Visited by the ghost of an angry little guitar band

Wonder Stuff | Forum, London
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

With Christmas almost upon us, it's appropriate that last week's gigs were more like parties than concerts. On Tuesday, our gracious hosts were the Wonder Stuff, who had reformed for four London dates to promote a new compilation, Love Bites and Bruises, and the re-release of their four albums. A total of 10,000 fans dug their Idiot T-shirts out of the cupboard for the occasion, and with no new direction to try or newcomers to convert, band and audience alike could relax and enjoy a romp down memory lane.

With Christmas almost upon us, it's appropriate that last week's gigs were more like parties than concerts. On Tuesday, our gracious hosts were the Wonder Stuff, who had reformed for four London dates to promote a new compilation, Love Bites and Bruises, and the re-release of their four albums. A total of 10,000 fans dug their Idiot T-shirts out of the cupboard for the occasion, and with no new direction to try or newcomers to convert, band and audience alike could relax and enjoy a romp down memory lane.

It was a celebratory, pint-glasses-in-the-air sort of occasion. Even Miles Hunt, the group's notoriously embittered singer, could joke about how nobody in the room was as young as they used to be - "Any injuries? Slipped discs? The old lumbago or gout coming back?" - and wax nostalgic about the glory days: "Does anyone remember when we were an angry little guitar band?" Big cheer. "When we sold out - or bought in, as I like to think of it - and started doing cartoon pop songs, how many of you hated our guts?" Bigger cheer.

Hunt's cheekbones weren't as spiky as they were when the Wonder Stuff split in 1994, and thinning hair had forced him to shave off his curly locks, but it was this comment that really brought home how much times have changed. The idea of "selling out" by playing pop songs just isn't an issue any more: these days the likes of Radiohead, Blur and Oasis are more accustomed to starting out in a pop vein and then heading in the other direction. But the Wonder Stuff's season in the sun was before Britpop, before the irony epidemic, before it was fashionable to buy an indie record, a dance record and a boyband record during the same visit to HMV. They belonged to a time of taking sides, of having a stance; a time of believing you had something really useful to say, and saying it as clearly and earnestly as you could.

Lest we forget, one of the Wonder Stuff's songs was "Radio Ass Kiss"; another was "Astley In The Noose" (little did they know that Pete Waterman, Rick Astley's Svengali, would rise again). And they named their greatest hits album If The Beatles Had Read Hunter, the idea being that if the finest pop group in the history of recorded music had leafed through Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas they would have been ... what? A grebo gang remembered principally for semi-mullets, polka-dot shirts and a novelty cover version done with Vic Reeves?

Well, anyway. The Wonder Stuff may not have been hugely important, but they believed they were, and the ghost of that conviction stalked the stage last week. It was there as Hunt snarled and spat his lyrics and struck poses like the stadium demagogue he once dreamt of being. It was there, too, as the musicians steamed through their short, sharp, folk-funk-punk anthems. They were an impressively well-oiled groove machine after their six-year sabbatical, and they were more like the angry young guitar band of old than the cartoon popsters they became.

Play the Wonder Stuff's albums now, and they jig along with a Dr Marten-stomping energy that has aged well. In concert, though, neither the songs nor the group are ever quite magical. I'm not convinced that rock'n'roll would have been any poorer if the mandolin hadn't been invented, either, as complex as Martin Bell's picking undoubtedly is on, for instance, "Caught In My Shadow". But although I wasn't a fan the first time around, I still left the show with a tinge of nostalgia for a period when bands imagined that they somehow mattered. For the encore, a portly Vic Reeves barged on stage and rampaged through "Dizzy". It was the Wonder Stuff's only number one single, but as Reeves blundered around, forgetting the words, it seemed as if it was their death knell, too.

Comments