Reviews

Let’s hear it for the man who has the wisdom to name his record label after the fictional undertakers firm in Keith Waterhouse’s 1959 novel, Billy Liar. And join the dots, if you like, between that novel’s influence on Britpop culture and the northern English incisiveness of Vinny Peculiar (aka Alan Wilkes).
With his 14th solo album, Peculiar once again chooses a concept format to outline recent events in his life. The album title refers to a return to Worcestershire after almost 25 years living in Manchester, and the songs explain why: it was a woman that done him in.
He is a songwriter highly attuned to an almost seamless blend of reflection and humour.

Tracks such as Golden City, A Girl from Bromsgrove Town and On Rainbow Hill are stone-cold pop/folk/rock gorgeous, with a lyric from the latter a heartbreaker of regret and self-realisation: “I walk by the river, I talk to the fishes, make any number of indecent wishes, but none of them will come true, because I finished with me when I finished with you.” Superb.
- Tony Clayton Lea - 15.6.18

INTERVIEW - SAYITWITHGARAGE FLOAWERS
After 23 years living in Manchester, singer-songwriter Vinny Peculiar moved back to Worcestershire, where he grew up. His relocation inspired him to write a concept album, Return of the Native – a brilliant collection of witty, reflective and deeply personal songs, featuring a whole host of weird and wonderful characters, including a burnt-out rock star, the ghost of a Civil War re-enactment enthusiast, Eminem hopelessly lost in Droitwich, ’70s M.O.R. singer Clifford T.Ward, DJ Tony Blackburn and comedian Rik Mayall.

Musically, the album takes the listener on a journey through Worcestershire that’s soundtracked by glam-rock, jangle-pop, psych, Pet Shop Boys-style electro and New Order-esque, Northern melancholy.

In an exclusive interview, I ask Vinny to give me a track by track guide to the record. “It was a learning curve and cathartic,” he tells me. “I was putting some old demons to bed…”

Q & A

Hi Vinny. Let’s talk about your new album. The songs were inspired by you moving from Manchester back to Worcestershire, where you grew up. How and why did relocating inspire you when it came to writing songs and making this album, which is the follow-up to 2016’s Silver Meadows?

Vinny Peculiar: Hi Sean – good to speak with you. Moving back has been cathartic. Return of the Native was inspired by the changes, reflections and, up to a point, the memories I have of former times here. The ideas seemed to ebb and flow into songs soon after the move. I suppose, in some ways, I was writing to make sense of the changes, the end of a long-term relationship, the start of a new chapter…

How are you finding it living in Worcestershire? Is it good to be back?

VP: I’m settling in. It feels good, but it’s taken longer than I expected to connect. I still seem to spend a lot of time on the M6 – the lure of the North is never far away.

Is Return of the Native the first Worcestershire concept album? I can’t think of any others, can you?

VP: I’m not aware of any, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find some obscure folk singer got there before me…

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Picture of Vinny Peculiar by Trust A Fox Photography
Where did you make the record and who worked on it with you?

VP: The recording of the drums and bass and some of the noisier guitars was done in Whitby Studios, Ellesmere Port, with my Liverpool band Paul Tsanos [drums] , Bobby Kewley [bass, cello] and Rob Steadman [ex-Parlour Flames] on keys. The vocals were recorded and edited at home, as were the acoustic guitars, percussion and keyboards.

The serious sheen was added in UNIT 31, in Pershore, by co-producer Dave Draper, who turned a half- decent record into a great sounding one, I like to think.

Was it an easy album to make?

VP: It was something of a learning curve for me at times – the challenge of mic placements, street noise and the neighbours’ dog were all sent to test me – but it felt emotionally cathartic, like I was putting old demons to bed, especially in the more intimate, confessional songs.

I thought it would be fun to do a track-by-track guide to the new record. Let’s talk about each of the songs individually – I’ll throw in a few of my own thoughts and you can tell me more about the tracks and what inspired them. Here we go…

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Track By Track Guide to Return of the Native

The Grove and The Ditch

This is a glam-rocking start to the record. We’re taken back to teenage street gangs of the ’70s. What was the inspiration? It’s quite possibly the only pop song to name check Tony Blackburn…

VP: When I was at school, my Bromsgrove friends and I were routinely terrorised by the Redditch Mob – they’d come over to Bromsgrove and pick a fight with us after school. We weren’t very hard and got regularly chased – it became the norm, they’d accuse us of being in the Bromsgrove Gang and we’d leg it! The song is set in 1974, when Tony Blackburn was dumped by his girlfriend and famously cried in public on Radio 1 – he really was in bits. Many of the other references in the song are from that time – The Rocky Horror Show, winters of discontent were everywhere. Glam rock was just about alive and kicking, but punk rock was about to confine it to history…

Malvern Winter Gardener

I think this is one of the best songs you’ve ever written. It’s beautiful, wistful jangle-pop and is about an eccentric local character – a once famous rock star, who’s reflecting on the gigs he played in the ’70s, at the Malvern Winter Gardens, and the bands he saw back in the day…

VP: Thanks, Sean. I used to go to the Winter Gardens in Malvern as a young teenager – the bands I mention in the song were some of the ones I saw. It was a magical place to me. The song’s narration is from the point of view of a burnt-out rock star who lives in Malvern, working as a gardener and lamenting the glory days.

The idea of using that voice came from conversations with older musicians in the local music shop and the pub. I understand Ted Turner, who played guitar in Wishbone Ash and gets mentioned in the song, used to live in Malvern. I was also informed the cover of Argus [by Wishbone Ash] was shot in the Malvern Hills, but my subsequent research suggests otherwise…still I’ve included it in the song, anyway.

Blackpole

The dangers of English Civil War battle re-enactment. Please discuss…

VP: There’s a Civil War re-enactment society just down the road from me – I walk past it when I go to town. I’m fascinated by people who a dress up to re-enact battles – time travellers, if you will. There’s a particular escapism – a kind of discipline that I admire. The song came from a ‘what if?’ scenario – ‘what if your re-enactment became real and someone got hurt?’ and it grew from there.

The hero of the song dies in battle and returns as a ghost to haunt his girlfriend, who marries the undertaker. I wrote it as a picky little folk song, but it morphed into quite an epic – a twanging, jangling affair. I think it’s one of my favourite songs on the record.

Golden City

What’s the story behind this song? It sounds like it’s named after a Chinese restaurant…

VP: I’d drive past Golden City – and you’re right, it’s a Chinese restaurant here in Blackpole – routinely, when I was in the process of moving from Manchester to Worcester. It’s a rather striking, modern, detached roadside building and I was intrigued. It’s also the name given to San Francisco, which is one of my absolute favourite places to be. The song is about change, hope and moving on, as well as addressing doubt and uncertainty…

Return of the Native

This is the title track and it name checks Rik Mayall, alongside a whole host of other people and local characters who’ve come from Worcestershire…

VP: Yes – there are a lot of name checks in this song – they’re affectionate recollections. The song is derived from a ‘making a list’ approach, I’ve done this with a few songs before where there’s no linear story – a more random approach. Many of the characters are fabricated, but all have local reference points…and Rik Mayall was born just down the road from me, so that has to be worth celebrating. Many of the other landmarks were significant to me when I lived here, all those years ago. I suppose you could say it’s a spontaneous memory song, in the Kerouac tradition of bop prosody, or was it Ginsberg? I digress…

A Girl From Bromsgrove Town

More jangle-pop… This is a sad tale of a girl who left you for the girl next door! Care to shed any more light on this affair?

VP: After visiting my father in his Bromsgrove nursing home, I found myself loitering outside a former girlfriend’s house, waiting for my mother. It was a flashback-type moment, and it set me reminiscing. It’s a true story…

‘Clifford T. Ward taught me for a year – we spent a lot of time distracting him and he was happy to talk music’

The Singing Schoolteacher

This is a very poignant and reflective song, which is about your English teacher, who found brief fame as ’70s M.O.R. singer-songwriter, Clifford T. Ward. It talks about the influence he had on you and how pop music shaped your early life. I guess he was the first famous person you knew and he had a major impact on you… How did he inspire you?

VP: Clifford T. Ward taught me for just a year. He took a less than typical approach to teaching. If we didn’t fancy poetry, he gave us permission to opt out – nobody did – and he had long hair, very long hair, so he was immediately one of us. I don’t remember much about the actual lessons – we spent a lot of time distracting him and he was happy to talk music. He was on John Peel’s record label, Dandelion Records, and he wrote songs for Bronco. All of this was incredibly exciting. When I told him I had musical ambitions, he was the only teacher who took me seriously. I never got to know him as an adult. The song tracks my relationship at a distance, but it’s very much a tribute to his memory and his inspiration when I was young.

Detroitwich

The first time I heard this song, I laughed out loud! Eminem ends up in Droitwich by mistake and mayhem ensues when the locals get their hands on him. There’s even a ‘Vinny Peculiar-doing-the-Pet-Shop-Boys’ West End Girls’ rap vocal! How the hell did you come up with this? It’s bonkers…

VP: I first heard the ‘Droitwich-meets-Detroit’ naming aggregation from my daughter. It amused me no end, setting off some flight of fancy, whereby Eminem, befuddled by endless touring, ends up in Detroitwich, where he’s abducted by the mob, before being rescued by P Diddy. I worked at a plastic mouldings factory in Droitwich when I knew no better – it was rather grim and I suspect its influence has crept into the song somehow. It is sort of bonkers, yes – I can’t really argue with that…

‘I worked at a plastic mouldings factory in Droitwich – it was rather grim and I suspect its influence has crept into the song’

On Rainbow Hill

We’re plunged back into more familiar Vinny Peculiar territory – this is another poignant, reflective, melancholy ballad of lost love. Can you elaborate?

VP: It’s a readjustment song – it’s all about moving on. End of a relationship stuff.

David Swan Riverman

Another song about a local, eccentric character… David Swan Riverman regularly feeds the local swans and ducks and looks out for them. Do you know him? Is there a nod to Nick Drake’s Riverman in the title? I like the haunting, psychedelic feel of this song….

VP: There are a lot of guitars on this song and cellos, too – beautifully played by Bobby Kewley. The haunting Nick Drake-ish-ness is kind of accidental, but I can see what you mean. It’s a droning, root note affair. I don’t actually know David Swan, but I’ve seen him at work and it’s kind of mesmerising and dazzling seeing so many swans assembled at feeding time on the river. Crowds gather around – it’s a beautiful spectacle.

Game Over

This is one of my favourite songs on the album. It sounds like your years living in Manchester have influenced this elegiac song of lost love. I think it has a Joy Division / New Order feel and it references Ian Curtis lyrically…

VP: This was a cathartic song to write, too. Sometimes songs write themselves and you look at them and think ‘is that really me?’ This was such a song. It’s a final acknowledgement – a song that’s hopefully fit to end a record. I wasn’t that aware of the Manchester influence, but I can hear it now you’ve mentioned it. I suppose it’s hard to ignore it after living there for the best part of 23 years.

‘I’ve started making demos for a new album – it’s going to be a very noisy, dissonant wreck of a record’

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the songs, Vinny. Finally, what’s next for you? Any projects in the pipeline?

I’ve started making demos for a new album, which we plan to record and mix live in just five days – the very opposite in many ways to how I typically put records together. It’s not going to be a singer-songwriter album – it’s going to be a very noisy, dissonant wreck of a record. It’s a collaborative project with the musicians formerly known as Parlour Flames – the file sharing has commenced. I have no idea how long it will all take, nor under which name it will emerge, but it feels kind of exciting and new, which is a good sign, I think…

Return of the Native by Vinny Peculiar is released on June 1 (Shadrack & Duxbury Records).





- Sean Hannman - sayitwithgarageflowers
I've always thought the name Vinny Peculiar was what Vyvian from The Young Ones would call completely brilliant. So much so that it feels strangely ordinary referring to him as Alan Wilkes, so playing the card of artistic license, he's going to remain, in my mind, as Vinny Peculiar. A man who's been afforded much deserved acclaim from many sources, his solo work reaches into double figures in album releases, his collaboration with Oasis' Bonehead in Parlour Flames (another brilliant band name) was a particular favourite - possibly enhanced by lying on the grass listening to them play at Ramsbottom Festival one gorgeous Sunny afternoon. I digress.

As the album title says, he's back with a set of songs that furnish the reputation with narratives that wouldn't be out of place coming from the pens or being tapped at the keyboards of some of our nation's favourites that see him readily compared with the eloquence of Ray Davies and the routine drollness of Jarvis Cocker. So, how do what he calls "the past and present collide in the imagination"?

First impressions? Swagger is the word that comes to mind. A full and punchy mix heralds the riff driven namechecks for cricket club discotheques, T Rex and Tony Blackburn, immediately striking a chord and pulling in us old timers who are on the same wavelength. It's the first of several perk up and smile moments as the Malvern Winter Gardener sits and reflects on dreams of Wishbone Ash, "hiding in the potting shed, listening to The Grateful Dead."

A healthy dose of irreverence is the order of the day as you start to really consider how many songs you know about historical battle re-enactments and take in observational narratives that inevitably introduce us to unusual characters and find Vinny channelling his best Ray Davies (especially the "oh how we laughed" line) in rolling out a whole list of them in a gently rollicking Return Of The Native, including a couple that may test the resolve of trivia buffs.

The gentle poignancy of 'The Singing Schoolteacher' is a tribute to one of his inspirations, a North Bromsgrove teacher who encouraged the young Peculiar to go with his musical leanings - the name of Clifford T Ward. Their briefly shared vision ("homework was the enemy…and the NME") and the sudden shift to the sombre reality of his passing. Calling up 'Detroitwich' (love the name - has no-one else thought of that?) offers the antidote of a spoken word rap that transports the threat of the urban metropolis into rural Worcestershire in a demented and bizarre vision/dream. It's a brief interlude in a run of songs that take on a more reflective hue. There's a hint of sadness about David Swan the river man and the Hawley fuelled first person character of the broken man who finds it hard to find the words.

I'm sure Vinny appreciates those words that rate him as an undervalued national treasure, but I'm also sure he would be just as satisfied if a shedload more people would listen to some of these marvellously observed songs.
- Mike Ainscoe - FATEA RECORDS
The bar was nevertheless high. Only two years ago Silver Meadows, a concept plate about life as it is in a psychiatric clinic, was immediately marked by press and public as a highlight in his now fairly extensive oeuvre. The emotional impact of Return Of The Native may not be as great as that of its predecessor - the new album is more compact and stylistically more consistent - but it shows a Peculiar that never sounded better than today.

Did we just say concept board (since the punk wave about the worst insult that you can swing a musician to the head)? That will be because, just like at Silver Meadows and Down The Bright Stream, the reference to his birthplace Bromsgrove is again a thread through the album.

After almost a quarter of a century in Manchester, Peculiar recently returned to his home; Bromsgrove not only formed the setting for his adolescent wanderings in the 1970s, but today also of the eleven songs on the record. Some songs are therefore strongly autobiographical. In it he, as an Adrian Mole, picks up some episodes from his secret diary. For example, opener "The Grove & The Ditch" - Britpop-meets-glam - is about the after-school brawls with the rapaille from nearby Redditch, and in the americanaesque "A Girl From Bromsgrove Town" he pays tribute to the childhood love that he had hijacked by another girl.

In other songs, Peculiar is the dilettant-with-nothing-escape-look and he puts some striking figures in the spotlight. One of them is "David Swan Riverman" (guitars and cello's galore), the man who, when he goes to see the swans and ducks on Sundays, attracts so many swimming birds that he has become a real attraction in the meantime. The psychedelically tinted folksong "The Singing Schoolteacher" is about the teacher who first passed on his love of alternative music to his students, and then became a reasonably successful pop star himself.

That his old / new home is by no means the den of Pluto, Vinny Peculiar wants to show with the very catchy and hit sensitive title song, which reads like a who's who of the local past and present. Did you know that the biggest rock gods in the 60s and 70s regularly sank to the Malvern Winter Gardens, the local concert hall? The gardener of the complex, herself a fallen music star, tells everything about it in the (almost) eponymous song.

Sometimes Bromsgrove is simply the background for Peculiars with the late absurdist, humoristic fabrications. In "Detroitwitch" - pumping beat, touch of disco - a lost Eminem by P Diddy is saved from the clutches of a local gang in the nick of time. In "Blackpole" - which could safely go through one door with "Camouflage" by Stan Ridgway - he displays his love of black humor: an actor is killed while replaying a battle from the English Civil War, but continues to return as a ghost to his house. In the end, his beloved will then escape into the arms of the local funeral director.

That a love break was initially the basis of the move, you hear in the more reflective songs. The dreamy "Golden City" had - when the program still existed (and the compilers had no ear- and blinkers on it) - stood on the playlist of Nachtradio. However, it gets even darker in the acoustic "On Rainbow Hill" and in the doll of "Game Over" waterlogged in melancholy.

As Vinny Peculiar manages to make the ordinary extraordinary in his lyrics, he now manages to transcend the middle distance with traditional, classical songwriting. Alan Wilkes has not been awake for a long time from hits or a major breakthrough. The advantage of operating in the lee is that he is his own boss, he should not be concerned about hypes and trends and can just remain himself. That's fine, and that's how Vinny Peculiar has been at its best for several decades now.
- enola.be Belgium - translated by Google Translate
An album celebrating his return to his roots after years living in Manchester, with its heady dose of nostalgia and memories, borrowing the title from Thomas Hardy (and with a cover that sees him fork in hand to dig up old ground), Bromsgrove-born Alan Wilkes’ thirteenth album (fourteenth if you include his Parlour Flames collaboration with Bonehead) Return Of The Native is a magnificently parochial collection that really does mark him down as Worcestershire’s Ray Davies. It opens in 1974 at the height of glam rock with ‘The Grove & The Ditch’, a riff driven, feedback laced stomp about local teenage gang rivalries that references, among others, T Rex, heavy rock outfit Jameson Raid and their regular Hopwood bikers’ venue haunt, Lickey Hills pub The Forest Inn, Bromsgove café The Strand, Rocky Horror, The Bay City Rollers, Gary Glitter, Donny Osmond and Tony Blackburn’s on-air meltdown over his split with Tessa Wyatt while Bowie is clearly there among the musical influences. Anyone who ever, as he puts it, got “off their tits” on pills in a Wacky Warehouse will resonate with this.

It’s off to another part of the county for the jangling, punningly titled ‘Malvern Winter Gardener’, a song about a faded rock star and the Malvern Winter Gardens, one of the top venues during the 60s, 70s and 80s, Vinny recalling seeing, among others, the likes of Budgie, Sassafras, The Clash and Eddie & The Hot Rods. By way of shift, ‘Blackpole’, another area of Worcester, spins a darkly jocular tale of a battle re-enactor who, following an unfortunate moment of realism, now haunts the re-enactment fields and his former girlfriend who, as it happens, married the undertaker.

Combining the nickname for San Francisco with a Chinese restaurant in Blackpole, ‘Golden City’ touches on depression and moving on, a subject of several of his previous songs and the calm familiar places can bring, then it’s another string of memento memoriae name checks with the album’s jauntily sunny and boisterous title track which, flitting around Bromsgrove and Droitwich starts with Rik Mayall, Chateau Impney and Dudley Zoo and references the likes of Jim Reeves, Sandy Richardson (a character in cheesy ITV soap Crossroads, since you ask), Coronation Street star Doris Speed and 70s Redditch punk outfit The Cravats alongside local colourful characters and shops.

The lovely Lilac Time-like acoustic strum of ‘A Girl From Bromsgrove Town’ provides the true story of an ill-fated schooldays romance, recalling how he turned up at college to surprise her and found her kissing the girl next door, returning thirty years later to where she grew up. Whether he knocks on the door or not, you’ll have to get the disc to find out.

Some may remember the late singer-songwriter Clifford T Ward who had hits with ‘Gaye’ and ‘Scullery’ in the early 70s. Before finding brief musical fame, he was a school teacher in Bromsgrove and, yes, one of his pupils was, briefly, a young Alan Wilkes, the quietly fingerpicked tumbling melody of ‘The Singing Schoolteacher’ being an affectionate memory of how Ward introduced him to the Romantic poets but, more crucially inspired his musical visions and how they bonded over tales of Bronco and Dandelion Records.

The musical tone sharpens a few notches with the inspirationally titled ‘Detroitwich’, which, sporting Pet Shop Boys influences (‘West End Girls’ to be specific) driven by drums and a paranoid guitar riff spins a semi-rapped fantasy about how, having got the wrong plane, Eminem (“the millionaire rapper who sampled Chas n Dave”) winds up in Droitwich (the former home of Rik Mayall, the song reminds) in a Wicker Man scenario and has to be rescued by P Diddy, stopping off for a pint at The Swan on the A38 before escaping to somewhere safer.

‘On Rainbow Hill’, a ward in Worcestershire, provides the setting for a sparsely arranged downbeat guitar and piano waltzer, the fallout from another love that could never be (“I finished with me when I finished with you”), that melancholic mood spilling across into the six-minute guitars and cellos swathed psychedelic drone ambience of ‘David Swan River Man’, a tribute to another local eccentric who feeds and cares for the local swans and ducks.

It ends gloriously with the poignant emotional cadences of ‘Game Over’, a thematic echo of ‘On Rainbow Hill’ about breaking off a relationship and moving away and then being haunted by loneliness and regrets for could have been, the lyrics specifically referencing Ian Curtis and, of course, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’.

You might not get most of the album’s references, but you’ll not fail to feel the universality of the emotions.
- Mike Davies Folking.com

English cult singer-songwriter Vinny Peculiar’s fourteenth solo album ‘Return of the Native’, like its equally literate 2016 predecessor ‘Silver Meadows’, is a concept album of sorts. It was inspired by Peculiar’s move back to his childhood home of Worcestershire after twenty-three years based in Manchester and the break-up of a long-term relationship.

Peculiar’s youth and adolescence has always had a huge bearing on his work, and the evocative opening track ‘The Grove and The Ditch’, which is backed by a stomping glam guitar riff, winds back the years to 1974. It captures some of the joys and horror of his teenage years (“Life’s a gas/No, life’s a bitch”), telling of going to see T. Rex at the town hall and walking miles home afterwards, Radio 1 DJ Tony Blackburn’s infamous on-air meltdown after breaking up with his first wife Tessa Wyatt, ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’, and falling foul of a rival gang who chased Peculiar and his mates after a Cricket Club disco.

Rippling country ballad ‘A Girl from Bromsgrove Town’ finds Peculiar in equally reflective mood, as he passes by the house of an old flame for the first time in many years. This sparks off memories of how their romance, carried on from school into college, came to an awkward end after he found her kissing the girl in the next door hall-of-residence room to her. The soft psychedelic haze of ‘The Singing Schoolteacher’ recollects Peculiar’s English teacher of a year, Clifford T. Ward, who went on to have a briefly successful career as a 70’s pop star (“When he appeared on ‘Top of the Pops’ it was like all our dreams had come true”).

There are two wonderful moments of fantasy too. The unfortunate narrator on the deceptively breezy pop anthem ‘Blackpole’ is accidentally killed while taking part in the re-enactment of an English Civil War battle. After his death he continues as a ghost to watch over his girlfriend, who stays on in their house in the Worcester village of Blackpole and promptly finds a new love in the local undertaker. The hilarious ‘Detroitwich’, which has a striking, shimmering guitar line reminiscent of Blondie’s on ‘Rapture’, meanwhile imagines Eminem, disorientated from touring, having got off the train at the wrong stop in “the deepest, darkest heart of rural Worcestershire,” and finding himself instantly out of his depth when he is handcuffed and kidnapped by a gang there.

Stark acoustic ballad ‘On Rainbow Hill’, which comes towards the end of ‘Return of the Native’ finds Peculiar ruminating on his new life of solitude in Worcestershire, and his ex-partner, who he still thinks of affectionately and keeps a picture of on his wall (“I finished with me when I finished with you”).

The final track ‘Game Over’, which reflects on the same theme, is even stronger still. Beginning with the sound of a ticking clock, it embraces together Peculiar’s regular bandmate Rob Steadman’s rolling chimes of keyboard with his own slowly gusting, this time electric guitar. “I’m the broken man/I broke up with you/Took everything we had/Broke it two,” he admits. Nakedly honest and self-damning himself for his need to be alone, he tells his ex in the final, closing lines, “It takes you by surprise/You never see it coming/There are tears in your eyes/They’re all for nothing.” Barely three minutes in length and achingly simple, it is Peculiar’s most poignant, powerfully moving moment on record since ‘And Soon the Darkness’, the in contrast anthemic final track of his short-lived band Parlour Flames’ 2013 only self-titled album.

Musically and lyrically diverse, ‘Return of the Native’ finds Vinny Peculiar moving on again after ‘Silver Meadows’, which told of the lives and loves of the patients and staff in a mental hospital. One of our finest singer-songwriters, he takes the often ordinary and makes it extraordinary.
- Penny Black Music - John Clarkson
'Vinny Peculiar continues to deliver varied, compelling, observational and poignant pop at its absolute best' Will Munn - SLAP MAGAZINE
- SLAP MAGAZINE
- Label: 'Shadrack & Duxbury'
- Genre: 'Indie' - Release Date: '17th February 2017'

Our Rating: 8/10

Quirky Salford-based outsider artist Alan Wilkes presents four new tunes that would go down like a lead balloon at a lad's club.

Macho guys may well scoff but reconstructed males will find much to identify with as Mr Wilkes explores the perils and guilty pleasures of voyeurism and fetishism.

Much in the manner of Jarvis Cocker, the saucy songs tell you more about masculine insecurities than the fairer sex. Trial By Lingerie, for instance, is "a light-hearted look at male humiliation in an Marks & Spencer's lingerie department". This is not hardcore.

Thoughts of sugar and spice and all things nice turn into dreams of a transgender life in I Came Back As A Girl. Meanwhile in House Of Girls there are mirrors on the wall and condoms on the shelf in rooms where the promised moments of bliss occur in a suburban setting.

The other tune , No Reply, is a touching rainy day piano ballad about a lost love to prove that when operating in the guise of Vinny Peculiar, Alan Wilkes has more than just a one track mind.

- Martin Raybould writes for Whispering n Hollerin
Who is Vinny Peculiar? Is he a poet? Musician? Philosopher? Explorer of societal mores? Well, he is all of these things and more. He investigates areas of societal belief and invites you to do the same.“Silver Meadows” (Fables from the Institution) delved into mental health and this tasty morsel looks at gender-related identity. A concept E.P. of four tracks, it investigates gender typecasting, webcam sex, sadness, loss and humiliation. His words do not bludgeon or rant at you but rather, gently creep up and whisper in your ear. Gain your attention gently, tease you into taking note.

I Came Back As A Girl looks at reincarnation as a woman with all the ensuing stereotypical assumptions. House of Girls – views of underworld webcam sexual activities. ‘No Reply’ is a gentle ballad accompanied by piano and is about loss and the final track, Trial by Lingerie, recounts the embarrassment felt by a man in a chain store’s lingerie department.

Yet again, Vinny Peculiar produces songs that on the surface seem whimsical but have a much deeper message to convey. He does this with clever lyrics and solid musical accompaniment. Yet again, he delivers. A musical commentator on today’s socio-cultural and gender political social constructs. A gem.
- 'Another jewel from Vinny Peculiar's treasure chest of wordsmithery' 9/10

- Musicians Union
Slap Magazine review Feb 2017
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SILVER MEADOWS - Penny Black Music Review

'Like the great Ray Davies with so much of his work with the Kinks, Vinny Peculiar’s lyrics initially take centre stage on his new album, ‘Silver Meadows’. His first concept album, ‘Silver Meadows’ takes its inspiration from the fifteen year period Peculiar, a former nurse, spent working in various mental institutions and long stay hospitals during the 1980s and early 1990s. It captures a world of contrasts in which while some patients plan escape others have become totally institutionalised and in which periods of dull, regimented routine are broken up by both patient episodes and sudden eruptions of violence.

The scene-setting opening track ‘The Institution’ chronicles a day and night on the wards, an environment in which for all its clockwork monotony staff have to be on permanent watch (“Staff nurse counts the cutlery/Makes another pot of tea”) and several of the female inhabitants have spent their entire adult lives (“They tell you crazy stories about a missing child/The punishment in those days was to throw away the key”).

On ‘The Saviour of Challenging Behaviour’ a psychologist falls foul of his hospital managers with his radical ideas for change and becomes “a dead man walking”. Despite his swift exit, he, however, has a permanent liberating effect on many of his patients (“We have to set these people free/Let them be who they want to be/Let them see their time is coming”).

In counterbalance to that though, the protagonist of the title track, a former patient unable to cope with the outside world, happily returns to the institution, wanting its familiarity and routine (“Going back to Silver Meadows/ Same old faces working there/Stan the caretaker still smiling/And Jenny she cuts your hair/I lived here when I was young and I felt so safe and sound”).

Peculiar also writes poetry, and his words are so alluring, his description of this insular world of the mental institution so enticing that it takes a few hearings of ‘Silver Meadows’, before the music, which is for the most part low and understated in the mix, starts to emerge from behind his vocals. Then it proves equally gripping – a stark piano, which is the only other instrument than Peculiar’s voice, on ‘The Institution’ has an almost hymnal quality; ‘The Saviour of Challenging Behaviour’ is backed by a softly chiming folk tune which complements perfectly the wistful lyrics, and the breezy, hazy pop of the title track captures its central character’s euphoria at being back at what he sees as home.

‘Albert’ - about a permanently escaping man-child – appears in the second half of ‘Silver Meadows’, and, in contradiction to the reflective tone of much of the rest of the record, is a surprising sing-a-long number, its boisterous, swaggering tune and chanted chorus helping to nail the farce and tragi-comedy of much of its lyrics (“Six fat coppers brought him back to the ward/Six fat coppers couldn’t hold him down/No soon as they returned him he was back into town”).

Peculiar, however, saves his best trick to last. After ‘Waiting Games’, a semi-acoustic love song with a twist in which a paraplegic mute with locked-in intelligence falls for his attentive new psychologist (“Anyone will do/Anyone/I just hope that it is you”), it concludes with the doomy ‘The Back Wards’.

About the infamous, now closed back wards which still existed as late as the 1980s and in which hard-to-manage patients were housed and were regularly beaten up and assaulted (“You better behave or they’ll send you away/Send you away to the back wards/Just settle down and do as you’re told or they’ll make you pay on the back wards”), it starts slowly, building gradually up with the aid of synthesised strings, before crashing down in its final moments in a mass of distorted guitar lines and turbulence and, after the restraint of much of the rest of ‘Silver Meadows’, bringing the album to a shocking, startling conclusion.

‘Silver Meadows’ is an astonishingly powerful record, one of both musical and lyrical contrasts, and which captures with both humour and poignancy both the monotony and horror of being in a mental institution. It is an enthralling album and a remarkable achievement.
- Penny Black Music
Alan Wilkes has been trading under the rather apt moniker of Vinny Peculiar for most of his professional career, and if there’s a more underrated (read cult) quality UK songwriter out there then we have yet to hear them.
Silver Meadows has a terrific concept – a former nurse, Peculiar’s 13th studio album is inspired by not only experiences from his previous occupation but also regular visits to his schizophrenic brother’s long-term stays in psychiatric and learning disability hospitals.
The subject matter, then, is very serious, but Peculiar’s talents lie in widening the context; this results in songs as intelligent, wise and witty (and sad) as The Wednesday Club, The Savior of Challenging Behaviour, and Waiting Games.
- Tony Clayton-Lea The Irish Times 16/6/16
SILVER MEADOWS [Fables from the Institution]

'If Ken Loach ever feels like doing a stage musical, this is his book'

Mike Davies
- Folking.com
SILVER MEADOWS [Fables from the Institution]

'A strange brave and captivating album' 4/5
- Daily Mirror 3/6/16
SILVER MEADOWS [Fables from the Institution] May 2016

Perceptive and insightful visit to the “Institution” 9/10

“Concept album” These words often make me shudder, hesitate and proceed with great caution. Concept album with the theme of the life and workings of a mental health institution would have stopped me in my tracks ready to flip open the bin but for the artist, Vinny Peculiar. His past offerings have been so deeply satisfying that I couldn’t give it a miss. His musical history of acute observation and quintessential Englishness have thrilled me in the past, but I was still a little cautious. But no need as it turns out. “Silver Meadows” exceeds expectations - a poignant, sharply observed and beautifully written collection of songs, expertly produced and executed. And he is well placed to comment on this particular theme – a former mental health nurse and familial visitor.

Vinny’s talent not only lies with his intelligent and affecting lyrics, but he is musically a master of the complete song. We have upbeat and downbeat, a tender piano piece, touching guitar tunes and a couple of ones that you just can’t help singing along to. All of them astutely conceived, perceived and performed. It does, of course, touch on some very dark themes – isolation, fear, pointlessness but don’t be put off. Vinny handles all of these with a delicate touch, not shying away from the truth but also not shouting from the rooftops. He maintains a fine balancing act – says it how it is but with great lyricism and literacy. And therein lies his appeal. He rarely fails to write graceful lyrics – sometimes profound, sometimes with humour but always intelligent and these are carried along by some masterful melodies. I thought his last album “Down the Bright Stream” was the peak, but this surpasses it. With each track you just want to hear what the next one will offer. “A joy” seems somehow incongruous, but it isn’t and this is. What was I hesitating for? This is a gem. You’d be mad not to listen to it.
- Americana -UK
Irish Times

DTBS review Tony Clayton Lea
Singer-songwriter Vinny Peculiar (aka Alan Wilkes) doesn’t really fit in anywhere: he’s too old for the cool kids, too odd for the mainstream, too quintessentially English for his music to travel.
And yet he manages (just about) to release an album every few years for a small but appreciative audience who recognise his awkward kind of brilliance.
Blending sensible levels of nostalgia and sentiment (English Village, Catalogue Trousers, I Only Stole What I Needed, The Doo Kum Inn) with resignation (Girl at the Bar) and wit (The King of Pop, Antony Gormley), Down the Bright Stream succeeds so well because the veracity of the largely autobiographical lyrics makes it intact and invulnerable.
Part Pulp, part Kinks, and very much part Peculiar, this is observational, punk-tinged songwriting at its best. 4/5 vinnypeculiar.com

Vinny Peculiar’s own quintessentially British take on the world is perfectly encapsulated in this, his tenth album release. He is something of an oddity in the music world - neither the fish of a youngster or the fowl of the old legendary performer, but something unusual and a little bit quirky in between. Young Alan Wilkes was born and brought up in the Midlands but now resides in Manchester, where his alter-ego Vinny Peculiar has emerged.”Down the Bright Stream” does not disappoint, although I was a little nervous after being such a fan of his last album, “The Root Mull Affect”. The divine “English Village” opens the proceedings and then we are taken on a Vinny roller coaster of rye observation and succinct lyricism.
Often, with singers where lyrics are all important, the musicianship is lacking, but not in this case. Each gem is beautifully played and executed. I thought the “Jesus stole my Girlfriend” earworm would not be replaced, but it has been. His ability to write entertainingly about a myriad of mainly everyday events and occurrences is a skill indeed. From “Catalogue Trousers” to “Antony Gormley” we are not exploring the great questions of life and our existence but taking an angled observation of the absurdity and idiosyncrasy of life in England. I challenge anyone to not find something in here that they can identify with. A glorious romp through eccentricity. Pedal down to your local music outlet and purchase it now! Americana-uk 9/10

THE BIG TAKEOVER Oct 2015
Peculiar (Alan Wilkes) adorns the same gilded mantle as Martin Newell—two superb, yet criminally undervalued songwriters. “Down The Bright Stream” is a heartbreaker, packed with songs of reminiscence, teleporting you (like Jeff Goldblum’s lucky baboon) into some bizarre version of rural England. “English Village” recalls Newell’s prime Cleaners From Venus, but with way better production! Wilkes takes you there, as you inhabit these comedic yet melancholic songs. “Girl At The Bar” deposits you in queasy discourse with a forlorn lass of thirsty ear and stomach. “Antony Gormley” is his bid at half-time naughtiness, and what brazen lyrics! The closing “The DooKumInn” deftly recalls an ill-fated second-hand shop that purveyed ’70s memorabilia, closing an LP that’s equally nostalgic and harried by time’s ruthlessness. (vinnypeculiar.bandcamp.com)

Mike Davies Feb 2015
Every time a new album from Alan Wilkes rolls around, reviewers haul out the Ray Davies comparisons, sometimes compounding them with a reference to Jarvis Cocker. Repetition doesn't make them any less accurate, so far be it from me to deviate from tradition now. Wilkes is a fully paid up member of the Village Green Preservation Society, and, as such, has free access to the nostalgia archives to celebrate sepia-toned memories of English life. Describing his latest excursion as "songs of young optimism, songs of adult despair, songs of experimental thinking and songs of dumb obstinacy", he again draws on his own childhood and teenage years, the album's very title being lifted from a 1948 novel by Denys Watkins-Pitchford, better known as BB, one of a series about the last four gnomes in England, which was favourite reading when he was in ordinary school.

The album shares the books' love of rural England, tinting it with regrets for the loss of a more innocent age, a theme perfectly embodied in the opening two numbers. The first, English Village, is a tumbling 60s pop bucolic bittersweet reverie of village teenage life, the cricket team on the green, the ritual of watching Top of the Pops (and the ritual of the growns up asking 'is that a boy or a girl?'), NME and Sounds and the unexpected if slightly awkward thrill of finding a picture of a girl you knew in Mayfair, of finally moving away and returning years later to find the council having allowed it to go to seed. This is followed by the even more specific Catalogue Trousers, a Pulp-like dose of dreamy, reflective pop introduced with church organ that reminisces about the vanished world of mail order catalogues, such as Kays, that let families buy goods for weekly payments and young boys to pore over models in lingerie. It also manages to namecheck both Bobby Crush and Peter Gordeno, two icons of 70s kitsch.

Although they're the most obviously autobiographical numbers, other numbers also nod to his formative years. In a subtle comment about enduring values, backdropped by a cosmic swirl of syths and keyboards with Jah Wobble on bass, The DooKumInn offers a spoken memoir about a tacky 70s boutique that brought a taste of Carnaby Street to village kids desperately looking to be cool, its brief existence counterpointed by mention of the babywear shop where his mom worked, and which lasted for years.

At the same time, like every truly adept storyteller, he can inhabit characters and blur the line between the personal and the perceived. Take Egocentric Man which, to a minimal guitar chime and a hint of organ, unfolds a me me me confession of self-interest and self-delusion, the conviction of which cracks apart in the emotional last lines, while the mid-tempo swaying I Only Stole What I Needed, a list of things pilfered (from "nappies for my baby daughter" to Rich Tea biscuits) that calls to mind early Cockney Rebel and plays out like damning social comment.

Stepping away from the general theme, there's The King Of Pop, a slow waltzing, relatively straightforward tribute to Michael Jackson that references the Cocker incident and wonders what or who (the hangers on, the media, his father, the public) led to his death. Likewise, Antony Gormley is a jaunty, playful number poking fun at the 100 iron men sculptures on Crosby Beach, in particular Gormley's cast of his own penis, "a fine old sausage, but it's not very sexy." Forget Ray Davies, this is far more Viv Stanshall.

Also taking an uptempo approach is the jokey meta-fiction Floating Away which, with shades of vintage Bowie, has him trying to write a song about his love but mixing up the girls and being unable to take control of the words, so says she'll have to settle for this one for the time being.

However, it's the slower regret-streaked reflections on life and loss that resonate most, as in the Girl At The Bar, a brief unconsummated encounter with a girl he knew back when, and the heartbreakingly poignant standout track, The Saddest Summer of Samuel S, as, set to a musical box backing, a letter prompts first love memories (the title referring to the Donleavy novel "she was reading when we first met") and an illicit reunion that reminds how you can never truly go back.
He sings how "the past is made of rock and roll gold", and the Peculiar hallmark always guarantees that it is 24 carat.

SOUNDS XP - Album Review 'DOWN THE BRIGHT STREAM'
I knew that ‘Down The Bright Stream’ was coming my music way. While waiting I pacified myself with Vinny’s prior release to it, ‘The Root Mull Affect: A Retrospective’. ‘The Root Mull’ is like a reminder of Peculiar’s rich music past and it made me worry about his future music releases. Could anything that Peculiar went on to create be anywhere near as good as what his back catalogue displays? The album title is named after a book that VP used to get read to him at school so you know that there is going to be an element of nostalgia in the mix. There is so much more to this album than returning to happy memories though.
The opening track, ‘English Village’, is a triumph. The gentle guitar strumming eases us into the typical witty and observant lyrics that come so easy to Mr Peculiar. Words are painted, not written. Every line is so vivid that you can see the scenes that he is describing before your very eyes. Subject matter is vast covering everything from Top of the Pops to decaying cemeteries where loved ones lie in rest. Vinny covers in one song what many artists cannot achieve in a whole album.

‘Catalogue Trousers’ follows the opening track and it is a joy to listen to as the days gone by of catalogue purchasing are explored. Only Peculiar could give clothing importance! Nearly every line is embedded in the history of his slacks.
“I wore them when I first appeared on stage At the Methodist Youth Hall in Golden Cross Lane”. The music arrangement is moving as Peculiar’s vocals dip in and out of singing and citing lyrics. He moves from singer to poet in an effortless fashion.

‘I Only Stole What I Needed’ is Vinny listing everyday items that have not been paid for. The line, “I only stole what I needed” weaves its way in and out of the stolen items. It is a simple idea yet the delivery makes it all seem so poignant especially when Peculiar says, “I count my blessings at the end of every day”. It almost hurts the heart when you assess it. It is social commentary that Dickens would be impressed by.

One of my favourite tracks (though they’re all my favourite really) is ‘Egocentric Man’: “I spend my days coveting my muse inventing situations sharing other peoples news”. The lyrics in this song and the flow of them are superb.

‘Girl At The Bar’ is such a sad song. The guitars almost cry as Peculiar once again taps into the human psyche and how we interact with each other, the embarrassments and the regrets this life throws at us as we catch our last train home.

There is a song about the British sculptor, ‘Anthony Gormley’ (responsible for the Angel of the North). It is rude and delicious and an exaggerated look at the male genitals. I love it and it is a welcome break from some of the melancholy moments on here. The track that follows it is a surprise song about Michael Jackson. ‘The King of Pop is Dead’ documents everything from the change in Jackson’s music style to that Jarvis incident and suggests that “We killed him”.

The penultimate song, ‘The saddest song of Samuel S’ is the saddest song on the album. “And there’s a time to remember and a time to forget. A time to shut up and a time to confess”. It’s a moving affair about the effects that a first love leaves on a person and how the wanting never quite leaves you. At one point in the song it is almost like Peculiar is going to choke on the words as he tries to say them. Then the music seems to blend in perfectly to introduce the last song, ‘The Doo Kum Inn’. The music is haunting and seems to demand a more dramatic subject matter but it is just about a boutique and its demise. The music arrangement is both beautiful and sad. It reflects my mood as the album come to a close. I do not want it to end.

This album was recorded in various places including Vinny’s home studio. Many talented people contributed to it including Jah Wobble and ex Parlour Flames members. It is released on 30 March and I cannot recommend enough that you allow it into your life. It is also available to stream now on Vinny’s website.

If you have a moment, take a look at Peculiar’s discography. It is an impressive body of work displaying some of the finest songwriting ever to grace music in my opinion. Just when you think that the ink must run dry and the thoughts run out, he delivers an album that you can return to again and again.

Mr Peculiar, I have no idea how you keep creating but please continue to do so. Like streams are important as conduits in the water cycle, Peculiar is a necessary figure on the musical landscape.
Mary B
-
Press Quotes - The ROOT MULL AFFECT May 2014

‘A well-measured introduction to an under-sung national treasure’ UNCUT MAGAZINE 7/10

‘The missing link between Jarvis Cocker and poet Roger McGough and some of the wittiest lyrics this side of Wreckless Eric’ IRISH TIMES 4/5

This fifteen-track album from the Salford based singer songwriter is frankly, unmissable. A real joy. Americana-uk 9/10

Crashing poppily through Vinnys world of nostalgia and insight every song stuffed to the gills with melody and eccentricity, clever, funny and wonderfully weird’ R2 magazine 4/5

‘Autobiographical fragments brightened by adoration of Bowie, punk and ‘Alice Cooper on TOTP’ Classic Rock 7/10

A master at work with his clever engaging lyrics that seem to come effortlessly to him, I do not want to live in a music world without Vinny Peculiar in it’. Subba Cutcha

‘ Songs as English as warm beer and Marmite’ Whisperin & Hollerin 7/10

‘Lugubriously delivered, quintessentially English quirk-pop’ 3/5 Record Collector

'like a warm hearted Morrissey' UNCUT 4/5

-
THE ROOT MULL AFFECT ****
His passport name is Alan Wilkes, but for many years Vinny Peculiar – songwriter, sometime poet and all-round racy raconteur – has stalked the haunts of the great and good in search of the missing link between Jarvis Cocker and poet Roger McGough. You could say that Peculiar is as peculiar does, and what we have here is a collection of some of the Manchester man’s finest songs. Blending the lo-fi/DIY approach of punk rock with quality songwriting and some of the wittiest lyrics this side of Wreckless Eric, Peculiar might be viewed (incorrectly) in some quarters as a long-haired relic of a different era. But if you’re looking for the kind of observational songwriting skills you thought disappeared with the demise of Pulp (or, indeed, The Auteurs), then The Root Mull Affect is a brilliant point of entry.
- Tony Clayton-Lea - The Irish Times ****
Root Mull Affect:

'Most will interpret 'Peculiar' as odd, but it also means 'special' or
'distinctive' and, as a noun, "exempt from the jurisdiction of the
ordinary in whose territory it lies." Sound about right to me.'
- Mike Davies, Roots and Branches
‘When you listen to a Vinny Peculiar album you cannot help but think that you have come across his diary and as you sit and read it you feel both uncomfortable and wonderful all at once. His music is littered with the complex and yet everyday emotions that the masses go through and it is reassuring to know that we are not alone in our ponderings and self-analytical behaviour.’
- Sounds XP
‘Wry wit, incisive observations, touching humanity, and a 60s suburban English cultural sensibility (his label’s named from kitchen sink escapism drama Billy Liar), summoning comparisons to not only Ray Davies, but Babybird, Jarvis Cocker, and Morrissey’
- Mike Davies
‘Vinny’s songs, a beautiful blend of Americana, indie-pop and busker-punk, create an almost George Formby-like world of oddity and human frailty, and the self-deprecating veracity of his lyrics never fails to hit the intended spot’
- True Love MAGAZINE ***
‘Vinny Peculiar is all about the words. Looking (and singing a bit) like Elvis Costello in wig and baseball cap, it’s hard to work out what’s more entertaining – the story-cum-songs or the preceding self-deprecating monologues. Clutching his guitar, he gyrates and jack-knifes round the stage like a busker desperate for 20p to get into the tube station toilets. Endearing and irreverent’
- MEN Live Reviews
‘Honest, witty, incomparably savvy about pop culture, Vinny’s songs make you smile and for the duration of three minutes plus, they manage to make the world a better place.’
- City Life
‘A treasure trove of timeless pop brilliance’
- Big Issue
'Sounding like Vic Chessnut tooled up for an armed robbery’
- Irish Times
‘Imagine a surreal episode of My Two Dads where said fathers are Jarvis Cocker and David Bowie, who bully their child into liking them and everything they like, like glam stomp, kitchen sink vignettes, mordantly witty lyrics, nostalgia, dreams and a sneer, and you‘re ready for Vinny Peculiar, Manchester’s premier forward thinking backward looking song smith’
- W&H
'If Tony Hancock had made pop records they would have sounded like this'
- UNCUT Magazine
'Whatever Happened to Vinny Peculiar?:

Superb collection of offcuts and obscurities spanning 1989-2003.
Belying its inferior connotations – and with new LP Revolt Into Style imminent - this selection of outtakes and alternate versions is uniformly excellent. Peculiar (aka Manchester-based Brummie Alan Wilkes) is clearly a waggish Northern humorist in the same vein as Morrissey, but delivers his tragi-comic asides with the menace of Luke Haines and the doomed allure of Ian McCulloch. Already some years old, "Showcase Time" and "Slow Television" are prescient, damning indictments of Generation X-Factor, whilst "Uno Disco" is a smart exercise in cabaret-glam. Touchingly too, the institution-railing "Big Grey Hospital" recounts the fate of his late schizophrenic brother to disquieting effect.'
- Rob Hughes, Uncut Magazine
'Vinny Peculiar, what can I say? Funny, great voice, nice hat, very entertaining and mad as a shithouse rat! Stories, stories, stories - the attempted murder of his music teacher whilst he was taking swimming club, being thrown off the cricket team in school due to 'Glam Metal' and losing his girlfriend to Jesus Christ are just a few topics to be explored in 30 minutes or so of Vinny's vitriolic rants!! Refreshingly brilliant, undeniable genius, I love him so much I'm ordering his entire back catalogue from his web site and feel you too should do the same, it can only enhance your life.'
- Live Review: The Barfly, Liverpool - Andrew Killip, Drowned In Sound
'With his flat cap, florid blouse and fidgety nervous energy pitched somewhere between Andy Warhol and Jarvis Cocker, there's an anarchic elegance to Vinny Peculiar which is both at once both thrilling and faintly unsettling. The Manchester troubadour is a veteran from the city's anti-folk circuit, but it is his recent recruitment of the rhythm section from the Smiths which has reawakened interest in his glam-tinged kitchen sink vignettes. Storming through a set of oblique, tortured punk poetry, he wins over an initially skeptical crowd with his animated delivery and taut, frenetic pop hooks. Channeling all that eccentricity and barbed wit into something strangely compelling Vinny Peculiar is the sort of unlikely, heroic pop star they just don't seem to make anymore. -- 4/5'
- Edinburgh Festival: Live Review - The Underbelly
'In the roll call of psychiatric nurses turned popster (see also Thom Yorke and Kevin Coyne), Manchester-based VINNY PECULIAR deserves far more kudos. By day he may labour away as unassuming Alan Wilkes, but his musical alter-ego has been treading the boards for going on two decades and it's only now his intriguing back catalogue is beginning to surface.

W&H were delighted by VP's previous album "Ironing The Soul" (I think his third under the VP moniker if I have this right), and "Growing Up With Vinny Peculiar" is another set of winsome, pithy guitar pop from this engagingly deadpan performer, who ought to be mentioned in the same breath as enduring English mavericks Luke Haines and Peter Hammill.

As the title suggests, "Gowing Up With Vinny Peculiar" consists mostly of songs relating to incidents and experience involving and/ or observed by our hero on life's highway. Religion, education, pop and politics all come under the hammer and it makes for an insightful 40 minutes for anyone who loves fine, idiosyncratic pop. And you shouldn't be reading this if you don't.

It's a consistent set, so obvious highlights don't immediately spring out, although straight away the witty "I Work For God" and the souped-up "Punk Rock Dreaming" register in the synapses. In the former, Vinny works in a call centre directly for Tthe Man Upstairs, but it's a heaven even the angels are sick of. "The rest of us just sit around wishing we could go to Hell, but they’re oh so fussy who they let in," deadpans VP over the dreamy, Pulp-ish sway of the music. "Punk Rock Dreaming", on the other hand, is probably the most aggressive thing here, coming on like a cross-fertilisation of early Bowie and The Clash, and makes a few good points about pop and politics en route.

There's more where these come from too, though in some cases they take a little longer to sink in. Both "Everlasting Teenage Bedroom" and the immortally-titled "Confessions Of A Sperm Donor" may be superficially funny, but are intrinsically lonely and sad underneath, while "I'm Too Sad To Tell You" is frail, close-miced acoustic folk with a twist.

And VP always astounds with his eye for detail. I've no idea if he keeps a regular diary, but the self-explanatory "We Tried To Drown Our Music Teacher in 1974" (for disliking T-Rex and Bowie, obviously) is one of the most acutely-aimed barbs of nostalgia ever, while the similarly intriguing Glam-era story "We Didn't Paint Our Nails When We Fought The Germans" has one of the most unlikely yearning choruses of this or any other year.

One can only hope there will be many more installments from Vinny Peculiar, as his bittersweet, insightfully tuneful vignettes are capable of connecting with the slighted and dispossessed of all ages. For too long, the psychiatric nursing scene has robbed us of a cool pop personality, so have a flick through this collection of (as he puts it) "scrapbook confessionals", buy the album and help him belatedly on the road to stardom.'
- Whisperinandhollerin
'Growing Up With Vinny Peculiar:

Listening to Vinny Peculiar makes you realise that 99 out of 100 singers, including some of your favourite ones, don't inhabit the real, recognisable world, Vinny, however, is thoroughly in tune with the modem world. He considers the ethical problems posed by IVF in 'Confessions of a Sperm Donor', and 'Replica Shirt' makes a case for football as the definitive statement of the human condition. Instead of angst, the dominant emotion here is poignancy. Instead of power chords, the music is gentle and tuneful. Honest, witty, incomparably savvy about pop culture, Vinny's songs make you smile and for the duration of three minutes plus, they manage to make the world a better place.'
- Mike Butler, City Life Magazine
'Poet, lyricist, musician, wry commentator and purveyor of all things, well, peculiar, this is a performer with intelligence and with latest album Ironing The Soul gathering great reviews since its release on cool indie Uglyman Records, Vinny (AKA Alan Wilkes) is being increasingly feted by the music press as a troubadour with a hotline to truth and tangential thinking. With songs of the caliber of Jesus Stole My Girlfriend and Suicide Dad, its clear comparisons with the likes of Babybird, Elvis Costello and Pulp are justified. Quality through razor and repose, devilry and delight.'
- Joe Shooman: Live Review - Queen's Hall Widnes
'With all the "Morrissey this, Morrissey that" going on, we'd like to point out that the Mozzer's arch-enemies Andy Rourke (the Bass Guitar) and Mike Joyce (the Drums) have hitched their wagon to hyper-talented songsmith Vinny Peculiar. The new Growing Up With Vinny Peculiar is heartily recommended for fans of homespun British tunesmithery in the Robyn Hitchcock/Martin Newell vein -- wry nostalgia, witty wordplay, copious guitar jangle. We're reminded of the early Baby Bird collections, and that's a compliment.'
- Jason Cohen & Michael Krugman, Rolling Stone Magazine
'Growing Up With Vinny Peculiar:

Marrying a lyrical-everyman sensibility with the kind of wry acoustic / alt.pop Englishness of Luke Haines and Ray Davies, Vinny Peculiar’s third LP is a consistent treat of piquant chord progressions and subtly beautiful arrangements.

The strength of the melodies within this near-remarkable record is such that you’ll be left humming tracks in your dreams. And with matter-of-fact idiosyncratic commentary of the calibre of Heaven-is-a-call-centre ditty ‘I Work For God’ or the lost-innocence paean ‘We Didn’t Paint Our Nails When We Fought The Germans’, this is an extremely likeable and intensely engaging album.

In fact, Vinny’s misfit odd-ditties and mindset come close to the worldview of celebrated deadpan US comedian Steven Wright at times, with a championing of the marginalised and the misrepresented living in strange harmony within a world wherein absurdity is its own reward. A treasure trove of timeless pop brilliance, Growing Up never felt so satisfying.'
- Joe Shooman, Big Issue ****
'Growing Up With Vinny Peculiar… (Shadrack and Duxbury):

Autobiographical angst from glum northern troubadour….

An album surely boasting the best song title of the year this side of Morrissey (a toss-up between "We Didn't Paint Our Nails When We Fought The Germans" and "We Tried To Drown Our MusicTeacher In 1974' the fourth album from mordant Manc Vinny Peculiar plays like Adrian Mole: The Opera, scored by Leonard Cohen. That his tunes are Prefab Sprout-pretty make these arch reminiscences about vandalism, wanking and homicidal fantasies all the more beguiling.

"He had no time for T.Rex" pleads Vinny in defence of that attempted murder. Pthrtht! Should've let the bugger drown.'
- Simon Goddard, Uncut Magazine ****
VINNY PECULIAR