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THE WONDER STUFF @ HOLMFIRTH PICTUREDOME, YORKSHIRE 06/04/13 REVIEW BY PAUL HOLLOWAY (Pure 107.8FM)

 
You've seen those 'Back To The 80's' Garden Party events advertised - bring your picnic blanket and settle down to see Carol Decker, Limahl from Kajagoogoo and cheeky redhead Scouser Sonia treat you to a trip down memory lane in the grounds of some stately home before enjoying a firework display. Well the Wonder Stuff at the Holmfirth Picturedome is the perfect antidote to that scenario - a venue with real character, watching a top band in an enthusiastic but friendly mosh pit- What better way to relive the late 80's? It's not so much that we are older enough to know better - it's more a case of we are old enough to know we only get one crack at this. After all, half the Eight Legged Groove Machine that burst on to the indie scene in 1988 snearing "It's Your Money We're After, Baby", is no longer with us. Rob Jones aka The Bass Thing left the Stuffies behind moved to New York and died in 1993 from a cocktail of heart problems and over indulgence in booze and drugs. Drummer Martin Gilks lost his life in a tragic motorcycle accident in 2006. Guitarist Malcolm Treece left the band just before Christmas 2011. The Wonder Stuff website citing “It is with regret... Malcolm Treece, has decided to leave The Wonder Stuff. Malcolm made his decision after recent tensions regarding the future of the band reached a head following a handful of live shows". So that leaves only frontman Miles Hunt from the original line up but it doesn't dampen the enthusiasm of expectant crowd packed into this beautiful converted cinema which celebrated it's centenary in March. The sloped auditorium, original features and seating on balconies gives you the feeling of a more intimate version of the Brixton Academy or the Manchester Apollo.  It's a tremendous live music venue. Malcolm Treece has been replayed by new boy Stevie Wyatt.  Mark McCarthy has played bass for the Stuffies for nearly 9 years, dressed all in black with enormous bullet hole earring, he manages to hold a dead pan expression throughout the set. Former Pop Will Eat Itself drummer Fuzz Townshend holds the sticks while the striking Erica Nockalls completes the line-up.

There is no doubt that Erica, Miles Hunt's other half, adds something rather special to the band. A classically trained violinist with a stunning stage presence. At six foot plus and undeniable beautiful, she oozes self confident. Throw in a punky haircut and some on eye catching changes of stage outfits. She has a very assured sex appeal; she seems to be able to say come here boys and don't even think about it, all at the same time. She is every school boys (or middle aged indie fan's) dream women - if only you could pluck up the courage to talk to her.

 

Miles Hunt must have found the courage from somewhere, he is a rock star after all. At first sight they might appear a bit of an odd couple. But who are we  to judge anyway (you are only jealous) - after the best part of decade touring together as a duo and with the Stuffies it seems to work for them both professionally, creatively and personally. Miles & Erica have released two albums together and toured alongside the Wonder Stuff playing acoustic sets in smaller venues. But now Erica has released her first solo album Imminent Room and tonight she is proving support, an opportunity to showcase her own material.

The Stuffies take to the stage with ‘On The Ropes’ from their fourth album ‘Construction of the Modern Idiot’ - the album for which Miles Hunt famously sported a black t-shirt with Idiot across it's chest along with his tartan trousers and jacket. Iconic Idiot T-shirts are available from the merch stand at the back of the hall - they look much less faded than the threadbare one I have at home. "Can't we chuck this one out?" asks the wife - No we can't! This is nostalgia and this is what I've come here for tonight. We may be a little older but it's still a grebo mosh pit and there is still the traditional standing on shoulders and over elaborate vogueing. My favourite people watching moment is a three person shoulder ride tower - security are quick on the scene with mini spotlight torches and the bloke at the base of the tower is quick to comply and drop off his stacked up passengers. However the fella in the middle of the tower with an impressive Levellers tattoo across his back and the girl on his shoulders who is dramatically singing back every word accompanied by wild flailing arms continue to ignore the doorman stood next to them shining a light in their eyes, until the end of the number. Then as if awaking for an hypnotic trance, she climbs down with a shrug that says “What’s your problem”

Tonight is all about the hits from the first four albums that is what you get from The Wonder Stuff. Miles Hunt has released a dozen studio and live albums both as a solo artist and with Erica Nockalls. When they tour as Miles & Erica they play acoustic sets of their more recent material with a couple of Stuffies tracks in the mix for good measure. But tonight is about rolling out the big guns; ‘Golden Green’, ‘Unbearable’, ‘Circle Squared’ and ‘Don't Let Me Down’ are amongst the familiar favourites sung back with glee from the boisterous mosh pit full of wide grinning faces. But The Wonder Stuff have two new albums to promote. ‘Oh No It's... The Wonder Stuff’ is their first studio album in seven years and it's accompanied by ‘From The Midlands With Love’ - ten cover versions of songs recorded by other artists from the West Midlands including Move, Slade, The Beat, Dexys and Dodgy.

Miles seems almost apologetic as he introduces the title track from the new album. "I know this is the last thing you want to hear when you go to see a band, but this next one is from our new album".  Before launching into ‘Oh No’, Miles directs the audience to check out the video for the new track which features super sized Brummie (well Shropshire actually but near enough) funny man Greg Davies (Inbetweeners, Cuckoo, Ask Rhod Gilbert). Miles seems very at home in the spoof comic strip super heroes. There is something intrinsically funny about two middle aged men with a big height difference in Lycra outfits - Del Boy and Rodney's Batman and Robin springs to mind. Mother played by Peter Beardsley, father by John Cleese.

After ‘Oh No’, The Stuffies get the second and final new song into the set. "Have you ever noticed that whenever anybody serves a big joint of beef on Come Dine With Me, they play Size Of Cow?" Asks Miles, who has definitely noticed the PRS royalty cheques that follow. "Well we've written a song that could be used as a soundtrack for any of their dinner parties." After suggesting they could have a food fight if they shot a music video they play Company Of Friends before it's back to the hits. "We've mentioned it already, so I suppose we better play it" says Miles. You get the feeling Size Of A Cow has become a bit of an over familiar friend. Even the best of songs can start to wear thin if you are playing it non-stop for 25 years. Erica leaves the stage three quarters of the way through the set. She returns having changed from a gold to scarlett red stage dress with matching top hat for the encore.

Last time I saw the Stuffies they covered X-Ray Specs ‘The Day The World Turned Dayglo’ as a tribute to Poly Styrene in their encore - today it was a track was from ‘From The Midlands With Love’.  Duran Duran's ‘Planet Earth’ gets the nod, it wouldn't have been my choice but Erica's swooning violin certainly gives the cover something different to the original. It's been a triumphant gig and a beaming Miles is joined by Erica as they meet their adoring audience at the merchandise stand. There is something slightly surreal as the elegant Erica still in full stage costume poses for photos with balding middle aged blokes she towers over who are wearing Idiot t-shirts - it's all a bit Benny Hill. But I'm one of the grinning idiots myself tonight - as Erica poses with a Facebook pout for a picy with me I ask her why had Malcolm left the band. "He didn't want to get involved in producing new material" she replies.

And here lies the $64 million dollar question for bands like The Wonder Stuff - making records is what bands do, but your audience will always be more interested in the hits. On this evidence The Stuffies have got it right - yes there is new material to stoke the creative fires but it's kept to a minimum in the live sets.

With all respect to Carol Decker I'd rather be in sweaty Stuffies mosh pit than sat on a picnic blanket watching T'Pau - we'll make our own fireworks thank you.

Review/photos by Paul Holloway

Paul Holloway presents The Guest List (Tuesdays & Thursdays 7pm) & Fuzzbox (Fridays 10pm) on Stockport’s radio station Pure 107.8FM

Listen anywhere www.pureradio.org.uk

Follow Paul on twitter @PaulHolloRadio