The activities of rock stars have captured imaginations, inspired people to pick up an instrument, and generated moral panic, further glamorising the sometimes embellished lifestyles documented with dark glamour. This has created an industry of rock star biographies, offering a safe way to live vicariously through the subject, whether driving a Rolls Royce into a swimming pool or surviving a complete blood transfusion because yours has morphed into a toxic opiate/amphetamine sludge, all between bouts of copious copulation.
I, Danny McCormack: Once a Wildheart, Always a Wildheart
Authors: Danny McCormack and Guy Shankland
Words: Alex Eruptor
The formula is often the same: Humble beginnings, success coupled with increasing hedonism, low point, salvation and teetotalism, then get the band back together for a quick cash-in and live happily ever after.
The rock ‘n’ roll chronicles of Danny McCormack are quite different and certainly not for the faint-hearted. Yes, there are humble beginnings, with dark times and home life I think it is fair to describe as musically inspirational, but domestically often chaotic.
There is a fast-blooming musical career that, in a few short years, sees Danny relocate to London and join The Wildhearts. There are the high points of Top 40 hit singles and albums, tours and festivals, meeting his musical heroes, and drinking, snorting, shagging and ultimately injecting his way around the rock n’ roll world.
It was this Danny, the ever-smiling cheeky chap with the low-slung and edgy bass guitar who enjoyed music press, radio, and venues of the early-to-mid 1990s. So far, so good, but it all turns sour rather quickly once the record companies measure the financial returns on their investment. Drink and drugs stifle creativity and exacerbate mood swings and interpersonal tensions. There was possibly overexposure in the rock press, but certainly underexposure in the mainstream media. It all conspired against our hero(s).
Danny’s ups and downs were inspirational to his next project, The YoYos, who were the right thing at the right time and refined much of what had been great about The Wildhearts into a more consistent and punchy set of songs. Danny was joined by guitarists Tom Spencer and Neil Phillips and drummer Bladz. They really did create a buzz around the North London scene at that time, with two singles each denting the Top 100 of the UK charts.
After a rapid ascent and a celebratory ‘Danny’s out of rehab and back from the brink’ feel at the gigs, a record deal in the USA with Sub Pop seemed like the break that they deserved. The album was absolutely brilliant, as were the singles from it, with Danny on good form and in a tightly knit rock ‘n’ roll machine. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go to plan. Instead of heading up the new wave of garage rock nostalgia that broke through in the early years of the new millennium, Danny found himself back in England and back on drugs.
Defeat from the jaws of victory is a recurring pattern, and without wanting to rehash the entire book or spoil the surprises, Danny’s next few years see him sink into dark times, punctuated by occasionally re-united versions of The Wildhearts and The YoYos, and punk projects such as The Main Grains.
Want to know which body cavities Danny used to smuggle his drugs on international tours? To read the gory details of how he severed an artery requiring the amputation of a limb? It’s all in here.
In this way, the book veers from the well-worn path of the usual rock star biography because the lifestyle, although occasionally glamourous, is not, in the end, what most people would choose to adopt after reading it.
Playing to huge crowds at major festivals or touring with ACDC? Well, yes. But sifting through a bath or your own excrement looking for a bag of smack? Learning to walk again on a prosthetic leg? There are tremendous highs but also crushing lows.
There is no huge payday, no Aerosmith-style resurrection. There is no management company or record label flying Danny out to private Swiss clinics or island tax havens to recover. There is living in hostels, relying on food banks, and injecting drugs with the homeless. Danny’s story has more in common with that of Mark Lanegan than it does with, say, Steven Tyler or Keith Richards.
And yet, despite setbacks in his health, his art, and in business, Danny continues to create songs that connect with people. The moment he plugs in that electric bass guitar, he sounds like only Danny can. He can be an extremely personable guy who will give time and energy to his fans and friends, shake your hand, look you in the eye, and share his extensive knowledge of music from the Toy Dolls to Stevie Ray Vaughan.
There is a legion of people out there wishing him well, rooting for the guy, and who listen to his music each day to help get through their own lives and physical or mental health challenges.
It’s these fans who supported the Patreon campaign which led to this book and who have snapped up the initial copies meaning it is already into its third print run just weeks after release.
Danny has been helped massively by music journalist and all round top human being Guy Shankland, who has not only aided the writing but has really pushed the project along and helped Danny in many ways, doing so much behind the scenes.
Exhilarating and inspiring, but also a brutal and cautionary tale, I, Danny McCormack, is an addictive read.
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.
Tomorrow, we speak with author Guy Shankland and Neil Phillips, and Tom Spencer from The YoYos, the band Danny formed in the late 1990s after the first Wildhearts split.