[sic] Magazine

Miles Hunt & Erica Nockalls @ Brighton Engine Room 07/02/2009

20 years ago, I first heard of The Wonder Stuff. They were an odd proposition then, from a different time, where hits were in the Top 40, the NME saw headlining Brixton as a big deal instead of an ‘intimate’ affair, where singles still came out, and there were only three festivals a year: Glasto, Reading, and some scummy metal thing at a speedway in the Midlands.

In those days, The Wonder Stuff were feted as heroes. Time has been unkind to them; not helped by the fact that, once they had split up in 1994, the NME offered them a front cover for a ‘tell all’ expose on their split, which they refused. Unused to being spurned, the NME promised The Wonder Stuff would never get on the front cover again. For once, the NME didn’t lie.

Now, 23 years into their life, The Wonder Stuff tour occasionally, most of the band have day jobs, and Miles Hunt and fiddle player Erica Nockalls spend most of their lives touring small rooms to enthusiastic crowds performing songs old and new. In this homespun cottage industry, Miles Hunt tours and plays live because he enjoys it; a painter paints not because they can get rich doing it, but because they must. Miles writes and sings songs – that is what he does. Aided and abetted by Erica who, with each passing moment seems more and more like a perfect artistic foil for him, and shorn of television and media attention, Miles and Erica are continuing bravely along, playing to a small but faithful constituency.

Premiering songs from upcoming seventh solo album Catching More Than We Miss, the pair play a selection of songs old and new – several selections from the new album and the solo canon, as well as several old Wonder Stuff songs : not exactly a greatest hits set (after all, that’s what Wonder Stuff concerts are for), but a fine selection of material that has always shown wit and insight alongside melody and talent. Starting with a fluid DWI, the songs are more subdued, more introspective than the brash, older material, flattened maybe by years of experience, hopeful yet at the same time hurt. With the fiddle accompaniment, the material is rich sonically, retaining the texture and depth and not seeming thin or slight. Whilst there does not seem that many actual songs played, the evening passes quickly, with two decades of experience, Miles is an accomplished raconteur and it is part music, part monologue, with illuminating insights to the songs and the life. This isn’t in any way a musical comedy style event; visions of Billy Connelly and a guitar should be thrown into a box and sunk to the bottom of the ocean because its more a songwriter who has a fine sense of comic timing than anything as base as comedy. The sense of the absurd that always follows the rock music format is well known to anyone in the business.

The evening closes off with several Wonder Stuff songs, only a couple of which were singles, but what Miles and Erica lack in smash hits they more than make up for it with inventiveness, entertaining dialogue and fine songs. The talent that brought Miles to public attention is still here, the muse is still strong, and he still has it, that mysterious X factor that elevates the average to the exceptional.



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