Saturday, 25 February 2012

I have been there, for a very long time.

Liverpool, 22nd February 2012. The Rodewauld Suite at the Philharmonic. Miles Hunt and Erica Nockalls. Moment of revelation.

This was only the second time I'd been to see Miles and Erica, saw them here 12 months ago and it was a strange experience having never heard any Wonder Stuff songs acoustically except on the documentary video Welcome to the Cheap Seats.

At that point, The last time I'd even seen Miles Hunt he'd had short hair. Last year he was sporting the shoulder length mid way point of hair growth and I remember laughing at myself when he got up on stage because he'd been stood at the bar for ages watching Ian Prowse and I'd been looking right at him assuming he was a girl. Now is that anyway to treat your long time teenage hero?

This year there was no mistaking Miles Hunt when he appeared at the bar. The longer tresses of the 90s poster pin up that had adorned my walls and ok maybe 20 years older but with the same boyish face and dimples. It's been a long time since Miles Hunt looked, to me, like Miles Hunt. But there he was. And there in that small room, 20 years of growth and maturity peeled away and revealed a 15 year old girl agonising over whether to go over and ask for a photo.

During the show Miles and Erika worked their way through the Never Loved Elvis track list. Brilliant. I thought optimistically I might, for only the second time ever, hear Inertia performed live. But alas we didn't make it that far. The cow song was, of course, swerved in favour of Golden Green.

What I enjoy most about these shows is hearing the stories about how the songs were written, I especially enjoyed the Room 512 story because as a kid I'd worn out that segment of the Welcome to the Cheap Seats video listening to it, tried all kinds of methods of recording it onto a tape so I could listen to it on my Walkman, slightly muffled with the occasional interruption by a Hoover or my mum telling me to tidy my room.

Miles referred to the split of Wonder Stuff audiences - balding 40 something men who used to be hipsters and those that get excited when they hear size of a cow on come dine with me. I'm neither of those things. I was never in anyway cool and I don't watch come dine with me. But I will always have a soft spot for the cow song and the song with the comedian. I know it's uncool to admit in the world of Wonder Stuff fans but after 20 years of loving the Wonder Stuff I hope that old snobbery had gone...yes that's right 20 years. I was too young for Eight Legged Groove Machine and Hup...

The Wonder Stuff changed my life, maybe shaped my life in fact. As a kid I'd grown up with siblings spanning a 16 year age difference. I can still picture my sisters 7" vinyl case containing Culture Club, Yazoo, Wham, King, Matthew Wilder and my dads 3 long boxes of 7" records that he'd collected since he decided to buy every single record that went to number one from the date my oldest sister was born (I believe that was 'when my little girl is smiling' by The Drifters)

I was massively influenced by my brother, partly because I hoped that by copying my brother he would stop tormenting me and think I was kinda cool...7 years age difference and as the older and wiser sibling he saw right through my scheme and picked on me anyway. But he did get me into bands like Level 42 and Squeeze. Music was handed down in our family the way most families hand down clothes, my sisters would be into something and get my brother in to it who passed it to me. I had no knowledge as a kid of finding music, never listened to the radio, music was just what my family played me, and it was all awesome, spanning decades from the 50s up to present day.

What I was personally into was TV, specifically comedy. I gobbled up comedy, it was my passion. Harry Enfield, French and Saunders, The Young Ones. My first real cross over with music was when The Young Ones released Living Doll, I discovered this show on the radio where they counted down to the number one single of the week and me and my brother listened to see if it would be the young ones.

So I became vaguely aware of modern music but it mostly sounded a bit rubbish, I liked Michael Jackson but I mostly preferred the Jackson 5...you get the point.

So there I am, 13 years old and I've developed my newest obsession...Vic Reeves Big Night Out... I watched it so much that I could quote the entire episode of each show. When he started releasing records I started going into my local record shop to buy them and then Dizzy came out. Vic Reeves and the what? Never heard of them. But then why would I? They're a modern music group and I'm stuck firmly in a music time warp. I loved the song of course, already being a fan of the original by Tommy Roe, but secretly preferring the Vic Reeves version because Vic was my hero. The first "gig" I went to was around that time, it was at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool which probably already tells you all you need to know about my first gig....it was Gerry and the Pacemakers supported by Tommy Roe and Bobby Vee. Yeah that's right in the same year I got to see both versions of Dizzy performed live...although Vic Reeves was singing along to a backing track only bringing out the Wonder Stuff for the show that was being filmed.

I was quite taken with Miles Hunts tartan suit though. The Wonder Stuff were immediately ok by me. A few months later I was babysitting for my nephew one Saturday morning watching Going live or whatever Saturday morning kids show was on 20 years ago, and they were having some kind of phone vote for the best single and right at the end of the list was Size of a Cow. I heard The Wonder Stuff and recognised the long hair and dimply face of the singer and picked up the phone to vote...I was a tv child I did whatever it told me... All I knew of the cow song was a 10 second snippet but they got my vote because they were linked to Vic Reeves.

Around that time my school friend (also a Vic Reeves fan) and I started teaming up during drama class and developed comedy routines for all the tasks we were set. I was convinced we would grow up to become a comedy duo like French and Saunders. I kept saying this to her and she kept looking at me like I was insane. Thing is of course, she was the funny one so without her my career in comedy was a non starter. Then I got talked out of doing drama for GCSE and my future seemed foggy.

One night during a sleepover my friend happened to be playing the latest NOW compilation which had size of a cow on it, having never heard the full song she played it for me and I thought it was the greatest thing I'd ever heard. I saved up my pocket money and ventured into the local record shop and bought Never Loved Elvis and it was a revelation. Every track on it was awesome. I had a look through my Dads Guinness book of Hit Singles and identified all the singles the Wonder Stuff had released and made it my mission to track them down. I bought Eight Legged Groove Machine and Hup and immediately recognised that they were even better than the cow song. I visited the ex jukebox stand in the market and picked up sleep alone and caught in my shadow. I remember buying a waistcoat and don't let me down gently on 7" at a car boot sale. At a record fair I picked up an older single on cd - I remember paying an extortionate amount of money but wanting it anyway, despite my entire collection being on vinyl to that point. Of course that then meant I had to start buying everything else I owned already on CD to match. I was visiting my local record shop so often that they eventually offered me a Saturday job.

The Wonder Stuff lead me to other bands...naturally PWEI, EMF, Neds, New Model Army, that lead me onto Nirvana, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Pearl Jam... But the Wonder Stuff were still the best of them all. One day in work I met the rep for Polydor who happened to have the new Wonder Stuff single. She gave me a copy for free. She told me she too was a fan and had actually been at the promotion launch thing with the band and had just been in awe. I was so jealous but excited to realise there was a whole industry surrounding this music stuff and I knew immediately that I had a career aim for the future...

Idiot came out and they toured. I met Miles Hunt outside the royal court, I got a couple of CDs signed and I remember asking for a photo, I couldn't believe it when he agreed...I realise that's what celebrities do but at the time I just couldn't believe my luck, I skipped around the little group surrounding him, I stopped opposite to get a better look at him and then carried on hopping on the spot, I was so excited I couldn't contain it. I caught the eye of the woman stood in the door way waiting for him and pointed at him and said "that's Miles Hunt" and carried on skipping.

I was definitely NOT a hipster.

But then when I was 16 they split up. I was devastated.

I was in the Krazy House when I heard they were splitting up after the Phoenix festival and I cried. I was drunk and there's no drunk like underage drunk, and I cried all night and all the way home.

I replaced them with The Lemonheads...again I discovered them through Mrs Robinson but much preferred their back catalogue and that lead me into American punk. I stepped even further away from current chart music and delved into otherwise unheard of bands.

I saw We Know Where You Live at the Lomax and told Malcolm Treece he was a legend, apologised to Paul Clifford for asking for an autograph (coz of his comment on the documentary about not really liking people coming up to him all the time or whatever) and met Martin Gilks. A few months later Vent played and I met Miles again under slightly less excitable circumstances, amazing what 2 years can do to your maturity - perhaps being allowed to drink legally zaps the fun out of it? I had a really good conversation with him about music. I told him I sang in a punk band and he told me to send him a demo...didn't tell me where to send it mind you...and it was all round a far more dignified display on my part than our previous meeting. Maybe it was simply because he had short hair and I didn't fancy him anymore. Who knows?

I did a Degree in Music Industry Management and lived in London for 6 years working for a collection of music companies, the PRS, EMI and Sanctuary Records. I was at PRS at the same time as Paul Clifford and my friend actually worked for him. I met him and confessed my love of the Wonder Stuff and he kindly invited me to have lunch with him and ask him anything I wanted to know...wow. I was ecstatic but terrified. He told me some fantastic stories and I really appreciated that he did that. I appreciated even more that he copied some single tracks for me because all mine had been stolen when our house was broken into (including all the ones Miles had signed) and some of my favourite tracks were b'sides.

When they reformed and did those gigs at the Forum I had a ticket booked for the first night. Then EMI announced it was the Christmas party and I felt obliged to go. I sold my ticket and as more dates had been added I left a message on the Wonder Stuff website forum and a kind hearted soul sold me a spare ticket for the last night. There's actually a photo taken from the back of the stage and I'm there clearly at the front of the crowd. My boyfriend bought me a live DVD last year and I put it on to get myself in the mood prior to seeing Miles and Erica and there in the first few minutes is me singing along at the front of the crowd in the Forum clear as day. I recall that I couldn't walk the next day as my knees, ribs and stomach were black and blue from being constantly battered against the barrier.

I saw a few gigs courtesy of that kind soul. The Charlie and the Chocolate Factory style golden ticket for buying the Love Bites and Bruises album in HMV was a particularly memorable gig (HMV had forgotten to give them out so he was given 2 and invited me along.)

Then thanks to the daily drudge of working for a living, music was my job and I lost all interest in it. Eventually I moved back to Liverpool where I started rediscovering a passion for music. For all the bands I like now none of them have ever caught me the way The Wonder Stuff did. I may not listen to them all that much but I still know all the words and I still rank them as my all time favourite band.

Without the Wonder Stuff I wouldn't have got that job in the record shop, gone to university, moved to London, worked in music (which provided its own adventures) I wouldn't have the friends that I have and I wouldn't be where I am now.

Now I run my own business. I'm an artist and designer. I produce beautiful hand painted silk scarves, I design websites and publicity materials and I paint portraits. I create animations, and I deliver art classes. Bit of a mixed bag of skills and tricks. I learned design in my role at Sanctuary Records and the art is a long hidden talent from school days when I used to draw portraits of - you guessed it - Vic Reeves and Miles Hunt (worryingly, my school friends always thought my Miles Hunt portraits were self portraits.)

So I am not ashamed of my late discovery of the Wonder Stuff, and I don't think it lessens my credibility as a fan. The Wonder Stuff were the first band I got myself into, they weren't handed down to me by my much cooler brother and they influenced my life from that moment on. And they lasted far longer in my heart than Vic Reeves did.

I didn't go ask for a photo by the way. I decided to lock away that teenager. Maybe when he's next had a hair cut I could approach him with out my teenage self rearing her ugly head.