Live Review: The Wannadies – Islington Assembly Hall, London 03.11.2022

Don Blandford

The 1990s felt like the Swedish decade. Scandinavian style social democracy dominated politics whilst bands like The Cardigans and The Wannadies provided the songs for the CDs we so neatly stacked in all those IKEA shelf units.

The Wannadies, led by cheeky, curly-haired scamp Pär Wiksten provided one of the ready assembled, rom-com songs of the decade with You & Me Song. Some sixteen years on, Pär and the rest of The Wannadies make a most welcome return to London before a packed crowd at Islington Assembly Hall.

Crashing straight in with Lucky You from the 1992 album – before the Brits discovered them – Aquanautic, they certainly mean business. Then they launch straight into Friends from the 1997 Bagsy Me release.

Pär peers through the glaring stage lighting, greeting everyone “Londonnnn! How the devil are you? It’s been a while….”. Before self-deprecatingly adding, “I can’t see you, I hope you can’t see us…”. They look fine of course; the years have been very kind to Pär, bandmate Christina Bergmark, and the rest. Something to do with herrings and living in little red houses by the Swedish seaside…or something.

These bright Northern lights continue to shine through the poppy Love In June and the grungier What You Want follows, sweetened by Christina’s vocal. Might Be Stars deservedly gets the warmest welcome and prompts mass audience participation “chances are we might be stars…” – they are, and Islington is captured in The Wannadies orbit now.

The momentum stalls a little with the more alt-rock, less engaging String Song and Yeah from the 1999 album of the same name. Low Enough also from that 1999 release is lovely and absorbing but seems oddly positioned in the middle of their set. An introspective interlude. Almost as if their self-belief faltered after Might Be Stars and Pär and his pals have vertigo.

Pär and Christina do find their mojo again with the joyful grunginess of Someone Somewhere – introduced by Par with a chat about urinals and a shout out to the dancing bloke at the back wearing a Be A Girl t-shirt. Pär says Someone Somewhere “was voted the best song every written” before adding, “I think it was me…”. The fun is back and so is the crowd chanting. Pär is so happy at the end he shouts, “you understand, you understand!” to the jubilant fans before rejoicing with typical Pär wit, “we’re in London…for the first time since…1867!”. This is, after all the chap who waxed lyrical about baked beans when being interviewed on the Evening Session at the height of Britpop.

Then it’s time. Pär says, “there’s another song that some claim is the best song ever written…” and a gentle bossa nova groove begins. Sweeter than cloudberry jam and with more hooks than Stockholm has islands – You & Me Song hits the hall! A glorious moment when everything is right in the world. Like a real-time rom-com. Pär tells everyone. “all good songs end with ‘cha cha cha'”. Pär provides the comedy, the audience bring the romance – singing as one to show their love for the band. This love story could end here but the credits aren’t ready to roll yet.

Clapping, singing and dancing greets Shorty before a frenzied delivery of the delicious Hit where Christina does her best to keep up with the speedy vocal interplay with Pär as the song relentlessly pounds on. Then The Wannadies leave the stage. Apparently finished for the night. Only they’re not, of course.

The encore includes My Home Town. Dedicated to the years when the band lived in London. Initially stumbling through the nocturnal bluesy intro with more help from the fans this much under played Wannadies track is a surprisingly mature alt-rock adventure. More remarkable considering it was The Wannadies debut single back in 1990 when Pär was a youthful “short-arse” with a twinkle in his eye. No change there then!

He’s all grown up now, of course, and Pär mentions his daughter is in the audience and it’s her birthday – cue Islington Assembly Hall uniting as one to sing Happy Birthday.

Then the “indie rave” Never Killed Anyone rips through the hall. There’s just time for a cover version. Pär announces “now we need to promote the best band that was ever formed – The Go-Betweens…” before the sublime version of the Aussie band’s 1978 debut single Lee Remick rocks North London.

That’s all…well it is, once the smouldering finale That’s All is played out as the band slowly leave the stage. There’s something delicious hanging in the air and it ain’t meatballs – it’s the Swede smell of success. The Wannadies are back…always and forever!

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