The Wonder Stuff and The Levellers, Birmingham O2 Academy 15th December 2011

The O2 is sold out for local boys, The Wonder Stuff tonight, here to perform their album “Never Loved Elvis” on the 20th Anniversary of its release (well June 2011 would be..) on the Polydor label. But first up are The Levellers in support mode. The show is almost a re-run of the March 26th gig, except the bands swap the headline. In truth, the show is practically a double headline… the term “support” is meaningless for this gig.

The Levellers are warming up for Levelling The Land - Part II and Mark Chadwick, Jeremy Cunningham, Charlie Heather, Simon Friend, Jonathan Sevink and Matt Savage take over the stage, with a lively, animated show and switching playing positions during the set. The band looks like a travelling band of gypsies and play their own brand of folky, punk with some wild fiddle, which would be perfectly at home across the Irish Sea.

The set opens with “One Way” which is well received by the crowd. Sevink is particularly striking on stage with a tall hat and at times furious fiddle playing and so is Jeremy Cunningham on Bass Guitar, whose long dreadlocks are flailing around the stage as he plays.

Mark Chadwick says little during the set, but still gets the audience going, clapping and screaming and singing along to the set as they perform the majority of Levelling The Land. The band cover “Devil Went Down To Georgia” which the audience lap up and Sevink’s frenzied fiddle screams out the tune, whilst Chadwick makes horn shapes with his hands. The Levellers sound suits this track perfectly.

The band brings the set to a close with “Beautiful Day” with the audience shouting for more… Any other night, there’d be an encore, but not tonight as the set is cleared for The Wonder Stuff.

The Wonder Stuff (known as The Stuffies ”to their loyal following” formed 25 years ago in the Stourbridge area of the Black Country (not Birmingham, and definitely not Brummies!) at the Art College and numerous drinking dens in the town, alongside another local band Pop Will Eat Itself following the demise of the earlier incarnation From Eden. A number of successful albums later and some chart success (including with comedian Vic Reeves), the band split in 1994.

The original line-up has changed significantly, with a couple of the original members passing away. The remaining members of this line up were Miles Hunt and Malcolm Treece, but in the days before the show, even Treece departed the band, leaving Hunt as the only original member. Following this departure “long-time friend” of the band, Jesus Jones guitarist, Jerry de Borg is drafted in on stand-in duties. In addition to Hunt, the line-up includes Mark McCarthy, Hunt’s current collaborator, fiddler Erica Nockalls and one time member of The Poppies drummer Fuzz Townsend.

The audience clap and cheer as the band take to the stage. Hunt with long curly hair, stripy jumper and a bottle of red in hand. Erica is sporting a bright orange wig and a dress that would grace an Alice in Wonderland set with the outfit completed with silver sparkly boots.
The band open with “Mission Drive”, then “Play” and “False Start” and rip through the album with the fans bouncing along. “Welcome to the Cheap Seats” and “Size of a Cow” follows then “Sleep Alone.” After “Donation” Hunt talks to the audience about people travelling to the show from as far afield as America and Spain and is grateful for it. “Maybe” is then followed by “Grotesque” with Hunt taking a moment to chat with the audience again. “ I’ve seen Def Leppard, but it wasn’t for me!” “Here Comes Everyone” is performed as a duet by Hunt and Nockalls with the band leaving the stage for a brief respite.

The band return for “Caught in my Shadow” which is dedicated to “Old friends, lost and those who wandered off, the song is about being friends...” “38 Line Poem” concludes the album set with Hunt declaring, “Open Season, we’re done with the Album! ”Room 512” is followed relentlessly by classic Stuffies tracks “Red Berry Joy Town” and “On the Ropes”, “Mother and I”, “Golden Green” and “Full of Life”. “Don’t Let Me Down, Gently” and “It’s Yer Money…” work the audience up to a frenzy and the set finishes with “Radio Ass Kiss” and “Poison.”
After a brief rest, the band return for the encore, Hunt now sporting a “Never Loved Elvis” T-shirt and kicking off with “Give, Give, Give….”, “Unbearable” and “Ten Trenches Deep” seeing Erica return to the stage following a costume change, the orange wig gone and her natural part shaved, part spiked blonde hair on show. The set closes and the band leave the stage after a marathon set, having boisterously played most of the 26 track set.

If you missed this show, you missed a treat, a lively enjoyable show and an exceptional bargain to boot. Two great bands, with over 40 tracks played for £20 quid! (plus booking fee!) If you are looking for the next opportunity for a Stuffies show, this may be in 2013 to coincide with the 20th Anniversary release of “Construction for the Modern Idiot” released in October 1993, unless there is a good reason for them to come out to play before.

The Levellers
1. One Way
2. The Game
3. Far from Home
4. The Road
5. Sell Out
6. Truth Is
7. 15 Years
8. Boatmen
9. Devil Went Down To Georgia
10. Carry Me
11. Liberty
12. Dirty Davey
13. Riverflow
14. Cholera Well
15. Beautiful Day

The Wonder Stuff
1. Mission Drive
2. Play
3. False Start
4. Welcome to the Cheap Seats
5. The Size Of A Cow
6. Sleep Alone
7. Donation
8. Inertia
9. Maybe
10. Grotesque
11. Here Comes Everyone
12. Caught In My Shadow
13. 38 Line Poem
14. Room 512
15. Red Berry Joy Town
16. On The Ropes
17. Mother and I
18. Golden Green
19. Full Of Life
20. Don’t Let Me Down, Gently
21. It’s Yer Money I’m After, Baby
22. Radio Ass Kiss
23. Poison
24. Give, Give, Give Me More, More, More
25. Unbearable
26. Ten Trenches Deep

Pictures and Review: Ken Harrison
The Wonder Stuff
The Levellers