The Wonderstuff in Liverpool

Produced for Getintothis, words, and pictures, by me.

There was a time when a new subculture emerged that involved long hair, baggy trousers, dance beats, and loud guitars; that scene was called Grebo. Prime exponents of the scene were The Wonder StuffPop Will Eat Itself and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin.  Grebo was loud, vaguely hippy like and enormous fun.

The first time we saw Ned’s Atomic Dustbin was on a television show called The Word, in the year of our Lord 1992.  If you’re reading this and you’ve come here via this new-fangled thing that is social media, the chances are you probably weren’t born then.  The Word, for all its chaos, was a revelation to our teenage eyes and ears, from Nirvana to Madonna via full frontal nudity and stage invasions.

The Word had everything, their first live band was Liverpool’s own The Farm, see, they even made a good start. With 5 seasons and 100 and something episodes, it is worth looking out for if you’re a late starter in all things 90’s.

Ned’s Atomic Dustbin played a splendid version of Intact and then later in the show were joined by a spectacularly drunk Oliver Reed to deliver an incoherent version of Wild Thing by The Troggs. It was awful, yet somehow, we couldn’t take our eyes away from it, it was hypnotic, mesmerising, trippy even.

We were drawn to the Neds by a mutual love of a Belfast band by the name of Watercress.  Watercress were slightly insane, unquestionably intoxicated and drew some of the biggest crowds we’d ever seen for ‘local’ shows.  That one of the front men is now the lead guitarist of The Wonderstuff brings the memories from those days flooding back.

Gigs in Castles, basements, kitchens and, notably, vans.  Tonight, Liverpool Academy sees the kick off to a 12 date UK tour for the two wherein both have promised full 75-minute sets and a DJ turn by Graham Crabb from Pop Will Eat Itself.

When we arrived we spent the first few moments wondering if the assembled masses would have the stamina for such an elongated night of mid 90’s madness.  As if to prove us wrong Jonn and co, launch themselves on stage, the star jumps and energy answered our first question, there was indeed plenty of life in the old dog yet. They race through their set like they have a bus to catch, banter to a minimum this was about a walk down memory lane.

Until You Find OutTrust and Self Defence bring enough buzz and fuzz to get even the oldest in the crowd moving.  We would have sworn there was even a hint of moshing up the front. While the crowd were a little thin on the ground at such early doors they gave off enough noise to fool those of us a little short-sighted. They lapped up every track, Jonn seemed a little surprised by the response, bashful even.

He appears as self-deprecating as only a lad from the West Midlands could, he mimics bandmates, audience members and occasionally makes light of the fact that the onstage antics are perhaps a little subdued, even if the light show wasn’t.

They ramp things up significantly as the end nears, Grey Cell GreenIntact and Kill Your Television are wheeled out from the archives and the now near capacity room seems to lose its collective mind. While the flares and flowery shirts were a little thin on the ground, the cider seemed to help warm things up.

When they return for their encore Jonn is still a complete contrast to the guitar trio, he prowls around the stage like a man demented, for some of us who saw them the first time around it was still exhausting to watch. Not a bad start.

We just hope his tea was good.

Graham Crabb from Pop Will Eat Itself is the house DJ for the evening and he plays a curious selection of mid 90s dance, electro, and a perfectly attuned Grebo soundtrack, he might look like a geography teacher but he thrashed the living daylights out of the decks*.

(*Laptop)

We went to Stourbridge, once. It was for a family wedding and our one abiding memory of that trip was a spectacular burger joint we found on High Street, there wasn’t much else to report and the indigestion lasted longer than the wedded bliss. That a place like Stourbridge can produce bands like the Stuffies, Neds, and PWEI is a wonder in itself.

They couldn’t be any more different and yet, they share an awful lot in common. A desire to break free from Stourbridge chief among them we’d imagine.

As The Wonder Stuff take to the stage we are again struck by how ragtag a crew they are, Erica is in her Sunday best, Dan has sneaked into Graceland and borrowed a jacket, Mark is attired in the finest of black suits, Miles though, looks like he’s due a good days painting. Not that their image ever really seemed to matter, we note it as a point of interest to highlight how they sometimes look like they met in a queue somewhere.

They scream into Change Every Lightbulb like a horde of crazed animals and the pace really doesn’t let up from there. Ruby Horse, Mission Drive and For The Broken Hearted all raise the spirits and move the feet, while Size Of A Cow predictably raises the roof.

It’s pretty amazing what a violin can do to a song. The Wonder Stuff could reasonably be any other four lads to the front band but Nockall‘s violin lifts every track she plays on to another level, its uplifting, a core to their sound.

We are a bit biased towards Donnelly, truth be told, we’ve been fans through a number of variations, from Watercress to Sonovagun and his solo stuff but his vocal and his accent is music to our ears, maybe we just miss home. If anything that jacket was worth the ticket price alone, regardless of how much consternation the £7 on the day tickets might have caused.

As for Miles, well, what can you say. He is a creative force to be reckoned with and he never seems to stop. From books, biographies, bands, and banter, Hunt is a constantly moving target, hard to pin down, especially on stage. (When you’re wielding a camera at any rate) He might well look like a painter and decorator but the images we are left with are filled with colour, memories and a lot if smiles.

They finish off their set with Give Give Give and Good Night Though to a roaring, stamping, weaving crowd that lapped up every beat, every in-joke, every hint of sarcasm and every clever lyric. As a starter for ten this was pretty good and to us, it bodes well for a few weeks on the road.

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