READ THIS! excerpt from Miles Hunt’s ‘The Wonder Stuff Diaries 86 -89’
Miles Hunt’s ‘The Wonder Stuff Diaries 86 -89′ is a great account of the band’s rise from the black country to the top of the charts. It’s a late eighties version of Ian Hunter’s wonderful Diary Of A Rock n Roll Star- a warts and all ride through TV studios, gigs and other places…
Thursday 20th April
Gig day; New York, New Ritz
The first two gigs in the US had been reasonably sedate affairs. Our third gig, in New York City, was the night that changed The Wonder Stuff forever. Mischief and misbehavior were the themes for the night and would continue to be so for the rest of the US tour.
Digby, our clean and sober guitar tech, had been keen for us to meet some of his New York friends, people he had met during his days as a roadie with The Clash, and he was proud to invite them along to his new band’s debut New York show, keen for them to help make men of his new employers. Polygram, our label in the US, were also keen to for us to make the best of our social abilities, and if I was given the address of five bars in the vicinity of the venue, at which I had promised to meet up with NY’s rock’n’roll party people, then I was given a hundred.
International A&R coordinator, East Coast radio promo guy, a writer from The Village Voice, another from Alternative Press, our newly acquired US manager Steve Rennie, our US agent Marc Geiger, a couple of club DJs who had made the journey in from New Jersey, a handful of competition winners from a local radio station, the guitarist from The Psychedelic Furs for fuck’s sake! They were all in our dressing room within minutes of us finishing up on stage. But the man I shall never forget meeting for the very first time in that dressing room that night was New Jersey radio DJ, Matt Pinfield.
During our first visit to the US, in January of ’89, we had visited the station that Matt DJ-ed for, WHTG in Eaton Town, but Matt had not been there to meet us that day. We would always visit WHTG whenever we were in the US, we even filmed the much loved “Stop that, shut up and get off the fucking car…” scene for our Welcome To The Cheap Seats rockumentary there in 1991. The station was staffed by a wonderful cast of characters, but none so large as life as Matt. To this day, Matt and I are still in contact, and his career in music media, from MTV to mainstream US TV, has always been in the ascent, constantly giving his support to new and established alternative rock bands for over 25 years.
In the dressing room of The New Ritz that night I shook hands and had my picture taken with, what felt like, more people than I had met in my entire life. This was my first experience of the “grip and grin”, or the “shake and fake”. Schmoozing industry types and trying, as best I could, to not look as though I was trying to get out of the room. I think I pulled it off.
Having freed myself of the schmooze-a-thon I headed to an Irish bar not far from the venue. On arriving there I met up with the rest of the band and crew who were already in high spirits. Over the course of the next half hour the bar became as crowded as the dressing room I had just escaped and pretty much, with the same gathering of people.
I was introduced to one of the radio competition winners, a girl named Kirsten. We hit it off immediately, she had a wonderful couldn’t-care-less attitude about her, and was totally unimpressed that she was now hanging out with the band. She had no idea who The Wonder Stuff were and confessed that she just liked entering competitions on her favourite alternative rock radio station. This was a relief to me; already I was getting a little tired of the enthusiasm from some of the people we were meeting. Genuine or not, the gushing “I can’t believe you guys are finally here!” or “I can’t tell you how excited I am that The Stuff have made it to the US, ma-an” was really getting on my nerves. Kirsten had neither waited for our arrival in the USA and really didn’t give a damn that we were there that night. For her it was a free night out and a bonus that the band didn’t “suck”.
The two of us high-tailed it out of the bar, found her car and agreed the best way to spend the rest of the evening was to drive out to a party that she knew was going on somewhere in New Jersey, it was already gone 2am. It seemed like we drove for hours, but we arrived at the party as it was winding down, in a nice looking, leafy, middle-class cul-de-sac. I had no idea what relation any of the people at the party were to my new playmate, but it struck me that I was not a welcome guest. A handful of college age sports jocks didn’t try to hide their indignation at the hairy Brit that seemed to be making successful in roads into the affections of the girl they all would have liked a shot at. We hadn’t taken any drinks to the party either, but Kirsten kept burying her hand into a cooler on the front lawn of the house and handing me beers.
Friday 21st April
Gig day; Boston Paradise Club
The sun was coming up, and with the light of a new day it began to occur to me that I should try to get back to New York, in order to meet the rest of the gang. We had a gig in Boston the night after the New York show and the tour bus was due to leave New York around 10am. Kirsten drove me back to the city and we grabbed an hour or two of sleep before assembling with the rest of the band and crew outside the Days Inn hotel. I say the rest of the band and crew, but one member was noticeable by his absence.
“Where the fuck is Bass Thing?!” demanded Les Johnson of the ruined assembly. While not everyone in our entourage had spent the night driving around New York and New Jersey in search of a party, they had all certainly enjoyed a late night.
“He didn’t come back to the room last night,” offered Gilksy who was sharing with Bob on the tour.
“Fur fuck’s sakes…. DIGBY!” Les was not a happy man, and Digby was not about to make his day any easier.
The Bass Thing had spent the remainder of the time at the Irish bar in which we had gathered after the gig at The New Ritz the previous night, in the company of a female friend of Digby’s. The woman in question was a lively redhead, a New York rock’n’roll caricature, and what she didn’t know about the rock scene in her city simply wasn’t worth knowing. I have to confess, she scared the hell out of me. Not our beloved Bass Thing, though, from the moment they met, he was smitten.
It turned out that Gilksy was indeed correct, Bob had not returned to their hotel room the previous night, instead he had left the bar with the redhead and, bearing in mind that this was way before any of us had the luxury of mobile phones, was most likely somewhere in Downtown Manhattan. Digby had a number for Les to call, but no answer came.
While the quest to locate The Bass Thing was going on, I had convinced Kirsten to come to Boston with us and as she had her car with her, we agreed with Les that Kirsten and I would drive up ahead of the tour bus, which was now in danger of being delayed due to Bob’s absence, enabling me to make it to Boston in good time to do an interview, live on air, with a local modern rock radio station.
Les gave me a piece of paper with the hand-written addresses of the radio station, the venue and the hotel where we would be staying that night. Kirsten and I hit a liquor store to grab a few beers for the journey up to Boston, located the car and we were away.
It was a beautiful spring day, the air was fresh, by New York standards at least, and a light breeze steered us onto the FDR Highway. With Kirsten at the wheel and a cool beer in my hands, it was a fine way of being introduced to the music of Jane’s Addiction as she put a cassette of their XXX album into the deck. By the third time we got through the tape I was singing along to “Jane Says” at the top of my voice. Kirsten, grimacing at the croakiness of my hungover throat, at the touch of a button, opened all four windows of the Honda Civic to let the racket out. And out went the piece of paper with the addresses of the places we needed to get to in Boston as well.
It’s hard for me to believe now, but I just didn’t care. I was in America, my new playground, why should I worry about getting to a radio station interview on time? I was having far too much fun to concern myself with such trivia.
Kirsten cooked up an idea of listening to the radio station in question as we neared the city; they would give out a phone number for a competition sooner or later, we could write it down, find a pay phone, call in, tell them who I was and get their address. This all sounded good to me until she started telling me that she’d heard that Boston had a great Sea Life Centre, “Fuck it then, we’ll go there instead” I said. And that’s exactly what we did.
The two of us eventually made it to The Paradise Club in Boston in time for soundcheck and I was relieved to see the tour bus parked outside the venue. Thinking that Les would have located Bob and the whole happy gang of them had driven up together in more than enough time to make the sound check. Not so.
When I walked into the venue Gilksy looked at me in wild eyed amusement and said “Where the fuck have you been? That radio station have been calling the venue for the past two hours trying to find out what’s going on.”
“I lost the address,” I humbly offered.
“Les is gonna kill you when he gets here,” continued the highly, if not somewhat cruelly, amused drummer.
“Whataya mean ‘when he gets here’? Where is he?”
“Still in New York looking for The fucking Bass Thing!”
It turns out Les had put what was left of his band and crew on the tour bus in New York and told our driver, Shaggy, to get them all to the gig in Boston. He would stay in New York and, hopefully, discover the whereabouts of The Bass Thing. The one thing he knew he could rely on was that his singer would definitely be in Boston before anyone else and the radio interview would be taken care of. Oops…
We soundchecked without Bob and stood in wide-eyed wonderment as we observed our trusty and (up until this point) very clean and sober guitar tech Digby have a complete alcohol and drug meltdown.
Digby had felt somewhat responsible for the The Bass Thing’s absence, and having been yelled at by Les on the pavement outside the Days Inn in New York that morning did exactly what alcoholics and junkies do best, retreated into a self induced narcosis. I had honestly never seen anything like it in my life, and for the second time in as many days was genuinely scared of another human being.
James Brown from the NME had travelled up to Boston on the tour bus with the band, and I did my interview with him as we all anxiously awaited for some news of Les and Bob.
We had been due to go on stage at around 10pm and at 9:45pm in walked a furious looking Les, a sheepish looking Bass Thing and his partner in crimes of passion, the New York redhead. There was much shaking of heads in disbelief, huge great sighs of relief and plenty of “Where the fuck were you, you absolute cunt!?” enquiries.
“We overslept,” was all Bob offered.
How Les didn’t walk out on us for good that day, I shall never know. In volunteering himself as the band’s tour manager, as well as having to carry on with his other more business-like managerial duties, for that US tour, Les had made a rod for his own back. His business partner, Dave Alldridge, was present throughout all of these shenanigans, usually coolly smoking a cigarette with a “What the fuck am I supposed to do about it?” expression plastered across his face.
Les had found Bob and the redhead in the first place he had looked, only after cabbing it to various other addresses scattered across the city before returning where he’d started. As Bob had told us, they had overslept and nobody was answering the room phones at the Days Inn when he had been trying to call us. Once discovered, Les, Bob and the redhead hastily made it to the airport and booked three last-minute flights to Boston. Why three tickets? Bob had made it plain to Les that he was in no way willing to leave New York without the redhead. This was something that we had to get used to, and eventually it was Bob’s desire to be in this woman’s company at all times that influenced his decision the quit the band at the end of the year.
Aside from all the hassles of the day, Les now had to balance his tour manager’s books to include the three very unnecessary flights. He was not amused.
I can tell you though, my diary entry of this day, Friday 21st April 1989, tells me that our gig at The Paradise in Boston, was “A fucking brilliant gig!”. So, it was all worth it in the end then.
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