Born: Newhaven, East Sussex, England, UK (See also The Len Bright Combo)
Cultivating an image for himself as an incompetent drunken loser didn't do Eric Goulden, aka Wreckless Eric, much help in the long run. It endeared him to his fans and meant that the music press liked him too, but despite being a superb song-writer it contributed to him not being taken very seriously. (Mind you, that silly outfit he wore on his debut LP didn't help, either.) Formerly employed on the production line in a lemonade bottle factory, and having failed to get anywhere with his band Addis And The Fliptops, he famously earned his Stiff deal just two days after depositing a demo tape into their letterbox, cheerfully tellig Huey Lewis (of the News, who was playing Elvois Costello ' debut LP), "I'm one of those cunts that brings tapes into record companies".
Eric Goulden: The cassette [on which the demo was taped] was one we didn't listen to anymore - I had to erase the B side before I took it around to Stiff so that they wouldn't think that I either listened to Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert or worse, that I actually was Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert.
ABOVE: Italian pressing of Whole Wiede World and press advert for the Wreckless Eric LP
Eric's first vinyl outing came with 'Whole Wide World', whiich appeared on the well-inconsistent Stiff compilation A Bunch Of Stiffs, where it attracted enough priase for Stiff to release it as a single. August '77's Whole Wide World was a yearning ode to the charms of laying on a tropical beach with some sun-tanned beauty, it is a bona fide punk classic,albeit with a pop sensibility. Backed with the clunky, ominous 'Semaphore Signals', the somngs were produced by Nick Lowe and Ian Dury to maximum tinny effect. He followed this with a four-song John Peel Session in October, and then embarked on a Stiff Records package tour with Lowe, Dury, Elvis Costello (who was described by Eric as "unpleasantly ambitious") and Larry Wallis. The Be Stiff tour was a publicity masterstroke, as the five acts went around the country, wit the intention that the lineups would revolve so that ecah act got to headline on a rota basis - the immense popularity of Dury, Lowe and Costello , however, meant that in reality Eric and Wallis headlined. The tour, which lasted between 3rd October and 5 November 1977, was immortalised as Live Stiffs Live, which containing two great Eric songs: 'Semaphore Signals' and 'Reconnez Cherie'.
ABOVE: Live Stiffs Live poster, US advert for the LP from the same, and Eric in Record Mirror February 1978
March 1978 saw the release of Wreckless Eric, a glorious mess, with jangly guitars, cheesy organs, some slurpy saxophone playing by Davey Payne, and Eric's strangulated gurgle. The biscuit-tin production (by Larry Wallis) helps as well, placing it in the firmanent of punk, garage-punk and new wave, all at the same time. Ten songs in thirty minutes, or eight in twenty-five minutes if you bought the 10" version on shit-brown vinyl, 'Whole Wide World' is included, as is a version of Kilburn & The High Roads' 'Rough Kids' and the accordion-heavy 'Reconnez Cherie', which should have been a hit when it was released as a single but wasn't. Other highpoints are the dirge-like 'Waxworks', the melodramatic 'Telephoning Home', the paranoid 'Brain Thieves' and, of course, 'Rags N Tatters', a ninety-second high speed romp ending with the theme tune to the Benny Hill programme.
Later that year, album number two arrived. Stiff clearly felt that Eric could hit the big time with a producer who would reign in his excesses, and hired Pete Solley to produce The Wonderful World Of Wreckless Eric, a splendid selection of pop songs housed in a parodic "big band" sleeve (look for Danny Baker and John Altman). Slicker, tighter and more polished, had Eric's vocals been less abrasive that could almost be considered sophisticated. Fortunately, Eric's voice hasn't changed and his wit is sharper than ever, with amusing observations about the cinema ('Let's Go To The Pictures'), funerals ('The Final Taxi'), the music business ('Take The Cash (K.A.S.H.)') and a handful of skewered love songs ('Girlfriend', 'Veronica'). There's also some nostalgia in the form of versions of 'Crying, Waiting, Hoping' and 'Dizzy', as well as an original about juke-boxes ('Rock-Ola'). Fine stuff, but hated by Eric:
Eric Goulden: The title wasn't my idea and neither was the cover. When I listen to the record I can hear that it once had something to do with me, but my musical input ended with writing the songs. I wasn't even allowed to play guitar on that record - Solley said I wasn't good enough. Apparently when he soloed my guitar ion the control room you could hear my fingers moving across the strings, fumbling the changes. I played the guitar on the first album, all of it except for a solo by Larry Wallis, but now I felt as though I hadn't existed until Solley got hold of me. Later on it became obvious that I couldn't sing either. He suggested that I should just talk my way through the lyrics - 'Like your mate, Ian Dury - how badly crippled is he? Can he fuck?' He even played my organ part on The Final Taxi.
Stiff pulled out all the stops with this one - lavish production, nostalgic cover art, a picture disc version, a green vinyl version, and another Stiff package tour, this time with a decidedly second-rate line-up: Eric, Lene Lovich, Rachel Sweet, Mickey Jupp and the melt to end all melts, Jona Lewie. Although extremely extravagent - the touring "bus" was actually a specially commissioned train - the LP did not proprel Eric back into the charts, nor did the two singles taken from it, Take The Cash (K.A.S.H.) and Crying, Waiting, Hoping.
1979 was relatively quiet, with the only new material being a very poppy single, Hit And Miss Judy, which in addition to the standard 7" came as an orange-coloured 12" with an oversized label and a die-cut sleeve. It too failed to large in large enough qauntities to trouble the charts. In order to break him over there, Stiff issued a US-only compilation LP, The Whole Wide World, which drew on singles and both LPs for material, and even included three exclusive remixes.
By now Stiff had figured out that the reason nobody was buying Wreckless Eric records was because he couldn't write good songs, so they roped in a couple of tossers called Brian Fairweather and Martin Page to write and help record the next LP.
Eric Goulden: They had a punlishing deal and they were really going places. They wire matrching American baseball jackets with Fairweather Page emblazoned on the back. They'd had them specially made. They were extremely professional. The only bit I enjoyed was driving round there - it made me feel like real person. The creative process with Fairweather Page was a real drag. It wasn't all their fault - though when I tell you that they later shot to fame by penning a number for Jefferson Starship entitled We Built This City On Rock 'n' Roll, you might well disagree. Martin wore slippers becaiuse it was his bedsitting room, but pretty soon, with the drum machine switched on, slap bass licks and funky chords were flying around the room. Stiff appointed yet another producer - this time it was Bob Andrews from the Rumour. Fairweather Page were taking care of guitar and bass, and suprise, surprise - they had a couple of session-playing mates waiting in the wings to do the drums and keyboards.
Luckily, this horribly conceived project never took off, and the tracks laid down were remxied *by Alan Winstanley) for album number three, for which Stiff enveiled another gimmick. In addition to twleve new songs, Big Smash! came with a second disc that replicated the entire contents of 'The Whole Wide World', and housed it in a fantastic gatefold sleeve with artwork that paid homage to Roy Lichtenstein. This one cracked the Top Thirty in its four week run, and spawned two widely praised but unsuccessful singles, A Popsong and Broken Doll, the latter of which was later covered by none other than Cliff Richard! Although his singing is still as rough as hell, Eric cleaned his act up even more on this LP, a none-too-happy stab at the mainstream, toning down the wackier asides from the previous albums. While side one is good - 'A Popsong' is a fine if very cynical example of what it claims to be, 'Broken Doll' a lovely, tortured number - the second half degenerates into pub rock, providing few fleeting moments of inspiration.
After this, Eric was well and truly pissed off with Stiff Records and left the label, going into retirement for many years. He resurfaced in the mid 1980s with a new band, Captains of Industry (with Norman Watt-Roy and Mick Gallagher) and then The Len Bright Combo, before coming back in 1989 as Wreckless Eric. He continues to gig and record, and in 1998 wrote a most entertaining autobiography, A Dysfunctional Success – The Wreckless Eric Manual.
Singles / Albums
|Whole Wide World
|Wreckless Eric (LP/10"LP, 1978)||Take The Cash (K.A.S.H.) (7", 1978)||The Wonderful World Of Wreckless Eric
|Crying, Waiting, Hoping (7", 1978)||Hit And Miss Judy (7"/12", 1979)||A Popsong (7", 1980)||Big Smash!
|Broken Doll (7", 1980)|
|Wreckless Eric / Schola Cantorum (7", split, Italian Jukebox single, 1978)||The Whole Wide World (LP, 1979)||It'll Soon Be The Weekend (7", 1980)||Greatest Stiffs
|Almost A Jubilee: 25 Years At The BBC (With Gaps) (CD, 2003)|
|Hits, Misses, Rags & Tatters: The Complete Stiff Masters
(LP, split with The Undertones, 1980)
|Walking On The Surface Of The Moon
Excerpts From Stiffs Greatest Hits UK 7" 1977 (Stiff): Whole Wide World
English Waves! Italy LP 1978 (RCA): There Isn't Anything Else
You're Extremely Lucky To Get This - You Probably Don't Deserve It UK LP 1978 (Stiff): Crying, Waiting, Hoping / Rain
That Summer! UK LP 1979 (Arista): Whole Wide World
The Last Stiff Compilation Album... ...Until The Next One US LP 1980 (Stiff): Hit And Miss Judy
The Best Punk Album In The World ... Ever! 2 UK 2xCD 1996 (Circa): Whole Wide World
1-2-3-4 Punk & New Wave 1976-1979 UK 5xCD 1999 (Universal): Whole Wide World