For six weeks back in 1977 Pete Wylie was at the epicentre of the music world as one of the semi-legendary Liverpool trio The Crucial Three. But while Ian McCulloch and Julian Cope quickly found fame with Echo & the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes, Wylie went on to form the equally talented but far less successful Wah! Heat.
Almost 30 years, countless name changes, four albums and a near-fatal accident later, he's back on stage as The Mighty Wah!, permanently named in honour of John Peel's acclaim for a band that could and should have matched their peers if only Wylie's ambition had matched his passion. "Peel always said I could have been the biggest of the three if I'd spent less time in the pub talking about how big I was gonna be, and more time actually getting out there and doing it," he confesses to his still-loyal audience today.
A portly bearded figure with receding hair, the middle-aged Wylie bears an uncanny resemblance to his mentor at a similar age, and shares the Liverpudlian DJ's loquaciousness, if not his lugubrious self-deprecation. No song can begin without several minutes of Scouse banter from a man compelled to broadcast his innermost thoughts. It is this honesty and intimacy that is both Wylie's greatest strength and weakness. For every gleefully received indictment of Blair's policy on Iraq, generous tribute to Everton's run of form, touching homage to Peel, or rant against property developers pricing Scousers out of Liverpool as it prepares to become European Capital of Culture in 2008, you sometimes wish he'd just get on with doing what he does best.
When he does, it's far more than a trip down memory lane; unlike his last appearance in London three years ago in the only semi-ironically named Dead Men Walking with the ex-Pistol Glen Matlock, Mike Peters of The Alarm and Kirk Brandon of Theatre of Hate/Spear of Destiny.
Tonight, a new line-up of Steve O'Toole on acoustic guitar, keyboard player Rob Harper, bassist Ren and the hastily recruited drummer Paul Tsanos resurrects the early singles "Better Scream" and "Seven Minutes to Midnight" in all their original glory. The minor hits "Sinful" and "Come Back" are delivered with the same aplomb; the only drawback is a murky mix that engulfs Wylie's guitar playing. Predictably, they save the best, his solitary Top 10 hit "The Story of the Blues", (No 3 in 1982) until last.
Wylie, with some justification, believes one of his newest songs ranks as the best he has ever written. Taken from his forthcoming album Pete Sounds - on sale in demo form while he seeks a new record label - "The Spell Is Broken" exhibits a Phil Spectorish beat, a heartfelt lyric, an infectious melody and a big anthemic chorus. When it's over, he invites the entire audience to join him in the pub across the road, illustrating the truth of Peel's dictum. But he wouldn't have it any other way.Reuse content