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Danny Wilson – Never Gonna Be the Same

DannyWilson1

We now return to a theme we’ve discussed before, namely the curse of perfection – because few things derail a nascent career more efficiently than accidentally peaking with your first hit. Everybody rushes out and buys it and then sort of thinks “well that’s that then” and then they don’t really bother again, leaving a perfectly good group with nowhere to go – it’s rather like punishing excellence. Sometimes pop really does work in the exact opposite way to the rest of the world.

Probably the best example of this sad state of affairs is what happened to Danny Wilson after they struck gold (on the third attempt) with Mary’s Prayer. It’s a record so blissfully beautiful that it puts a stupid grin on my face the second I hear the opening “everything is wonderful”, and for the entire duration I am either shivering with delight or crying at the memories it brings back, or a thoroughly enjoyable combination of the two. It had the same effect when it was new – basically, an instant classic that you’re nostalgic for the second you hear it.

You begin to see the problem – here is the standard by which everything else you put out will be judged, if anyone even bothers to listen in the first place. It’s something that can be overcome if you have a record label willing to put in the effort and throw a wodge of cash at the problem, but I don’t remember Virgin bothering to put up any billboards announcing that Danny Wilson were back! Back! BACK! – and if it weren’t for The Chart Show I’m not sure I’d have known that they were. They were immensely fond of The Second Summer of Love (and rightly so – it’s great, and has aged brilliantly) and helped this first single from second album Bebop Moptop to reach a decent peak of no.23. It ought to have paved the way for an even bigger second single, but as the band’s Gary Clark later suggested, radio was the problem, or at least Radio 1. Just as guilty of perfection-syndrome as singles buyers, they virtually ignored Never Gonna Be the Same.

Now, I’m not going to argue that Never Gonna Be the Same isn’t cut from exactly the same cloth as Mary’s Prayer, and nor can I say that it is quite its equal in terms of greatness, but it does stand on its own as a glorious, and – as it combines a dour subject with jaunty optimism, somehow rather Scottish – break-up song (“Tell your brother and your sister Ray / that I probably won’t be round again“). Despite being really rather sad, the production has rather a carousel-ish feel about it (something it shares with the same year’s Fake I.D. by fellow Scots and Virgin label-mates the Indian Givers), and that’s precisely what we get in the video – the boys larking about in a Parisian fairground looking not especially heartbroken. All the heartbreak is in fact to be found in Gary Clark’s wonderful voice – an extraordinarily clear thing, and gently plaintive (the way he sings “you” at 0:11 tends to dissolve me).

One of the song’s lyrics is “people nowadays, they need people to blame”, so let’s take a look at whose fault Never Gonna Be the Same’s failure was. A lack of radio support was definitely a factor, as was lacklustre promotion, but one thing was very clear when you take a look at the chart landscape when it was released: sophisti-pop had had its day. A rather loathsome term, it applied to pop that might described as polished, maybe a bit jazzy and with a certain politeness of delivery. Not uncoincidentally, it lasted about as long as The Dagmar, the wine bar in EastEnders (1986-1989), and has come – entirely unfairly – to represent a rather middle-class assault on the charts, one that was decisively routed by DJ culture. So while previously huge acts such as Swing Out Sister, Johnny Hates Jazz and Curiosity Killed the Cat began to flounder, it was a heady time for Black Box, Beatmasters and, er, Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers. In that climate it was always going to be hard for Danny Wilson to flourish.

If Mary’s Prayer turned out to be more of a curse, it didn’t stop the various members of Danny Wilson from showing admirable Scottish practicality once the jig was up –  Gary Clark went on to write songs for a huge number of pop stars (most notably Natalie Imbruglia and sundry Spice Girls), Ged Grimes ended up in Simple Minds and Kit Clark formed the Swiss Family Orbison, who were quite popular in Scotland, and also with John Peel. But I still think Danny Wilson deserve a happy ending, and if the rapturous reception they got when they briefly reformed in 2014 for – bizarrely – the opening ceremony of the Ryder Cup is anything to go by, quite a lot of people agree with me. Here’s hoping, eh?

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Entered chart: 02/09/1989

Chart peak: 69

Weeks on chart: 4

Who could sing this today and have a hit? If there’s someone who still embodies the sophisti-pop ethos, surely it’s Will Young?

5 Comments »

  1. The Second Summer Of Love received its fair share of attention at the time. including an extended feature on mid-morning telly about its ‘life running backwards’ video which was actually filmed with the group miming phonetically to the song played in reverse. Gary Clark protests too much about radio ignoring Never Gonna Be The Same, as I’m sure Simon Mayo hammered it to death on Radio One. It was just, as you say. they were an 87-era sophisti-pop band in a 1989 when the only Scotsmen anyone cared about were Deacon Blue.

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  2. Great piece and great song. I agree that it feels so totally out of sync with everything else in the charts around ’88 and ’89. Best middle eight of the ’80s? Amazing lyrics. Was this the second single from ‘Bebop’? If so, maybe ‘I Can’t Wait’ would have made a better choice, not sure though… By the way, I interviewed Gary Clark about ‘Mary’s Prayer’ and the debut album, here it is if you fancy a read:

    https://movingtheriver.com/2015/02/19/gary-clark-talks-marys-prayer-and-classic-debut-meet-danny-wilson/

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