There is no domesticating Wreckless Eric’s sound - it runs at a gallop, free of the aesthetic bridles of the music industry.
Having slipped away from the mainstream in the 1980s, he began making lo-fi music from home.
“I wanted to create something meaningful,” he said, “not just bland pop hits. I wasn’t so much drawn to an underground approach as the underground chose me. I was a teenager in the mid and late 60s so I grew up on it.”
A second image that springs to mind, seemingly in juxtaposition, is that of a surgeon: of taking control of one’s work; of making something striking, though flawed, from chaos. His first album is pop cut with punk and sewn up with jazz. Today, he describes his sound as “tuneful, melodic, harsh, discordant, loud, quiet, soft, hard, abrasive and lilting.”
His songs are embroidered with tales of scars: love isn’t tattooed in swirls of colour; nor is life smothered in gloss. Rather, they explore neglected lives, imperfect love, depression, injustice, pain, depravity and death. Think Semaphore Signals, Reconnez Cherie and Take The Cash.
“Life is mundane. Without the strangeness, life would be terribly flat,” he said. “I celebrate the mundane - I like to use modern imagery which isn’t necessarily very romantic or glamorous. But it’s real: it’s the truth.”
Success came quickly for Eric, but, swept along by the current of trends, he felt himself derailed.
“40 years ago, I was an overnight success. I’m thankful for it,” he added, “but it all happened too quickly: I wasn’t always able to keep a handle on my direction; I was manipulated and the results sometimes didn’t reflect what I was really about. I was also saddled with a name that was a gimmick. The public were left wondering what I was. I came up at the start of punk but whether I’m punk or not depends on your definition of it. Some people think I do power-pop based on Whole Wide World but much of my first album was like a weird jazz/punk hybrid.”
It was the trend of domesticating and cleaning up music that frustrated him.
“I took the music seriously but not the presentation - I thought that was a bit of a joke,” he said. “They kept talking about pop so I gave them my version of Herman’s Hermits and unfortunately that was one of the visual images that stuck. So people were wondering if I was a comedy act, or maybe I was an English equivalent to Jonathan Richman, but I wasn’t either.”
Untangling himself from the demands of the industry, he took back the reigns of his identity as an artist.
“I went underground and recorded ramshackle albums for a minority audience. People assumed I was dead because my new records didn’t get daytime airplay. I formed The Len Bright Combo and most people hated us. We had catchy tunes but they were often obliterated with guitar feedback and discords.”
What has remained, however, is his punk spirit.
“I won’t pander to the audience. People ask me to play certain songs and sometimes I can’t because they’ve lost meaning for me. Most people can tell if it’s just a shtick or if it’s really coming from you. I don’t take a stroll down memory lane or deal in nostalgia. I play some of my old songs but I don’t base my set around them.”
Since his hiatus from the mainstream, Eric has seen the music industry evolve.
“It’s a lot better now it’s universally known there’s no money to be made. A lot of the more creepy characters got out of it and put their energies into Internet advertising or some such nonsense. But still it’s dog-eat-dog. Sometimes the most wonderful and perhaps commercially viable music remains obscure because the people who make it aren’t able to deal with the industry.
“A promoter friend of mine said: ‘Everyone’s in the band, nobody’s in the audience.’
“I don’t like to think too much about the music industry: it makes me feel ill.”
Wreckless Eric will play on Thursday, May 4th at Barnoldswick Music & Arts Centre, 18 - 22 Rainhall Road, Barnoldswick. For more information call 01282 813374 or to book for £15 visit www.seetickets.com