Ian Wills, the driving force behind Wills and the Willing, has certainly led a colourful life. A heroin addict at 13, he survived a suicide attempt at 15. Later he made money as a wheeler-dealer, including famously flying to the USA to buy up a job lot of Former MI5 agent Peter Wright’s ‘Spycatcher’ book that the 1980s Thatcher government had banned in Britain, and then selling them on to people prepared to pay “stupid money” to obtain a copy. He is now an established business figure. Wills’ money and contacts have enabled him to assemble an impressive array of musicians to play on this his fourth album, including ex-Style Council member Mick Talbot. There are also guest appearances from ex-Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech on drums and footballer turned Hollywood actor Vinnie Jones on backing vocals. All very well I hear you say – but is it any good?
A press pack explanation of the song ‘Lobster and Chips’ begins “I was invited by a dear friend to dinner at a well-known casino in London”. I include this simply to illustrate the difficulty of making a connection with an artist whose life is so different to that of most people reading this review. Clearly Wells doesn’t need to make music, but that he has chosen to do so, is deserving of our respect. However, artists making any kind of music as a side-line or hobby often struggle to sound authentic or convincing and this is reflected in much of this album. There are exceptions though. The mellow country-rock of ‘Idaho’ is very listenable and the anti-racist sentiment of ‘Crushed by Seven Winds’ is clearly expressed through the best vocal performance on the record and a gently flowing low-key backing.
The most compelling performance comes in the last song, the deeply personal ‘The Greatest Ever Smile’ which documents “the last days at the bedside of my sister as she lost her fight”. It is a song to which Wells’ somewhat flat and melancholy delivery is much more suited than some of the other songs present on the album. The universality of loss allows listeners to relate more readily with Wells’ moving words and to experience the warmth in them.
‘London Country’ is certainly not a bad record. Listening to it is not an unpleasant experience, but other than a couple of songs, it simply isn’t a particularly stimulating one either.