For most of its history, Stourbridge wasn’t famous for anything other than it’s glass – and the bi-annual glass festival that went along with it. However, during the late eighties and early nineties, the mid-sized West Midlands town rose to prominence for a whole other reason, when it fostered an alternative music scene that would go on to grip the whole country.
It has been 27 years since two of the town’s finest exports, The Wonder Stuff and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, have shared a stage. Both active for roughly the same amount of time before they broke up, and both reforming within just months of each other, the two bands have had a strange kind of symmetry, and yet fans have had to wait until March 2018 to see them play together.
Why? “We were ready to do something significant,” said Ned’s John Penney “and it looked like we might be touring separately at the same time, which started to look slightly ludicrous.” The Wonder Stuff’s Miles Hunt echoed the sentiment:
“Our two bands, along with the mighty [fellow Stourbridge band] Pop Will Eat Itself, have been approached a few times during the last 15 years or so to tour together but, for one reason or another, it hasn’t been possible. Although we don’t have PWEI playing with us on this tour, the three bands will be forever linked in a lot of people’s minds, and there are still a lot of people out there that are excited to see us play together, me included.”
As for whether there is any pressure for the line-up to exceed their fans’ ardent expectations, it’s clear that this tour is all about the fun. “I’ve been touring for 31 years at this point,” explains Miles, “if I suffered with anxiety about gigging there would be nothing left of my nerves by now – I’m just chuffed to bits that Ned’s Atomic Dustbin have got on board.”
John, on the other hand, admits to suffering from pre-show jitters and says this tour is unlikely to be any different. For him though, the more nerves the better, as “adrenaline is the only drug [he’s] ever needed to give [his] best performance.” Plus, he’s quick to add that he’s “definitely not nervous about the tour itself. It’s what everyone has been waiting for so the response has been and will be great.”
Both bands are ready and raring to go, but that doesn’t mean that nothing has changed. Both the musicians and crowds they are playing to have evolved, and even though some things have changed, it is clear that some things are irrecoverably different.
“Back in the day I was always scared that we were at the mercy of trends, fashion, press, record labels” John explains, “now we’re all just one big happy family with the audience; we’re not going anywhere and hopefully neither are they.”
For The Wonder Stuff, those changes have been even more profound. Miles points out that the band “have been through a fair few line-up changes over the years, including two tragic losses.” With that said, he’s happy with things as they are now, or, as he puts it: “I like the people I’m in a band with, that wasn’t always the case.”
As for the crowd, the two guys are undecided about how much really is different. When asked if audiences had ditched the pyramids and mosh pits for camera phones and snapchat, the response was mixed.
“There are still the odd shoulder mounters and moshers at our shows, but with the years there has come a certain dignity with our audiences” pointed out Miles “the enthusiasm is still palpable at our shows but thankfully camera phones are the curse of much younger bands than ours.” He summed it up thusly: “Our audience members are there for the moment, not the narcissistic social media post.”
John is a little more pessimistic about the advent of filmers rather than watchers, but not for the reasons you’d expect. It’s a bit of both these days actually. “There are definitely plenty of phones in the front row these days” he admits “but I’m afraid we’re not as pretty as we were 30 years ago. The results can’t be that pleasant to look at.”
Plus, they do “still see people getting up on each other’s shoulders for the odd song that they used to build pyramids to” so if you’re heading out on the Love From Stourbridge tour, expect a “scaled-down” but not completely mellowed out crowd experience.
The Wonder Stuff and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin can be found playing 02 Academy Leeds on the 4th of April.