When the Pixies announced last year that they were to reform to play some gigs, it’s unlikely one could predict the whole raft of late 80s and early 90s artists who would follow in their footsteps. Whether it be the guitar led angst of The Wedding Present, the chaotic fun of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin or the grebo genius of Pop Will Eat Itself, in recent months it’s felt like 1992 all over again.
The latter two were, of course, part of the Stourbridge Scene, a group of bands from the Black Country and its surrounding areas, and The Wonder Stuff were the undoubted leaders of this movement. Led by the fiercely charismatic Miles Hunt, a man ever ready with a sneer and a press-friendly quote, the Stuffies were one of the most energetic live acts around.
After four albums, they split in 1994, leaving Hunt to the world of MTV VJ’ing and some poorly selling solo albums. They reformed in 2000 to play some well received Christmas gigs, but nobody really thought that the Wonder Stuff would become a going concern again.
Until last year that is, when Hunt reunited with guitarist Malc Treece and resurrected the Wonder Stuff name for the Escape From Rubbish Island album. The remaining Stuffies claim that the current group is just Miles Hunt’s solo band, but that hardly bothered the worshipping hoards who welcomed the band onto stage at Sheffield’s Leadmill bathed in the glow of fluorescent babies placed on stage.
“How the f**k are you?” said Hunt in his traditional greeting, and all inter-band squabbling was forgotten. They may have less hair these days and we may all be a fair bit older and a little bit fatter, but try telling the thrashing multitudes down the front that this wasn’t the real Wonder Stuff.
There was plenty of new material played, which was greeted enthusiastically if not ecstatically. Highlights such as Was I Meant To Be Sorry and Better Get Ready For A Fist Fight went down particularly well, but it was the oldies that everyone was here for tonight. It was the first two albums that were most raked over, with an adrenaline fuelled Don’t Let Me Down Gently and a touching Piece Of Sky, dedicated to the band’s late bassist Rob “The Bass Thing” Jones, being highlights of a storming set.
Fans missing the band’s later moments weren’t disappointed either when Hunt introduced the very easy on the eye Erica Nockells on fiddle – a far more attractive presence than Martin Fiddly’ Bell, it has to be said! Her entrance meant that the Never Loved Elvis-era material could be properly recreated and gems like Mission Drive, Here Comes Everyone and a very welcome Circle Square were polished off, much to everyone’s delight. The reappearance of Hunt’s famous megaphone during the caustic Donation also produced one of the loudest cheers of the night.
Miles certainly hasn’t lost his antagonistic edge, as the title track from the current album and the appropriately named Bile Chant prove, but he was very gracious to the audience tonight. “This is the best audience we’ve played to on this tour” he assured us, before telling us that bassist Mark McCarthy had told him during the encore that we were the best crowd he’d ever played to. We kind of knew that he’d be saying the same stuff the next night to a different audience, but we didn’t care.
They encored with some early material, with Unbearable and Give Give Give Me More More More providing the backdrop for some frenzied moshing down the front before Room 410 from the Hup album closed proceedings. As the lights went up, it was 2005 again but for 90 minutes the Wonder Stuff had returned to make us feel young again. Thank God they’re back for good this time.