Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Wonderful Stuff

Published in Inpress Magazine (Melb), 13th July 2011

The Wonder Stuff

To look back over UK group The Wonder Stuff’s history is almost akin to gazing over a newly deserted battlefield.  Hiatus and break-up pockmark the landscape, the rubble of records long forgotten litter the ground whilst more successful albums are lauded and promoted and the smoke obscures things, wafting across the scene, pushed by the winds of time themselves.  26 years since the beginning of this rock n’ roll battle, and while it looks messy, it’s testament to the spirit of the band and its co-founder, Miles Hunt, that it’s still alive today.

“I think my little snotnosed self back then would have been appalled if you’d told him in 1987 that you’re going to be around for a quarter of a century at least,” laughs Hunt.  “I think I’d have slagged my older self off, but secretly gone to a room quietly on my own and gone, ‘Wow, do I really get to make music for all that time and not go and get a job?’”

This is what Hunt has done.  Along with guitarist Malcolm Treece, he’s the only remaining original member of a band which emerged from the Black Country area of England in the late ‘80s and went on to achieve global fame as the scruffy, rule-breaking kid brother of the more mainstream rock bands of the time.  Straight off the bat, they released a couple of records now seen as seminal in The Eight Legged Groove Machine (’87) and Hup (’88), careered along wildly, lost members, members died, they stopped for six years beginning in ’94, they began again in 2000, leaving members by the wayside, they indulged in side-projects, they bickered a bit and they played their brand of English anti-mainstream rock n’ roll. And they’re still here.

“Now, we know what we’re doing,” Hunt muses when asked how The Wonder Stuff is different these days with all their collective wisdom and experience on board.  “For example, we know what works live, from an audience point of view.  We’re not trying to pedal half an album’s worth of new material on an audience who essentially just want to come there and shout along to ‘The Size Of A Cow’, ‘Circlesquare’, ‘It’s Yer Money I’m After, Baby’, you know?  I guess it’s like Mick and Keith after all these years; the Stones can’t go out and not play ‘Satisfaction’, so at least at one point in the set you know you’re going to go down a storm.  So it’s taken away that element of ‘this could die on its arse’, it’s nice not having that.”

Made up these days of Hunt, Treece, Hunt’s acoustic project partner Erica Nockalls on violin, bassist Mark McCarthy and drummer Fuzz Townsend (who only joined the fold late last year from Pop Will Eat Itself), The Wonder Stuff is at a solid point in its long and varied career.  What helps make it so solid, is the fact that it’s no longer the main focus of its members, and this isn’t to say they don’t care, it’s more like when they are back together as The Wonder Stuff, it’s more of a fresh focus, it’s something the members want to put their all into.

“Yeah, exactly, we’re so pleased we get to spend this time together and play as a band,” Hunt concurs.  “And I’m sure everyone enjoys all the other things that we do, and hopefully the passion and the life that you put into those other projects is equal to the stuff that we put into The Wonder Stuff.”  Speaking of focus as well, you’d think that particularly for Hunt and Treece, one of the highlights of the band these days would be the lack of mainstream pressure, pressure which surrounded the band’s third and fourth releases, Never Loved Elvis (’91) and Construction For The Modern Idiot (’93), something which arguably caused their first split the following year.

“That’s the best thing, to be honest,” Hunt acknowledges.  “I mean, it was nice and we’re very appreciative of what Polydor did for us back then, even though it seemed we were trying to hinder them most of the time.  But the commercial side of things wasn’t something we ever sat with comfortably, I think that was quite obvious to anybody who met us at the time.  And so to have that removed is great, the relationship is now between the members of the band and the audience as it always should have been, rather than the endless trail of promoting the records.

“Being on a major label, you spend more time being a salesman than you do as a creator,” he adds, most likely with a shake of the head.  “We wanted to be creative, I wasn’t really interested in being a salesman.”  These days, The Wonder Stuff are free, they’re loose, and they’re now able to concentrate on the moment, and also perhaps, just every so often, to the future.  “Well, we’ve got a couple of tunes put aside for a Wonder Stuff album,” Hunt reveals.  “And Malc is also working on some new stuff at the moment, so there may be a new Wonder Stuff album next year.”

“And those tracks are sounding great, very, very lively,” he goes on.  “They’re lead by electric guitars rather than acoustic guitars, I tend to do everything with acoustic guitars these days.  So yeah, very lively, up-tempo, amusing lyrics.  So I’ve got very much half of a Wonder Stuff album sketched out in my mind already, but Malc needs to lead the way on this one…and to be honest I’ve had a difficult time motivating Malc into writing new songs.

“But in fairness to him, he’s been raising a very young family, he’s got two young kids and so has probably had his mind on more important things.  So meanwhile, Erica and I are loathe to start work on a Wonder Stuff album, because essentially, it’ll sound like a Miles and Erica record and then we’ll ask Malc to come and do some guitar on it.  And we don’t want to do that as a Wonder Stuff record.  So I’ve just put it in Malc’s court and said, ‘When you find time, record me some stuff’, because he always gives me great stuff when he’s got time to do it.  So when he throws some guitar parts at me, I’ll sit down.  Basically, I need Malc to set the pace of a Wonder Stuff album otherwise it’s gonna sound like a Miles and Erica album with guest guitarist Malc Treece, which is not a Wonder Stuff album.”

It’s been 26 years thus far, and so waiting on Treece to find the time just that little bit longer, isn’t going to hurt anyone.  In the meantime, The Wonder Stuff will make only their second foray Down Under later this month (“Twenty years, it’s ridiculous,” laughs Hunt), and then they’ll keep on doing their thing, interspersed as it is with solo projects, side-projects, kids and families, a veteran of the scene and a survivor to say the least.  The Wonder Stuff are different these days, they’ve been changed because of what’s happened, but it’s not in the least, changed their wont to continue.  Let the battle rage on.

Samuel J. Fell

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