After 30 years away, Stourbridge’s very own rockers, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, are set to return home to play sell-out anniversary gigs. Frontman Jonn Penney talks about the emotion behind the shows – and why he’s got his fingers firmly crossed!
Very un-rock and roll. That’s how Jonn Penney describes his life in lockdown. The frontman of Nineties’ alternative rock band, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, is known for his all-action stage performances. And – pandemic willing – he’ll be strutting his stuff again with the rest of the guys before their adoring fans in four very special anniversary live gigs later this year in November and December.
Right now, though, Jonn is doing what thousands of other parents are doing – lots of home schooling in Stourbridge with his eight and 12-year-olds, as well as carrying on with songwriting lecturing duties (online, of course) at Kidderminster College.
“Fingers crossed for our dates later in the year,” he says. “We ummed and ahhed about whether we should announce the gigs in the current climate, but then we thought, yeah let’s do it because people want something to look forward in the current climate.” And look forward to it the fans certainly are, with tickets ‘flying out’, says Jonn.
The December dates, on the 4th and 5th, are at Stourbridge Town Hall, a week after the first two gigs at Dingwalls in London. The performances mark the thirtieth anniversary of The Ingredients EP, featuring the tracks Aim, Plug Me In, Grey Cell Green and Terminally Groovie.
“We’ve been trying to come back to Stourbridge since 1988,” Jonn explains. “The last time we played in Stourbridge it was very early days and at the time we still had a female backing vocalist in the band – that’s a line-up that most people never would have seen and wouldn’t even know about. The five original members haven’t been able to get back and play since then, so this is the first time the five of us are going to get back on a stage in Stourbridge since 1988, which is just amazing really.”
The Ingredients EP was released in April 1990, and Jonn describes it being “a turning point in our career. It was the point we realised we were going to have a career because up until that point, until that record was released, we had no idea really what the future might be. There could not have been much of a future, things could have ground to a halt after that.
“So I suppose what sort of happened with Ingredients is that we put it out there, it did way better than we ever imagined it was going to do, and because of that success we were just out and about everywhere else, everywhere but Stourbridge. So we didn’t get the opportunity, I guess, to play the songs from that EP to a Stourbridge audience, and we never have had that opportunity, so that’ll be quite special to come back. We recorded it only a few hundred yards away from the venue. So it’s a celebration of coming full circle.”
The EP was recorded in Enville Street, down the road from Stourbridge Town Hall, in a studio called Wrekless. Jonn explains: “We’d done a previous demo there, but we were so skint when we did that that we had to paint the studios to pay for it, because we didn’t have any money to pay them!
Once recorded, the band ended up taking it to London to remix. “So, it’s kind of funny that it was sort of representative of the fact that we’ve got our roots in Stourbridge, that we’d written these songs around here, but the next step was always going to be moving away from here. We ended up going to the Greenhouse studio in London and getting it remixed.”
The two shows at Dingwalls revisit where the band played around the release of the EP. “That moment represented that point in our lives where everything took off and we went from being Stourbridge lads to taking that leap into the big bad world and the smoke,” says Jonn. But it’s the return to their roots in Stourbridge which the band is especially looking forward to.
Ticket sales reveal that the audiences will be a mix of people from across the Midands, the UK and from around the world. “There are going to be people who have been with us from the very start, so that will make it a massive nostalgia trip,” said John. “People who he saw the band performing in the local pub when we were snotty nobodies!”
The band has been touring together for the past couple of years and pride themselves on their live performances. Jonn says they’ll need only five or six rehearsals just to fine tune everything, plus he’s running and work out lots because of his high-energy stage presence. “I’m nearly 52 years of age and you have to accept that things do slow down, but I can’t stand or sit still when I perform. So I need to make sure I am fit enough to have all the stamina I need.”
Jonn and the guys say they are looking forward to getting the feeling of coming home which they’ve never really had. He says: “Our adopted hometown became Wolverhampton, I guess, and the shows we used to do at the end of each touring year, at the Civil Hall at Christmas, they would represent our homecoming show. Those gigs turned into a bit of a pilgrimage for people from all over the world that we’d been to see that year flying into this country to see us on home turf.
“I want to give a little bit back to Stourbridge now as it’s my hometown, it’s the place I’ve lived for 28 years. It’s a place that has done a lot for the culture of the Black Country, it was a real proper pot boiler of artistic creation in the Nineties, and a lot of that has disappeared over time – there isn’t even an art college anymore. I want people to celebrate Stourbridge a bit.”