Back in November I blogged about going to see Pop Will Eat Itself with just one original member. A month on, I’m blogging about another great grebo success story, The Wonder Stuff, and once again the story is the same.
Well, the outcome is the same: I’m on the balcony at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire watching original frontman Miles Hunt lead a band still called The Wonder Stuff despite the fact he’s the only original. But the road to this situation is very different.
While the Poppies have stuttered along with various members coming and going since they split in ’96, the Stuffies have been beset with two tragedies that saw original members Rob ‘Bass Thing’ Jones and drummer Martin Gilks sadly pass away. That just left Miles and guitarist Malcolm Treece (if you don’t count Martin ‘Fiddly’ Bell, who came on board in ’89 and parted company again in 2000).
The past few years have seen Miles and Malc making hay with anniversary tours or the band’s first two albums, ‘Eight Legged Groove Machine’ and ‘Hup’. But just weeks before third album ‘Never Loved Elvis’ rolled into town, the latest Miles and Malc bust-up put the shows in danger.
Luckily for Miles, and us, former Jesus Jones guitarist Jerry De Borg stepped into the breach to join the current line up of former Pop Will Eat Itself drummer Fuzz Townshend (they’re an incestuous lot, these Midlanders), long time Stuffs bassist Mark McCarthy and violinist Erica Nockalls and make it happen.
And yes, I was on the balcony. What can I say – Shepherd’s Bush Empire lets too many people in downstairs and I’ve seen The Wonder Stuff enough times to know it’s always rubbish up the front, so no biggy. As always I was right about the former – but tonight, no so the latter. Cracking view though.
The gig was fantastic. Miles has got his hair back, the crowd was right up for it and despite housing my least favourite single from the classic albums (‘Size of a Cow’) it was great to hear the likes of ‘Mission Drive’, ‘Inertia’, ‘Here Comes Everyone’ and ’38 Line Poem’.
The encore was awesome too – classic after classic played to a crowd that absolutely lapped it up. Oddly they’d had trouble shifting tickets, but you wouldn’t have known it from the reception they got. By the time ‘Don’t Let Me Down, Gently’ hit near the end, it was a sea of dancing right back to the sound desk – something I haven’t seen for a while. I think Zoe (my better half) enjoyed watching the mosh pit from above almost as much as listening to the band.
At the after show there was, of course, many mutterings about what will happen next. Was this the end of The Wonder Stuff? If rumours are to be believed (and they came from reliable sources), making these shows happen meant Miles etc could keep going as ‘the band’ – which may not have been possible if they’d been forced to cancel the shows. But would they?
the general impression seemed to be yes, mainly because it’s Miles. Whatever you may think of Mr Hunt, from his arrogance to his somewhat uninspiring solo material to date, he clearly absolutely loves getting up there and fronting the Stuffies. And, better still, he’s great at it too.
Sure, when Miles is singing ‘It’s Yer Money’ and ‘Give, Give, Give Me More, More, More’ he probably means every word. The Wonder Stuff keeps him in red wine and stops him having to get a proper job, after all. And why not? He’s written some truly breathtaking pop songs over the years, so why shouldn’t they earn him a living?
But that’s where things start to get a little foggy. I’m certainly not the only one that thinks Miles’ creative juices pretty much ran dry after ‘Never Loved Elvis’, so how far can you take a band (no matter who’s in it) that is surviving almost exclusively off of three albums written 20 years ago? Pop Will Eat Itself proved this year that you can make a new album in the spirit of the old ones that is worth the CDs its printed on. But I really don’t get the feeling Miles and co can do the same (although I hope I’m wrong).
So where does that leave The Wonder Stuff? Some think they should just plough the festival treadmill, taking the pay packets where they can and not over-egging the pudding – just add a few Christmas shows and the odd anniversary. It’s certainly worked for Carter USM this year, but that said it won’t pay the bills for a five-piece.
The other options are new material (which hasn’t really been working) or constant touring, but where would that end up? Friends at the last few shows before the Never Loved Elvis tour spoke of lacklustre gigs in front of poor crowds. That just leaves the ‘where are they now?’ tours, stuck on a bill with Chesney Hawkes and doing ‘Dizzy’… While Miles way want to keep things going, I’m sure the man has his dignity.
Which would seem to just leave sticking at the Miles and Erica duo that keeps him gigging at smaller venues all year round, but that again hasn’t really captured the imagination beyond a small following.
Wherever Miles decided to take The Wonder Stuff, tonight at Shepherd’s Bush Empire showed that people will come and that it will be a great show if the enthusiasm is still there. I for one hope they take the festival/occasional show route, but either way I’ll be showing up when Miles rolls into town. It may just be my money he’s after but hey, that’s entertainment.
(EDIT: Erica spelling typo – oops!)