Danny Wilson were a Scottish pop group formed in Dundee, Scotland. Part of the loosely-affiliated "sophisti-pop" movement of the late 1980s (which also included Deacon Blue and Swing Out Sister) the band is best known for their 1988 UK number 3 hit single "Mary's Prayer".
The band served as a launchpad for the career of Gary Clark, who also played in the 1990s bands King L and Transister before becoming a successful songwriter for other artists including Natalie Imbruglia, Liz Phair, Nick Carter, k.d. lang and former Spice Girls Melanie C and Emma Bunton. Other former members of the band have played in Simple Minds, Deacon Blue and Swiss Family Orbison.
Background and early history:
Influenced by sophisticated soul and pop artists such as Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder and Bacharach & David, Gary Clark and Ged Grimes grew up together in Dundee, Scotland and played together in school bands. Moving to London, they subsequently played in the bands Perfect Strangers and Dream Kitchen during the early 1980s with little success.
Circa 1984, while still in London, Clark and Grimes noticed that talent scouts and journalists were beginning to follow the soul and pop scenes in Scottish cities. Returning to Dundee, they teamed up with Gary Clark's younger brother Kit Clark to form a new band called Spencer Tracy (after the film star of the same name). Initially spotted busking around Dundee, Spencer Tracy signed to Virgin Records in 1986.
After objections from the estate of the original Spencer Tracy the band was obliged to change its name. Gary Clark recalls this as "a real last-minute crazy, fearful moment... The album was done, the artwork was done... We were just told, 'If you try and use this, you will be sued.' And so the label just went 'Nope. Change it. Now.'" For their new name, the band chose Danny Wilson, taken from a 1952 Frank Sinatra film called Meet Danny Wilson (itself a favourite film of the Clark brothers' father).
All three members of Danny Wilson played a variety of instruments and had a good grounding in production skills, resulting in a degree of skill and practical independence which stood them in good stead for future development. The band would later summarise their approach as follows: "Whoever has an idea can play it and we'll record it. However that means that it's pretty impossible to document who played what on what track. Sometimes Ged might be playing an instrument (usually a rented ethnic one) and Kit would jump in for the middle eight." Generally speaking, Grimes played all of the bass parts (including double bass) while Gary Clark played most of the guitar and piano parts on album. Kit Clark functioned as a multi-instrumental wild card (including accordion, guitar and found percussion) and provided unorthodox musical ideas: the band once summarized his contribution as "if you hear something mental and think to yourself "What the f**k was that?" then it's probably Kit."
The band remained a trio throughout its lifetime, hiring in other members (drummers in particular) for studio recordings and live appearances. Lead vocals were shared between the Clark brothers: Gary (also the band's main songwriter) took the majority of these, but over time Kit sang more of them.
The band's debut album Meet Danny Wilson was released in 1987. An acclaimed mix of sophisti-pop featuring elements of soul, jazz and bossa nova, it featured guest appearances by Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy among others.
The lead single, "Mary's Prayer", issued in the spring, was initially unsuccessful in the United Kingdom, missing the official UK Top 75 and peaking at number 86, but a re-release in the late summer took it to number 42. At about the same time it became a surprise hit on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at number 26. The band toured the United States in the autumn of 1987, supporting Simply Red and proving successful with that group's fans.
The Stateside success of "Mary's Prayer" led to it being re-released again in the UK in 1988, when it reached number 3 in the UK Singles Chart. It remains the band's best-known song. Meet Danny Wilson generated two more singles: "Davy" and "A Girl I Used To Know", both of which preceded the successful reissue of "Mary's Prayer" and neither of which matched its success.
The band released its second album, Bebop Moptop the following year. The first single released from the album was "Never Gonna Be The Same", but this was overshadowed by its successor, the hit single "The Second Summer Of Love", which reached number 23 in the British charts. The song had originally been written by Gary Clark as a joke about the rise of acid house and its associated culture and media impact. As initially written it was barely more than a minute long, so when Virgin Records picked the song for single release the band extended it via a long harmonica solo.
Three more singles were released from Bebop Moptop - "If Everything You Said Was True", the slow ballad "If You Really Love Me (Let Me Go)", and the Kit Clark/Ged Grimes-penned "I Can't Wait" - but in spite of Virgin Records' promotional effort none of these were hits. Gary Clark has subsequently suggested that this was simply down to airplay problems. "Virgin were really great at that time, and, y'know, we didn't really fit what was on the radio at any time. We kind of got lucky with "Mary's Prayer," in the sense that it just happened to fit, whereas the records were pretty eclectic. And Virgin, even though they loved the band and loved the stuff, they obviously had trouble at radio. It didn't fit with what was going on."
Although the debut album had been entirely written by Gary Clark, he was no longer the band's only songwriter. Ged Grimes and Kit Clark had contributed a small number of songs to Bebop Moptop. By the time the band began to demo the third Danny Wilson album in 1991, all three members had more songs than would fit onto the album, leading to arguments. Feeling particular frustration, Kit Clark made an attempt to solve the situation by persuading Virgin Records to let him record a solo album, but was rebuffed: following this, he decided to leave the band.
Deciding that Danny Wilson would be too much reduced without Kit's contribution ("he was kind of a really good force just in terms of ideas and the flavor of things"), Gary Clark opted to break up the band, maintaining its creative integrity and the friendships between all members before both were spoiled. One of the other reasons cited for Danny Wilson's dissolution was a collective frustration with the way the band itself overshadowed the people in it. The band name was often mistaken for that of a non-existent frontman, with the members similarly mistaken for his sidemen. Kit Clark once commented "We felt like three men in one grave."
The split was amicable, with all three members supporting - and sometimes playing on - each other's future projects. A compilation album, Sweet Danny Wilson, was released by Virgin Records in 1991 (containing a bonus album of live recordings called Three-In-A-Bed Romp). The songs which Gary Clark had written for the unrecorded third Danny Wilson album ended up on his 1993 solo album Ten Short Songs About Love (on which both Ged Grimes and Kit Clark performed).
Although Danny Wilson have never formally reunited, in 1995 all three members performed a full-length concert with former Bible frontman Boo Hewerdine (a songwriting collaborator of Gary Clark's) at London's Royal Festival Hall (billed as Gary Clark, Boo Hewerdine & Friends). The concert featured various songs co-written by Clark and/or Hewerdine, but the band also played a number of Danny Wilson songs.
Following the relative commercial failure of Ten Short Songs About Love, Gary Clark abandoned solo work to form first the rock band King L (with American bass player Eric Pressly and former Bible guitarist Neill Maccoll) and then the pop band Transister (with Pressly and lead singer Keeley Hawkes). Clark then stepped down from performing in order to turn his attention to writing and producing for other artists, such as Natalie Imbruglia, Liz Phair, Nick Carter, Ashley Parker Angel, k.d. lang, Ferras and Spice Girls Melanie C and Emma Bunton. He is currently living in Dundee, Scotland.
In 1991, Kit Clark released a solo EP called Lovedung on Reverb Records. He went on to play with his own bands Pony and Swiss Family Orbison during the 1990s and early 2000s. In 2010 he began to perform as a solo artist.
Having spent time as a music writer for computer games, Grimes is currently the bass player for Simple Minds (and has also played with another high-profile Scottish rock band, Deacon Blue).
Gary Clark (vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards, programming, etc.),
Kit Clark (vocals, guitar, percussion, keyboards, accordion, etc.),
Ged Grimes (bass guitar, double bass, keyboards, backing vocals,