Best known for his stints with new wave bands The Wild Swans and Care that were both very popular in the Philippines back in the 1980s, Paul Simpson will headline the “New Wave Festival” concert this Saturday, October 19 at the Grand Ballroom of Okada Manila.
Not too many may be aware of it but there’s actually more to the Liverpool-based musician than his association with the two bands and their respective hits like “Bringing Home The Ashes” and “Whatever Possessed You” that was heavily played by the now defunct new wave radio station, WXB 102.
Aside from The Wild Swans and Care, Simpson has had a distinguished stint with the acclaimed post-punk outfit, The Teardrop Explodes led by the legendary Julian Cope. Over the years, he was with bands whose members found bigger success with more popular groups like Echo & The Bunnymen, The Icicle Works and The Lotus Eaters.
Recalling his heyday with these musicians, Simpson told this writer in a recent interview that he “adored” both Cope and Echo’s Ian McCulloch even though he worked with them for only a brief period.
“We were just kids really and none of us really knew what we were doing. We were just finding our feet and learning to play and write songs,” Simpson shared. “I was only 20 years old at the time [of The Teardrop Explodes] and appeared on TV and our pictures were in the music papers.”
Despite this initial taste of fame, Simpson said he was not very fulfilled as he preferred to sing and front his own band.
“So that’s exactly what I did. The Wild Swans has been my life ever since. I still have things to say under that band name. The core message of everything I write is spiritual but not religious. My songs all distill down to reaching for something only glimpsed but not yet reached; a yearning to return to innocence. Those twin themes are in my DNA. I cannot not write about them,” he pointed out.
With The Wild Swans, Simpson found initial success with the non-album single “Revolutionary Spirit.” The Swans disbanded shortly after this and Simpson found himself teaming up with Ian Broudie (later of The Lightning Seeds) to form Care who found a big audience here in Manila when WXB gave extensive airplay to “Whatever Possessed You” and “My Boyish Days.”
“We are only known as ‘The Care’ in the Philippines, I love that. In the rest of the world it’s just Care which was not really a band so much as it was a project. Ian did the bulk of the work. I was still reeling from The Wild Swans splitting up, so I was very passive. I wish I had been as committed to it as he was,” he admitted.
“The title ‘My Boyish Days (Drink To Me)’ comes from a line in Othello by William Shakespeare. I like that song but it’s probably my least favorite of Care songs. ‘Whatever Possessed You’ is by far my favorite. Playing it live in Manila and Cebu on my last visit was a real thrill as Care never got to play live. Filipino audiences went crazy when I surprised them with it as the last song of the night.”
The best was yet to come for Simpson, however, as he later formed a new incarnation of The Wild Swans and endeared himself more to Filipino fans when the band’s second studio album, Bringing Home The Ashes, yielded popular tracks like “Young Manhood,” Bible Dreams,” “Whirlpool Heart” and the title cut.
“I have mixed feelings about Bringing Home The Ashes. It’s more of a pop record than a post-punk one. I believe we chose the wrong producer but I can’t lay all the blame at his feet though as he had been hired to clean us up a bit and make a major label record. I just wish we’d included more of our early unrecorded material and gone for more of a live sound. Anything I play from that album seems to go down well as it’s a landmark album in the lives of many Filipinos,” he noted.
“There is something about the romance, melody and spirituality in the music of The Wild Swans that seems to touch something in the Filipino soul and that’s why it’s still played on the radio and in clubs and the records passed on from parents to children like a gift. Last time I came to sing in Manila in 2012, I was worried that I may not remember all the words to these 25-year old songs but my Filipino promoter Jesse said ‘Don’t worry Paul. You may forget them but the audience won’t. And he was right. Everyone in the audience sang along with me so I couldn’t go wrong. That was a wonderful thrill for me.”
In later years, Simpson found himself performing as a solo act under the stage name Skyray and in a third incarnation of The Wild Swans before a virus he contracted in Sri Lanka in 2012 forced him to stop singing as he decided to focus more on instrumentals and writing new songs.
Then, almost 10 months ago, Simpson recovered well following “an intensive course of fitness, jogging and hitting the gym.” Feeling good and energized, he said he was able to write a new Wild Swans song and he would record this after his Manila engagement.
“I don’t know which I am more excited about, though. The recording or returning to the Philippines! I had a ball last time, made some great friends. Filipinos are the best fans in the world. So loyal and genuine, and always up for a good time. I honestly can’t wait,” he concluded.