolls. Our closeness could also mean we were the ones to clash – very like brothers.

“All in all, great memories outweigh the bad. I got to see an awful lot of the US and get in all sorts of (good) trouble. Could we have played it different and made the band last longer? No, it was what it was. A ball of pent-up energy that would burn out fast.”

Tom Spencer
Tom Spencer

With (another) Wildhearts reunion looking extremely unlikely, the question is, might there be a Yo-Yos reunion? “Could we do it again,” Tom says. “It’s a nice idea, but I doubt it. Neil Phillips is up for it. I am, in principle too. We could find a drummer. It’s really about Danny, though. How gig fit he is, and of course, a promoter willing to take a punt on a potential explosive. Then again, we’re all older now, if not wiser, so who knows.”

Neil Phillips, mentioned above by Tom and also by Danny in the book, was also a guitarist, singer and songwriter in The Yo-Yos. What struck me was that, similarly to Danny in The Wildhearts, Neil was a very talented musician, noticeably the youngest member of the band, and had relocated to London to take up the job.

Neil Phillips
Neil Phillips

“The Yo Yo’s will always have a special place in my heart,” Neil said. “I was a lot younger than the rest of the guys and got the opportunity to join the band and move to London from rural Worcestershire. I’d seen Danny’s brother Chris in Camden market and gave him a demo of my band (he had just started a label).

“A couple of weeks later, I got a phone call (I was still living with my parents) from Danny and Chris asking me to come down and audition, and it all kind of went from there. I was definitely naive and wet behind the ears, and I think I must have been pretty annoying when I first arrived.

“But I figured it out eventually and had a crazy few years. I learned a lot – those few years writing with Tom is still the biggest songwriting learning curve I’ve ever had. Me and Bladz (drummer) were thick as thieves by the end and kept each other sane through the madness that was those long US tours.

“The nicest thing is that, despite not really getting the success I think that album deserved, it still means a lot to some people. I normally get a few people approach me to tell me how much it meant to them each year. Sometimes in very random places, like passport control queues. So, it was a crazy few years, a lot of ups but some pretty bad downs, but I’m glad I was there.

“Memories that will stick with me forever and some good stories. I still speak with the guys on an individual basis occasionally. These days I am still making music occasionally, but my main gig is managing a national music charity that supports talented young musicians from low-income families. It’s been an interesting journey getting here.”

Danny McCormack
Danny McCormack

I, Danny McCormack / Once a Wildheart Always a Wildheart, was first released earlier this year. “The wonderful Nigel from B&B Press made us an amazing offer to print the chapters up as a book,” Guy said, “and having completed the final chapter in November 2022, by February/March 2023, we did just that. It took a bit of time because there were some legal processes and procedure involved, which I think was frustrating for Danny, and I had to explain that these things take time.

“The response was incredible. Of the first pressing, I offered it first to Patreon subscribers, who bought about 120, and I then put messages up on a couple of social media sites to sell the remainder. I got another 200 emails in response to that! Wow! I then had a learning curve figuring out the logistics of how I was going to post those out and track everyone’s orders.”

Clearly, amongst the fans and Danny’s fellow musicians, there is fantastic music, fond memories and a certain nostalgia involved. But what else has meant so much support for the book? The final comment goes to Guy Shankland, who reflects on the appeal of Danny McCormack.

“He knows he’s a rock star, but he doesn’t consider himself better than anybody else. That’s why people love him.”

Danny will appear at Rebellion Festival Literary Stage on August 4th. For more details, visit https://www.facebook.com/dannywildheartbook.

To buy the book, email Guy Shankland at Dannywildheartbook@gmail.com.

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