Jesus Jones + The Wonder Stuff + Clouds @ The Tivoli, 18.08.2011

The third proper gig I ever went to was The Wonder Stuff. The Great Hall at Exeter University. 20 November 1989. The Wonder Stuff headling, Eat supporting, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin opening. £6.

From a music perspective, growing up in near Exeter was far from ideal. Few bands made the 80 miles each-way detour west of Bristol to play Exeter (let alone anywhere further west). Occasionally a few of the bigger bands made it all the way to the St Austell Coliseum – I can remember Bryan Adams playing there one time, circa Reckless and being impressed/jealous that some of my classmates were heading down there to see him. But few bands played Exeter and the majority of the smaller indie bands that NME, Sounds and Melody Maker wrote about that did played at the Lemon Grove at the University which was an over 18s venue. The Great Hall was one of the few places that wasn’t over 18s and where bigger acts could play (having looked it up, having either never really known or just not being able to remember, the capacity of the Great Hall is 1,800) but even then gigs were few and far between. Around the same time as this Transvision Vamp also played the Great Hall and just about everyone from school went. These were desperate times for seeing live music in the city for underage music fans. I’m not sure if it’s gotten a whole lot better over the last 20 years I haven’t lived there either, although The Cavern has been a big improvement, and I’ve seen a few bands there when I’ve been back there visiting in the interim, and a few people also seem to play at the Art College building down Gandy Street.

It wasn’t just that I went to see The Wonder Stuff because they were playing, I was a really big fan. It might sound tragic but I can still remember the first time I ever heard them and being completely blown away. It was a perfect early summer afternoon. May 1989. A Friday. I was getting a lift back to Exmouth after school with Jason Berridge and Martin Beed. Jason was driving, Martin was in charge of the music selection. He stuck this tape into the car’s stereo and suddenly the car was filled with all these spikey, sneering, 3 minute, instantaneous pop classics. “Who’s this?”, I asked. “It’s the Eight Legged Groove Machine” Martin replied. “No, who is this?”. “It’s the Eight Legged Groove Machine”.

While he was right – it was the Eight Legged Groove Machine – it wasn’t until later that I found out it was some band called The Wonder Stuff. I can remember an article in Q magazine about the band around the time that they released their second album, Hup later that year. It was the first time I’d ever seen what the band looked like. It was a bit of a surprise to see that they looked like that. It seems strange to not know what a band looks like now when you have that information at your fingertips 24 hours of the day but I guess these were simpler times.

They played Exeter when they were touring Hup. It was a fantastic night; the ridiculous-ness of Ned’s, the Cure-lite of Eat and The Wonder Stuff just blowing everyone away. Although this was still early days in my gig-going career, the power of music to incite an audience was stunning. They came on to a backing tape of Gary Glitter’s ‘The Leader of The Gang’ and it was mayhem. The barriers at the front got pushed so far forwards that even before they’d played a single note there was an interruption while security sorted out the mess at the front of the room. Even after this the audience remained completely exuberant and I can remember getting uppercut by someone’s shoulder connecting with my chin and seeing a lot of stars for the next 30 seconds. When I bemoan current day audiences for not appearing to be ‘into it’, and spending all their time watching the gig through their mobile phone screen, it’s partly because of gigs like this. I guess living in a small city with little live music passing through, we made the most of what we did get. It’s easy to get spoilt and take it for granted when you live in a big city with bands always passing through.

Down the years I stuck with the band. They became a different band over time, but that’s not a necessarily a bad thing and something I like to see; I don’t want a band to be making the same record time and again, for their third or fourth album to sound like their first. I can remember when Never Loved Elvis came out, when a load of us in the university flats I was living in in Newcastle in 1991 went out and bought it. You probably would get that happening in these times. I saw them again when they were touring their fourth album, Construction for the Modern Idiot, at City Hall in Newcastle (I can’t remember if I saw them in the in-between years), a last hurrah before they split. I can remember seeing both of the splinter groups that formed from the ashes of the band, Vent 414 and weknowwhereyoulive, both at Reading I think, but they weren’t for me. I saw them again at one of their reformation shows in London in the early 2000s, maybe 2002, not one of the original reformation shows at the Forum but a later one at Ocean in Hackney [turns out it was August 2001]. It was just like old times really. Although there was no new music, a friend who worked for a record distribution company and kept me supplied with a regular pile of CDs gave me copies of the double live CD they released from the reformation shows and the double CD of B-sides, outtakes and unreleased tracks.

The band properly reformed and started putting out new albums but (as yet) I’ve not been tempted; the first new album got some poor reviews although the second was supposed to be better. But the band had fallen out and it was just singer Miles Hunt and guitarist Malcolm Treece. Drummer Martin Gilks was sadly killed in a motorcycle accident and I despite the long road travelled with the band I just wasn’t really that interested anymore, especially not when they re-released 20th anniversary editions of Eight Legged Groove Machine and Hup and re-recorded the whole albums. It’s bad enough that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg play havoc with the visual memories of my childhood without one of the first bands that I got into re-recording their own history.

But almost 22 years after I first saw them and a good 8 or 9 years since I last saw them, I’m not going to miss up a chance to go and see them playing at The Tivoli. They’re touring Australia with Jesus Jones, although surprisingly as the support: If the two bands had have been playing together in the UK the running order would have been reversed.

The first impression is what on earth is Miles Hunt wearing. I’d tried to banish all mental images of that tartan suit over the last 20 years and somehow he manages to come up with an even worse outfit for tonight; denim dungarees. I mean, how old are you? Didn’t people stop wearing them before they hit double figures? Apart from the initial shock, the band sound pretty good, opening with ‘Red Berry Joy Town’, ‘On The Ropes’ and ‘Here Comes Everyone’. Despite the dungarees, Hunt still looks more or less the same as he did 20 years ago and he’s still as gobby as ever. Most of the other photographers in the pit concentrate on the extremely photogenic violinist Erica Knockles but for me it’s trying to get photos of the two original members of the band. I don’t think I actually make it to the other side of the pit to photograph current bassist Mark McCarthy. Hunt introduces the band at one point and comments on the changes to the band, mentioning the passing of Martin Gilks before commenting “…and we had to get rid of the other two cunts (bassist Paul Clifford and violinist Martin Bell) because I couldn’t fucking stand them”. Like I said, as gobby as ever. After the first three song blur I watch the band and realise what’s missing tonight. After the initial burst Hunt reverts to an acoustic guitar for much of the set, which makes the earlier songs softer and less abrasive than they originally were. The set-up works well on the later, more folk, more acoustic songs but not on the grebo of the first two albums. It isn’t until the encore that he changes back to his hollow body electric that the songs get some grit back into them. Good to see them again, would go again but more for another hit of nostalgia.

I guess I was always more of a casual Jesus Jones fan. I do have two of their first three albums although the first one and the third one. Not the high selling second album with the big hits. They played on the first day of the very first Glastonbury I ever went to back in 1990. It’s weird how I can remember the bands from that first afternoon – Lush, Galaxie 500, Green On Red, James and Jesus Jones but struggle to remember much of any of the bands who played at any other Glastonburys I’ve been to over the years (11 at the last count). I’m not even sure if I’ve seen Jesus Jones since 1990, although it’s scary seeing that singer Mike Edwards still looks exactly the same as he did 21 years ago. It’s something the crowd notice as well, with him explaining that he has painting of himself in the attic.

But there were always two main problems with Jesus Jones; they only ever had one song and Mike Edward’s vocals were the same in every song. When I say one song I don’t mean one hit single, just that there was a very rigid template and a Jesus Jones sound that they never really deviated from but maybe part of that problem was the vocals. I enjoy seeing them tonight though; there’s something so wrong and yet so amusing in that even in middle age they still pull the same moves as they did more than 20 years ago, with the band still doing their synchronised run back from the front and jump in the air at the opportune moments and keyboard player Jerry De Borg still doing his walkabout around the stage. They point out that they would have been supporting The Wonder Stuff if they’d been playing in the UK and that’s probably what should have happened tonight.

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