Jul 1997 to Dec 1998
Jan 1999 to Dec 1999
Jan 2000 to Nov 2000
Dec 2000 to Dec 2001
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Jul 2004 to Dec 2006
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Jan 2009 to...

Following the break-up of his previous groups, The Wonder Stuff (July 1994) and Vent 414 (July 1997), Miles Hunt and former Wonder Stuff member Malcolm Treece continued to work together on songs they had been working on during the latter period of Vent 414.  The majority of songs were those that would have been planned to appear on Vent's second album - had Polydor not so ungraciously dropped them.

In October '97 they released issued their first demo tape.  As mainstay of the group and the pivotal musician and lyricist, it was frontman Miles Hunt who the collective were names after.  As the central point of any formation (and the overall controlling body), Miles settled on using "the one [name] my mom and dad gave me". Anyone working with him, such as Malc, would merely be credited as 'assisting' him in his work.

With Miles on lead vocals and Malc assuming his familiar guitarist/backing vocals role, all other instrumentation such as drum tracks and samples were programmed into Miles' Apple Macintosh computer.  Some of the tracks featured earlier influences from Vent 414 tracks within them - the track 'Loose Cannons' used lyrics from 'Give It Whole' and 'Hit The Ground Running' contained extracts from 'Here's An Applecart' from what would have been the second Vent 414 album.  Some of the tracks had a more industrial feel to them, with Miles often varying between his normal voice and a near-falsetto range in places.  This was clearly a time when he was trying to find the direction in which he was planning to head in next following the end of Vent 414 which he still says even now was his favourite musical experience.

 

The tape was used to primarily used to stir up management company interest although they were contacted by a US-based record company who expressed a interest in their work. The company were particularly keen for Miles to build up a full group and go over to the States as soon as possible to play live dates but Miles felt that it was too soon to pursue a group line-up at that point in time and nothing more developed from the discussions.

In early '98, Miles signed up with Rise Management (later to become Spirit Music and Media), a London-based company who already had Republica and Rialto on their books and hopefully anticipated the same level of success (and more?) for Miles.  Their initial plan was for Miles to continue writing and demoing tracks with Malc before pursuing a fully-blown group line-up and taking the material into live venues.  However, after hearing more of the duo's work, Rise were so impressed that they cancelled any touring ideas and began touting the group commercially to get record company interest.

Meanwhile, Miles was hard at work writing music for a forthcoming theatre production.  A chance meeting with director John Sharian, of the Incisor Production Company, in a village pub near to Miles' Shropshire home, led to Miles writing the score for 'Artist's Model' - a play which Incisor were performing during the Spring of 1998 at the  Bristol Old Vic and Brighton Komedia theatres.  The mainly instrumental soundtrack, featuring eight tracks but with some repetition during the performance, ranged from short interval pieces to fifteen minute epics.  All were based on a dark, atmospheric, industrial sound with occasional influences of jazz, blues and 80's synth.  Although much of the music would remain unheard by the majority of the public as the play was only a small-scale production, Miles did re-use some of them as inspiration for later works - the blues/rock-styled 'Stripper' re-appeared as the demo version of 'Manna From Heaven' and the backing music from 'Poem' came from a track he had been working on a year previously called 'Hairy On The Inside'. 

Reviews for the production were largely complimentary although in almost all cases, Miles' soundtrack received more comments and acclaim from reviewers than the play itself.

 

Leaving Rise to handle the promotional aspects of the business, Miles decided to take a holiday in America.  He mentioned this to one such friend, David Smith, who suggested he consider financing the trip by playing a few acoustic shows along the way.  David was in the early stages of setting up a new record label, GIG Records, in the States and he and his business partner, Indian, offered to organise some dates for him.  Miles liked the idea, so agreed.  A discussion with Malc shortly after led to him joining Miles on the trip also.

The original plan for a few live dates soon became a fully-blown US tour with twenty appearances being booked covering a two month time span.  When Miles called David to discuss the dates, David suggested another way to make some more money - record and sell a CD containing some of the material they'd be playing at the shows. With only a couple of weeks remaining before they were due to depart for the States, Miles hastily recorded acoustic versions of some of the newer material he had written such as 'Manna From Heaven' and 'Amongst The Old Reliables' along with some of his favourite Vent 414 tracks.  Malc also joined him to record new acoustic versions of Wonder Stuff classics such as 'On The Ropes' and 'Piece Of Sky'.  Once recorded, GIG Records worked frantically to get the tracks released and the album, 'Miles Across America', went on sale in the early stages on the US tour.

1998 promotional photo.  (C) Steve GullickThe tour began at the end of May in New York's Knitting Factory with the duo playing to a packed venue. The new material was well received, Miles was particularly upbeat and surprised many by laughing, joking and telling stories between songs - a marked difference to the last time he had played in America with The Wonder Stuff when promoting their 'Construction For The Modern Idiot' album. Whilst recording the acoustic album, Miles and Malc had rehearsed many more Wonder Stuff songs and there was never any pre-planned set-list for the gigs. Indeed, as part of their 'encore' Miles would often ask the audience for their suggestions on what the duo should play next although this sometimes had a disadvantage for them as there were a couple of instances where Miles started singing a track at someone's suggestions before realising part-way through that he couldn't remember all of the lyrics!

The thing that many found surprising was how well some of the Vent 414's and Wonder Stuff material had adapted to the acoustic format. Tracks such as Vent's 'Correctional' and the Stuffies' 'On The Ropes', both of which were heavily drum and guitar-based tracks, suddenly gained new perspectives and depth. Even some of the Wonder Stuff's early material such as 'Ruby Horse' and 'It's Yer Money...' were given a new lease of life.  The pair showed no unhappiness at performing their old songs however which led to questions of a Wonder Stuff reunion in the future.  Miles was keen to quash these rumours without hesitation.   Whenever asked about the issue, he would simply reply "You know people say 'never say never'?  Well here's where I can say, 'Never'."   And he seemed pretty definite about it.

 

On their return to the UK, Miles and Malcolm appeared at Birmingham's Ronnie Scott's as part of the venue's Songwriters Festival '98 event. Ticket sales for the appearance, arranged for the night of Miles' 32nd birthday, were initially only advertised through The Wonder Stuff's Internet-based mailing list until the July issue of Midlands music magazine, Brum Beat.  The issue featured an interview with Miles and the day after the magazine's release, the gig was completely sold out.

A bizarre choice of venue, the majority of audience got to sit in plush velvet seats circled around the stage with waiters appearing at various times to check whether any drinks or food were required!  It was a major success for Miles and despite it being his birthday, he seemed to enjoy sharing the night with some of his biggest fans.

Hot on the heels of the Ronnie Scotts performance, Rise Management were already making plans for more live dates.   They had been so impressed by the reaction to the US dates and, particularly, the Birmingham performance that they started to plan more dates in America for the Autumn. Three UK dates were added to the list as 'rehearsals' for the American tour with more UK dates to be arranged as the US tour progressed.

 

In between the live dates, Miles continued to write and record more new tracks, some of which were born out of stories and experiences from the US tour. Although still resident in his Shropshire home, some of the tracks were written and recorded at a friend's house on the outskirts on London.  Following The Wonder Stuff's chart-topping 'Dizzy' collaboration with Vic Reeves in 1991, Miles and Vic had remained close friends.  Still retaining a keen interest in music, Vic (real name Jim Moir) had built a recording studio in his house and following a flood at Miles own home, Vic invited him to stop at his house for a while where he could continue working whilst repairs were made.

At a rate of at least one new song per day, Miles soon found that he was working on every aspect of his new material. The facilities available to him, both at home and at Vic's, meant that in addition to writing the songs he was also playing many of the instruments on the tracks too - such as drums and bass guitar - although Malc still had some involvement. All this effort was working towards a long-term plan to release an album of new solo material in early 1999.

 

Miles Hunt 11/98 - Troubadour Club, Los AngelesPrior to returning to America for their second US tour, Miles and Malc played three UK dates in Wolverhampton, Birmingham and London which gave many their first chance to see the former Wonder Stuff frontman in action.  GIG Records also announced the release of a live album from their last US tour. As part of their Sunday morning schedule, the WHTG radio station in New Jersey broadcast Common Threads - a focus on acoustic singer/songwriter performances. Miles and Malc had performed for the station at the start of July and GIG had negotiated for an CD release of the broadcast which featured acoustic gems such as 'Give Give Give...' and 'Mission Drive' with a percentage of the profits going to a local New Jersey charity.

The new tour, once more beginning at New York's Knitting Factory, saw a continuation of the acoustic theme.   As before, Miles and Malc were happy to play a variety of Vent and Wonder Stuff material along with the newer tracks featured on the 'Miles Across America' album.   Two further new tracks were also bought into the setlist - 'Immortalising Chase' and 'Slowly Drowning' (later to be re-titled 'The Slow Drowning').

Unlike the last time the pair had been here, this time it was definitely no holiday.  They managed to pack in over twenty appearances in little over a month and a half, although they did have the luxury of a camper van rather than the hired Buick of before!

As before, the US shows were, on the whole, very well-received with Miles and Malc sometimes returning for three encores at some venues.  Unfortunately the UK audiences proved, and continue to be, much harder work.  A large proportion of the US audiences had seen Miles earlier in the year whereas the majority of UK audiences had not been exposed to Miles' work since the days of The Wonder Stuff so had grown used to his inter-song abuse and abrasive manner.  Much of the promotional material used for the gigs contained references to The Wonder Stuff and, more importantly, the fact that Miles and Malc would be playing Wonder Stuff material. The result was that when they came onstage only armed with their guitars and a friendly manner, some members of the audience thought they could attempt to rile the former Stuffies frontman into reverting to his previous, well-documented persona.   This abuse and some people's continual chatter through the duo's set only served to annoy Miles and many of the UK performances were markedly shorter than their US counterparts.  Whereas it would not be uncommon to find Miles mingling with the crowd following the US performances, at the end of their set in many UK venues Miles and Malc simply made an obligatory post-gig appearance before packing their guitars into their transport and leaving.