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September 2019
Feature

The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"

We go 'behind' the 'scenes' at the band's huge London show.
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Published: 11:13 am, February 05, 2019Words: Liam Konemann. Photos: Sarah Louise Bennett.
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"

Somehow, the Wombats just keep getting bigger. Over a decade since they had broken-hearted indie kids everywhere dancing to Joy Division and contemplating a move to New York, in the last eighteen months, they've played some of the biggest gigs of their career. Take, for example, this week; a massive show at Leeds Arena, and Wembley. Or, as frontman Murph has taken to calling it today, ‘Wombley'.

"It hasn't really sunk in yet… I need to walk on the stage and have a little internal wobbler," he says.

He is, unsurprisingly, hovering at the edge of total exhaustion. Gearing up to play Wembley Arena is hardly a low-energy situation, and Murph, drummer Dan Haggis, and bass player Tord Overland Knudsen have already had their diaries full to bursting for the last year and a half. There's the impression that this entire album cycle has been one surreal moment after another. The Wombats have gained popularity with every album they've released, drawing ever-increasing crowds since ‘A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation' with ‘This Modern Glitch' and ‘Glitterbug', but ‘Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life' has seemed to surpass even that trajectory.

"It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest," says Murph. "I mean, it's always been great for us touring the UK, but this album seems to have notched it up another level."

During the first UK tour for ‘Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life' in March of last year at Alexandra Palace, the Wombats just couldn't seem to get started. It had nothing to do with them, though - a couple of songs in, the crowd surged forward and collapsed in on itself as fans fell against the barrier, a wave of people breaking against the stage. It took three tries before the band could even get through the first verse of ‘Kill the Director', with Murph and Dan instructing the crowd to step back and pull each other up to avoid more casualties.

The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
"It's always been great for us touring the UK, but this album seems to have notched it up another level"
Murph, The Wombats
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"

"We nearly had to do that at Leeds Arena too, because they all kind of fall on top of each other and if they can't help each other get back up then that's... not good," Murph laughs.

"Leeds Arena was just insane. Someone managed to smuggle a flare in - that was pretty impressive."

The response to this batch of new tracks has gotten more intense as time has gone on, he notes. "The reactions to 'Lemon to a Knife Fight' and 'Turn' especially have been… I don't really know another word apart from ‘ridiculous'," he says. "[‘Turn' has been getting] the same kind of reaction as 'Greek Tragedy', or 'Let's Dance to Joy Division', or 'Techno Fan'.

"I didn't see that coming, to be honest."

This year has thrown up more than one curveball, by the sounds of things. From the way Murph tells it, The Wombats' Indonesian live debut in Bali on New Year's Day almost never happened.

"I flew in just for 24 hours from LA, and my flight got cancelled on the way there. I sat on the flight for three hours before it got cancelled, so I had to queue up at the American Airlines lounge or whatever to be told about the next flight, but the next flight wouldn't have got me there in time," he says. "So I had to get my bag off the plane, and that took seven hours. It was seven hours of me waiting in LAX for one guy to find the bag in the back of a plane. I finally got it, got a taxi home, went back to the airport hours later, flew to Bali, landed, went through immigration, got on a moped, went to the gig, did the show -"

Hang on, hold up a second. Did he drive the moped?

"Definitely not."

By all other accounts the show went well, but for Murph, who went back to the hotel and was straight on a plane the next day, stress and exhaustion overshadowed any triumph.

"It was insane. I've got this twitchy eye which still hasn't gone back to normal, and it's just from that one journey," he says. "It's a shame really, because the whole gig falls into nothingness really, when that amount of shit is going on."

The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"

In the midst of all this acceleration, though, there have been moments that allowed him to take his foot off the pedal. In 2018 the Wombats moonlighted as a support band on the Weezer-Pixies double headline tour throughout the US, revelling in the opportunity to play short sets to someone else's crowd. It was, says Murph, "literally a dream tour."

"After you've been in a band for fifteen years like we've been doing, getting to do a thirty-minute set to people who aren't your fans is just really nice because it can't really go wrong," he points out. "You can either win them over, or you don't. And obviously, those two bands have been huge influences, so them all being really cool guys and getting to hang out with the Pixies and eat cheese and drink wine with Frank Black was very weird.

"They would just walk into our dressing room and do like, fucking magic tricks and stuff. We always do this hug and handshake before we go onstage and one night Frank Black joined in on the whole ritual, and that was crazy. I was walking on stage thinking, what is going on?"

There's a good chance he's feeling something similar this evening. Even before the Wombats stride on stage at half nine, the scale of all of this is breathtakingly apparent during support slots from the Night Cafe and Blaenavon. A pit forms early on during the Night Cafe's performance and keeps churning, security already at odds with the teenagers climbing gleefully on each other's shoulders. Blaenavon especially are giddy with the situation ("I've just had to tie my shoelace at Wembley, and it was the most nerve-racking experience of my life," Ben Gregory declares a little hysterically from the stage), but the stakes only seem to drive the set higher, and the double whammy of closers ‘Orthodox Man' and ‘Prague' leaves the room buzzing.

The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
"Leeds Arena was just insane. Someone managed to smuggle a flare in - that was pretty impressive"
Murph, The Wombats

Somewhere backstage, the Wombats are doing their usual hug and handshake. Then the lights go down, a roar goes up, and ‘Wombley' Arena is christened with ‘Cheetah Tongue'. This is the Wombats' party, and there's no doubt it's one of the best in town. Confetti cannons explode over the crowd, enormous balloons are set free from backstage, and just as Murph predicted, ‘Lemon to a Knife Fight' and ‘Turn' are met with just as much enthusiasm as ‘Let's Dance to Joy Division' and ‘Techno Fan'.

In the lead up to ‘1996', with the lights down low, Murph steps close to the microphone. In fitting with the size of the occasion, now might be the time for reflection, to comment on how far the last fifteen years have taken the Wombats. Murph looks out across the crowd.

"Let's find our inner hoe and perform the slut drop of a lifetime, Wombley," he says.

So maybe not.

The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"
The Wombats do 'Wombley' Arena: "It's been fucking ridiculous, to be honest"

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