THE WONDER STUFF London Islington Academy 17 April 2013
It doesn't seem to matter so much anymore. Not that it shouldn't matter, but lives change. Life, as the cliché goes, is a diamond : it opens, and then once children are born, it closes to a much smaller set of options. Responsibility is a chain around your neck. The idea of going out on Wednesday to see a band seem sometimes indulgent – especially if the real world is in the way, as it often is. Childcare and jobs and work in other towns sits on your chest.
When I was 22, I'd laugh off a filling and skip an early morning lecture with a hangover. Not, sadly, now. Responsibility is boring, but being irresponsible is much less enjoyable. Do we live as we did when we were 21? Do we still see those people with any regularity? (I generally, don't). We're not the same. We're older now and a clever swine.
13 years into their reunion/continuation, 20 years after they last troubled the British charts, The Wonder Stuff – in whatever form they are these days – are a living, gigging band, sidelined by the press, continuing to bravely travel their work across the world whenever chance offers, often to small crowds of a few hundred people, and sometimes to a lot more. Drivers, delivering songs to people the world over.
“Oh No!”, the seventh studio record, and one which perhaps, you may be forgiven for not really considering as having a reason to exist, is far better than it needs to be. Miles Hunt is one of the best British songwriters of all time. There's no quality gap in that record and the older ones. The band can still pen a mean tune, though their existence has become dulled by the fog of time, the strength of their work hasn't. Were they a new band, they'd still be feted. But they aren't, and they aren't, and people ain't no good.
It still sounds like The Wonder Stuff – even though only Miles remains. From the moment they came on stage with the 'new boys' of Fuzz Townsend of Pop Will Eat Itself on drums, and Stevie Wyatt on guitar and the new “Clearer Through The Years”, to the last notes of “Ten Trenches Deep”, there was no doubting that this is a damn fine band that has a right to the name, and the songs, and plays them with a fierce fire. The new material slots smoothly into the old. And it is only that the older songs are better known – not better, just better known – that means more of them are received keenly.
There came a strange moment, midway through “Unbearable”, where it occurred to me that this was not The Wonder Stuff as you know them – and yet it is. It is not the band I fell in love with, but a band I love. But not the band. Unlike some bands though, Miles has the artistic right to the name and to play these songs, with a steady evolution over the years as the band changes, and we change. Back to the future. If the only way to keep The Wonder Stuff alive is to slowly evolve from one band to another – much like The Cure, and many others – then so be it. Were this a sudden reappearance after a dozen years or more of radio silence, this all-new lineup would be justifiably controversial, but it isn't, and it isn't, for bass player Mark McCarthy, and fiddle player/vocalist Erica Nockalls have both been with the band for almost a decade. It sure is weird seeing someone who isn't Malc Treece play guitar there (the band have had three other guitarists, two filling in at short notice). Yet, does it matter? Yes, and no. It sounds like The Wonder Stuff, it feels like The Wonder Stuff, and I can only hope that this band has many more years left in the tank, because there's still a lot of fire left to burn.