7 Nov 2018

Wreckless Eric: 'Punk' was a name conjured up by the media

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:10 pm on 7 November 2018

The 1977 song ‘Whole Wide World’ by English singer Wreckless Eric is regarded as one of the best punk rock singles of all time.

Wreckless Eric, aka Eric Goulden, is still making music at 64 and currently touring New Zealand.

He drops into the Wellington studio to play a track from his 2018 album Construction Time & Demolition and chats with Jesse Mulligan.

Wreckless Eric playing in Spain, 2014

Wreckless Eric playing in Spain, 2014 Photo: Flickr user Dena Flows / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Eric tells Jesse it's a long time since his last visit to New Zealand.

“I once came to Auckland, but that was like 1980. And we flew from Los Angeles and I lost a day of my life in the process. I’ve just lost another one. I’ve lost a couple but I only lost a Monday this time so I don’t mind.

“I don’t know if I can gain it back or if I’m going to start spending my life on the quest for the missing day... sounds like a bad album title, really.”

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The album cover of Wreckless Eric's 1978 debut album Wreckless Eric  Photo: wikipedia

'Whole Wide World' has been covered by everyone from Green Day, Mental As Anything, The Replacements, the Proclaimers, and The Monkees to comedian Will Ferrell in the film Stranger Than Fiction.

Which versions does Eric like?

“Well, there’s a band that did it recently in America, they’re called Cage the Elephant. I had never heard of them but it seemed I knew their road crew who play in another band and they played that song to them and said ‘look, you should record this’. And they did and they just had a huge hit with it - so that was great."

“There was an Australian band called Mental as Anything, too, in fact. The first-ever cover was an Australian one. I wish I could say it was a New Zealand one, I could make the story up... but it was a band called 'Kevin McGloughlin and the Murrumbidgee Orchestra'.”

"I loved [Will Ferrell’s] version, actually. I always want to play it like him but I can’t do it. He had this sort of naïve way of playing it.”

So has 'Whole Wide World' made Eric a rich man?

“These things never go as well as you think they’re going to go, you know?

“The worst thing was when I had a song that I co-wrote with someone and Cliff Richard... Do you have Cliff Richard here? I’m sorry...

“He covered one of my songs and everyone thought I’d done hugely well out of it, you know? At the time, people thought I must be a millionaire from this – but it wasn’t so.”

Wreckless Eric album cover

Since the 1980s Eric has released albums on numerous independent record labels.

Apart from the odd hiatus, he's relieved he never gave music away.

“The people that 20 years ago took me aside and said ‘It doesn’t have to be like this, you could get a job and then you could still do this but you wouldn’t have all this pressure and you wouldn’t be broke, you’ve got to think about later on, you’re not going to be young forever’...

“Now, 20 years later, they’ve all lost their pensions and they go to me ‘I tell you what, I take my hat off to you, if I could have my time again I’d do what you’ve done.”

‘Whole Wide World’ was released on the British independent label Stiff Records.

After three albums with Stiff, Eric left and has been an independent artist ever since.

This was a pioneering move at the time and people told Eric it was madness, he says.

“Now they’re all doing it. That’s my story of the music business. The thing I heard for years and years was ‘you can’t do that’ and I thought 'this is the revolution? This is the future?

"[People were saying] ‘you can’t do that, oh no, you’re not doing that right. You should get someone who knows what they’re doing to do that.’”

What was it like being part of the UK music scene in the late '70s?

“I’ve thought about this a lot and I think it’s like those people who sort of see a big barn and say ‘I’m going to make that barn into my home’. And they move into it and have to build sheetrock walls and everything and then they sit inside it and they can’t see it anymore.

“And that was what it was like, really. There was a point where I felt like we were in the foundations of this big building, pulling it down on our heads, you know, dismantling the machinery from inside, but that was over very quickly."

The Clash at Brixton Academy - July 1982

The Clash at Brixton Academy - July 1982 Photo: Flickr user Jon Jackson / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“I never saw people play. I saw The Clash really early on, but I hardly ever saw them again because I was always out on tour so I never saw people play that much.

“With hindsight, we can say 'oh that was punk and they all had haircuts like this and did this and all the songs started with 1..2..3..4!' But that’s with hindsight. There was no idea, we didn’t know what punk was. I think punk was a name conjured up by the media and popularised and I think the mistake was to think that by giving something a name you had actually defined it.”

Wreckless Eric NZ tour dates:

  • Christchurch: Thursday, November 8, 8pm | Blue Smoke
  • Auckland: Friday. November 9, 8pm | The Tuning Fork
  • Wreckless Eric - From The Whole Wide World to underground
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