“On the back sleeve of the new record, I’m holding a Stratocaster,” grins Danny Wilson. “A friend saw it and said, ‘Woah, a Strat… Controversial!’ Yeah, too fuckin’ right! I wanna play a Strat, and I wanna plug it into a valve amp, and I wanna play music with my friends, and we’ve got a sax in the band, so let’s have a party. We can play all night, if you want. That’s what I love.”
The choice of this particular guitar is by no means random, and signals a number of profound changes for Danny and his Champions Of The World with their third album. First off, the current line-up of the Champs is very different from the line-up that recorded their 2008 eponymous debut album and its 2010 follow-up, Streets Of Our Time. Whereas the Champions Of The World were originally a loose and chaotic collective of like-minded souls – so loose and so chaotic that, at any given gig or session, you couldn’t accurately predict who exactly would be performing alongside Wilson – this new incarnation of the group is a proper rock’n’roll band, wholly and entirely committed to being the Champs.
Crucially, Hearts & Arrows is a rock’n’roll record. “I love folk music, I always have,” Wilson says. “But I’m so fucking bored of ‘new folk’, and the trendiness that surrounds it, everyone pretending that it’s 1971 again. I wanted to make a totally un-bearded record. My reference points were Black Flag and Bad Brains, Tom Petty and Thin Lizzy, not Nick Drake and Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. Forget 1971, this is 1976: Dr Feelgood, Nick Lowe, just great rock’n’roll.”
Be assured, Hearts & Arrows sounds much more alike Tom Petty than Black Flag (who are name-checked on Can’t Hold Back), but it is also the rockingest waxing the Champs have thus far delivered: you can hear it in the hopeful pulse of opener Ghosts In The Wire and the purposeful, melodic hurtle of its chorus, the chiming riffs of the title track and its infectious call to freedom, the urgent gospel-y overtones of You Don’t Know (My Heart Is In the Right Place). The album also harbours some of Wilson’s trademark heartbreakers, ballads and laments… Some of his best, in fact, as the potent mourn of Too Tough To Cry, and his fair-minded, Guralnick-inspired meditation upon Elvis – Colonel & The King – prove.