“No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.” (The Decay of Lying, Oscar Wilde)
“Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread.”
Brothers, sister, he’s a poet.
Rolo McGinty is the singer, guitarist and lyricist of The Woodentops. He is one of the great lost poets of British pop music.
He’s not really “lost”.
People who know have always known, even when they haven’t known.
People who don’t know by now, probably never will.
Maybe it is they who are lost…in a fog, a fug, of lumpen rock and roll, where nothing really matters except wearing the right brand of cagoule.
Not lost in music.
Lost on the terraces.
Football chants, the dull roar of the boor.
After the Wild Swans and then playing bass with Jazz Butcher, Rolo decided something had to change.
The Woodentops were that change.
He would write songs of such beauty, of such breadth, of such wit and poetry, that anyone who heard them would never forget them. Simple. If you’re a genius. Fortunately, he was and so that is exactly what he did.
“Talent borrows, genius steals” said Oscar Wilde (he said everything), but I don’t think he was right. I think that talent steals and gets away with it (Noel Gallagher) but genius is inspired by the same source material and creates something new…I know, it’s not as catchy as Oscar. Rolo was listening to Can and Kraftwerk and rockabilly and probably all sorts of other things at the same time. He produced songs that were experimental yet familiar, gently strumming guitars that made your body move in the same way as Charlie Feathers or Krautrock. No cheap cover versions or pale karaoke parodies here.
The debut album, “Giant”, was released in June of 1986 and, at the time, it was widely praised and even managed to break into the top forty for a few weeks.
“Giant” is better than number 35.
When the “Best British Albums of the Eighties” articles appear, it never features in the top ten…let alone the top one. Damn it, when the “Best British Albums of…Ever” articles appear, it often doesn’t get a mention at all.
You should be ashamed.
“The Queen is Dead”, “The Stone Roses”…blah, blah, bloody, blah. I get it, I do. Great bands. Great albums. But please, please, please, let me get what I want…a little space for other voices, a shifting of the spotlight. It really isn’t that those albums, and the others that are oh so familiar, are the best or are better than all the rest, it’s just that the same sort of people write those articles and, to be blunt, they are fucking lazy.
So are we.
We read the articles.
Listen to the curated playlists.
Heed the word of the Twitter “influencer”.
But when you step outside, love, you will find that there are other bands, other voices…and I’m going to say it, better albums than the ones you think are the “best”.
“Giant” is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius.
Heartbreaking because my heart breaks when I think of all the people I know who just never think about it or who don’t know about it. Genius, because.
This is dance music before we knew what dance music was.
Balearic beats on an acoustic guitar.
No, I’m not joking.
What happened after “Giant” tells you I am right, but that’s a tale to be told some other time.
A few years ago Rolo was supporting The Wedding Present on a tour of the UK. I was in the midst of discovering that I had arthritis. My joints were so inflamed that walking was incredibly painful, sleep was almost impossible, standing or sitting was uncomfortable…I was miserable. But I knew that I couldn’t pass up this chance. I was convinced that I was heading for a life confined to my home or in a wheelchair at this point. I bought a ticket. I didn’t know if I would make it, but I knew that I had to at least try. I only managed to make it in time to see Rolo performing the last song of his set.
I stood at the back of the venue and cried.
Not because I had missed something but because I had managed to make it at all and because it was everything I had hoped it would be. Rolo utterly lost in the joy of his music, dancing, smiling, singing.
I did something that night that I haven’t ever done with any other artist.
I had brought my copy of “Giant” with me and I approached Rolo at the merchandise table and politely asked him to sign it for me. I didn’t embarrass him by telling him all of the things I have written here or about how much the songs he had written had helped me…sure I expressed my joy at having seen him, of hearing him sing live but I didn’t gush. It’s not very British…
As I write this the world is burning.
A plague has blighted our lives for over two years.
Lives are lost.
Cities are tumbling.
The only comfort I can find, outside of the embrace of those I love and who love me, is in the music that matters most. “Giant” is playing on a loop. You make of that what you will.