Thursday, May 31, 2012
MILES HUNT AND ERICA NOCKALLS - Deal Astor Community Theatre - 24 May 2012
At a mere 75 minutes, Miles Hunt & Erica Nockalls, the acoustic wing of The Wonder Stuff, offer a short headline set for their first appearance in Deal : at the far leg of the South East, this small town (population around 20,000) is a land where nothing happens. The highlight of the town is, aside from a Time Bell, is the chip shop at the end of most recently built pier in Britain. The rest of Deal is largely two streets, a handful of pubs, and a beautiful beach in blazing sunshine. As I grow older, I love towns like this more than ever. After three decades living in big cities, I had had enough of rented rooms at the top of buildings, hired boxes in the middle of the sky. I wanted land. I wanted a place where no building was higher than three storeys, and where there was twenty miles of sea facing away from land in front of me. Deal is a place like that : the kind of town where nothing ever happens, but willingly, I chose to withdraw from the frantic.
Down a suburban side street, the kind of converted community hall-come-theatre that no doubt sees numerous local amateur dramatic productions and later this month, Steely Dan (of all people), in it's 350 capacity room, Miles & Erica appear in a ornate room with carved figures on ballustrades, and a stage set of tables and meditation. Having seen countless shows over the past 21 years (I cannot remember exactly how many shows I have seen, but well into the hundreds), Under the arch, their appearance is minimal : a man, a woman, a guitar, and a violin, aided by little more than no shortage of wit and talent.
If you've seen any one of the 500 or so shows on the six year “Never Ending Tour”, the format may be familiar – wine and stories and song all abound – but Miles and Erica have a enviable army of material from the eleven albums of all original material, as well as multitude of live and compilation releases. This year also sees a brace of new Wonder Stuff material with new album “Oh No! It's The Wonder Stuff!”, and a set of limited cover singles, to make the evening an evolving experience : tonight we get covers of The Move, The Beat, and a spotless, shiny version of Slade's “Far Far Away”, as well as new Wonder Stuff songs, and songs new and old : reaching back as far as 1989 for “Golden Green” and playing half of 1991's enormous “Never Loved Elvis”. To the seated, 52 paying punters, the show is well received by friends and relatives, as well as fans – many of whom find a show like this unbearable without a camera phone jerkily capturing every moment. Not that it matters. Miles gives out his postcodes, invites cake, tells stories, and the pair take to the wine like ducks to water – this is no bad thing, for it makes the evening go smoothly. “Plans In the Sky”, a duet between the pair, is a sweet, touching song of two old drunks tied together, which Miles gladly declares avoids their own life. The performance is loose and tight, the product of knowing without thinking, the songs that saved lives, and changed lives, and moments that show that despite all other things, and all our differences, we all are far more alike than we realise.
Given the undoubted large sales of their work – over 1,000,000 Wonder Stuff records sold ladies and gentlemen – the older songs are best received. The newer ones are not so well known, but sell heathily at the end of the show. They pose for photographs and indulge autograph opportunities, before wrapping up for the night. We chat after the show and the rude interruption from people during our conversation, as if he might suddenly ignore someone just because a stranger shouted at him incessantly, is somewhat surprising. And this type of thing happens all the time. Erica chats charmingly, though I have met her less often over the years, and Deal, for which little happens, again becomes the quiet Kentish seaside town I love. At 10.00pm, every shop shuts : there is nowhere to buy anything, apart from behind the bar of a hotel. The last train quietly collects passengers. The village goes to sleep. Tomorrow is Friday. Something for the weekend, sir? Sometime soon, somewhere, Miles & Erica will take to a stage and serenade an evening with songs. And if you can, you must, be there, and see what it is that makes me travel hundreds of miles for a earful of beautiful songs.