This was the second of my “reliving my childhood” gigs that I had been to this week. Earlier in the week was the mighty Shed 7 and they pulled out a night that was just superb. To be honest I have really struggled to write this review. You need a bit of background information to really understand some of the comments that I am about to make. The Wonder Stuff was the band that got me into alternative music. Back when I was a spotty teenager they came along with this amazing album “Hup” that totally redefined what I thought about music and what I listened to. They sparked off something that would totally change my life and basically craft a pathway that made me become the person that I am today. I missed the locally acclaimed gig that they did for the 20th anniversary of “Eight Legged Groove Machine” and so I was really keen to see them perform this album.
The Wonder Stuff tried to do a similar thing to what The Twang did at the opening of the Academy only on a slightly smaller scale with 2 artists on each of the 3 stages. I arrived to the acoustic sounds of Timothy Parkes one of the “Shared” artists on tonight. It was packed in the smallest of the 3 venues and I got a little bit pissed off with people wanting to get past me so I decided it was time to try another of the 3 rooms, so I set off to Academy 2 where Dirty Ray was on stage. The whole acoustic feel seemed to just all merge into one for me although you could tell that all of the musicians that were on to warm up were very musically proficient!
For the second time in a week I felt young. Feeling positively young at gigs is starting to become a bit of a habit of mine to be honest. It was either I was young or the fact that at many of the gigs that I go to I am really very old (it’s probably the latter to be honest). Just before The Twang set to the stage I made my way up to the balcony to get a better view, only to be told that the balcony was closed. After venting my frustration to one of the stewards I calmed down enough to realise that it was probably due to poor ticket sales and hence why The Twang had been drafted in at last minute to give it a bit of a boost.
The Twang came on to a very lack lustre round of applause but that didn’t stop them giving it their all on the stage. It was really weird seeing them as a support band again and I just wanted the old generation “Stuffies” fans to get into it a bit more but I suppose they weren’t here to watch them; in fact I actually wondered how many of them knew who they were watching. It must have been very surreal for the band as the last time they played here they had the whole venue singing their songs back to them instead of a half full ground floor with a few people singing along to a couple of their hits! Lead singer Phil Etheridge’s reminiscent Wonder Stuff stories and occasional shouts of “C’mon dance for me Birmingham, even if it’s just a shoulder!” seemed to get the crowd a bit more interested but clearly The Twang are locally loved by a completely different generation to the Wonder Stuff with a small crossover between them.
The Wonder Stuff took to the stage at about 10pm to a loud radio tuning similar to the start of the “Hup” album only the tracks they had tuning were some classic tracks from the late 80s early 90s including bands like The Stone Roses, The Proclaimers, The Pixies, Lisa Stansfield, Tone Loc and ending with “She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not” by another legendary local band Pop Will Eat Itself. The ground floor of the venue was about three quarters full. They ploughed through the album but not in the order that we expected and after “Them Big Oak Trees” Miles announced that they wanted “to get it in the order that it should have been” when they released it. As I previously said “Hup” could be classed as one of my favourite albums of all time but there was something lacking with this gig, it wasn’t the anthems and I still haven’t been able to pinpoint it but the fans seemed to only wake up for particular tunes and the sound seemed to be far too bass driven even though the vocal did seem to come through. I had forgotten was how dark some of the tracks were on that album and how a lot of the tracks were clearly driven by the bass line
One thing that wasn’t lacking was the banter between Miles Hunt and the fans – he was still the very chatty front man that I remembered with comments like “What a bitter romantic I was back then, I only thank the gods for not making me as famous as poor old Tiger Woods” following “Cartoon Boyfriend”. And an emotional “We lost some friends along the way, maybe you lost some friends along the way” before the brilliant “Piece of Sky” which was always a tribute to the late bass player Rob ‘The Bass Thing” Jones but must now be for their late drummer Martin Gilks as well. There were a few chants of “You Fat Bastard” towards the end of the main set to which Miles responded with “43 years old and proud of every pound”. They ended the performance of “Hup” with the track that has been the end of their live set for as long as I can remember, and it really should have been the end of the album “Goodnight Though”. They stuck with the usual thing of Miles leaving the stage, followed by guitarist Malc Treece, leaving the bass player and drummer to leave last.
The encore was split into two. Really the first part wasn’t so much an encore but more a part two of the set. It consisted of a collection of b-sides, cover versions, newer tracks (which very few people knew) and ultimately classic Wonder Stuff songs which did wake up what was by then a fairly sleepy crowd. It was around 11pm and looking at the people around the venue I would imagine it was starting to get past their bedtime. There were songs during Part 2 that I didn’t know and it seemed to go on for about another hour to which the venue actually started to empty. Part 2 finished at about 1150pm but it wasn’t the end, even though by this time the ground floor was only about a quarter full. The band actually encored with some legendary tracks from the “Eight Legged Groove Machine” era.
On a freezing night in December the O2 Academy opened its doors for the local people of Birmingham to reminisce over an album that helped redefine music and inspire a new generation of local musician as seen in new legends “The Twang”. However a lot of music has been and gone over the 20 years since “Hup” came out and in the 15 years since the band originally split up; and in some respects their music hasn’t really aged as well as it could have. The Wonder Stuff will continue to remain local legends and they will still have a hardcore following that will continue to show up for their reunion gigs. The next of which will be for the publically loved but band hated “Never Loved Elvis” or will it? Whether I will be one of those people is yet to be decided because I think I would rather remember them the way they made me feel when I was 15.
Academy 1 – The Twang, The Wonder Stuff
Academy 2 – Dirty Ray, Jim Bob
Academy 3 – Timothy Parkes, Dave Sharp
The Twang Set List:
You took the fun
Ice Cream Sundae
Back where it started
Push the Ghost
Answer My Call
The Wonder Stuff Set List:
Part 1 – Hup
30 Years In The Bathroom
Radio Ass Kiss
Them, Big Oak Trees
Piece of Sky
Let’s Be Other People
Don’t Let Me Down Gently
Can’t Shape Up
Part 2 – covers, b-sides and classics
Give Me Some Truth (cover version)
Inside You (cover version)
On The Ropes
Last Second Of The Minute
Here Comes Everyone
Caught In My Shadow
The Size Of A Cow
Give, give, give me more, more, more
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Ten Trenches Deep
Review – Imran Khan
Photos – Ian Dunn