CJ Wildheart is back in business with his first solo album – after doctors once said he might never play the guitar again.
CJ Wildheart: I wouldn't quit over hand agony
EXCLUSIVE: Guitarist talks three-year break in a "real job," release of debut solo album - and the injury that doctors said might end his career
Following a three-year break from music – during which time he ran a cleaning business in London – he's gearing up to release Mable, an album funded via Pledgemusic. View the video for lead track Down The Drain below.
With his first child on the way, the 46-year-old admits he is a different person than he was when The Wildhearts, and his other projects Honeycrack and The Jellys, were living the party lifestyle.
CJ says: “When I was in Honeycrack we had to cancel a tour because I had this repetitive strain thing from playing the guitar so low for so many years. My hand was always at a weird angle. Two of my tendons fused together and I had a lump the size of a golf ball on my hand.
“I had to have surgery and the doctor said it might come back. It did when I was in The Jellys – it was really bad and I couldn't play. The doctor said I might have to quit – but I said, 'Not a chance.'
"A friend suggested I go to an acupuncturist; I had a couple of sessions and the lump disappeared within a month. It's never come back. I've brought the guitar up a couple of notches on the strap – I'm still shooting from the hip but my hand's not at that weird angle anymore.”
Mable charts CJ's three years as the boss of the cleaning firm before he sold it, and his relocation Yorkshire, where he lives with his wife, writes music and makes his own chilli sauce, called Devilspit.
He says: "I retired from music for three years. After the Chutzpah tour with The Wildhearts I needed a break; I wanted to do something I'd never done before, which is have a job. I started the cleaning company and employed a bunch of guys. At times it was great but at others it was really horrible.
"A lot of musicians are wrapped in cotton wool – the Wildhearts aren't massive but we tour at a level where we have a lot of crew doing stuff for us, and you're kind of detached from reality. Doing a day job was the biggest lesson I've ever had. It grounded me and made me a better person.
"I'm singing about stuff that kind of pissed me off when I was cleaning for a lot of rich, snobby people who I wanted to kill. I had to suck it up; as a musician you don't have to do that – you can rage at people and not get fired. I had to suppress all that rage and anger in my business.”
CJ says Mable is a true solo album, in that he played everything on the record, only calling in help for some “gang vocals”. He hopes his songwriting is recognised, modestly describing his creative past as “hit and miss”. He says: “I need people to like it and recognise the songwriting. I've been playing the guitar and singing for a long time so I must be okay at it. But it's really important to me that people like the songwriting on this album."
Although he believes he's matured as a person and musician, CJ wouldn't change his past for all the world. He says: “I gave up smoking and drinking whisky – and my voice has got huskier. Go figure. I'm clean living now and I keep chickens, but the music has got heavier.
"Would I change anything? Absolutely not. The saving grace is I was young enough not to know better. When I hit 40 I looked at the way I was living and something had to give. I had to grow up and re-evaluate everything. But when you're young you should act like a fucked up punk rocker. There's nothing better.
“The Jellys were fuelled by speed – now I'm fuelled by good cheese and nice bread. I'm laid back and there isn't that hectic, on-the-edge sort of sound."
And he says of becoming a dad: “People say I've left it quite late, but I never felt the time was right for me to become a father. I look at it as the second part of my life starting.
CJ will play an acoustic set at the launch party for Mable in London next month, with a commercial release to follow. The Wildhearts play the Download festival on June 14.