Tag Archive: Wonder Stuff

Erica Nockalls + Miles Hunt + Laura Kidd @ Hare & Hounds, Birmingham 16 July 13

So for the first time in years the British summer has actually appeared and we’re all drooping in heat that would be great if you were on holibobs – maybe not so great if you have to work! Tonight we’re at the indie venue in Brum with a legendary status, the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath, to see a ‘family affair’ – interlinking artistes – who do more than just play music.  Predicting the room would be hot and stuffy – we’re wrong! Tonight’s air con is hugely efficient; it’s cooler inside than out.

First up it’s Miles Hunt. Frontsman of local and original grebos The Wonder Stuff and one time half of the acoustic duo with (and squeeze of) headliner Erica Nockalls. An acoustic set, just him and his guitar with witty anecdotes between. “Evenin’ all…. Lovely to be ‘ere, last time I was up here I was blind drunk…” Tonight’s he’s playing an “unusual collection of songs – which you might fuckin’ hate….” many written when he was in “a dark place…” I used to drink in Stourbridge. I saw all these indie bands before and as they set off on their trail of indie-music greatness. We were a bunch of kids and life’s directions have all taken us on different journeys – some good and some not so good. Clearly Hunt has had, at times, a difficult journey too, regardless of the fact he’s lauded locally as a grebo rock god. ‘Give It To Me Whole’ and ‘At One’ clearly show the place Hunt was in when he wrote these. Another one, ‘Smoked’, written in the early hours of the morning after being slagged off by so called mates after “a fuckin’ awful night”. It’s a rocking, rolling song – he stops to say before the end… “Told you this wasn’t a cheery one – it’s even getting me down…” before continuing on his musical way.

Next up a new Stuffies track to “lighten the mood” – ‘Friendly Company’ with classic Stuffie sound. And to another “grim song” ‘Yes and No’ and then to a song from his band Vent 414 (formed after the Stuffies first split in the 90’s) ‘Fixer’ – “Good memories; fuckin’ depressing lyrics.” A comment made that his vocals may note quite hit the mark “I was 28 when I wrote this, I’m now nearly 50 for fuck sake…”

And for his last, we have a choice of a couple of covers or an option of a Stuffie song. An audience member shouts out and here it is – the uplifting ditty (from second Wonder Stuff album ‘Hup’) that is ‘Piece of Sky’. We all sing along….

Hunt is clear; he’s not the main act of tonight. That is very definitely Nockalls. “God bless ya! Enjoy Erica… I know you will…”. His lyrical inspiration may have been dark but he’s clearly in a better place now – tonight Hunt with his anecdotes, is witty and funny, his solo set is great.  You should do “more, more, more” of this spoken word set Miles….

Tonight’s audience is around 100; friends, family, those who’ve turned up to see Hunt, those who are intrigued by Nockalls. It’s nicely cozy in the room. Twenty-minute break and onto a dry iced, blue-lit stage, here’s the statuesque Erica Knockalls. “Good evening Birmingham – let’s do this!” Violin in hand and we’re into the punk inspired rolling track that is ‘Neon Crucifix’.

Nockalls graduated from Birmingham Conservatoire after which, she’s spent the last eight years being the fiddly with The Wonder Stuff. And she’s worked with The Proclaimers and recently toured with Fink.  Her debut album ‘Imminent Room’, which she’s promoting tonight, contains contributions from Wayne Hussey (The Mission), guitarist Mark Gemini (Pete Murphy, The Mission) and vocalist from Carcass, Jeff Walker. In her own words “I hadn’t been able to find any good new music to listen to, so I thought I’d invent some of my own”.  

Next track ‘Forest’ is indie dance – Nockalls is akin to an indie Gwen Stephani – sound-wise she’s rockier and heavier live than on the couple of singles I’ve listened to. And it all works really well. ‘Manikan’ is a clutter-buck of a song with a great bass beat. ‘I Am Me / This Is Now’ morphs into surprisingly heavy rock.

At the back of the stage, fixed to the walls are pieces of artwork. She’s more than a talented musician – this art is for sale. “You can buy, no price tags, make an offer through my website…” and is accompanied by a moody atmospheric track ‘It’s Killer, Darling’.

New single ‘Cut Them Out’ is followed by a track “…so new the paint’s still wet” – ‘Metrical Romance’ – a sultry Strawberry Switchblade (remember them?)-esque track which gets heavier and heavier…. “Thanks you’ve been awesome – I can’t believe it…. Let’s get drunk…”

Erica Nockalls was somewhat of a surprise. Check out her new album and even better, if you get a chance, go see her live.

Nockalls was officially the headliner, however tonight is not over, now we get Laura Kidd, bass player of Nockalls’ band (and also for Viv Albertine) and general all round artiste. She creates her music as she goes along, singing or playing and then recording and feeding it back into a multi-layered loop, which she then sings over. Kidd is indie in sound and style, with smatterings of PJ Harvey and Melissa Auf der Maur. ‘Olympian’ is a pretty track; ‘Delete’ “about the internet not suicide” are all built on the fly. She’s two albums on sale tonight, sang with Karina Round at this very venue (which is when she met Hunt and Nockalls and, slightly pissed, gained the courage to thrust a CD into their hands. They clearly liked what they heard.)

‘Slow Puncture’ gains a cheer from the audience – “three people – awesome!” encouraging the crowd to “sing along and I’ll feel awesome”. ‘In this boat’ Kidd teaches us the chorus to so we can sing along: “…you are an anchor, I am a wave…” The song is written about an ex (who’s not here tonight!) – the first line could be flexibly changed to “I am a wanker….” Periodically she walks off stage through the audience singing – with megaphone or uke. She goes down really well and clearly thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity. Video maker and all round creative talent you can find out lots more about Laura Kidd at www.shemakeswar.com

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Setlist:

  1. Neon Crucifix
  2. Forest
  3. Manikan
  4. I Am Me / This Is NOW
  5. Day One
  6. It’s Killer, Darling
  7. Cut Them Out
  8. Metrical Romance

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Review for Gig Junkies. Photographer: Ken Harrison.

The Levellers performing ‘Levelling The Land’ + The Wonder Stuff @02 Academy, 17 March 2011

Review for Birmingham Live!

Back to the 02 Academy again for what is probably the gig of the week. The Levellers performing ‘Levelling the Land’ plus (in the words of Miles Hunt) ‘special guests’ The Wonder Stuff. This gig is, in real terms, a double headliner – local lads The Stuffies are still likely to sell out The Academy, while The Levellers on a normal tour, would probably fill just over half capacity. Subsequently tonight’s gig is sold out, the place is absolutely rammed.

And so to Part 1 of tonight’s performance. The Wonder Stuff formed 25 years ago (the actually ‘date’ is celebrated at their London gig of this particular tour) out of the ruins of ‘From Eden’ whose members would also go onto form the other Stourbridge Grebo band Pop Will Eat Itself. Being at Stourbridge Art College and a regular of the drinking dens of the Turf, Exchange and Mitre in Stourbridge, I saw them come together, form and have success. Stourbridge would empty and relocate to local gigs at The Hummingbird or Powerhouse when the lads were playing. So it’s kinda bizarre after all this time that I get to review them.

The version of the band twenty-five years ago is far different from today’s band. Current members Miles Hunt and Malcolm Treece were joined by Martin Gilkes and Rob ‘ Bass Thing’ Jones (both of whom have sadly departed this mortal coil all too early.) Their timing was spot on, indie music was king, 12” vinyl sold like nobody’s business and the initial vinyl’s of ‘Unbearable’, ‘Give, Give, Give Me More, More, More’, “A Wish Away’ and the chart success ‘It’s Yer Money I’m After Baby’ put them in the right place at the right time, with hard touring that gave their first album ‘Eight Legged Grove Machine’ great tracks – exceptional live. Three albums later, the band split in ’94, never again to record original tracks, only to occasionally re-emerge to play the nostalgia hits.

Their current line-up in addition to Hunt and Treece includes Mark McCarthy, Hunt’s current collaborator fiddler Erica Nockalls and one time member of The Poppies drummer Fuzz Townsend. As Hunt points out later in the gig: “Looking at here at start of a Stourbridge supergroup – Fuzz Townsend from Pop Will Eat Itself agreed to join us on this tour…. (To the audience) Fuck off! I’m talking. It would be like members of Duran Duran joining Spandau Ballet! Cos it fucking is.…”(to laughter from the crowd).

So just before 8pm, on they come Hunt: “Aye, Aye Birmingham” straight into “Red Berry Joy Town”. Hunt has returned to his former self – long tousled hair, leather jacket and cowboy shirt. He’s still pretty vocal, although maybe not so cutting as he once was. Hunt: “Over to you brother Treece” and into ‘Here Comes Everyone.’  Hunt: “Nothing Like Coming Home ey? We wrote this song about a 1,000 years ago. We wrote it in Pigeon Park. Wrote it about Birmingham” straight into ‘Caught In My Shadow.”

‘Welcome To The Cheap Seats’ Hunt makes an acknowledgment to lost talent Kirsty MacColl, who featured on the single. The crowd complete the girlie vocals. Then a track by Hunt and Nockalls ‘Fill Her Up and Foot Down’ before back to Stuffies hits and a plug to the 25th Anniversary T-Shirts being sold tonight.

Then to the older and class tracks of the night, ‘Give, Give, Give….’, ‘Unbearable’ and probably the Stuffies at their best, the venomous and tub-stomping B-Side, played at the original gigs “Ten Trenches Deep.” Worth seeing for this alone.

The set ends and they receive rapturous applause from the audience. Far out? Not sure – this version of The Stuffies are a shadow of their former Grebo selves, the original model contained far more clout, venom and kick back to mid-eighties recession. But Miles is still pretty captivating, still up for the put-downs. A guy in the audience was seen to be wearing  a typical Stuffie / Poppy T-shirt from the day – “The Stuffies Ripped Us Off At The Powerhouse” 1988. They didn’t rip us off tonight. Quite good fun. So if you fancy a re-run they’ll be back on the 15thDecember to play “Never Loved Elvis” in its entirety.

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Setlist:

1. Red Berry Joy Town

2. On The Ropes

3. Here Comes Everyone

4. Caught In My Shadow

5. Mission Drive

6. Circle Square

7. Welcome To The Cheap Seats

8. Fill Her Up and Foot Down (Miles Hunt and Erica Nockalls track)

9. Animals and Me

10. Mother and I

11. Golden Green

12. Size of a Cow

13. Don’t Let Me Down, Gently

14. A Wish Away

15. Give, Give, Give Me More, More, More

16. Unbearable

17.  Ten Trenches Deep

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Listening:

For the Stuffies at their best: ‘Eight Legged Groove Machine’ (1988)

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And now onto Part 2 –  The Levellers performing their classic “Levelling the Land” on its twentieth anniversary – one time anthem for the traveling, eco warrior and indie communities. Set starts of with video footage of the ‘fight’: eco warriors, Thatcher, music of the time and on come the raggle, taggle family troupe that is The Levellers complete with dreads, long hair and a mixture of hats.

The current line up of Mark Chadwick, Jeremy Cunningham, Charlie Heather, Simon Friend, Jonathan Sevink and Matt Savage fill the stage, bouncing around – they are hugely energetic live, opening to the classic ‘One Way’ eco-anthem for the masses – the crowd enthusiastically sing and bounce along.

The main tracks including ‘Fifteen Years’ are cracking tonight. One of the main pluses about The Levellers is Sevink the fiddler, a very tall dude, who leaps around the stage and is stunning in his playing.  They are not a chatty band – they just do what they do very well: punk, folk, Irish-inspired, fiddly, bouncy music.

A cover to split the album ‘Devil Went Down To Georgia’, complete with red back-lit set, Chadwick raising his hands as horns, audience clapping along and the welling dervish fiddler. ‘Battle of The Beanfield’ (about the ’85 police repression of a peace convoy attempting to set up a festival) still has all the angst and venom about the times – audience in full participation of the words.

‘Levelling the Land’ over – back on for the encore – ‘Hope Street’, ‘ Carry Me’ and ‘Cholera Wall’  – Chadwick getting the audience to clap along, Sevink winding the track up and up on his fiddle. Off and back on for a second encore: the happy-go-lucky ‘Beautiful Day’.

The Levellers are, in general, good fun, with lots of energy, and lots of people of stage, continuously bouncing along. The New Model Army (somewhat surprisingly) do the eco-rebel-against-the-system angst much better. Don’t get me wrong, some Levellers tracks are great eco warrior anthems – but after a while – the songs can get a bit samey, and murge into one another.

But if you like them – you can totter on down to their ‘Beautiful Days’ festival in August, now in it’s 9th year, featuring The Levellers, Carter USM, Big Audio Dynamite and gypsy kings Gorgol Bordello. No sponsorship or branding – like that idea.

And a problem with bands playing an album in its entirety, is that there is lulls between the hits and classic tracks – it was the same with Primal Scream, reviewed earlier in the week. ‘Cos if you’re touring on playing an album you’ve got to play the lot.

On the whole I have to say, tonight’s gig was fun. It certainly wasn’t Unbearable. There was quite a distinction between the Stuffies fans and Levellers fans (made up of stalwart fans, usual eco warriors and family tribe who usually follow them around). With the fiddly links between the two bands, I’m guessing that both bands made more fans tonight. The place was packed from the start at 8pm to 11pm finish. All for 25 nicker. Enjoyable night. Hup!

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Set List:

1.  One Way

2. The Game

3. Fifteen Years

4. The Boatman

5.  Liberty

6.  Far from Home

7.  Hard Fight

8.  The Dance Before The Storm

9. Sell Out

10. Another Man’s Cause

11. Devil Went Down To Georgia

12.The Road

13. Riverflow

14. Battle of the Beanfield

Encore:

15. Hope Street

16.Carry Me

17. The Cholera Well

Encore 2

18. Beautiful day

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Listening:

Levelling The Land (1992)

Levellers (1994)

Zeitgeist (1995)

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More information on the Beautiful Days festival 19-21 August 2011at www.beautifuldays.org