Talk Of London Theatre

[a]Pete Wylie[/a] always had a heart as big as Liverpool and an ego to match...

[a]Pete Wylie[/a] always had a heart as big as Liverpool and an ego to match. In the ‘Pool of the late ’70s he was one of the self-styled Crucial 3 with [a]Julian Cope[/a] and [a]Ian McCulloch[/a], blessed with prodigious talent and a terminal case of self-delusion. Under increasingly bizarre variations on the Wah! moniker, he released a clutch of fantastic singles in the ’80s – and then vanished.

Well now, at the age of 42, he’s attempting his greatest comeback yet. This time after a) falling down a hole and breaking his back at the start of the ’90s and b) getting dropped by Columbia after making an album that’s rumoured to have cost #750,000. That album (‘Songs Of Strength And Heartbreak’) is brilliant – a swaggering, sentimental collection of epic missives from the edge. Unfortunately, that’s not how it sounds tonight.

Because this is a shambles, an entertaining, rambling and occasionally brilliant shambles, but still a shambles. Wylie arrives onstage in a black frilly shirt, looking like Robbie Williams after four decades in a pie factory, and starts with a cover of Johnny Thunders‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory’. He follows it with ‘Never Loved As A Child’, a song off his new album, and it immediately becomes apparent that his band (hired at the last moment after his previous group walked out the week before) are winging it.

Not that Wylie lets that concern him, because this isn’t so much a gig as a therapy session. A bizarre cocktail of insane ego (“If Tom Jones were alive today, he’d record this,” he says, introducing one song) and hilarious self-deprecation (“I know, I look like Peteloaf“), Wylie does occasionally let a song intrude into the chat. And despite the band’s roughness, the effervescence of tracks like ‘Disneyland Forever’ can’t be repressed, and by the time he gets to ‘Heart As Big As Liverpool’ (the best song he’s written by the width of the Mersey), you’re ready to forgive him anything.

Well, almost anything. Thirty minutes later, he’s still playing. An encore of old Wah! song ‘The Story Of The Blues’ is followed by another reappearance, this time to do ‘Seven Minutes To Midnight’. When he eventually disappears, it’s something of a relief. He remains a one-off. It’s just hard to know if that’s still enough.