For a while around the turn of the ’90s, The Wonder Stuff were one of the biggest bands in the UK, scoring a chart-topping single (Dizzy) and three Top 10 albums, prior to disbanding in 1994.
With The Wonder Stuff recently resurrected with a different line-up, musicOMH caught up with frontman Miles Hunt to discuss the highs and lows of his musical career.
Miles Hunt is both a journalist’s dream and nightmare interviewee. A dream because there is never any danger of: a) him answering a question monosyllabically; or b) not giving you at least one juicy quote; but a nightmare because distilling his unrelenting, no-holds barred responses is like trying to find positives in the England football team’s defeat to Northern Ireland last week – nearly impossible.
Given this, musicOMH takes some pride in being able to render the amiable motormouth speechless (for about five seconds, anyway) by asking him about his first foray into the music world – as drummer for (Flowers) From Eden. “F**kin’ hell! You probably know more about that than I do!” he exclaims in a questioning, ‘Are you a stalker?’ kind of way.
Once he’s composed himself, however, he’s off down memory lane recalling how in 1983 he was “kicked out of the band for my so-called bad attitude”, but stayed friends with Clint Mansell (later of Pop Will Eat Itself fame); learnt how to play guitar and write songs on Clint’s Portastudio; got back in touch with From Eden’s guitarist Malc Treece and how, following the recruitment of drummer Martin Gilks and Rob ‘The Bass Thing’ Jones in 1986, The Wonder Stuff was formed.
“I think the thing that I’m most proud of is that I haven’t had to get a job!” – Miles Hunt on why The Wonder Stuff’s hit singles and albums have been a glorious means to an end.
It’s fair to say that by the time The Wonder Stuff were releasing Number 1 singles with Vic Reeves five years later, they had transcended the Stourbridge scene that also spawned Pop Will Eat Itself and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. However, despite all the successes, Hunt has a refreshingly mischievous take on the highlight of it all: “I think the thing that I’m most proud of is that I haven’t had to get a job! By 2006, I’ll have been a professional musician for 20 years – which is quite an odd thought. I certainly don’t feel old enough to have done that, but that’s what I’ve done. So I just think the getting away with it is what I’m most proud of!”
If “the getting away with it” is what makes Hunt proudest, then he’s categorical about his biggest disappointment – the failure of his post-Stuffies, post-MTV VJ-ing band, Vent 414, to survive beyond one noisy, Steve Albini-influenced album: “We made a genius record. To this day it’s still my favourite record I ever made… A lot of it is to do with how genius Pete Howard and Morgan Nicholls were. They were the best drummer and best bass player in the land as far as I was concerned.”
“But as we were doing it, Morgan was learning more and more about computer recording and he decided, ‘I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with a guitar round my neck jumping up and down on stage, I think I want to pursue this.’ That was why he left. That was a kick in the balls to be honest… That was my great disappointment.”
“We made a genius record. To this day it’s still my favourite record I ever made.” – Is Miles Hunt talking about The Eight-Legged Groove Machine or Hup? No, Vent 414’s only album
With Vent 414 consigned to history, Hunt released various low-key, lo-fi records as a solo artist. Then, at the back-end of 2000 – six years after they’d split up – The Wonder Stuff reunited for five sold-out nights at London’s Forum. Hunt admits that he is still shocked by how many people still cared: “I was f**king stunned, absolutely stunned and very, very, very grateful. It was lovely. It was a really, really good time but it gave me a false sense of security that the rest of the band felt like I felt – that it was a lovely opportunity to make some music together again because we were all actually in a good mood [and happy] to be in the same room as each other finally! But that didn’t last.”
He’s not wrong. Last year’s Wonder Stuff comeback album, Escape From Rubbish Island, only featured Hunt and Malc Treece from the original line-up, while drummer Martin Gilks and violinist Martin ‘Fiddly’ Bell used a Wonder Stuff web-site in an attempt to publicly discredit the album as nothing but a glorified Miles Hunt solo record. Unsurprisingly, Hunt has a different view of things: “[After the reunion] Me and Malc just couldn’t agree with the other two guys on f**king anything… So I started work on a solo record. The first month I was in the studio doing that I get a call from my manager saying: ‘Gilks has phoned and said he can never work with you ever again.'”
“I finished my songs and I sent them to Malc and said, ‘Do you like these, is there anything you think you can add to them?’ And he was like, ‘Definitely’… And then a friend of mine said: ‘Call this The Wonder Stuff… You AND Malc have written it.’ Having been told by the members that had left that they didn’t want to work with me, well like it or not I’m the singer in The Wonder Stuff so I guess that means they didn’t want to be in The Wonder Stuff. In their arrogance and stupidity they didn’t think that me and Malc would carry on with something that we’d been doing nearly 20 years. We did that and then they started behaving in a thoroughly undignified and childlike manner which really really shocked me.”
“In their arrogance and stupidity they didn’t think that me and Malc would carry on with something that we’d been doing nearly 20 years.” – Miles Hunt doesn’t mince words about former band-mates Martin Gilks and Martin ‘Fiddly’ Bell.
So, have things changed with the new line-up? Do they actually not hate each other? “It’s a really nice group of people. Mark McCarthy, the bass player – he’s a wonderful guy. And Andres Karu – him and Malc have a very, very similar personality quality. They’re both very intelligent and they’ve got extraordinary patience, which anyone needs to spend their life hanging around me!”
It almost sounds as if The Wonder Stuff has become an Eight-Legged Groove Machine again. “[In movie voiceover mode] That’s what we are! It feels like we’ve got control of our band back… And I personally love being on an indie label… I used to butt heads with everyone at Polydor. Although I’m very grateful and respectful for what they did for us over the years, at the time I was constantly arguing with people and it’s just not like that now. I love it, I love it!”
The notoriously miserable Miles Hunt feeling “excited” and “optimistic”? Wondrous stuff, indeed…