THEY GO THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby

Both personally and
professionally, the husband-wife duo make sweet music.

 

BY STEVEN ROSEN

 

Wreckless Eric, who starts his U.S. tour with mate Amy Rigby on
Tuesday (July 7), has had some hard decades getting to the reasonably
comfortable point he’s out now in his career.

 

The longtime British singer-songwriter, whose 1977 hit on
the legendary Stiff Records “(I’d Go The) Whole Wide World” has become a
punk/garage classic, had to battle alcoholism in the 1980s to be sober and
stable enough to make music now.

 

After years of having records barely released (or not
released at all) in the U.S.,
he finally had a real success last year, Wreckless
Eric & Amy Rigby
on a revived Stiff. The album, which mixes melodic and
lyrically smart folk-rock with nostalgically evocative electronic effects and
sampling, received 10 out of 10 stars from Blurt and placed on many Top 10
lists.

 

Catchy songs like “Astrovan,” “Another Drive-In Saturday”
and “The Downside of Being a Fuck-Up” seemed to combine autobiographical
elements with evocatively poetic imagery to create universal appeal. Eric’s
voice still had its aggressive, confrontational bite, but also a nicely
burnished sense of reflection and even regret. It was a triumph for him. For
Rigby, it was her best-received work since 1996’s Dairy of a Mod Housewife.

 

He’s also written a well-regarded memoir, published in England in
2003, called A Dysfunctional Success: The Wreckless Eric Manual. It’s a look
back at his worst years, the 1980s. “I’ve been through a lot of stuff,
bankruptcy, alcoholism, relationships that went south, and I’ve made it through
this far,” he says, by phone from his home in France. “So I looked back while
writing this book. It’s a good read – that’s what everyone says. It’s about
dysfunction – I was a dysfunctional pop star and that carried into alcoholism
and almost insanity at one point. But I came through.”

 

And best of all, he’s recently married and happy about it –
to Rigby, after a middle-aged musical courtship worthy of a movie.

 

So why, then, would the duo want to leave France and start this year’s U.S. tour in the Rust Belt? In the
middle of a deep, scary recession, yet? It begins in Pittsburgh,
then moves on to Newport, Ky.
(Cincinnati) on Wednesday and down to Knoxville. The mostly
Midwest/East Coast tour has 13 dates, including the XpoNential Music Festival
in Camden, N.J. and a final scheduled stop in Cleveland on July 28.

 

One would think, at this point, Eric deserves to relax and
enjoy his spoils, have a triumphant swing through California
coastal towns and relax between gigs in the Esalen pools at Big Sur. Not be
driving between Cleveland, Pittsburgh
and northern Kentucky
on hot summer days.

 

“Pittsburgh
is where Amy comes from and we will see family there before we start,” explains
Eric, 55, born Eric Goulden. “And we have a storage space in Cleveland. For a short time, Amy lived in Cleveland before she
left. It has a lot of furniture, stuff you don’t want to get rid of. We keep
our equipment in it. So we pick everything up and then drive through America and wind up back in Cleveland at the end of it.”

 

Actually, the witty and articulate Eric says, he looks
forward to his Cleveland
gig in an odd way. “When I first went there, I was almost murdered,” he says.
“We opened up for [Irish blues-rock guitarist] Rory Gallagher. There were a lot
of lunkheads in checked shirts and they threw bottles, glasses and ashtrays,
then they graduated to tables and chairs,” Eric recalls, laughing. “There was
so much debris on stage there wasn’t room to play. They didn’t like us -they
didn’t like me particularly. We only
did one show with Rory there. He offered us a tour and I said, ‘We’ve taken
enough punishment.'” British punk and New Wave hadn’t yet made inroads in Middle America at the time.

 

In his years out of the American market, Eric has made some
good records – 2004’s Bungalow Hi in
particular is noteworthy for a great song about what remains when a
relationship ends, “33s and 45s.” But his enduring anthem “Whole Wide World” is
the key reason for his current good luck.

 

It is how he connected with Rigby. Several years before
their 2008 marriage, earlier, they met at Hull,
England.
“That’s a remarkable story and I still marvel at it,” he says. “I wrote ‘Whole
Wide World’ when I was an art student in Hull
– I was 19 and it was 1974. Years and years later, I was going to play in Hull and the promoter
said to come up a day early because Amy Rigby is playing and she does ‘Whole
Wide World.’ And the gig she did was in the same room where I first ever played
[it]. So we played it together and then I didn’t see her for a while.”

 

Time passed and they became reacquainted at the 2004 edition
of Yo La Tengo’s famous Hanukah concerts in Hoboken. Rigby had reunited with her early
band The Shams, and Eric was also there to do a short set. So the Shams backed
him up on a version of Neil Diamond’s “The Boat I Row.” Magic was in the air.

 

“I was very nervous,” Eric says. “I couldn’t look at them. I
thought, ‘My God, they’re professionals!’ I’m always in awe of other musicians,
thinking, ‘Oh dear, what will they think of me?’ I was pretty shy.”

 

But slowly, they got together – in 2005, he supported Rigby
and Marti Jones on their Cynical Girls tour. They inched forward toward
becoming a professional duo known as Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby just as
they slowly moved toward marriage.

 

“The first song we ever did, apart from [the others], was a
cover of ‘Red Rubber Ball’ with Yo La Tengo and it was a disaster,” Eric says.
“It was the first time we appeared as Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby together
and it was a low point of our careers. We turned it into an upbeat, laughing
arrangement and they were playing it slower. No one knew what key it was in; we
left the stage to complete silence. Now when we see Georgia and Ira [of Yo La
Tengo] we say, ‘Wish you’d come see us. We’ve got that song down now.”

 

The more the duo tour, as their profile and popularity
increase, the more people will get to hear how true that is.

 

 

[For a complete list
of tour dates, go to the duo’s MySpace page: www.myspace.com/wrecklessericamyrigby
]

 

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