The Wonderstuff & Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Gig date: 30 March
Rating: 8/10

Vying for attention and yet genially taking turns to headline at Shepherds Bush over two nights, the Stuffies and Neds successfully transport the crowd back to the heady days of grebo, the alternative music genre from the Midlands which firmly wedged its DMs and dreads for a short time between New Romantic, grunge and Britpop.

In case of any remaining doubt, the two sets are bridged by DJ sets from Graham Crabbe of grebo-gurus Pop Will Eat Itself, playing to raucous audience resplendent in Neds, Stuffies, Carter USM, Jane’s Addiction and Senseless Things t-shirts who are presumably all drinking Neds Wonder, the special tour ale.

Miles Hunt, the only original Stuffy left, looks and sounds disturbingly young, still sporting trademark long brown curls and seemingly exactly the same clothes; the same dimply smile, too. The set starts slowly before delving into the delights of first (and best?) album Eight Legged Groove Machine with Red Berry Joy Town, A Wish Away, and relentlessly catchy Ruby Horse.

Hunt banters that the audience made it through an entire song without having a coronary, advising them to pace themselves as Neds have high expectations – and then immediately ramps things even more with classics Size Of A Cow followed by the glorious hoedown Golden Green. Erika Nockalls impressively sets the pace with her fiddling skills, with hints of The Levellers.

Hunt tells us they voted on which of two songs to play next – the winner being the superb It’s Yer Money I’m After Baby, but they also play the loser, Radio Ass Kiss, anyway – both songs are great examples of Hunt’s clever irreverent lyricism. Sadly, the set has to end, fittingly, with Unbearable and Give Give Give Me More More More.

Neds arrive to a well and truly fired-up audience – their set is complemented by a seemingly endless rolling wave of crowdsurfers, presumably escaping from the bruising moshpit.

Neds have retained their original line-up since reuniting 10 years ago, but are yet to produce any new material – the fans don’t seem to mind, though. John Penney’s voice has lessened in strength, but his high-energy performance with endless frenetic jumping more than makes up for that, having to stop for a sit down at one point.

Matt Cheslin is a perfect foil for Penney’s sheer niceness and smiles, full of rock star attitude and, frankly, a bit intimidating. ‘Rat’ remains firmly hidden behind his hair while Dan Worton drives them all on with some superb drumming.

The set mostly draws from God Fodder and Are You Normal?, with a couple of tracks from Brainbloodvolume. Standouts include classics Cut Up and Kill Your Television, both of which stick around as earworms long after the show has ended.

As the Empire fills with Alex Griffin and Matt Cheslin’s unique dual bass sound and they launch into Happy and Selfish, those who might have forgotten are reminded how relevant this band was in that grebo era. It’s great they’re back. Now, where’s that skateboard?

Words and photo: Naomi Dryden-Smith

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