Thursday, March 16, 2006

Live Review - The Wonder Stuff - Leeds Cockpit - Sunday March 12th 2006

Ok, first things first I have a confession to make. This is not going to be an impartial review. It just can't be. The Wonder Stuff, you see are my band. My first ever gig was The Wonder Stuff at Bradford St Georges Hall in 1994. I spent a good five years collecting every Wonder Stuff CD that existed (and paid considerably over the odds for many of them, in those pre-Ebay days when trawling musty second hand shops was your only option. By 'eck, it were all fields round here when I were a lad etc, etc) and at a rough count, I have seen Miles Hunt play in his various incarnations at least thirteen times, traveling to Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and on two occasions London in order to do it.

I am, you might say, a fan.

A brief history lesson for any newbies then - Between 1988 and 1994 The Wonder Stuff had 15 top forty singles, four classic albums, a number one hit single with Vic Reeves ("Dizzy", as if you needed to ask), a bona fide indie-disco classic in the form of "The Size Of A Cow", and drew a line under Mk.1 of the band when, after announcing that they were to split, went out with a triumphant headline slot at the Phoenix festival. Various side projects followed - notably Miles Hunt's squally rock outfit Vent 414 - until the seemingly impossible happened, and in December 2000 the band reformed for a one off date at Kentish Town Forum - which quickly became a riotous five night residency. More gigs followed but with no new material - then in 2004 it was announced that the album "Escape From Rubbish Island" - originally intended to be Miles' latest solo effort, was to be a full blown Wonder Stuff record. Unfortunately, fiddle player Martin Bell and drummer Martin Gilks took some umbridge at this and refused to play any part in it, leaving Miles Hunt and Malc Treece as the only original members remaining. Undeterred, drummer Andres Karu (who had previously worked with Miles on solo projects) and bassist Mark McCarthy, (unbelievably, ex of Casey Chaos' punk-metal troupe, Amen) were recruited in their places and, whilst, "Escape.." was a mixed bag, The Wonder Stuff released a new record, "Suspended By Stars" last month, and it is, in this reviewers humble opinion, a definite return to form.

So - onto the gig. The Cockpit is packed, and the beer is flowing. The band appear directly from the freezing cold night air and onto the stage and launch into a double barreled opening of "Tricks Of My Trade" (from "Suspended By Stars") and fan favourite "On The Ropes" (From 1994s "Construction For The Modern Idiot") and the whole place goes bananas. Some things are clear - Karu and McCarthy are both rock steady and rock hard as a rhythm section - the songs have a pounding, driving quality that earlier line-ups didn't have. Stripped of much the multi-instrumentation which adorned (And sometimes blighted) their early nineties output, The Wonder Stuff are left to do the one thing you secretly knew they could - be the best damn live rock band in the world. Certainly, anyone whose only knowledge of the band stretches only to "The Size Of A Cow" would be astonished to hear, say, "Donation" which finds the band at their very heaviest, almost invisible behind a wall of dry ice, Miles screaming "Its ugly / and its desperate / it's deserving of its rot / separate the mother fuckers and those who have not" through a megaphone. Jangly indie this most definitely isn't.

The band have recruited Erica Nockalls to fill in on fiddle, and wisely, they use her sparingly, giving body and breadth to the tunes where required, but not feeling the urge to keep the violin on every bloody thing. She certainly adds a striking visual presence to the band - tall and statuesque, she catches the attention of the a lot of guys in the audience.... (Erika - if you're reading this - my flat mate wants your phone number.) Miles, meanwhile is on fine form. He has carried from his solo work the habit of sharing anecdotes between songs, and they never fail to be funny and interesting. (The story of late night revenge on an ex-Wham session musician is a gem.) At one point, a heckler shouts out that rarest of things - an anti-request. "Don't play "Size of a Cow!"" Miles is amused. "What, should we just stand here in three and a half minutes of perfect pop silence?" However, age hasn't softened the front man who has always had a reputation as a hell raiser. At one point he takes a second to put the boot into an over-enthusiastic crowd surfer, before snarling "Act you age and keep your feet on the floor. If you can't act your age, act mine."

Maybe its to prove a point that at their age, (Miles will turn forty this year) they can put the youngsters to shame, The Wonder Stuff play an astonishing hour and three quarter set, finishing with a six track, second encore, which consists of some of their shortest, spikiest early songs crammed together without pausing for breath. One of these is "Unbearable", their bile filled debut single, which consists of two minutes of abuse at an unnamed enemy and a classic pay off line "I didn't like you very much when I met you / and now I like you even less." It came out in 1988 - 14 years later The Libertines would bust onto the scene with a little track called "What A Waster" which pulled a very similar trick.

Reading this review back, I wonder who will read it and who I'm talking to really. Will it make some sixteen year old go out and listen to a band who last got in the charts when they were still a toddler? I'd like to think so, but I guess the chances are slim. The Wonder Stuff will surely never bother the Radio 1 playlist again*, though seeing Miles grin like a Cheshire Cat for almost two hours of what remain the best live band I have ever seen, it makes me frustrated that the rest of the world don't put this band on a pedestal and worship them. But TWS have never been a critic’s band and never will be. All I can suggest is that if you’re a Wonder Stuff virgin, go pick up the best of CD for a fiver, and if the band play your town, get a ticket and get down the front. You'll have a ball

words and pictures by Matt

* - This may not actually be true. In June Cbeebies will air a CGI cartoon called Underground Ernie - it's essentially Thomas The Tank Engine on the Underground, and features the vocal talents of a Mr Gary Lineker. Who wrote and performed the theme tune? You guessed it... The Wonder Stuff, dueting with the footballer/crisp ambassador himself. Miles has performed it at solo gigs for a laugh - the song is actually called, (I shit you not) "The Importance Of Being Ernie". Having heard it, it’s insanely catchy. Put a quid on it for xmas number one.

PS - A largely irrelevant side note. This was a Sunday gig, which meant the band came off stage at ten thirty. Praise be then for the new licensing laws - for the first time ever we could retreat to the bar and have a post gig chat and pint before going for the last train, instead of being immediately booted out into the cold, gasping for water, beer and the toilet. (Which is how I end up after most gigs.) Thank God common sense prevailed for once.

PPS – God that was a long review, wasn’t it? Hope no one minds….

2 Comments:

Blogger Chris Allan said...

B*gg*r!
We ummed and ahhed over going to the gig and then something came up and we couldn't go.
Then I read from your review that it was as fab as we have come to expect.

Aw Shucks.

Keep up the good work.

12:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

RIP Martin Gilks.

7:05 PM  

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