Thirty years of Groovers on Manoeuvres. The Wonder Stuff 30 years and counting….

Interview by Bobby Green

Thursday 19th November 1987 was the night that shaped my own personal Rock n Roll history forever. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had better nights, but sometimes the best nights don’t have such a profound effect on you, they are just great nights. But I went to see The Wonder Stuff for the 1st time that night, a gig that still effects my life to this day. It wasn’t even that it was their best gig, far from it, but it was the start of a relationship I have had with this band that still remains as strong today as it has ever been over the last 29years. And since that gig in a nearly full Walthamstow Standard, (it was the night of the London underground fire where 27 people lost their lives)(also the last time they failed to sell out a London show) until they 1st split in 1994 I think I’ve only missed about 4 London shows. It just goes to show that you never know who’s in the crowd and how your gig will affect them.
It was the 2nd or 3rd gig that I went to that cemented the deal for me. By then I knew the songs, and when others were singing along to those oh so catchy hook lines I felt part of something I could call mine. I would tell anyone who would listen about this great new band I had seen. I’d wear their T-Shirt like a uniform and I would lend my friends my TDK C90 compilation I had thanks to recording things from John Peel and the institution that was Ugly Child Records.
Independent record shops were the life blood of the alternative music scene and I honestly believe that culturally young music lovers are missing out on something by the demise of the Independent record shop scene. With the re-emergence of vinyl sales and the odd independent record shop popping up again, Miles Hunts Brother just opening his own record shop ‘White Rabbit Records’ in Shrewsbury, I think the dealers relationship that they have with their vinyl junkies might just be music’s saving grace in years to come.
Radio was the gateway drug for me. From the radio I moved on to vinyl, then gigs. Without the independent record shops this wouldn’t have been possible. Before I knew it I was bunking off school and traveling up and down the country following The Wonder Stuff. I soon started spending my dinner money on singles and albums. The same continued when I first started working, taking sick days to go to Birmingham to see them (hometown gigs were always special) and obviously being unable to go to work the next day after the London shows because The Wonder Stuff shows were very drunken affairs. I do believe they still hold the bar record at the Town and Country Club in Kentish Town.
For 29 years now there hasn’t been a week gone by without me listening to one of their songs/albums. I take it for granted that they are always there. But ever since I moved home to Ireland the opportunity to experience them live is a rare treat, something I truly am going to indulge myself with on March 10th when The Wonder Stuff come to Dublin to celebrate 30 years of being Groovers on manoeuvres.
As I’ve written before, one of my greatest pleasures in life is watching a band grow. Going on a journey with a band, believing in them, and wearing their T-Shirt with pride because you are part of that movement, that army, that way of life, it’s what being ‘a fan’ is all about. And I am unashamedly a music fan, and without doubt I owe so much to The Wonder Stuff for being the 1st band I ever went on that journey with. They never let me down live, they have always delivered, and now they are the strongest I’ve seen them for many a year.
Their last album Oh No It’s The Wonder Stuff was not only a return to form but in my opinion one of their top 3 albums. Everyone’s favourite is nearly always the 1st album they heard, but you never forget your first kiss, and for me The Eight Legged Groove Machine is an album that has an emotional attachment for so many reasons. We never had the internet 1987 so there was little information about a band. There was no MTV in downtown Walthamstow E17, and only a few DJ’s knew what alternative was. So when I got a single I’d play both sides religiously, learn the words, engulf myself in the cover art. When The Eight Legged Groove Machine came out I remember shaking with excitement when I heard The animals and me, not only because it was new but I knew that after I heard it I had a whole new experience that was the B-Side to look forward to. This is something CD’s lack and a contributing factor as to why I think vinyl is making a comeback. Bands want to make albums with a and b sides taken into consideration again, that and the fact that Vinyl just sounds far more beautiful and the emotional investment you put into listening to a record is far more personal than pressing a button. And I want a relationship with my favourite bands, CD’s just don’t give me that.
There are so many questions I want to ask Miles Hunt but his excellent first book, ‘The Wonder Stuff Diaries 86-89’ answered so many of them, and I don’t want to spoil the enjoyment of the next book by asking too many in-depth questions. So when Miles agreed to an interview I actually got really nervous. Not because he’s my hero, far from it, because my heroes are my parents. But I do admire him and his band, his music is the soundtrack to my life and has been for 29 years. I’ve met him on a few occasions and every time I’ve just said hi and made small talk because he’s been in the company of mutual ‘friends of friends.’ He’s always seemed like a happy person and always laughing, his sense of humour and charisma stands out, it’s what makes him a great front man, but in interviews he used to have a fierce reputation for not suffering fools gladly. His no nonsense attitude is legendary and for me that has always been part of the appeal.

As a fan I’ve enjoyed watching not only the band grow but you as a performer and songwriter. In a recent post on your pledge music page you said about your song writing that you don’t want to repeat yourself, and that there was a song that never made the new album because it sounded like you were trying to make a song that sounded like The Wonder Stuff. But can you pinpoint certain songs you’ve written across the 30 years where you’ve made a conscious effort to push yourself? As you said on the B-Side to Circlesquare, ‘You’re not afraid to write a pop song’ but your albums are testament to the fact that you’re much more than just a singles band.
Not wishing to be pedantic but it was “I’m not ashamed to write a pop song”, anyways that was a long time ago and merely a lazy effort to throw some lyrics over a piece of music we came up with in the studio. Hardly mine or The Wonder Stuff’s finest moment. Other than days such as the one that one was written and recorded I’ve always been trying to see where else I can take my song writing.

As fans we have what seems like personal relationships with songs, it’s obvious that some of your lyrics come from a personal place, but are there any songs that when you play them live feel different to others for you for whatever reason, good or bad.
Some songs can put me right back into the emotional state that I was whenever they were written when we play them live, others I’m merely trying to get the words in the right order in much the same way I’m trying to get the chords in the right order.

When you sold out a week at The Town and Country club after being away for so long you must have felt a great sense of pride, as we all did, that the band we believed in so much, and those songs we believed in still had a place that was relevant for all of us. How was it stepping back on that stage again knowing that so many people still wanted to hear those songs?
It was actually pretty emotional. We weren’t the greatest of friends at any time in the band’s existence, least of all then, but when I got to walk out onto the stage and be with the audience around that time I felt like I was where I belonged and with who I belonged. Musically we were right on it and as much as I felt we delivered I felt that the audience really raised our game.

Without including the last 5 years, is there any part of The Wonder Stuff lifespan you would like to raise a glass to with fondness and a smile and say, God Bless The Fucking Lot of Us. That time was a bit special?
No, not really. I look back fondly at the time I got to spend with Rob Jones, but perhaps that’s only because he died so young. Had he have lived until now, who knows whether we would have anything to do with each other?
For the Irish fans who don’t get as much of an opportunity to see you live, what have we got to look forward to when you play here on March 10th? And how do you go about compiling the set list for this tour?
We’ve had a band discussion as to what we should play on the 30th anniversary tour and I also put a shout out to our audience via social media. Amazingly the songs that got mentioned in both circumstances were conveniently similar. It’ll be a good mix of the early records, peppered with a few, more recent songs.

I remember when you came straight from the stage to play a 2nd gig at the hub in Dublin and you treated the Irish fans to a set from around the late 80’s early 90’s Will there be any special goings on in Dublin this time around?
I very much doubt it. That event was a completely spontaneous event, I was egged on by some mates in Dublin, they teased me along the lines of “I’ll bet you’d never turn up at our club and play another set would ya?”… so I took it as a direct challenge and successfully talked the other guys into it.

I once read in an interview that you found it sweet that some fans vibrate when they stand next to you for a photo, but you must realise that some fans have waited over 20 years to meet the bloke who provided them with so many memories, you’ve been singing along in the background as their life soundtrack to so many experiences that have made these people who they are today. What’s the strangest story a fan has told you about your music?
God only knows, I’ve heard a few.

I know this interview isn’t exactly ground-breaking but you were brutally honest in your 1st book and left no questions unanswered, and I don’t want to ask too in-depth questions because I don’t want to spoil the next book. But you said of the experience that you see people in a different light again now it’s written. With the hindsight the 1st book gave you will it be harder to go back and start writing about these people again in such an honest way?
The second book will be an entirely different experience for me to write than the first. Looking back on the first four years of the band gave me a good feeling, I enjoyed thinking about Rob Jones and Martin Gilks as hopeful young men that I was once part of a gang with. As we now know, that didn’t last long. Both of them went to every effort to make things difficult for me to continue with the band after they left, both of them caused me to consult with the legal profession, something I would never have believed possible in those early days. The second book, sadly, will have to deal with the slow decent into unhappy times. I have transcribed the diaries that I kept between 90 and 94 and they do not make for enjoyable reading. Who knows… I’ve committed to a second book and I will write it this year, maybe I’ll find some chinks of light in it as I sit down to seriously get the job done.

Do you have a timeline for the 2nd book?
I’ll start writing it in earnest in May, hopefully we’ll see it published before the year is out.

Congratulations on the first 30 years, and on your 1st book. You have said that writing books is something you’re going to be doing more of. Does this mean The Wonder years are coming to an end?
I don’t know… I’m certainly not planning ‘the end’, but there will of course come a time when other matters, in all of our lives, will take precedence over being in The Wonder Stuff. I’m looking forward to getting the second book of diaries off the table and then start writing my first novel.

Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us. It’s been a joy watching it all for the last 30 years. Good luck with the new album, the tour and the next book.

The Wonder Stuff play The Academy March 10th and their new album 30 Goes Around The Sun is out March 18th and is available to pre order with a whole bunch of goodies on the pledge music page http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/the-wonder-stuff

Author: Mags Blackburn

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