Gig Review: Ginger Wildheart / Carol Hodge & Ben Marsden / Baz Francis – The Patriot, Crumlin (14th April 2023)

I think I’m one of those strange anomalies in the world of Ginger Wildheart. I’m not a massive fan of the man. I’ve seen him solo before and many times with The Wildhearts over the years. Hell, they probably saved me from drowning one year with their set in the main tent at Download. I own several of The Wildhearts albums, but I’m not fanatical in the way that so many of his fans appear to be. I say this because I’m keenly aware that writing a review of a live show where you don’t know every song and can’t hear some of the narrative on stage due to the general chatter in the venue leaves you open to correction. So, at the start, my apologies to any fan of the great man and to him as well of course, for any factual errors.

I arrive at The Patriot with what I think is plenty of time, only to find the sold-out venue already heaving with anticipation. The front barrier is already full, and t-shirts bearing slogans of allegiance to the headliner are very much in evidence. The bar is three deep. Welcome to Crumlin on a Friday night when Ginger is in town.

Baz Francis © Paul Hutchings
Baz Francis © Paul Hutchings

Casually sauntering on to the stage, Baz Francis introduces himself to the audience. He strikes an interesting figure. Pink and white stripped shirt under a fetching one-piece sleeveless boiler suit, plenty of ink including a tattoo on his shaved head and a semi-acoustic Gibson guitar with more stickers than a phone box in Soho. I’ll be honest, I don’t know who Baz is, but he starts off his 30-minute set with an emotional number which is the beginning of an entertaining half-hour.

A bit of research and confirmation from Baz reveals he’s the founder member, singer, and guitarist of Magic 8-Ball, who have been around for many years. He’s a veteran of solo shows as well as having a long connection with Ginger via Dave Draper. It explains his confident style, and his cool yet humble persona is met with warm applause. He’s pleased to be in Wales, knows how to play it by pulling out a Welsh football scarf and wearing it for most of the gig. His songs tell stories, encourage singalongs and by the end, he’s wearing a smile big enough to fit one of the amps in. I’m not a huge fan of the solo acoustic set, but Baz has something a little different, be it the pop-punk style or just his personality, that means you can’t help but enjoy what you see and hear.

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Carol Hodges © Paul Hutchings
Carol Hodges © Paul Hutchings

More established musicians follow in the shape of Carol Hodge and Ben Marsden. Again, I’m semi-ignorant of these fine people but I know that Ben is guitarist/vocals in the Warner E Hodges Band (out on tour in October folks) as well as a key part of The Main Grains (who he was in with Wildheart Danny McCormack) and The Spangles, another side project. Carol’s a renowned artist in her own right, with a string of credits as long as your arm. As well as being a long-term collaborator with Crass frontman Steve Ignorant, Carol’s CV includes previous tours with Ginger, Ryan Hamilton, and Jon Poole (Cardiacs, Dr Hook). There’s a rich history to unpick if you want to.

Tonight, Carol and Ben join forces to unleash an 11-song set which is filled with laughter, humour, lovely interplay between the two, and some anthemic punk-edged songs that get the crowd buzzing. Asking the crowd to ‘meow’ in a Welsh way raises many a laugh, whilst dedicating “Fallibility” to anyone who has had a partner who was a “complete dickhead” is inspired. They are fine musicians, and despite a few hiccups, which make the set more real, the duo really wow those gathered in front of them.

Ben Marsden © Paul Hutchings
Ben Marsden © Paul Hutchings

Musically, the keyboard and acoustic guitar work well, with songs such as “Clean the Slate”, “This” and “Growing Up” telling stories in a pop-punk way. The closing track is a cover. “Any ideas” shouts Ben? No-one gets it. You wouldn’t. Chas & Dave are still well-known, but you suddenly realise that there are many in the venue who will have no clue who the cockney duo was. It’s a raucous cover of “Ain’t No Pleasing You” that finishes their set with a deserved ovation. I realise that this is a well-crafted tour. Full marks.

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Ginger Wildheart takes the stage to a huge roar. The man is a legend after all. A stalwart of the UK music scene for over 30 years, his approach has always been one of the most endearing features about him. Ginger is Ginger. Don’t like it? There’s the door. “Turn that shit off” he says as the PA continues to play. “I don’t know who it is,” he admits, before joking that he hoped it wasn’t a local band who were there tonight.

He looks well, trademark dreadlocks tied back, t-shirt, jeans, and DMs. “I’ve never done this before” he says. “Let’s see how it goes”. He needn’t have worried. He’s got a catalogue of music to rival anyone and tonight he draws from several of those albums, mainly from those with The Wildhearts. It’s not long before you realise that this acoustic gig is not just going to play the hits. Ginger extends the songs, dips deeper into the catalogue to mix things up. He’s constantly involving the crowd, who need no bidding to join in. At one point in the opening song, he has the crowd singing the words to different songs in the chorus, resulting in aural chaos!

Ginger Wildheart © Paul Hutchings
Ginger Wildheart © Paul Hutchings

“This song has four guitar solos,” Ginger says. “I’ve only got one guitar. You’ll have to do them,” handing out kazoos. It works a treat and raises much laughter as well as impressing the main man. He muses between songs. Topics are down to earth. He reflects on dog ownership, and the presence of dog hair in everything. There are nods around the room. We can relate. “Have you ever clapped for an entire song?” he asks. Four minutes later, many of the audience have now done it!

It seems at times that the tough, no-nonsense Geordie is almost taken aback by the response. The crowd are almost religious in their enthusiastic fervour. This show sold out in 12 hours after all. After an hour or so, he’s joined on stage by his supports. They add some beef to the sound, and we get Carol, Baz and Ben joining in on some Wildheart staples like “Top of the World” and “Suckerpunch”. The crowd are asked to be the drums. It works… in part. It’s a joyous celebration with smiles all around in the rammed venue. He’s a natural entertainer, the earthy grit that he’s always possessed both warming and enjoyable. Yet, there’s always that edge which makes him and his music what it is. You wouldn’t want it any other way.

There’s no doubt that Ginger is a national treasure, and I sincerely mean that as a compliment. I may not be his biggest fan, but he’s an important presence in the UK music scene, and as I leave the venue into the cold evening, I’m pleased that he continues to thrive and bring pleasure to so many. This may have been his first acoustic show but I’d wager the rest will be equally excellent.

Photos by Paul Hutchings

Ginger Wildheart: official | facebook | twitter | bandcamp | youtube

Carol Hodge: official | facebook | twitter | instagram | bandcamp | spotify | youtube

Ben Marsden: facebook | instagram

Baz Francis: facebook | soundcloud

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October 19, 2023 9:47 PM

This may have been his first acoustic show” — if that wasn’t sarcasm he must’ve been talking about something else at the beginning, what with the various live acoustic shows released as albums. And I’ve seen them on occasions where due to unforeseen circumstances with support band bookings the warm-up was improvised from whoever and whatever was around and tuned.

I find I enjoy the Wildies and Ginger far more as I get older and don’t expect to like everything. There’s still plenty to focus on and the highs are as steep as anyone’s.