A Bunch Of Fives: a retrospective with The Wonder Stuff’s Miles Hunt – PART THREE, From The Midlands With Love

A Bunch Of Fives: a retrospective with The Wonder Stuff’s Miles Hunt – PART THREE, From The Midlands With Love

Something of a leftfield decision, From The Midlands With Love was a tremendous tribute to the Brummie acts of yesteryear (who knew The Stuffies could do Duran Duran so well?!) and, more importantly, gave Miles the impetus to up his game still further in the songwriting stakes…

PART THREE – FROM THE MIDLANDS WITH LOVE

In late 2010 Andres Karu told me that his days behind The Wonder Stuff’s drum kit were at an end and I was, to put it mildly, gutted.

As well as being an excellent musician Andres is also a dab hand behind the camera and was picking up work in the US as a cameraman on various TV and film shoots. In making frequent trips over to the UK to tour with The Wonder Stuff he was finding himself having to turn down film work at home. He needed to make a decision and sadly for all concerned that decision called time on his tenure behind the drum kit for The Wonder Stuff.

As luck would have it my dear old pal Fuzz Townshend of Pop Will Eat Itself fame had also made his home in South Shropshire and it wasn’t unusual for us to bump into one another in any number of our fine local hostelries. On one such occasion I asked him if he would be at all interested in drumming for The Wonder Stuff and he replied “It would be a pleasure Dear Boy” or somethzing typically as Fuzz-esque.

We started by playing live shows together, one great run of gigs we did was to celebrate the 20th anniversary since the release of our third album, Never Loved Elvis. Fuzz got to know the songs easily and the gigs should have been a no-brainer. However, after a heated argument between myself and original Wonder Stuff guitarist, Malc Treece, we were in dire need of a new guitarist. And quickly.

never-loved-elvis

Enter stage left, Jerry De Borg of Jesus Jones. Jerry stepped in to play the UK Never Loved Elvis live dates and in doing so really saved our bacon. I despise ever having to cancel shows.

It wasn’t the easiest introduction into the band for Fuzz but being the unflappable gentleman of rock that he is, he took the personnel change in his stride. And in seeing that I had to raise my game once again in order to keep The Wonder Stuff afloat Fuzz was there for me in any and every aspect of support that he could possibly muster.

My major beef with Malc Treece was that he was making no effort at all to come up with new song ideas. I didn’t expect him to write entire songs, he never had, but what I did expect was to be offered the odd guitar riff here and there for me to develop into a song. But for five long years he presented me with nothing. I have no problem with bands doing anniversary tours of their classic albums but in the case of The Wonder Stuff that is all we had done for the better part of four years. I thought it was nigh on time we gave our audience a well deserved new record.

As I mentioned before, Fuzz and I live nearby each other in the hills of South Shropshire. We both have home studios too. Mine more akin to programming and recording the quieter instruments of a rock band and his better set up for recording drums, obviously.

from-the-midlands-with-love

We cooked up an idea to record drums over at his place and then for me to record all of the other instruments and vocals at my house. The only problem that we had was that I had written no new songs. It was at this point, undoubtedly whilst sitting at a pub table, that Fuzz and I came up with the idea for From The Midlands With Love.

Both Fuzz and I were born in the great city of Birmingham and the two of us felt that many of Birmingham’s songwriters, singers, musicians and bands were now being overlooked by mainstream media. Sure, Noddy Holder and Roy Wood get wheeled out every Christmas to once again remind us of the days when people really knew how to write a Christmas song, but what about the writers and performers of the other great hits that had come out of Birmingham and indeed the wider environs of The Midlands?

Fuzz and I decided that we would take it upon ourselves to bring some of these great songs to people’s attentions once again by choosing a handful of them and releasing a series of 7” singles. Something else we would get from the project was some much-needed experience in this new way of recording at one another’s homes.

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After releasing one double A-Side 7” single of The Move’s ‘Blackberry Way’ and The Beat’s ‘Save It For Later’ in April 2012 I felt fit and ready to get on with the job of writing, recording and producing The Wonder Stuff’s seventh studio album, Oh No It’s… The Wonder Stuff.

BONUS FOOTAGE – ANNIVERSARY EDITIONS OF THE EIGHT LEGGED GROOVE MACHINE AND HUP

(NB – These came before From The Midlands With Love, so please read this bit as though it was meant to be at the start of the article. The only reason it isn’t is because A Bunch Of Fives features are supposed to only focus on five albums, hence these being filed under “Bonus Footage”)

Anyway, back to Miles…

Having discovered that we could now record albums without spending costly weeks in recording studios we decided that it might be interesting to re-record our first two albums, The Eight Legged Groove Machine & HUP.

In 2008 we came to an agreement with the Carling Academy Group, as it then was, to play each album in its entirety for a series of gigs by way of celebrating the 20th anniversaries of each album’s release. Malc Treece and I were pretty certain that having spent years playing the songs that appeared on each album it wouldn’t take us long to refresh ourselves in what needed to be done. However, Mark McCarthy, Andres Karu and Erica Nockalls had quite the workload in front of them, having never appeared on either of the two original releases.

the-eight-legged-groove-machine

I was aware that one way of getting to know a song inside out was to record it. So Mark and I set about completely re-recording The Eight Legged Groove Machine. Once again Andres was happy to learn his parts, record them in New York and send them to us via email. Once I managed to talk Malc into recording his parts on these new recordings it became pretty obvious that what we were recording was worthy of commercial release.

Something else that was brought to my attention at this time was that we had gone beyond the years, stipulated in our contract with Polydor Records, whereby we could re-record our songs for commercial use. We were now legally able to own recordings of the songs to do as we please with.

For example, if a TV show, advert or movie wanted to use a song from either of our first two albums we could now offer them a new version at a cheaper price than Polydor would charge them. Any money that went to Polydor to secure rights to use any of our songs in such a manner went towards paying off our debt to them, meaning we wouldn’t see a penny of it. If an advertising or production company were happy to use a newly recorded version of one of our songs then all of that money would end up in The Wonder Stuff’s accounts.

hup

This gave us two very good reasons to re-record both albums. I didn’t want to mimic the original recordings, there was no point in doing that. I simply wanted to have versions of the songs recorded in such a way that new line up would play them. Many of the bells and whistles that we had added to our live sound on the first two albums were dispensed with. My intention was to make these two new albums sound more akin to John Peel session versions of the originals.

A few of the tracks didn’t quite match up the original versions but there are definitely a few of the songs that in their newly recorded states absolutely outshine those original releases.

Having got comfortable with the home recording situation Erica and I wrote and recorded our second non-Wonder Stuff album together in early 2009, between the two Wonder Stuff anniversary albums, Catching More Than We Miss.

The two of us were gigging regularly together as an acoustic duo and seemingly since releasing the Not An Exit album in 2007 our writing knew no bounds. We began the project confidently, as opposed to not really knowing what we were shooting for, which had most certainly been the case with Escape From Rubbish Island and Not An Exit. I think our confidence is clearly audible throughout ‘Catching…’ and it remains a favourite of mine to this day.

The only frustration that I recall having at the time of writing ‘Catching…’ was that Malc didn’t seem to be coming up with any new ideas for a future Wonder Stuff album. There are a handful of tracks on ‘Catching…’ that would not be out of place on a Wonder Stuff record and during the time that Erica and I were working on it if Malc had’ve shown any interest in writing with me then it could easily have turned out to be The Wonder Stuff’s seventh studio album.

I definitely tired of cajoling Malc into doing some writing around this time and counted my lucky stars that I had a talented and willing accomplice in Erica to carry on stretching my creativity.

Another project that Erica and I worked on around this time was ‘Shared’. We made two albums under this moniker and what they essentially were were two compilation albums featuring various musician friends of ours. Erica and I contributed four original songs to the project as well as a cover version of an Immaculate Fools song.

The majority of the artists featured on the albums we had met at a succession of open mic’ nights at a local pub close to where we live in Shropshire. In addition to those artists we were lucky enough to have exclusive recordings by established artists such as Wayne Hussey of The Mission, Dirty Ray aka Kevin Weatherall of the Immaculate Fools, Jim Bob of Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, Ian Prowse of Pele/Amsterdam, Boo Hewerdine, Damien Dempsey and Dan Donnelly, who we are now lucky enough to count as The Wonder Stuff’s guitarist.

I was entertaining the idea of a career in production at the time and consequently produced the majority of the tracks featured on the two ‘Shared’ albums. I genuinely loved sitting in the producer’s chair for these records and eventually went on to produce an entire album for Dirty Ray called Big World For A Little Man. If you haven’t heard it, you really should, it’s fantastic.

All of this time spent in front of the speakers set me in good stead for taking on the production role, for the very first time, of the seventh Wonder Stuff studio album, Oh No it’s… The Wonder Stuff.

Tomorrow – Oh no It’s… The Wonder Stuff.

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