Miles Hunt

Fame and adulation never sat comfortably with Miles Hunt, leaving his band at the height of its success. But now The Wonder Stuff are back with a new double album and a reinvigorated line-up. We find the previously grumpy indie star is feeling uncharacteristically cheerful about life, although he still has a few things to get off his chest…

I meet Miles Hunt at the recently refurbished Craven Arms, behind the Mailbox in Birmingham. The Black Country style pub is Hunt’s ‘local’ when he’s in town. Hunt is in an upbeat mood and is “loving life” and music at the moment. I put it to him that this hasn’t always been the case. “Absolutely. The line-up the band has now is so much better and that’s the key. I mean years ago, I didn’t like anybody in the band. Those four seemed to get on alright, but I didn’t get on with them and I don’t like any of them to this day,” he says. “The band now is ten times what the original line-up was and from a personality point of view we all get on.”


The new line-up, which includes his 29-year-old girlfriend Erica Nockalls on violin and former Pop Will Eat Itself drummer Fuzz Townsend, is a far cheerier affair. Something which is reflected in the work the band has been doing of late. Alongside, a new studio album, ‘Oh No it’s the Wonder Stuff’, is a heart warming covers collection entitled ‘From the Midland’s With Love’. It features work from Midlands artists such as UB40, Duran Duran, Slade and Roy Wood. The album has been lauded by both critics, fans and even the original artists themselves. As with many great ideas it all started with a conversation in the pub. “Erica, Fuzz and I were in the pub and we were talking about why Midland’s artists aren’t as celebrated as much as they should be,” explains Hunt. “We were thinking about bands who at their height were really influential and who sold a lot of records. We started to compile a list including people like Roy Wood, The Beat and Rankin Roger.”


Many of the songs reflect Hunt’s personal influences. His uncle, Bill Hunt, was a keyboardist in Wizzard and Electric Light Orchestra and was one of the reasons why Hunt became a musician. “I think his lifestyle interested me the most. Uncle Bill didn’t have to get up in the morning, polish his shoes and go to work. He dressed in a cape, had hair down to his arse and looked to be having loads of fun. It had to be a huge influence on me as for a few years my uncle was on Top of the Pops.” “We wrote this list of songs and artists we absolutely love. There was a lot of Steel Pulse but the Wonder Stuff couldn’t cover those as the reggae beats are integral to the tracks. For me year zero is 1977 with punk although growing up around here I loved Slade and the glam stuff as they were absolutely the kings of my area. We didn’t do any metal either. Perhaps if my uncle had been in Ozzy Osbourne’s band my musical education would have been different. But I like pop, I like humour, I like a good time basically and Slade are the epitomy of that.”


Hunt’s own song writing surely puts him on a par with those he is now covering. For those who don’t recall, the Wonder Stuff were one of indie pops finest acts and principal members of the region’s last big ‘music scene’. Alongside acts such as Pop Will Eat Itself and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Midland’s music rode high during the 1990s, although it was the Wonder Stuff who were the most successful. The band had a string of top ten singles during a period when very few guitar acts got regular airplay on radio stations, and even hit the No.1 spot with ‘Dizzy’ featuring comedian Vic Reeves. However, it was in the live arena where the group was most successful, headlining festivals such as Reading and Phoenix and touring the UK, US and beyond. There was also the band’s performance at Bescot Stadium, which has ensured The Wonder Stuff’s legendary status for a generation of Midland’s indie music fans.


But despite the success the Wonder Stuff was far from a happy ship. Hunt was isolated from the band and felt he was doing the lion’s share of the work alone. Being “raised as a socialist” the band split the money equally but a lack of incentives meant the rest of the band took his efforts for granted, he says. I had a socialist attitude, which suggests that if everyone is paid the same, everyone will work as hard as one another – the absolute opposite happens,” he rages. “If I had said maybe you’ve to do some work they might have done something about it. But all they ever did was take and do fuck all. I resent them still to this day. I can’t believe it took me all these years to get rid of them.” By 1994, Hunt had more than he could bear of his fellow band members and left the group to work as a presenter on MTV. It was inauspicious timing, as guitar music was about to enjoy a major revival via Britpop. However, Hunt says the movement was of little interest to him. “I stayed in London because I was doing MTV. It opened my eyes to what was going on in the world of music. I thought ‘holy shit England has got nothing to offer musically at all’ – not unless you like the work of The Beatles and Ray Davies.”


After a few years of presenting on MTV, Hunt returned to music with Vent 414, an industrial-style rock band involving former Clash drummer, Peter Howard, and Morgan Nicholls, bass player of Senseless Things. The band made one creatively successful album but later split. The Wonder Stuff would also reform periodically for live shows, until 2003 when drummer Martin Gilks and violinist Martin Bell left permanently. Hunt needed a new lease of life and little did he realise that one was outside “busking for beer money” on the streets of Stratford, near to where the band was rehearsing. Classically trained Erica Nockalls joined the group in 2005 after blowing Hunt away with her ferocious playing style. “She came in for an audition and I think we were probably half way through the violin solo on Circle Square, which is one of my favourite things the old violinist ever did, and she was playing it far better and more aggressively than he had ever done. I didn’t even bother singing the third verse I just stopped and said ‘you’re fucking fantastic, do you want the gig?’”

Since then Nockalls has become a permanent member of the Wonder Stuff and she and Hunt have also separately recorded two albums together. They regularly play acoustic gigs together on their “never ending acoustic tour” at venues across the country. After a year of “getting to know one another” they “fell together” and have been together since. They now live on a farm in Shropshire, playing music and living a “ridiculously charmed life”. The Wonder Stuff has a string of live dates this year, culminating in a Christmas show at the 02 Academy in the city centre. Hunt is also working on an autobiography, but says music will always be his life. “I always want to write and to play. There’s nothing else I can do. I am totally unemployable. What am I supposed to write to prospective employers…I’ve been drunk and showing off for 25 years?”

Words: Jon Card Photography: David Morphew Photoshoot at the Hotel La Tour