Tuesday, December 05, 2006

REVIEW: The Wonder Stuff @ The Cockpit, Leeds, 04/12/06

The Wonder Stuff have been around for twenty years (albeit with a six year break from 1994 to 2000). Their debut album ‘The Eight Legged Groove Machine’ received much acclaim from independent music fans from across Britain and beyond, in an era when the youth were being swept along in a late 80s / early 90s tide of alternative rock and indie Brit pop. At the time the Wonder Stuff were one of three bands (‘Pop Will Eat Itself’ and ‘Ned’s Atomic Dustbin’ being the others) from Stourbridge in the West Midlands who were laying down their own regional challenge to the might of ‘Madchester’ and the plethora of alternative and indie artists coming out of what was (and arguably still is) the North’s most ‘mad for it’ musical city.

Due to personal differences with band members (including lead singer Miles Hunt) original bassist Rob Jones (known as ‘The Bass Thing’) left in the late eighties, and later died of a suspected drugs overdose in 1993. Drummer Martin Gilks also sadly died earlier this year in a motorbike accident. Today the band line up is Miles Hunt (lead vocals and guitar), Malcolm Treece (guitar and vocals), Andres Karu (drums), Mark McCarthy (bass), and Erica Nockalls (fiddle).

Not only has the Wonder Stuff’s present line up altered, their image has certainly (and thankfully) changed, gone are the long hair, eccentric tartan suits, smiley bandanas and round sunglasses, replaced with dark faded casuals, complimented by black dress and bold lipstick chic from Erica. The band have lost little of their energy in the last twenty years, and are still producing punchy indie-pop tunes with good humoured lyrics, there most recent release being the single ‘Blah Blah La Di Da’.

The last time I saw the Wonder Stuff was as the Friday night headliners at the Reading Festival in 1992, where they rocked a 60,000 strong crowd, on this particular night they were playing at the Cockpit in Leeds, to an audience of less than 500. The band began with several more recent tracks from their 2004 album ‘Escape from Rubbish Island’ and their 2006 album ‘Suspended by Stars’, which were pretty good, but evidently not what the crowd of mostly thirty-somethings had come to hear. A calm began to descend over the audience, at which point lead singer Miles Hunt made a remark about ‘playing in a morgue’. At this point the crowd started shouting out old song titles, and the band duly obliged creating movement in front of the stage to classics including ‘It’s yer Money I’m After Baby’, ‘Poison’ and ‘Unbearable’.

The Cockpit allows the audience to get very close to the band on stage, which opens up the opportunity for banter between band and audience, something which Miles relished. ‘I went to see the Cult recently’ claimed Miles ‘Ian Astbury actually apologised for playing new stuff….well I wont’ what followed was a mixture of contemporary Wonder Stuff heavy on Erica’s Fiddle, which certainly gave the band a very ‘Levellers’ sound, and more classic tracks from the albums ‘Hup’, ‘Never Loved Elvis’ and ‘Construction for the Modern Idiot’. The audience relished it, and something that actually resembled a mosh pit appeared in front of the stage participated in by a smattering of over dressed thirty-somethings, teenage indie-kids, a young punk rocker, and a t-shirtless skinhead!

The band overplayed their 10:30 curfew with red wine swigged from bottles and three encores, again featuring a cross section of Wonder Stuff music from the 1980s to the present day. It had been over fourteen years since I last saw the Wonder Stuff, and I have to say that I enjoyed this gig as much as I did the last one, on that barmy evening in a Reading field.

The Wonder Stuff began life as an indie-band, they grew to the dizzy heights of headline act at both the Reading 92 and Phoenix 94 festivals, as well as holding their own stadium gig at Walsall Football Club. In Miles own words ‘last night’s audience in Sheffield have paid for us to get to Leeds…we’re an indie band again now’, they certainly look and sound like they are enjoying it.

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