To lay it out from the beginning, I’m a Gecko fan and have been for some time.
Through the years, I’ve gotten really drunk playing the Gecko drinking game, sweatily danced in the old 12 bar club (sad face, RIP) and watched an encore in the street when a grumpy sound man wouldn’t let them play on. I’ve been part of roaring crowds and I’ve sat quietly amongst sizeable but eagerly silent audiences.
Amidst numerous line-up changes, frontman, and current sole member, Will has proved himself to be as much a chameleon as gecko in his ability to adapt to his ever-shifting on-stage surroundings. His current live show serves as equal parts acoustic, stand up and spoken word act and yet somehow, for those who’ve seen it, the spirit of the raucous, dancy live show of old lives on.
In the build-up to his annual Christmas show on December 19th, and to mark the launch of his crowd funding campaign for a new album, I caught up with Will to ask about life as a solo act, festive favourites and what’s coming next.
GR – 2016 has been a busy year for you, any particular highlights?
Will – It’s been my busiest ever! I reckon my highlight was the Edinburgh Fringe as a whole. It was the most intense month of my life, there’s so many opportunities to perform, so often it would be 2 or 3 shows a day. I played big theatres, and the BBC Tent and then played weird little cocktail bars, dingy pub back rooms and also at the National Museum of Scotland near a dinosaur. I made such incredible friends with my fellow performers up there too.
GR – You’ve recently done a tour of SoFar Sounds venues across Europe, how was that?
Will – So much fun. Sofar Sounds or Songs From a Room put on intimate shows in interesting spaces, be that a living room, an art gallery or in Liverpool a ‘concept’ store-whatever that is! The audience don’t know who they’re going to see and they only find out the venue the day before. The key ethos of the shows is that everyone is quiet and actually listens to the music. Not a groundbreaking idea but it’s unbelievably effective. I was touring with my mate Lewis Bootle and both of our music is pretty lyric focused so everyone’s undivided attention was absolutely priceless.
GR – Some of your songs are quite high concept, how do they translate to an audience that’s listening in a 2nd language?
Will – Surprisingly well. In the Netherlands they are ridiculously good at English, but even some of the weird English references were picked up. In Germany, whilst their English is obviously better than most British people’s German I made a conscious effort to slow things down. I would also give the songs a bit of explanation beforehand to help guide them through the story. I also learnt the word ‘Papageientaucher’ which is German for puffin to explain my song about a puffin. The literal translation is ‘diving parrot’ which I think is completely excellent!
GR – You’ve recently been doing some spoken word shows, what are the big differences in the way audiences engage with your material?
Will – I’ve joined a lot of spoken word bills but still doing my songs in the same way I always do. I love being the odd one out on a lineup, be that a musician at a poetry show or a bit of a wordy guy at a conventional music show. At spoken word nights it’s quite similar to the Sofar Sounds vibe in that everyone pays a lot more attention to the words. I’m obsessed with words and having fun with them and a lot of poets seem to respond quite well to what I do. Also the warmth, intelligence, diversity and passion of the spoken word scene has filled me with blooming joy. I’ve really loved discovering this whole scene that I didn’t really know much about even a year ago.
GR – In songs like ‘Rapunzel’ and ‘I’m a Grant’ you tackle some big issues (Feminism/Immigration), albeit with a humorous touch. What comes first, the concept or the urge to cover a certain topic?
Will – It can vary, with ‘Rapunzel’ I had the idea of writing a song from Rapunzel’s perspective and that naturally led to having a feminist message behind it. Being stuck in the tower was obviously the problem and having a ‘spiky hatted man’ climb up your golden locks not only sounds unbelievably painful but doesn’t solve the issue at hand at all. After all that excruciating effort you’d just have an extra person stuck in a tower. I played it in a primary school recently and it was so much fun seeing the kids’ reaction to the silliness of that idea. With ‘I’m a Grant’ I wanted to talk about immigration in a positive way but I needed an interesting angle. The pun I’m a Grant just made me laugh and then everything seemed to fit in place quite easily. The idea that you could treat a white bald man differently to his brother just because of his name is rightly ridiculous. But how is that any different to skin colour or where someone was born?
GR – Your act has changed significantly over the years, primarily in your transition from a full band to a solo act, but managed to very much maintain the Gecko vibe. Has that been a challenge?
Will – Less of a challenge than I expected to be honest. Travelling can be lonelier but most of the time I’ve been touring with other friends which makes a massive difference. In terms of maintaining the Gecko vibe, my songs have almost always started from a similar place (me with an acoustic) so I guess its just natural.
GR – There will obviously be huge differences so won’t ask which is ‘better’, what are the benefits of being a solo act?
Will – Freedom springs to mind. Organising a full band is a full time job in itself. It’s no coincidence I’m able to do more shows than ever (over 130 this year alone). And I guess increased focus on the lyrics is a big one. The words and stories are my biggest passion and I feel people more than ever can get involved with them.
GR – You could well be one of Glastonbury’s hardest working performers with your multiple sets across the weekend. Do you have a favourite stage/time slot?
Will – I love the madness of multiple Worthy Farm sets. This year my favourite was probably The Rum Shack in the Common organised by my friends at Lyrix Organix. It was a packed tent on the Wednesday night, so some of the first music the festival goers would see. It’s a great feeling to try and kick start people’s festival experience. This year I had my mate Lewis Bootle along to join me onstage for our collaboration ‘Festival Band’ which is unsurprisingly in its element in a tent in a muddy field.
GR – You have your annual Gecko Christmas show coming up, give it a plug
Will – Definitely come! It’s at The Finsbury in Manor house which has become a home from home. I used to live really close to it, I don’t now but I still love it! It’s on the 19th of December and I’ve got an amazing mixed bill of spoken word, music and comedy. Plus there will be a banging Christmas playlist.
GR – What’s your favourite Christmas song?
Will – The entirety of Phil Spector’s ‘A Christmas Gift for you’ album is just the best Christmas album ever. It would always be on in December in my house. If you pushed me to pick one from that I’d probably go with ‘Sleigh Ride’ by The Ronettes. Also honorouble mention to Run DMC ‘Christmas in Hollis’ especially for that scene in Die Hard ‘THIS IS CHRISTMAS MUSIC’!.
GR – You’re currently crowd funding an album, if I’m not mistaken, your 1st full length release? Why now?
Will – First full length proper yeah. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for literal years. This last couple of years I feel like I’ve written my best work. Then the bulk of what will be the album was in my Edinburgh show ‘A Lizard Goes a Long Way’ and I really felt I want to document this. A full length album can fully represent what I’m about now.
GR – How do you feel about crowd funding in general?
Will – I think it’s fantastic. (I would say that wouldn’t I?). There’s something special about jumping into a vulnerable position and having all these people from all over the place lifting you up. Does that analogy work? I feel nervous, but really excited that I can make the thing I really want to make, with the people who really get it, helping me do so. And every time someone pledges, I get a notification and a warm glow inside/dopamine rush. I might be going slightly insane.
GR – What can fans expect from a Gecko album? How would you describe it to someone who’s never heard your stuff before?
Will – I’m a singer storyteller. Hopefully it’ll make you laugh, smile, feel warm, maybe do a little tear. And I love exploring writing from different perspectives so one song might be a letter written by the tooth fairy to a kid who wrote a letter back in the 90’s but the tooth fairy has only just come across it now due to underfunding. Stuff like that, and I also seem to write about animals a lot.
GR – Any particular rewards that bidders should look out for?
Will – One of the big ones is a personal concert in your house which is always fun. One I’m most excited about is getting the lyrics printed in a lovely pamphlet and presented all nice like a little poetry anthology.
GR – Finally, other than an album release, what does 2017 hold for you?
Will – In February and March, I’m off on a massive tour with Harry & Chris. Harry is World Poetry Slam Champion and Chris is an amazing Jazz musician. Together they’ve made a brilliant, joyous show that was also up in Edinburgh.
Then also in the pipeline is another Netherlands tour, as well as my first visits to Scandinavia and Italy. And perhaps that massive Scottish festival in August again…
No Rest for the Lizard!
As mentioned, you can catch Gecko at The Finsbury on December 19th and be part of his album crowd-funding project by pledging at http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/gecko. Look out for the new (fully funded) album in the new year.
By Sam Wilson.