Review: Shambolic balladeer Danny is still a champ

14 Sep 2012 @ 2.26 pm
| Entertainment

'I thought my heart would explode' – Danny George Wilson. Photograph: Wikipedia
Review: Danny George Wilson
Venue: Fulford Arms, York, September 7

I want to be a Champ. I imagine them journeying from pub to pub in a run down mini van. Like a low budget version of Almost Famous. Drinking pints and playing music. That’s the life I’d like, to be a shambolic balladeer beside Danny George Wilson, the Brian Fallon for dads.

The night was long, and I must admit when half ten rolled by and Danny sank another pint, I was growing weary. But as soon as he stepped up to test the levels, teasing us with half of Springsteen’s Highway Patrolman, my energy levels miraculously picked up.

Danny’s career has been escaping the general public’s notice for the last 13 years. Lucky us. The ones who get to join him for free in a pub on a Friday evening.

This was my first gig at the Fulford Arms, it certainly won’t be my last. Landlord Steve Bradley has transformed this pub into a secret centre for music lovers. The regular crowd strolling to and from the bar just adds to the feeling. Tonight had the intimacy of watching an old friend perform in your living room.

Danny performed songs from his Grand Drive days, his days with The Champs, and some solo material. Paying homage to Springsteen and Ben E. King along the way. There is nothing more uniting than singing Dancing in The Dark with strangers.

Danny was frequently joined by the musicians who had supported him this evening, the scattered shards of the ever-changing champs. It felt spontaneous, it felt organic.

One minute, Robin Bennett of The Dreaming Spires was doing the “three pint shuffle” back from the bar, the next he was behind a microphone, flute in hand, chiming in on Still Believe. They were like a drunken E Street Band, with impromptu trumpet and harmonica solos strewn across the evening.

It was when all the champs got up to play a goodbye ballad to their tour van, Henry, that I felt like I was somewhere special. Danny’s voice is gravelly, and some of it seems lost in his throat, he puts everything into this and you can truly hear his passion.

It’s perfect for this kind of poignancy. The lyric “hey champ, you and me friend, is this the end of the road?” Well quite honestly, it absolutely killed me. I thought my heart would explode when he merged it into Thunder Road.

Danny and The Champs are, quite simply, in love with the road. I want to run away with them and be part of their mismatched family. They’re the mad ones that Sal Paradise shambles after. I want to be a champ… almost as much as I want to hear the rest of Highway Patrolman.