Friday, 6 April 2012

Songs that saved my life part 9:The Wonder Stuff-Unbearable

The decision to become what we now know as an ’Indie kid’ was made for me really. I was just fourteen years old at a school disco drinking my body weight in cans of Coke, the bubbles fizzing through my nostrils every time I burped. This was an exciting night, a few lads from the local 6th form (the one I would go on to attend) had managed to form a band and were playing on the stage where the head had lead the school assemblies. Trigger and I could barely contain ourselves as we heard the low din of their sound check as we ate our dinners in the hall next door. Rumours whistled round the form rooms that they did a cover of ’Unbearable’ by The Wonder Stuff. At this point, The Stuffies were by far and away our favourite band. I made a point of wearing my new Wonder Stuff t-shirt with my black jeans. Trig plumbed for a borrowed long sleeve Charlatans ’Then…Then Again’ number, it was obvious we were somehow trying to align ourselves with these chaps. They seemed light years older and infinitely cooler, the girls in the 5th form almost falling at their feet. I stood around looking as cool as a barely pubescent kid with a 20p can of cola could.

As I waited patiently at the right of stage, my ears bristling whilst listening to the Top of the Pops shit the DJ (a fellow in the 5th year, shirt and tie and all) was playing, a lad called Pete from our year, decked head to toe in Happy Hardcore rave gear pointed at me and laughed. “What the fuck are you wearing?” He said. And I felt a glow of defiant pride. Just a year ago I was wearing Chino trousers just like everybody else, a shirt with little labels stitched on then just like everybody else and my hair gelled to within an inch of its life. Just like everybody else. While I was at school one day, my mum had got me a 7” of ‘Welcome to the Cheap Seats’ by the Wonder Stuff. I remember racing home at the school bell in anticipation of playing it. The line ‘Imagine his surprise when he opened his eyes, and I’d run the lawnmower over his thighs’ caused me to properly laugh out loud and I took to the band the way a badge takes to a cardigan there and then. It set the soon to be familiar pattern of buying the single, then the album, then looting the back catalogue. But for now I had to make do with a four track EP, which I pored over.

Like fan boys years before me and years after me, I quite fancied growing my hair to approximate the look of the singer on the cover. The hair gel went away that day, and stayed away forever. I had chosen my side, pinned my colours to the mast. Four people out of the hundred in that school hall sand along with gusto as the band tore through ‘Unbearable’. “I didn’t like you very much when I met you, and now I like you even less”. It was our secret, full of quiet humour and intelligence. I didn’t feel superior to the kids he were not in the know, but it felt good that I knew.

All this happened a little before my first night at the Fridge that I have wrote about elsewhere. It’s worth noting how important to me those Friday nights were. I attended (bar family holidays) every night for two solid years. I’ve never been one for being in a gang, and as the fellows I first started to go to the Fridge with drifted off to the awful Park Lane next door to drink lager and pull disco girls, it felt good to have a place where I knew pretty much everyone and everyone knew me. There was always someone to sit and chat to if a record you didn’t like came on and stopped you from dancing. These were dangerous times and we stuck together. The Indie kids, Goths and punks were know as ‘freaks’, and a hobby of the local wannabe football hooligans was to go out ‘freak bashing’, which entailed finding a lone kid, a kid who liked a different type of music, and beating the shit out of them.

It was pretty heavy for a while, and I took to chatting in safety with the local skinheads till the small ours until I deemed it safe to walk home. One night I got unlucky and received a good shiner off some wanker in a checked shirt and a sovereign ring. I could have been on for quite a severe beating if it wasn’t for going to school with a cousin of a mate of the wanker, who saw what happened and pulled him off before he and his mates could do any real damage. “I know him, he’s alright” he kept saying, as this somehow made it ok to kick seven shades of shit out of a boy for the crime of wearing a baggy jumper and having long hair, as long as it wasn’t this one. My mum was naturally horrified and was pretty unhappy about me going again. But if anything, this made my resolve to go weekly even stronger. No hooligan wanker could stop me enjoying music and hanging out with the company I enjoyed. The whole horrible ’freak bashing’ episode ended when the local Hells Angles grouped together and fought a brigade of casuals who lay in wait for lone prey outside a rock night. They must have done a pretty good job as we never had any trouble again.

There were girls at the Fridge as well of course. Pretty girls in stripy tights and Doctor Martens. I had a dubious and grubby affair with a girl who started talking to me because I was wearing the Wonder Stuff t-shirt eluded too at the top of the chapter. We sat outside kissing in-between talking about the music we loved. She was a nice enough lass, chatty and funny and just the right side of being weird, but we had a habit of drinking more than we could handle and I found my emotions going into strange, dark territories. She was much more sexually aware than I was, despite my bravado, and took my virginity the way a seagull takes a chip. It happened a week before my birthday with a Doors album mumbling away in the back ground. Rather inevitably, I discovered I liked doing it quite a lot, and would rather do it than normal couple-y stuff like, you know, talking and getting to know each other. We got caught by her mum once. My advice to any young buck getting caught mid-bundle by your other halves mother is to not jump back naked with your back against the wall, hands in the air as if she had a gun pointed at you. This exactly what I did. As I stood there terrified with little Shaun on full display, she took her daughter downstairs to administer a severe bollocking. As the sounds of raised voices and muffles sobbing rose through the floor, I hastily dressed and tried to figure out a way of jumping out of a third floor window without breaking my ankles. I was stuck up there an hour. They both came up stairs with teary eyes and friend-again smiles and I got let off with a brief but brutal lecture about trust and parents houses. I even got invited to a barbeque at the very same family home that weekend where my young ladies mum got squiffy and made jokes about me being a ’big boy’ as her oblivious husband flipped the burgers.

The reason that the (what you could comically term a) relationship lasted so long was due to us having tickets to see the last ever live show by The Wonder Stuff. Stupidly and with naïve romanticism we booked tickets two months earlier. We were by now a bit sick of each other but bound together for this one last blow out. The gig itself was to take place at the Phoenix festival in Stratford upon Avon in a baking hot July. The Wonder stuff were a band whose logo I crudely felt-tipped on to my school folder, who had made me plenty of like-minded it friends and had been my obsession for a good couple of years. Hell, they even had a hand in relieving me of my virginity and owed it to them to be there for their swansong. It was a weekend of sipping tepid cans of Banks’ bitter outside my tiny orange and brown tent trying to drink it all in. The experience that is, not the lukewarm ale. As the girl I went with sat getting stoned with a gang of James fans in a tent by the toilets and taps, I sat alone happily hazily drunk. It had been quite a couple of years. Somehow I had gone from struggling to find people into some music as me to sharing a weekend with forty thousand of them. It can be quite a jolt to the system when a band you love breaks up. In interviews, the singer Miles Hunt had said the reason for the split was nothing un-amicable, just that they felt they had done their bit, and it seemed like a good time to pull the curtains. They had got me this far, I thought as I spilled beer all over my sleeping bag, but now I was on my own.

One sticky hot morning we rose to find the day to say farewell was upon us. There was a whiff of nostalgic poignancy mixed with the stench of chemical toilets and long dead bonfires. We entered the arena and stood in silence by the barrier for the whole day in stifling heat not daring to leave for a drink or to use the toilet lest we lose our perfect position front row centre stage. You can see us on footage recorded at the time looking bored shitless as a camera scans the front row during Jah Wobbles set. I lost her during Carter USM’s set, but somehow it didn’t matter. “One last time!“ Shouted Hunt as he lead us through our final reading of ‘Red Berry Joy Town’. To somehow make the whole thing seem even more final, Hunt had all his hair cut off. Bearing in mind I almost got my head caved in for growing my hair to match his, it could have seemed a little bit of a betrayal, but even that didn’t matter. Not today . It was one of those sets where everyone know all the words to all the songs. Vic and Bob even popped up for a version of Dizzy (their number one hit. Heady times) with Vic shouted drunkenly through a megaphone with poor Malc Treece trying to play guitar whilst pissing himself laughing. Before we knew it, it was all over. The last being somewhat inevitably ’Goddnight, Though’ with its poignant ’Goodbye, Goodbye’ refrain. As we waved our heroes offstage one last time, our hearts drifted off with the steam from our collective bodies over the top of the fairground rides and away. It felt like a definite full stop to a little period of my adolescence. It felt odd, almost glad that the hard bit was over, like the end of a funeral. Whilst searching for the girl I had left at the barriers, I bumped into Tracey, a girl from home who I had danced with at the Fridge and was quite possibly the loveliest girl I’ve ever met. A girl whose Wonder Stuff obsession went closest mirroring my own. Somehow that chance encounter felt right. We had a cuddle, exchanged sad little smiles and wondered what the hell we were going to do with the rest of our lives.

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