“Here’s a good song – we have a few”, cheekily jests The Wannadies‘ singer/guitarist, Pär Wiksten. This isn’t arrogant boasting; this is merely stating fact and the hundreds of fans that have piled into this Grade II listed art deco hall – some of whom have travelled further than the band themselves from their native Sweden – laugh in agreement.
From the moment the band walk on stage, as a montage of black and white video clips and nostalgic outtakes play on the screen behind them, it’s clear that they’re here to have a good time – the crowd even more so. It has been a while after all – and not just because tonight’s gig was originally scheduled to take place last year.
‘Friends’ is all duelling guitars with Pär and Stefan each channelling through the PA on separate sides of the stage. It’s a mind-melter of a song infused with sheer celebration as the opening line, “We go to places where everything feels amazing”, rings out. Guitarist, Stefan Schönfeldt, is formally introduced as having started every good band in Sweden – “including Abba… possibly”, Pär jokes.
I recall reading an interview with the band back in the day, where they explained that Swedish summers were spent pursuing a love interest in order to have someone with whom to spend those long, bleak, cold winter months cuddled up with. This could explain why ‘Love In June’, from the band’s 1994 breakthrough album, Be A Girl, sounds like summer condensed into song form. Soaring guitars and keyboardist Christina Bergmark’s honey sweet vocal harmonies lift the song a thousand miles high.
Conversely, we are straddled back down to earth thereafter by the discordant and crunchy guitars of ‘What You Want’ which gives way to (possibly the first song of the band’s that I ever heard) the dazzling ‘Might Be Stars’. This track could perhaps serve as the manifesto for so many bands when Pär sings, “We spend our money on guitars / Write songs about our broken hearts”.
The beautiful ‘String Song’ is introduced as being the band’s most depressing song, which was chosen by Stefan to be included in tonight’s set list. Meanwhile, his younger brother and bassist, Fredrik, opts for the band’s “second most depressing song”, ‘Low Enough’. In between these, Pär quips that “I could be Marc Bolan…” – arguably a reference to them both possessing dark bouffant hair and a nous for writing delightfully ageless pop songs – “…Here’s the result”, as the gloriously rowdy ‘Yeah’ elevates the crowd into full-on pogo and sing-along mode.
On introducing the band’s best known track, ‘You And Me Song’, Pär claims, “Someone once said this was the best song ever written… I think it was me”. In case you hadn’t realised, Pär is having a whale of a time tonight with his witty retorts and slightly facetious remembrances of a life less ordinary. The band charge into the high octane thrill ride that is their second biggest song, ‘Hit’, before stepping off stage momentarily and reappearing for their encore.
The audience is given a crash course on how to sing along to ‘My Home Town’ – a song the band originally wrote about their home, Skellefteå, but tonight is dedicated to London, on account of Pär and Christina having lived here for the best part of a decade many moons ago. However, judging from the level of enthusiastic crowd participation – during which it feels like everyone in the hall is singing “This is my home town” right back to them – it’s clear we all know the words better than those of our national anthem.
There’s a quick pause to sing happy birthday to Pär’s daughter who is in amongst the crowd before a cover version is snuck into the set – namely The Go-Betweens’ 1978 debut single, ‘Lee Remick’, which The Wannadies recorded in 1992. It’s a brash update on the song written by Robert Forster who wanted to write a love song but wasn’t in love, so projected his energies on to American actress and singer, Lee Remick.
It’s a seemingly ever-so-brief 70 minute set which is aptly enough closed with ‘That’s All’, featuring lyrics attempting to humbly balance the lure of fame with that of simplicity: “Don’t want to be common / Might want to feel stardom / Just want to be cared for / That’s all / Cool”. I think it’s fair to say, they certainly are cared for and their legacy endures.
The Wannadies’ star may well have ignited as a result of the Britpop gaze, but you can take your ‘Parklife’ and shove it up your ‘Shakermaker’! The Wannadies were and – judging on this performance – remain the real dream pop revolutioners! Fingers crossed for a full UK tour in 2023. That’s all.
Set list: Lucky You / Friends / Love In June / What You Want / Might Be Stars / String Song / Yeah / Low Enough / Someone Somewhere / You And Me Song / Shorty / Hit / My Home Town / Never Killed Anyone / Lee Remick / That’s All