Glittering, frustrating, sentimental and wilfully contrary – Pete Wylie’s story is our story. His road as long and winding, twisting and turning as a Queens Drive contraflow. Yet here he is. He exists. We didn’t make him up. We didn’t imagine those achingly gorgeous anthems, those spiky, straight-to-the-gut manifestos. That beauty and pain.
This is the Liverpool we signed up to. And, like prophecy made flesh, he’s back. Writing, prodding, poking and next week, performing.
“I never stopped writing,” he says, cocooned in the plastic paraphernalia of his Disgraceland home – model train sets whirring past busts of Elvis, leopard print sofas and dismembered mannequins.
“When everyone around me said records are dead, that no-one is interested, I just kept going. I was a mug, I suppose.”
But we know he knows he wasn’t.
“It just happens. It’s in there. It comes fully formed,” he says, of his new material – two full albums’ worth, some of which will form part of next Friday’s return gig, at the Zanzibar. “I have to get another record out. There are things that need to be said.”
Pete Wylie, circa 2014, is still fighting for his life.
“People always want big anthems from me. But my new stuff isn’t all big and bold, because I’m not that type of person all the time,” he says, in his kingfisher blue velour tracksuit.
“I won’t be wearing this on stage,” he adds, somewhat crushingly.
It’s the convergence of showman and restless spirit, music hall crooner and factory floor agitator that’s fired Pete Wylie through his most essential exploits. The emotional punch of his songs a tough love prescription for troubled times.
“The other day someone on Facebook said ‘oh, Pete Wylie: one good song and twenty band names.’ This is what happens. If you’re not in the public eye, you cease to exist.”
The fire, very definitely, is still burning.
“It’s always felt like I’m starting again,” he says, “so next week’s gig is no different. I’ve always written about the reality of the city. Whether that’s with a big, brassy, state of the Liverpool nation songs, or post-punk protest songs. But I never wrote anything expecting people to take them on. I wrote them because I had to. I’ve got a new song called ‘We’re All In This Together’ – it’s a way of reclaiming the slogan from the tories… ” We’ve not heard it, but we’ve a feeling he’ll nail it. As he did with ‘Heart as Big As Liverpool’, ‘Sinful’ and his back catalogue of belters: protest songs that sing sweetly but carry a stick so weighty they should come with an ’emotional advisory’ sticker attached.
Save for the Justice Tonight tour, and a brief but brilliant appearance at the opening concert of Capital of Culture (followed by a year spent on strike) it’s been Wylie’s silence that’s been most telling. And we get the feeling that that’s not what the doctor ordered.
For Wylie, home rest is anything but recuperative.
“I’ve been happy, sad, angry, depressed, the works,” he admits, of his long tail of depressive periods set in train after getting dropped from Sony at the fag end of the 20th century, and suffering a near fatal accident falling through broken railings in Parliament Street. Forget about an annus horribilis. For Wylie, the 90s were a decade disastrous.
“Self doubt and self hatred, they’re always there. When you get dropped after being given a million quid to record the best album of your career (eventually to see the light of day as the scorching Songs of Strength and Heartbreak), it’s devastating. You question everything.”
“The thing is to remember that it’s all part of the jigsaw. I wish some of my contemporaries had more self doubt. We’d all be a lot better off,” he says.
So what shape did ‘Pete Wylie: The Wilderness Years’ take?
“I had no structure. Too many choices. The freedom of being unwanted and skint is fabulous, but you have too many options, and you get to a point where you need a plan. I was lost, and once you’ve been lost once, it’s easy to get lost again.”
You get the feeling that the shock, physical tumult and cataclysmic career derailing has been stored up, kept nourished, fed and watered. That, right now, they’re being harvested, to become Wylie’s next chapter: songs of love, hope, loss and redemption. Songs of the city.
“I feel like I’ve got no choice,” he says, “It’s a great feeling. I have a new partner, (Entertainment agent, Kate Haldane) who’s really helped me to focus, and given me the confidence I was missing, and there’s talk of a documentary (directed by Ballad of Mott The Hoople director, Chris Hall). Things are looking good. This is the right time.”