Tim Hughes talks to Miles Hunt, frontman of re-formed indie rockers The Wonder Stuff

IT is 25 years since The Wonder Stuff had their first hit. But while other bands of their generation may be taking things easy and sipping green tea, Miles Hunt’s gang are enjoying the youth they never had.

“We’re having a great time,” says the Black Country indie-rocker in a lilting Stourbridge accent. “I was married when I was 23, so there was no partying then. But it’s a pretty boozy affair now. We are not one of those bands who sit on the tour bus with pinched glasses on the end of our noses reading The Guardian.

“It’s madder than it ever was. And there are more larks.”

Spending the day at the home in rural Shropshire he shares with bandmate and partner Erica Nockalls, he admits to having a lazy afternoon. “We were gigging last night and I didn’t get in ’til 3am.”

He tells me he is actually on his way to the pub. The Wonder Stuff had been going for eight years when Miles (who was married for five years to the Radio 1 DJ Mary Anne Hobbs) pulled the plug on the self-styled ‘Eight Legged Groove Machine’. In that time Miles, guitarist Malcolm Treece, Rob ‘The Bass Thing’ Jones (who died in 1994), violin and banjo player Martin Bell (who joined in 1989) and drummer Martin Gilks (who died in 2006) achieved success with four hit albums (The Eight Legged Groove Machine, HUP, Never Loved Elvis and Construction for the Modern Idiot) and a string of chart singles including It’s Yer Money I’m After Baby, Don’t Let Me Down Gently, Who Wants to Be the Disco King?, Golden Green, Circlesquare, The Size of a Cow, Caught in My Shadow, Welcome to the Cheap Seats, and a number one cover of Dizzy with Vic Reeves.

Never a conventional band, they had a close bond with their fans. When they were invited to play Wembley Arena after receiving a Brit Award nomination, the band instead chose to play a set at a school in a pit town in Yorkshire following a request from a fan. But Miles wasn’t happy.

“After 2000, I had six years off,” he says. In its place he set up the short-lived group Vent 414, and toured as a solo artist and with Treece. The Wonder Stuff was revived in 2000, initially for a one-off show, which extended to a series of sold-out gigs. The ‘Stuffies’ were back, but the line-up continued to change – morphing into the now-permanant staff of Miles, Erica, Fuzz Townshend, Mark McCarthy, and Stevie Wyatt.

And while never reaching the heights of their ’80s/’90s heyday, they are rocking hard, releasing albums and loving every minute. He adds: “The big difference is we don’t work with major record labels, but are as busy as ever and are enjoying it far more.

“After all these years of doing it, I understand it. Before, I was young and inexperienced and didn’t get on with the original members that well, to be honest. “Now the people in the band genuinely enjoy being in The Wonder Stuff and want to work on new songs. The old members just thought about money and didn’t want to work on new stuff.”

Their latest effort, Oh No It’s...The Wonder Stuff, sees them at the top of their game – and is accompanied by a compilation of covers of songs by bands from the heart of England, called From The Midlands With Love. “I have seriously learned something from The Wonder Stuff's audience,” says Miles.

“We’re at our best when it’s up-tempo, when we hit the chorus during the first 60 seconds of the song, and when that chorus is one we can all sing along to.” So what is he most proud of?

“I’ve never had to go and get a job,” he says cheerfully. “I never had any aspiration to be a rock star, I always thought it was out of my grasp. People like Bowie – or John Lydon; superheroes and I never thought I’d be joining their club. But my uncle Bill was in ELO and Wizzard and always seemed to pay the bills – so I tried to do the same.

“Luck has been on my side so many times. I have often thought that perhaps I ought to do something else to earn money, but then something comes in to keep me going for another year - like a Hoseasons advert!”

Or the only thing for which he is known to fans of a certain age – Underground Ernie. Miles was invited to sing the theme tune to the hit kids’ TV cartoon of talking tube trains, by its creator, the musician and TV producer Sid Rainey.

"It was brilliant,” he says. “Sid became a dad and occupied his time drawing, and created Underground Ernie. I was with him in the pub when he asked if I fancied writing some songs. And because I spend my time writing childish ditties anyway, I thought it could be my spiritual home.”

“I love working with Sid and had definite ideas about what the songs should do. When you are writing a song for the song’s sake you are staring at a blank page thinking ‘what’s the point?’ “But this was like being given a project at college – and because it’s for kids, it’s lots of laughs.” So does he ever get asked to play it?

“Err, yeah...I’m under pressure at acoustic gigs, and it does get called out by someone in the audience. But I don’t mind; I’m proud of it!” It’s not the first of his songs that’s familiar to TV viewers.

“I’ve spent enough boring days in hotel rooms to be exposed to Come Dine With Me,” he sighs.

“And every time someone brings out a side of beef, they play Size of a Cow. Such fame!”

  • The Wonder Stuff support Public Image Ltd at The O2 Academy Oxford on Sunday. Tichets £26.50. Ticketweb.co.uk