You’ve got to watch those Scouse sidemen – they’re usually hiding a great song to go with that harmonious voice that’s helping out with backing vocals. John Power started out as one. John Head pushes big brother Michael all the way in the songwriting stakes. And Pete Wilkinson – ex-Shack, Cast and Bunnymen bassist – is another who releases great music of his own. Aviator, his band, are reaching the top of their game. By Alan O’Hare.
“There deffo’ isn’t a case of LSD in this band,” says Aviator pilot, Pete Wilkinson. “Lead singer’s disease, I mean! Singing the songs just seems the natural thing to do when you start writing. I enjoy singing them – but I couldn’t care less about being the main man.” You get that from Wilkinson – he’s always been the Scouse second-in-command. That’s him singing perfect harmony and playing bouncing bass on all Cast’s hits and misses. There he is, holding up Michael Head (and Shack) with beautiful basslines and tasteful backing vocals. And that was him, stepping in to back the Bunnymen in times of crisis. “I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the best songsmiths to ever come from Liverpool,” he says. “I suppose that they’ve all had an influence on how I approach songwriting.”
Wilkinson’s own songs share spaces with Shack and Cast, but there’s also a lot more to them. His work offers lots of originality, while always paying strict attention to melody. Rhythm and tunes? Maybe, but Aviator’s work doesn’t fit any box apart from that one marked ‘good’. Especially their latest (sold-out) single ‘The Darkest Light’: “It did sell out and we were overwhelmed with the response… it’s an amazing feeling when something we do is liked. The writing, recording, artwork and then putting it out there – it’s the process I enjoy most.” And the reaction? “Once it’s in the public domain, we’ve no control… nor would I want to control it! But the response has been positive.”
It always is with Aviator. When Cast split, following the commercial disappointment of fourth album, ‘Beetroot’, Wilkinson could have gone into hiding to lick his wounds. But it’s all about the music for him: “Songwriting duties in Cast belonged with John. But I’d begun to write my own tunes and I needed a vehicle to get them out there,” he reveals. “Aviator began to take shape around then – but I didn’t really start recording seriously until Cast split in 2001.” Time for some history…
You released music as Huxley Pig initially, didn’t you?
I was good friends with Paul Hemmings, from The Viper Label, and he suggested we do some demos in his studio… these recordings became the first Aviator album, which we called ‘Huxley Pig Part 1’. There’s been another two studio albums since then and a fourth will be ready this spring, I hope!
You’ve put out some great singles, too. Tell us about the latest, ‘The Darkest Light’…
Thanks, it’s great that you like it. I’d been listening to a lot of PJ Harvey and Nick Cave… generally darker artists. Not in any way did we think ‘let’s write something in this vein’, but possibly by osmosis our latest project has leanings to a more darker mood.
“There’s a crack in everything… that’s how the light gets in.” Yeah, I suppose ‘The Darkest Light’ is a nod to the Leonard Cohen lyric.
You’ve worked with Head, Power, McCulloch. Yet your music is different. Is that deliberate do you think?
It’s never been my intention to write like any of them. But, like I said, they all have influence on how I approach songwriting. The hardest to emulate would be Mac: completely cryptic lyrics that have a depth I don’t think I could ever get to. I suppose, lyrically, he’s the one I’d like to be like…
Were Cast ever a replacement for Shack or were you always looking longingly over your shoulder?
Good question. No, I don’t think Cast were a replacement for Shack. Cast was John’s idea and he approached me to start the band… it really was born from a love of music and a strength and belief in what we were doing. On the other hand, though, Shack form part of my DNA and that’s too deep and long to go into here.
Fair enough. They do leave a mark on us all, that band! Tell us about some great Cast memories…
One of my finest moments was hearing ‘Finetime’ on the radio, in a petrol station, for the first time – it stopped me in my tracks, frozen on the spot and I couldn’t help thinking that ‘there it is, all the hard work, line-up changes, fucking everyday rehearsals… and it’s all been worth it’. A great moment.
Does distance let you look back with fondness on all the Cast success now you’re no longer with them?
I do look back with fondness on Cast. We had some awesome experiences – but my favourite times were the unsigned moments. The struggle… life was full of hope and challenge. That was just perfect.
Then the end came, but something else happened fairly quickly didn’t it?
Cast split… and a week later I was playing with the Bunnymen. That was an awesome moment.
You were a fan, then?
I’d been listening to them since the very early eighties. I went to the ‘A Crystal Day’ gig at St. George’s Hall and bought ‘Ocean Rain’ on the day it came out… I was a massive fan. Playing with the Bunnymen was a dream come true.
Who are you a fan of today?
I’ve been listening to Nick Cave’s ‘Skeleton Tree’, it’s a tragic masterpiece of loss. Also, The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s latest, ‘Third World Pyramid’, and I just started listening to ‘Ladies And Gentleman We Are Floating In Space’, by Spiritualized… it’s just brilliant and and really inspiring.
Still got the fever, then! Anyone local or new?
I saw Nick Ellis live and he was incredible – great songs, played and sung brilliantly. He’s our special guest at the upcoming gig in the Scandi’.
Great news. One to look forward to that, then?
It has all the makings of being a special evening. The venue has such a fantastic vibe, too. We’ve just gotta’ be on it and hopefully we won’t let people down…
I doubt that. What can we expect at the gig and in the future?
The upcoming show in Liverpool is at the forefront of the plans – this band wouldn’t work without Mark Neary (pedal steel, bass), so in terms of front man (or front men) it’s the two of us at that one. Then hopefully a new album before summer, another show and more 7″ releases. Lots to look forward to!
Aviator with special guest Nick Ellis
Saturday February 11th 2017, 8pm
Gustav Adolfs Kyrka, Park Lane, Liverpool
Pic by John Johnson