Wah!, and its number of incarnations, was a vehicle for Liverpool post-punk enigma Pete Wylie. Whether viewed as a prolific genius or as a blowhard lunatic with no quality control, there's no denying that the larger-than-life Wylie was a steamroller of a character who did everything his way to the fullest possible extent. Wylie's recordings might have varied stylistically throughout the years, but they each share the qualities of being loud, proud, and heartfelt.
Having cut his teeth in the short-lived bands the Crucial Three, the Mystery Girls, and the Nova Mob, Wylie wisely decided in the late '70s to form an outlet of his own to house his ideas. Having played with other strong-headed types like the Teardrop Explodes' Julian Cope and Echo & the Bunnymen's Ian McCullough, Wylie knew early on that he would have to be the center of things. Under various pseudonyms including Wah! Heat, the Mighty Wah!, Shambeko Say Wah!, Pete Wylie and Wah! The Mongrel, or just plain Wah!, Wylie released nearly 20 singles with the occasional studio LP or collection falling between most breaks in the release schedule.
Throughout Wah!'s history, Wylie situated himself with a number of skilled support musicians who shifted in and out with great frequency. The original lineup (as Wah! Heat) was fleshed out by bassist Pete Younger and drummer Rob Jones, but they were replaced on the second single by Joe Musker and Carl Washington. Keyboardist King Bluff literally bluffed his way into the group for Wah!'s debut LP and Wylie responded by using his name in the title. After that, the lineups became hardly traceable. The studio albums morphed from manic new wave in the earlier days to patchwork fare of wild stylistic variety including soul, reggae, easy listening, electronic pop, and straight-ahead rock & roll. Most of the records garnered critical favor but didn't do terribly well on the U.K. charts. The 1982 single "The Story of the Blues" was the group's biggest hit, reaching number three.
Wylie briefly disbanded Wah! in the late '80s, signing to Virgin and releasing 1987's Sinful under his own name. He had some success with the title track as a single. Surprisingly, the record was the only title in his catalog to receive U.S. distribution. A remix of the same single with the Farm returned Wylie to popularity in 1991; he released a new full-length in the same year under the cumbersome Pete Wylie and Wah! The Mongrel, only to vanish from music after a near-death fall of 20 feet. Seven years later, Wylie resurrected the Mighty Wah! for "Heart as Big as Liverpool" single, which was followed in 2000 by the Songs of Strength and Heartbreak album. The career-spanning double-disc Handy Wah! Hole compilation appeared later in the year, followed by Castle's reissuing of several Wah!-related full-lengths in 2001.