Sunday, 20 March 2016

Pete Williams. What people remember. What fans want. What a performer is. Different.

Didn't you use to be...?

Pete Williams. On stage. In his element
Decades ago, I went to watch my beloved but useless football team (I could tell you but you'd die laughing) fold at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers. I was heading home on the train, when a friend, a Wolves fan, called to wind me up. The train was full of Wolves fans, who rapidly clocked that I was being razzed. They sat back to enjoy the spectacle.

I handed my phone to a pal. He loudly name-checked me. Big mistake. 

Amused consternation in the Wolves camp. Coo – they had a DJ in their midst to tease! To be fair, they were actually very nice... for the next interminable hour of ribbing.

But one phrase in particular stuck in my mind: “Didn't you use to be Robin Valk?

Still am, pal, still am. And when I told this tale to Pete Williams, he fell off his chair laughing.

It's him! Yeah, him! Off wosstheirname!

Pete Williams has to deal with this all the time. Memories and perceptions of days gone by don't always sit easily with today's reality. 

Now, let's be clear: I am not equating being a minor DJ on a long gone regional station with being a member of a sensationally successful band of the 80s. Dexys Midnight Runners probably generated more money in three years that the old BRMB did in its entire lifetime. Whether the members of the band saw much of it is another matter.

But Pete gets this sort of thing regularly. It's something that slaps musicians in the face as their careers develop. The music industry pumps them up to ridiculous heights to shift records, and then dumps them to move on to something new. Meantime, as the years move on, craft and savvy overtake posing and rock and roll madness - if you're lucky.

It's a bitter irony that many musos move on to hugely creative levels of work after they've made money for whichever corporate entity signed them. But the image that was dangled in front of punters to pull in the pennies lingers on.
Pete: "There's still a very healthy following, mainly of Dexy's Midnight Runners. I'll tell you what happens, Robin. I'm out somewhere. I go to this place to play bar football on a Tuesday, I'm a regular – nice little pub. And somebody'll whisper
'He was in Dexy's!'
'No! Gerroff!'
'He was! He was! Whas 'e doin' ere?'
And they'll come up and say 
'You still doin' it, our kid?'
Yea, I'm still doin it.
'You was in Dexys?'
Yes, mate, yes, I was in Dexy's.
'Awwww! Come On Eileen!'
Actually I wasn't on that – Geno yes, the first line-up...
And then their eyes glaze over, and they walk off! Of course Eileen was the massive one for that band, but Geno was number one for a couple of weeks.

Bit of respect should be due – you were part of a band that REALLY mattered back then.
Oh, they don't want to know. But, you know, it's fine.

The new work and the richer creativity

Pete is philosophical. Now well into his forties, he's hitting new creative heights. He's crafted two enormously good solo albums, packed with stonking songs and stories. He has just come off a sold out 32-date tour with the Proclaimers, who invited him on to their tour. On it, he won over tough audiences everywhere he played. After an April 1 gig at the Birmingham Rep Studio Theatre, he's off again doing festivals across the country. And it's all self-managed – a long way away from the mad '80s days.
"It's a lot of work. Music is what I do, I'm not that good at much else. So I'm going to work at that. I've done my stint in factories. I've had managers in the past, but I've never had a really good relationship with a manager. Some of them were snakes. I even got sued for bankruptcy on one occasion. But I'm very lucky that I've got good people around me. So I do my absolute best to look after the people around me. I value their commitment. So it's me and Debbie, my better half, constantly trying to move things forward."
Does that stretch to plugging your own stuff?
"Yes, I've done it in the past – hiring pluggers - and I'm not going to do it again. There's no guarantees – these are the dark arts of PR! So you can't turn your back on social media - all the tools that are available. But I've seen that whole area grow – PR, strategising, University courses on all that kind of stuff – and I've seen the artists, and the bands, get treated as less and less important."
I've always found it richly ironic that, as artists develop and grow, just as their maturity and wisdom leads to deeper and more relevant creativity, that the industry drops them to one side. We have generations of craftsmen and women, magnificent seasoned performers, now working on, sometimes into their seventies, who are of no interest to modern day media. I wonder if the fact that these durable performers also now have some business acumen might have something to do with it? 

Pete Willams website

Pete plays the Birmingham Library Studio Theatre on Friday April 1st.

Brum Radio Muso Takeover pt 1

Brum Radio Muso Takeover pt 2  

Photo Credits
Lead image by Chris McCluskie -
Second image from Pete Williams' website

More music posts on Radio To Go


Tue 22, 4pm: In The Studio: Steve Gibbons 

Wed 23, 11pm: Live and Local: Hannah Brown at the Hare and Hounds.
Sat 26, 11am. 
 25, 3 pm: Muso Takeover: Pete Williams (part 1)

After airing, these can be found on Brum Radio's Mixcloud page.

All Radio To Go shows are listed here


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