Drummer with the Wonder Stuff
Thursday 06 April 2006
Martin Richard Gilks, drummer and songwriter: born 2 March 1965; married Penny Caplowe (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved); died London 3 April 2006.
When Vic Reeves and the Wonder Stuff topped the UK charts with their energetic cover of Tommy Roe's "Dizzy" in 1991, it marked a move from the students' unions and into the mainstream for both the comedian and the rock band from Stourbridge. But, while Reeves and his comedy partner Bob Mortimer became darlings of the television schedulers, the Wonder Stuff never managed to translate their popularity with a dedicated following of fans (nicknamed the "Stuffies") into a long- lasting career outside the UK.
Martin Gilks played drums with the Wonder Stuff from 1986 until their split in 1994. He appeared on their four studio albums - the best-selling Never Loved Elvis spent 23 weeks in the charts in 1991 - as well as If the Beatles Had Read Hunter . . . The Singles, a collection of their 12 Top Forty singles, including "The Size of a Cow" and "Welcome to the Cheap Seats". It was the advent of Britpop that did for them but six years later, in 2000, they were back as a touring band. Gilks was initially involved in the Wonder Stuff's relaunch, but bowed out before the recording of the group's recent release Suspended by Stars (2006).
Born in the Midlands in 1965, Martin Gilks always wanted to follow in the footsteps of his Black Country heroes Black Sabbath and Slade (and the Wonder Stuff would go on to cover Slade's "Coz I Luv You"). In the mid-Eighties, he was briefly a member of the Mighty Lemon Drops, the indie group who epitomised the "C86 generation" as defined by the New Musical Express. He reportedly left when the other band members asked him to get a haircut. In 1986, Gilks answered an advertisement placed by Miles Hunt (guitar, vocals) and joined Malcolm Treece (guitar) and Rob Jones - a.k.a. the Bass Thing - to form the Wonder Stuff.
Hunt claimed the name was inspired by a remark John Lennon had made about him when visiting his uncle Bill Hunt, the keyboard player with Wizzard. Lennon was supposed to have quipped, "The boy sure has the wonder stuff", about the toddler, but most journalists took this story from the notoriously mouthy Hunt with a pinch of salt.
In 1987, the Wonder Stuff supported Pop Will Eat Itself and released two singles, "It's Not True" and "Unbearable" on their own label before signing to Polydor. Hunt's sneering, snarling vocals and the group's knack for writing hooky choruses and coming up with memorable titles - "It's Yer Money I'm After Baby" and "Who Wants to Be the Disco King?", for example - helped the album The Eight Legged Groove Machine into the charts in 1988.
Martin Bell (fiddle, mandolin) joined for Hup (1989) while Paul Clifford replaced Rob Jones in 1991 -Jones died of heart failure two years later - but they couldn't top Never Loved Elvis. Their bolshy attitude often rubbed foreign audiences and promoters up the wrong way and they called it a day after a headlining appearance at the Phoenix Festival in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1994. Hunt went solo while Gilks, Clifford and Treece launched the short-lived band Weknowhereyoulive before reforming for live dates in 2000.
"We split up at the height of our success, which is always what we said we'd do as, naïvely, that's what we thought the Clash, Smiths and Jam did," Gilks told the Birmingham Evening Mail in 2003:
I think, when we did that, so many of our fans were annoyed with us that we just stuck in their memories. I don't mean to sound conceited, but we were also a great live band, and people associated part of their lives with the Wonder Stuff.
That year, the band were also involved in Underground Ernie, a Channel 4 children's television series. "We discovered that, if you put childish lyrics to Wonder Stuff songs, it sounds like Slade meets the Wombles," said Gilks.
Gilks had spent the past 12 years helping his younger brother Chris (nicknamed Tank) to manage groups like A, Hundred Reasons, Lowgold and Reef. In the early days, Gilks could be abrasive, as I well remember from interviewing the Wonder Stuff backstage at the old Marquee in Wardour Street, London, in the late Eighties. But he mellowed considerably with parenthood and his move into management; and his passion and integrity greatly helped the careers of the bands he was associated with.
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