Erica Nockalls / The Wonder Stuff - Islington Academy, London
The Wonder Stuff were one of the most popular Alternative Pop acts of the late 80's / early 90's. The band put out a quartet of successful albums between 1988 and 1993, with three of the four landing in the top five of the UK album charts on their release. The Stuffies called it a day in 1994, going out in style with a headline show, playing to around 30,000 people at the Phoenix Festival and releasing a very popular singles album around the same time.
Frontman Miles Hunt reformed the band in 2000 for a series of London dates and has been playing on and off with various line-ups ever since, creating a a pair of Stuffies studio albums along the way.
Violinist Erica Nockalls has been part of the band since 2005 and also performs regularly as a duo with Miles. She's obviously got as few more strings to her bow though as she's just released her first solo album Imminent Room and treated fans of the headliners to a few tracks at the capital's Islington Academy.
Erica's solo output is quiet an eclectic mix. It's hard to judge an act on first listen but I'd say it's darkly tinged electro pop. There were moments throughout her short set where I was reminded of Icona Pop, Patrick Wolf and industrial rock.
Spirited opener 'Neon Crucifix' kicked the venue's doors down, with the track that followed 'One More Forest' delivering a slower dance groove. 'Mankin' took us into stranger territories while 'I Am Me, This Is Now' was more of pulsing bluesy hypnotic affair.
Erica completed her brief set with 'Day One, One Day' (a track about drugs, booze, fags and whores and not being able to give any of them up!) and new single 'Cut Them Out' one of the more commercial songs on offer, with fantastic violin flourishes throughout.
Erica really suits centre stage as she's a captivating performer with a host of tracks that are current and worthy of discovery. I hope the album does well for her anyway.
I was a big fan of The Wonder Stuff from around the time of their 'Give Give Give Me More More More' single till their 1994 split, seeing them live in Scotland way too many times and crossing the border for a handful of dates to boot. I caught one of their London reunion shows in 2000 and saw Miles playing a solo set some time early this century but hadn't given the band much thought in the years that followed until I read a few reviews of their recently released current album Oh No It's... The Wonder Stuff. The collection has been getting some great reviews and I was curious enough to put my hand in my pocket to buy the CD, especially as it came with a second album 'From The Midlands With Love', a compilation of covers of bands from the area, including Dexys. The Primitives, Slade and Beverly Knight.
I imagine the crowd assembled at Islington Academy were predominantly there to hear the band's extensive back catalogue but there was no need, five songs in, for Miles to say "And now I’m going to utter the sentence that every audience since Rock and Roll began dreads at a gig – We’re gonna play you some new stuff!" It was amusing mind you, though I doubt anyone minded especially as the first new track following the comment was the band's current single - 'Oh No!', a song whose video features Inbetweeners star Greg Davies' teaming up with Miles as they protect the shoppers of Telford Shopping Centre dressed in ill fitting Superhero costumes.
The Stuffies debuted four tracks from their 2013 release, with 'Clear Through The Years' opening the gig, with 'Friendly Company' and 'Be Thy Name' popping up a bit later. Miles mentioned that 'Friendly Company' was written in the hope that it would be included on Come Dine With Me as the lyrics were tailor made for it. The singer has had a lot of success with the show as they always seem to play 'Size Of A Cow' everytime someone cooks with beef, adding they could also use 'Ruby Horse' these days!
As a lapsed fan of the band I had forgotten how good their singles were, with their collection of 7 inches from 'Unbearable' to 'On The Ropes' almost giving the likes of Buzzcocks and The Jam a run for their money. The majority were unleashed on the Islington audience, with 'A Wish Away', 'Golden Green', 'Don't Let Me Down Gently' and 'Who Wants to Be the Disco King?' just some of the songs that caused the crowd to go crazy, with the venue's 30 something mosh pit lapping each single up.
The band's album tracks weren't neglected either. A jaw dropping 'Red Berry Joy Town' appeared three songs in, accompanied by 'Mission Drive', 'Donation' and a hard edged pounding 'Poison' later in the set.
Miles may be the only original member left in the band but they really do justice to the songs many know and love and have produced a new album that's up there with their older material. So perhaps it’s time for lapsed fans and the curious to do a bit of investigating, especially as The Wonder Stuff take to the road with PWEI and Jesus Jones again this December.