From the moment I entered the hallowed ground of this legendary venue, I knew in my heart that this gig was going to be special. Firstly, there were many more people already enjoying a quick pre-gig pint, than I'd seen there before. I must make clear at this point that I'm not old enough to have been here in the 60's and 70's, when some of the greatest bands and solo artists rocked the place (see Save the Half Moon, Putney). My experience has only been over the past 5 years, when you are lucky if the audience gets into double figures.
The second thing I noticed as I was once again reviewing some of the pictures on the walls, of famous musicians that previously graced the stage, was that the majority of the crowd were sad, slightly overweight, 40-somethings, like myself. This was no surprise as this was part of the 20th aniversary tour of The Wonder Stuff's second album HUP. After deciding to purchase a T-shirt, (sadly not at 80's prices, through made by a quality label), from the solitary girl on the merchadise stand, (as they are no longer available in the shops), I entered the large darkened room.
It felt so great to be standing right at the front next to the stage, but with no pit, no steel barriers, or indeed no sign of the gang of brutish thugs dressed in tight-fitting black T-shirts with SECURITY printed in big letters front and back, to remind them why they were there. A few of the crowd also wondered in, but it was only after Miles Hunt (the Wonder Stuff's charismatic frontman) strolled out into the main bar with the megaphone used on several of the bands classic tracks and alerted the drinkers that the show was about to start, that they entered.
There was a cheer as Miles got up on stage to introduce the support act, one of his heroes when learning guitar, and now funnily enough a patron of the same local boozer. Dirty Ray Weatherall, as he is now known was previously lead vocalist with the Immaculate Fools. From his fast strumming blues guitar and almost shouted high octane lyrical statements, it was easy to see the influence Ray's music had on young Miles and probably the rest of the band. Ray is also a contributor to Miles's Shared Project, which has produced a showcase album of musical talent unrecognised by the narrow vision of wide stream media in this country. This was the perfect warm-up and the crowd loved it.
There was an almost deafening howl as The Wonder Stuff stepped onto the stage, and with the first licks of their guitars, we were all instantly transported back to the summer of 88. They were joined onstage by Erica Nochalls on Violin. The publicity for the tour had stated that the band would be playing the whole of HUP (well we shall see), so it was not a shock that they started with "30 years in the Bathroom" and then "Radio Ass Kiss". But it was only after they moved on to "Them, Big Oak Trees", that we were let into the secret, that somehow all the songs on the album had ended up in the wrong order.
This was a little weird if you are one of those people who believe that an entire album is designed to flow from track to track as a single journey. This was like being of a totally different road, but I think whether or not it was a better path it was certainly a new enlightening experience. Of course with the modern wonders of the mp3 player, its possible to rearrange songs into hundreds of variations. I think that many of the crowd will be shuffling their HUP playlist, when they get home, into the band's prefered order.
The crowd were also in good voice and singing along to every track, even simultaniously launching into the chorus of "Letter from America" by The Proclaimers, (Miles and Erica had been touring with them earlier this year). Its good to know that 40-somethings can still pogo round the room when the mood calls for it, and even with a capacity turnout there was plenty of room for this. Next came "Golden Green", then "Cartoon Boyfriend", "Unfaithful", Piece of Sky", "Let's be Other People", "Don't let me down", "Can't Shape Up", "Room 410", and lastly "Good Night Though". This ticked of the main 12 songs on original album, but what about the 4 bonus tracks (on the remastered edition).
Yes they played "Gimme Some Truth" by John Lennon, and "Inside you" by Pop Will Eat Itself (a previous band of Miles Hunt and Malcolm Treece), but sadly there was no "Get Together" by The Youngbloods or The Wonder Stuff's own "It Was Me". They diid play "Circlesquare", "On the Ropes", "Last Second...", "Here Comes Everyone", Caught in my Shadow", "Mission Drive", "Size of a Cow", "A Song Without an End" which finally ended with a crashing drum solo, after the rest on the band had left the stage. For the encore they treated us to "Give, Give, Give, Me More, More, More", "Unbearable" from their fantastic debut album "The Eight-Legged Groove Machine" and "Ten Trenches Deep".
This was certainly one of the best gigs I have ever been to, at such an amazing venue, and I have been out almost every night of the week watching live music for the past 4 years. As to whether the album was named after the e-mail checker (very doubtful), or the Harvard University Press, or Mr Crumb's comic, or the US Navy rescue helecopter (H-25), isn't Wikipedia great, we shall never know. Hopefully there must be some Promoter / Brewery / Agency / Entrepreneur with a passion for live music, willing to run this historic venue, if Youngs no longer want it. Please don't let this wonderful gig be one of the last.