[sic] Magazine

The Wonderstuff – London Shepherds Bush Empire – 22nd May 2009

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. There will come a time when pop has eaten itself and all we will be left with are regurgitated offal. When you consider that the average piece of drinking water has been purified and recycled seven times before it leaves the human drinking pool, you can see the corrision of endless recycling. For once upon a time, these bands that are now working on little more than nostalgic recreations of an age that never existed, were vibrant, creative, new, explorers on an adventure. Providing us songs no one had ever heard before, sounds we’d never dreamed.

But now, even just a few years later, and with no dimming of the creative flame, these artists are being coerced by commerce into acting as living museum pieces. You can’t bottle lightning, and you can’t recreate the past. Some bands seem forever trapped in formaldehyde – not evolving, unchanging. And whilst some bands have perfected their vision from their first note and seem to be simply refining it with each release, others simply point into the heavens and go off into the horizon. I prefer the latter. And whilst the past is a nice place to visit, I’m interested in the future. I’m spending the rest of my life there.


Besides I don’t want my favourite artists to stop creating. They can stop creating when they’re dead. Plenty of time to rest then. Don’t rest on your laurels now.

Some bands ‘fans’ put them into a box, and trap them there forever. That’s what YOU do. You DON’T do anything else. When you step outside of that box, create something unexpected: ‘Monster’, ‘Trans’, ‘Masque’, you lose someone. Admittedly, the loss may be the loss of your chains, freedom from your creative captors, but it comes at a price. And whether you ever know it, the artist exists in a world, with a style, a voice. Otherwise, you’re a chameleon, a cipher, with no central theme or narrative: a set of masks hiding who you are, maybe there is nobody under there.

And isn’t that the very transient question of identity anyway?

On the other hand, the public wants what the public gets. And everybody’s happy nowadays.

As above, so below

Reaching the final date of this tour, this stage of The Wonder Stuff’s life, a year or so as an eight legged groove machine trapped in amber of 1988, the band, now firmly reborn in their most stable line-up of their entire history, are no nostalgia act. Whilst they may be touring no song younger than sixteen years old these days, how does this differ from Kraftwerk? How does it differ from Guns ‘n” Roses?

Every band has a period, a flower of fierce innovation: after this phase they become known, established, recognisable, and then they are already, whether they know or like it, are trapped in a public image. Reinventions are rare; only Bowie and U2 ever seemed successfully to eclipse the shadow of what you already know.

“My own creation, my grand finale, my public image!” – PiL

And then, these shows are the same and yet, also, different. With Mark McCarthy on bass and Andres Karu on drums, the band may play the same songs the same way, but yet, it is different, and no tired time capsule. Fiddle player Erica Nockalls (elsewhere creating a firm legacy with Miles Hunt’s solo releases and the most recent Wonder Stuff albums) adds flavours and textures to well known songs, changing them. These may be the same songs, but they are also new. So even if there aren’t new songs, there are new textures, new colours.

Tonight’s mammoth, 33 song set is not anything but a celebration. The legendarily cantankerous Miles Hunt reputation is undeserved – he appears to be having the time of his life. As indeed is almost everyone else. In one way this band is aural amphetamine: a rush of adrenalin, a rollercoaster of music, strapped in and holding on until it careens to a halt. The band drops the needle, the opening chords of ‘Redberry Joytown’ open London to a vibrant time capsule, and it’s a mere 39 minutes and 14 songs later that we surface. Beyond a set of period b-sides (notable for being largely unknown to the crowd), it’s a vibrant, thrilling leap to joy.

Purple Reign

Manners, it seems, don’t go so far. I dislike being punched in the eye. And I dislike drunk tossers using my neck – the thing between my brain and the rest of me, so I’m rather attached to it – as a springboard for them to jump up and down on top of. There’s etiquette in these things. You wouldn’t expect to get away with it anywhere else – don’t think that just because there’s a band on stage you can be a dick.

And then ‘Mission Drive’ kicks into gear, and the world disappears, and everything is well with the world for 4 minutes 17 seconds.

Great bands endure because they are on a journey and are always going somewhere different and somewhere new. Great bands are not your personal jukebox. I’m utterly sick of band’s ‘fans’ who try to pigeonhole their favourite band into a tiny space and trap them there forever as musical Elmer Dinklys. If you want the past – the records are still good, stay there. There’ll be tonight, and the future, and that’s where I’m looking to go now.

Band finish

These songs sound brilliant, because they always have. They always will. Just because the songs are old doesn’t make them good. And just because songs are new doesn’t make them crap. All there is, is a collection of brilliant songs that speak to human beings. It may be that lyrics and these melodies may not touch you, that matters not: a work of art’s worth is measured in how much it means to someone, not necessarily you. If a song saves or changes someone’s life, makes the difference between joy and misery, gives us a reason to carry on – then that is all that matters. Don’t forget the songs that saved your life.

What matters then is that 1,600 people in a Victorian Theatre in East London are singing and dancing and finally living. All those hours in work and commuting and shopping are merely the time doing what we don’t want to do. This is who we want to be.


For more from Mark please visit The Mark Reed website