Interview – Miles Hunt

In which 17 Seconds hears about why Miles Hunt is The Custodian…

When I catch up with Miles Hunt over the ‘phone at his home in Shropshire, he’s not long returned from London. ‘I have a rule about London,’ he tells me. It transpires that it’s not about bacchanalian excess, but a far more necessary concern for any musician in the second decade of the twenty-first century. ‘Coming back with more money in me pocket than I went away with!’ As someone who feels that trips to the Big Smoke end up with me haemorrhaging money, I can sympathise.

He and his partner, Erica Nockalls, are working towards a new Wonder Stuff album, which will be due out next year. But for now, he’s talking about his new album, The Custodian. Given that some people’s solo albums have so many co-writers and collaborators it makes a mockery of the concept, this is the real deal. It’s just Miles and his acoustic guitar. Though another person’s input that is central to the thirty song project is none other than the legendary Tom Robinson.

Miles describes Tom Robinson as a ‘sweet man,’ who’s been in his life since he was eleven or twelve (his tells me his Dad used to take him to Tom Robinson band gigs in the late seventies). In the late nineties, a conversation between Messrs Robinson and Hunt in New York City led to Tom Robinson asking Miles ‘Who do you think owns your songs now?’ The publishers…or me? suggested Miles. But Tom Robinson’s answer changed his approach. He reminded Miles that his songs now belonged to his audience. With the songs out there in the world, it was Miles’ job to see that the songs he had written were treated and performed with respect.

‘You’re in the very privileged position of performing part of the soundtrack of their lives,’ explains Miles, now. The album was recorded over the course six weeks. ‘It starts with the very first song I ever wrote, which amazingly I can still remember, ‘Speakeasy.’ ‘ It finishes with a brand new song called ‘Custodian’ which looks at the Tom Robinson idea. So few albums have ever ended so…neatly.

The Wonder Stuff were described as being part of the Stourbridge scene, which also included Pop Will Eat Itself and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. All three bands came from the indie scene but in the late eighties and early nineties made enough of a splash that they made the journey to Top Of The Pops and Smash Hits (I should know, I was reading it. the latter magazine once said he was really nice, and he is!). Pre-stardom, he’d played in a band with members of the Poppies (as they were affectionately known), though he wasn’t actually from Stourbridge himself. ‘Pop Will Eat Itself were incredibly helpful to [The Wonder Stuff],’ he says, generously, citing examples of how the former passed on contacts of places they played beyond the Midlands and encouraging listeners to Janice Long’s show (then on Radio 1) to check out the new singles from the Stuffies.

The second half of the eighties saw the Wonder Stuff sign with Polydor, with whom they released four albums between 1988 and 1993: The Eight Legged Groove Machine; Hup; Never Loved Elvis and Construction For The Modern Idiot. While the first two albums did well, it was ...Elvis which saw the band move up a step or two with top ten hits and stadium gigs in the UK. How did he handle stardom?

‘I wouldn’t say I was handling stardom,’ he says, thoughtfully. ‘I had this idea that I should be on-duty and off-duty. As far as audiences are concerned there is no off duty.’ ‘Size Of A Cow’ became a top ten hit, and the band worked on their biggest record yet with producer Mick Glossop. Glossop had been bought in because Polydor wanted a different producer, and because of his work on The Waterboys’ This Is The Sea as well as a variety of punk albums. Around this time, the band also found themselves reaching no.1 in the singles chart, when they backed Vic Rooves on his cover of Tommy Roe’s 1969 single ‘Dizzy.’

‘What I got out of the [‘Dizzy] experience was making two really good friends,’ he says of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. ‘I’d never heard the song!’ Another person he met around the same time was the legendary Kirsty MacColl. He recalls meeting her at the Townhouse Studio one night when they were both drunk. MacColl was working with her husband Steve Lillywhite on the Electric Landlady album.While Hunt exclaimed ‘You’re Kirsty MacColl!’ she replied that yes, she was, and who the fuck was he? But Glossop played her a rough mix of the track ‘Welcome To The Cheap Seats’ and within a week MacColl had added her vocal. The single went on to be another top ten hit for the Stuffies.

The fourth album, Construction For The Modern Idiot was released in 1993. It wasn’t the best period for him. Some of the tracks on the album he views poorly, singly out ‘Cabin Fever’ and ‘I Wish Them All Dead.’ Of the latter he describes it as a ‘lazy re-working of ‘A Size Of A Cow.’ By his own admission, at the time he wasn’t in a place where he wanted to write. He’d just married Radio 1 DJ Mary Ann Hobbes and was ‘happier with home life than with band life.’ Looking back he tells me ‘I think we chose all the wrong tracks to put on the album.’ I mention how strong b-sides like ‘I Think I Must’ve Had Something Really Useful To Say’ and ‘Room 512, All The News That’s Fit To Print’ are. They’re both on The Custodian. ‘The suspicion that we’d chosen the wrong tracks [to put on the Construction For The Modern Idiot album] was confirmed.”

The version of ‘On The Ropes’ is possibly the finest performance on the album, and takes what was already an excellent song (and was yet another top ten hit for the band) and takes it some place else. If you were going to only listen to one track on the album, well, you’d be a fool, but it would be a good choice. I ask him how the song came about.

“It came about after listening to ‘Ghosts’ by The Jam,’ he reveals (the song is one of the finest things Paul Weller has ever recorded, and can be found on their final studio album, The Gift).

A friend of a friend asked me to ask him why it often appears second in the set list. He’s very happy to explain.

‘If we’ve opened with ‘Redberry Joy Town [the opening track on their debut album], it’s got lots of space in it. It allows our sound engineer to adjust to the audience being in. I like songs one, two, three to go bang! bang! bang! Instrumentationwise, it’s the same as Redberry Joy Town.’

Reflecting on his role as the custodian, he concludes: ‘These songs have been in people’s lives for so many years. Nowadays you’re like ‘I can hear the audience more than I can hear us!’


Album Review – Miles Hunt

Miles Hunt – The Custodian (Good Deeds Records)

Miles Hunt’s new solo album came into being as a result of performing with one of his heroes, Tom Robinson. During the course of a conversation, Robinson put across the viewpoint that all the songs that Hunt has now written belong to his audience; that his job (as with any other songwriter) is to see that the songs are treated and performed with respect. It’s an interesting idea, and one that it’s easy to be sympathetic to.

So The Custodian is a double album of thirty songs written over the past forty years. It begins with the very first song that he wrote, as a thirteen year old ‘Speakeasy’ and concludes, appropriately with a new song, ‘Custodian.’ Comparisons with this collection could be drawn with the three Acoustic Classics albums that Richard Thompson (another songwriter Hunt admires) has released this decade. It’s simply Hunt singing and accompanying himself with an acoustic guitar. In a similar way to the Thompson albums, one of the most impressive things is just how easy to listen to it as an entire album. It is testament to Hunt’s tremendous skill as both a songwriter and performer just how well it all flows together. In lesser hands, this might be an album just to dip in and out of, but not here.

Not surprisingly, much of the material comes from Hunt’s regular job as singer of the Wonder Stuff, although there are also songs from his solo albums, and Vent 414 (the band Hunt formed after the Wonder Stuff split for six years in 1994). Given that the instrumentation of these songs gave them a particular group sound, in less skilful hands this could have felt half-arsed. But, this approach shines a new light on them. Perhaps the shining light in the whole collection is ‘On The Ropes.’ A top 10 hit from 1993, and the first single from the Stuffies’ fourth album, Construction For The Modern Idiot, it still contains the emotion that the original recording (still) has, but this version shows just how well the song is put together. Not for the first time, the inclusion of songs like ‘Room 512, All The News That’s Fit To Print’ show just how good the b-sides often were, too.

Whilst the second disc may contain songs that aren’t as well known, there are still so many gems within. ‘The Custodian’ is an excellent addition to his songwriting catalogue, and as last year’s album with his partner Erica Nockells, We Came Here To Work, he’s still touched with a particular gift. That album is represented here with ‘The Sweetest Of Bitterest Ends.’

This album succeeds on so many levels, but in essence, it is an album that stands on its own terms, and highlights just how brilliant a songwriter Miles Hunt is. Respect is due.


The Custodian is released on October 5 on Good Deeds Records


Forthcoming from Miles Hunt

Thirty years ago this year, a band called The Wonderstuff made inroads across my eleven year old radar when they appeared in Smash Hits. They were uniquely witty and acerbic, and when I finally heard their music they were even better.

In 1994, they called it a day…before reforming several years later. On one occasion my brother was privileged to have frontman, the legendary Miles Hunt, perform ‘Size Of A Cow’ for him in his hotel room. Which is pretty darn special, really. The band still evoke so many happy memories for so many people. A few months ago friends were round for dinner, and I put on their third album Never Loved Elvis. Within seconds of the needle hitting the vinyl my friends responded ‘Love this album.’ So do I, still.

Mr. Hunt (we’re friends on facebook, and he seems much less frightening than I thought he might be), is shortly to release an album called The Custodian, on October 5.This features him doing acoustic versions of the songs he has written over thirty years or more. The version of ‘On The Ropes’, a top ten hit from 1993 is just amazing.

Oh, and I am getting to interview Miles Hunt this week. My week quite probably beats your year!

The tracklisting for the album is as follows:

Disc One:

01. Speakeasy 02. It’s Not True… 03. Unbearable 04. Give, Give, Give Me More, More, More 05. Can’t Shape Up 06. Them, Big Oak Trees 07. The Size Of A Cow 08. Caught In My Shadow 09. Maybe 10. On The Ropes 11. Sing The Absurd 12. I Think I Must’ve Had Something Really Useful To Say 13. Room 512, All The News That’s Fit To Print 14. Fixer 15. Fits & Starts

Disc Two:

01. Everything Is Not Okay 02. Flapping On The Pier 03. Escape From Rubbish Island 04. Was I Meant To Be Sorry? 05. Tricks Of The Trade 06. We Hold Each Other Up 07. Falsified 08. Were You There? 09. Steady As You Go 10. Right Side Of The Turf 11. You Can’t Go Back (To Once Upon A Time) 12. Don’t You Ever 13. Good Deeds & Highs 14. The Sweetest Of Bitterest Ends 15. Custodian

The tour dates are as follows:

1st – Southampton, The 1865
2nd – Indie Daze, London
11th – Liverpool, Music Room
12th – Selby, Town Hall
25th – Birmingham, Hare & Hounds
26th – Leicester, The Y Theatre
27th – Sheffield, Greystones

5th – Hastings, Black Market VIP
6th – Swindon, Vic
9th – Stowmarket, John Peel Centre
10th Harpenden, Public Halls
17th – Barnstaple, Pilton Village Hall
18th – Shiiine On Weekender, Minehead
21st – Leeds Brundenell
22nd – Bury, The Met
23rd – Biddulph, Town Hall
24th – Bristol, Thunderbolt
27th – Carlisle, Old Fire Station
29th – Dumfries, CatStrand
30th – Irvine, Harbour Art Centre

1st – Newcastle, Cluny 2

Album Review – Miles Hunt & Erica Nockells

We Came Here To Work is Hunt and Nockalls’ third album together. The frontman of The Wonder Stuff and his partner, Stuffies violinist Nockalls have previously released two studio albums together, 2007’s Not An Exit and 2009’s Catching More Than We Miss. In the press release accompanying the new album, Hunt explains that “The music that The Wonder Stuff make is for nights out with your friends, what Erica and I have hopefully done with ‘We Came Here To Work’ is make music for nights spent at home in more genteel company.

Take it from me, Messrs Hunt and Nockalls have certainly succeeded. The album opens with the gorgeous and wistful reflection on getting older that is ‘When The Currency Was Youth.’ It sets the tone for the album with Hunt’s lyricism mixing with Nockalls’ harmonies and string arrangements. ‘When the currency was youth/our pockets were so much deeper‘, he reflects. True, dat. You can trace a direct line between a song like this and earlier Wonder Stuff songs like ‘Caught In My Shadow’ and ‘Sleep Alone.’

This is very much an album built on a partnership; Nockalls’ arrangements aren’t just a backing for Hunt’s songs – they’re something special in and of themselves. The solo on ‘Waste Some Time With Me’ in itself is enough to make your heart flutter. Sure The Wonder Stuff may be best remembered for ‘The Size Of A Cow’ – but this album reminds us just how strong a singer-songwriter Miles Hunt really is. Often acerbic, but frequently able to stop you in your tracks with a single couplet. Joined together, it’s clear that this is not simply a stopgap or side project; rather it’s two very talented musicians producing an album that is the sum of both their parts and that they are worthy as an act in and of themselves.

Other highlights of the album include the stark ‘If I Were You’ which lambasts how a partner left a relationship, ‘Waste Some Time With Me’ and ‘A Matter Of Circumstance.’ Sometimes, lesser singer-songwriter records simply fade into the background, and repeated listens show up the serious shortcomings of the material therein. What listeners get with this album is a partnership which has gifted the world a strong collection of songs that in delivery provide a joy to listen to, and successive listening reveals the deeper strands making up the work.

A night at home in genteel company with this album seems like a fantastic way to spend an evening as autumn approaches!

We Came Here To Work is released on 8th September through Good Deeds Records.

Ten for the nineties…1991*

Ah…1991. School was rubbish, the UK got involved in a war in Iraq (plus ca change la meme chose etc..) and the UK recession bit. How times change. Bryan Adams was no.1 for sixteen weeks with the theme for a film about Robin Hood that showed Kevin Costner doing an appalling English accent -‘Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves.’ Music, yet again, would save us. Depending on what got through, of course. Bizarrely, songs not played during the time of the Gulf War were ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ by Elton John, the Bangles ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ and Lulu’s ‘Boom-bang-a-bang.’ The Cure’s ‘Killing An Arab’ didn’t make the blacklist though. In the middle of all this, there was the incongruous sight of the Clash getting a no.1 with the re-issued ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’

I have to admit, this track didn’t do much for me in 1991, but over the course of the decade, it and parent album Blue Lines grew on me. It was actually credited to Massive, rather than Massive Attack, being as the name was considered inappropriate at the time of the Gulf War. This track is without a doubt my favourite track of the last twenty years.

Massive -‘ Unfinished Sympathy.’

A few weeks ago, a twelve year old started trying to tell me abuot when Nirvana first appeared on Top of the Pops. ‘You don’t have to tell me,’ I explained ‘I was watching it, I know!’ But that’s the thing: for my generation he was the one who pushed open the door for alternative music into the mainstream; for another generation after us, he’s an icon of doomed youth. Perhaps it’s how people in their fourties feel when i ask them about their experiences of the punk days. Ah well…

Nirvana -‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’

Hello to shoegazing (part 1). Curve were one of those names I would gaze it in the indie chart each week, wondering how I could even get to hear their music -the likelihood of hearing it on daytime Radio 1 was slim, and I had no access to MTV, and filesharing meant something different in 1991. Eventually I heard them – bought a cassette single of ‘Coast Is Clear’ and was not disappointed. This was the debut single though, featuring the man who held the record for many years for being the world’s fastest rapper – ‘JC 001.’

Curve -‘Ten Little Girls’

In which the world of shoegazing meets goth (see also the Cocteau Twins). By 1991, Siouxsie and the Banshees were pretty much the elder statesmenandwoman of the ‘indie-alternative’ spectrum, but I still carried a torch for them that I had done since I saw ‘Candyman’ as a nineyear old on Top of the Pops. This song was prime Banshees, even if parent album Superstition wasn’t. As shoegazing and baggy battled it out (well, sorta), the instrumental break seemed to bear more than a passing resemblance to Chapterhouse’s single of the same time ‘Pearl.’

Siouxsie and the Banshees -‘Kiss Them For Me.’

It’s a truth not generally acknowledged that there was a successful pre-Britpop indie scene, that dind’t involve Shoegazing necessarily, but did make it onto Top Of The Pops, Smash Hits and quite often daytime Radio 1. The Wonderstuff were one of those bands, along with Pop Will Eat Itself, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Jesus Jones, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine who often did rather well. This was their biggest hit as band (not involving covers and Vic Reeves).

Wonderstuff -‘Size Of A Cow.’

This song got me from the off: ‘Says she won;t be forced against her will/says she don’t do drugs but she does the pill.’ sufficiently parent-baiting, I hoped. I still have a spot for the Fanclub but I kinda preferred them when they were mashing up Big Star and Dinsoaur Jr, rather than the Neil Young of the scottish west coast which started setting in about 1997.

Teenage Fanclub -‘The Concept.’

It has been said about many of the pre-britpop bands that they made more money selling T-shirts than records, but they did have hits too. This song got Carter onto the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party in October 1991. The show might have passed off without incident had host Philip Schofield then muttred an insensitive gag about thier haircuts…see “>here. heh heh…My little brother and I were there, having won tickets, and we sorta saw it, but it was only completely clear when we got home and wathced the video afterwards…

Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine -‘After The watershed (Early Learning The Hard Way).

*Would be here also: REM -‘Losing My Religion’; Billy Bragg ‘Sexuality.’ Problems with what is available on YouTube at the moment.