Fantasy Deluxe #13: Meet Danny Wilson


Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Danny Wilson. Formerly known as Spencer Tracy, and before that the less legally-problematic Scots Porridge Notes (yes, really). Danny Wilson were a band, not a solo artist, and none of the trio were called Danny. Or had Wilson as their surname. Echoes of “which one’s Pink?” in the confusing moniker stakes.

(It also had a similar effect on clueless record store staff in charge of displaying artists in the A-Z section. I got my copy on CD in late 1987, from a Virgin Megastore. It was under W).

They were quoted as feeling like “three men in one grave”, which would make a great title for a retrospective. Hmmm, let me get back to that sometime…

Despite all this, the group scored a huge UK Top 3 smash in the spring of 1988 with Mary’s Prayer (albeit at the third attempt, and after it made a splash on the American charts). And the version of Mary’s Prayer which eventually became a hit wasn’t the one on the original album.

(Could this really get much more confusing?).

Let’s rewind. Meet Danny Wilson appeared in April 1987, one of Virgin’s great Scottish hopes from a period where they attempted to break excellent acts like The Big Dish and Hue & Cry; artists with what you could describe as a widescreen sound. Cinematic, literary…all those quality attributes. Virgin would go all out in the media with campaigns centered around these things; artful photography, quotes from reviews, stylish typography (The Big Dish even shared the same font for their debut LP Swimmer from September 1986).

A lot of money was clearly being lavished on these acts, and according to Danny Wilson’s lead singer and main songwriter Gary Clark, it was all genuine. The label absolutely believed in them.


The first version of Mary’s Prayer on 7″ single, March 1987.

It was just as well, because despite a positive critical reaction, the album did very little at all on release, missing the Top 100 completely. Mary’s Prayer itself had only reached #86, so expecting the public to buy into a virtually unknown act so quickly was always a big ask.

No such issues for yours truly, tempted by the “suck it and see” offer that Virgin ran in the early weeks of Meet Danny Wilson‘s existence, and sensing another Swimmer-type of superior pop record. Not everything was to my teenage tastes, but I instantly warmed to the chiming pianos, yearning vocals and evocative Broadway-esque arrangements of tracks like Aberdeen, Davy, I Won’t Be Here When You Get Home and Broken China. A Girl I Used To Know was an obvious single-in-waiting, with its cheeky coda that was surely, ahem, inspired by Prefab Sprout’s Faron Young.


However, nothing was doing in the UK until almost a year later. The US proved surprisingly responsive to Mary’s Prayer, and it prompted a second go around the block in Britain in August 1987. Peaking at #42, its two-month stay in the lower half of the chart perhaps signalled a growing interest in the song. It just wasn’t quite happening – yet.

The year had seen a number of bands that were operating in a similar style to Danny Wilson enjoy some success; Black reinvented himself/themselves as luxuriant, laconic sophisticates with back-to-back Top 10 hits Sweetest Smile and Wonderful Life. Deacon Blue, over on the CBS label, had released Raintown and were on the verge of the Top 40 themselves. And then there was The Kane Gang, returning after a two-year hiatus with the smoother, gleaming pop of Motortown and What Time Is It? from the excellent Miracle album. The competition was everywhere.

American chart action hadn’t offered a way in, but another opportunity arose in the form of Radio 1, and a feature on the most deserving singles from 1987 which hadn’t been actual hits. Mary’s Prayer came out on top, and with a subtle remix by the experienced Paul Stavely O’Duffy (Freeez, Swing Out Sister, Hipsway) the Top 3 beckoned.


Mary’s Prayere-re-release…third time lucky.

Hooray….you’d think. But what happened next was disappointing, as the expected boost for Meet Danny Wilson, now home to a genuine smash single, simply didn’t follow. You could argue that Virgin could have perhaps added the new remix of Mary’s Prayer to the album, maybe even made a few other tweaks to entice the punters. A very brief, belated soujourn on the UK Top 100, topping out at #65 in May 1988, was the end result.

Still, the label kept at it though, selecting another previously-issued-in-1987 single, Davy, as the next cab off the rank. This time, there was an added, amusing twist as the 12″/CD format was titled Strepsil Logic; a tongue-in-cheek nod to all the (rather misleading and unfair) Steely Dan comparisons that had accompanied their arrival on the scene. The sort of comparisons made by people who had either never heard Steely Dan or didn’t quite listen closely enough to either band.

(In fairness, these days I can hear definite Donald Fagen-isms in the vocals and phrasing on Five Friendly Aliens, but that’s really about it).

Davy/Strepsil Logic peaked at #83. Ho hum, eh.

Danny Wilson would next be heard on the jocular, folky (and almost borderline novelty) single The Second Summer Of Love in May 1989; “acid on the radio, acid on the brain…” and all that. Of course, being so different to anything from the debut album, it was an instant Top 30 hit. A second long-player, Be Bop Moptop, was possibly even finer than Meet Danny Wilson, but it failed to produce any further hits. Gary Clark went solo, and I would buy his Ten Short Songs About Love set in 1993, with its superb singles We Sail On The Stormy Waters and Freefloating.

For a long time, I kind of forgot about Danny Wilson. The CD remained on my shelf, next to Tango In The Night, Raindancing and Never Let Me Down in the April 1987 section, but I’d only give it a spin at very irregular intervals. The most recent of those listens seemed to spark something anew, whether it was hearing the disc on an audiophile-quality system for the very first time or just a case of serendipity.

The richness in the sound, details in the arrangements that I’d never picked up on before, and the level of craftsmanship in the songwriting, far beyond what you would expect on a debut album by an unknown band from Dundee.

So, naturally, it got me thinking of what extra material from the period might exist.

The 4-track CD single of Mary’s Prayer (1988) was already in my collection, and without too much fuss, the Limited Edition double-disc version of their 1991 Best Of, Sweet Danny Wilson, had joined it. Its bonus CD included a number of B-sides, but….oh what a surprise…not all of them. That would be too easy.


cd 1: meet danny wilson (the original 1987 album)

mary’s prayer
lorraine parade
nothing ever goes to plan
broken china
steamtrains to the milky way
spencer tracy
you remain an angel
ruby’s golden wedding
a girl i used to know
five friendly aliens
i won’t be here when you get home

CDV2419. The original Virgin compact disc. No remastered version exists, but in all honesty none is required. Absolute demonstration-level quality sound.

cd 2: complete danny wilson (singles and b-sides)

mary’s prayer ’88 remix
monkey’s shiny day demo
mary’s prairie
a girl i used to know long version
pleasure to pleasure
i won’t forget
aberdeen (the way it should have been)
kathleen house mix
living to learn
broken china live
aberdeen live
steamtrains to the milky way live

Almost an hour’s worth of music across various singles from the album, including the full Strepsil Logic EP and the unreleased tracks from Sweet Danny Wilson. As B-sides go, these are way above average, Monkey’s Shiny Day sounding much more finished and refined than the usual demo quality. Kathleen isn’t literally a House mix (this being 1988, remember) but a home recording…very witty, chaps…..but Mary’s Prairie is indeed a country-tinged take on the song.

Kit Clark takes lead vocal duties for I Won’t Forget, a sign of his increasing influence in the band which, along with Ged Grimes similar evolution as a songwriter and musician, precipitated the band’s amicable demise after the Be Bop Moptop album.

Some live recordings from 1988 concluded my own deluxe edition, and then it was time to create some artwork. I wanted to keep the general white/green colour scheme of the original, and the 12″ sleeve for Davy (original release) fitted the bill perfectly, while also making best use of the longbox style I prefer.

Thirteenth in my series of Fantasy Deluxes seems fitting for an unlucky band who deserved rather more from life. This wasn’t actually intended to be the next in the queue, but then nothing ever goes to plan…



  1. “A second long-player, ‘Be Bop Moptop,’ was possibly even finer than ‘Meet Danny Wilson,’ but it failed to produce any further hits.”

    I’ve listened to Danny Wilson’s second album more than their first, and I still think “Mary’s Prayer” is their best song — it was my favorite song of the summer of ’87, when it reached #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the States — but “I Was Wrong,” the lead single from “Bebop Moptop,” deserved to be a hit too — except it wasn’t the lead single, or even a single at all, which is one of many examples of why I’ve never had “a golden ear.”

    Thanks for the write-up of “Meet Danny Wilson” and for providing the names of similar-sounding UK acts from that era — the Big Dish, Black, the Kane Gang — that I’d never heard of before but will now be sure to look up.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s