These days, most people can predict what the average punk retrospective will tell them before they’ve even read the contents. Almost inevitably, it’ll single out Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols, The Clash’s self-titled debut and Ramones’ Rocket To Russia as the Class Of ’77’s most necessary releases, though it might offer bouquets to boundary pushers such as Television’s Marquee Moon, Wire’s Pink Flag and Talking Heads’ Talking Heads: 77 if it’s a little more enlightened. Yet there’s another influential punk-era title which deserves equal billing, and that’s The Stranglers’ monolithic debut album, Rattus Norvegicus.
To temper that argument a little, The Stranglers’ relationship with punk has often been as fractious as the atmosphere at some of their early gigs. The Surrey quartet adopted a controversial name, and their early records had a suitably aggressive edge, but they openly flaunted their musical virtuosity and, as their median age was 28 in 1977, they were spurned by their peers for being too old. But then the band’s own attitude to punk was ambivalent at best. Channel 4’s Top Ten Punk programme once asked Stranglers bassist/vocalist Jean-Jacques Burnel about this, and he famously responded: “Were we punk? Could I give a fuck?”
One punk tenet The Stranglers could more willingly identify with, though, was the movement’s desire to celebrate the underdog. Indeed, you could argue that the band had adopted punk’s outsider-artist status long before Sex Pistols and The Clash had even set foot on a stage. Officially becoming The Stranglers during the autumn of 1974, the group initially endured a hand-to-mouth existence, falling back on vast reserves of self-belief to sustain themselves over the next two years.
“We had absurd amounts of self-confidence,” drummer Jet Black recalled in the sleevenotes for the 2018 reissue of Rattus Norvegicus. “Too much, in fact. But there was always some doubt in our minds that we could get signed, although there was no way we would admit it and there was no way we were going to give up. Historically, it was a two- or three-year period, but when you’re going through it and you’re starving and can’t pay the bills, it’s heavy.”
Born Brian John Duffy, the imposing, bearded Black was also a successful local entrepreneur who owned an off licence and a fleet of ice cream vans in the Guildford area of Surrey. He was already in his mid-30s when The Stranglers got off the ground, but if he wasn’t obvious rock-star material, then his bandmates were equally disparate.
“THE STRANGLERS WERE DIFFERENT BECAUSE THEY WERE DARKER AND MORE TWISTED”
Prior to co-founding The Stranglers with Black, guitarist and vocalist Hugh Cornwell had spent time as a biochemistry graduate at Lund University, in Sweden. Anglo-French bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel, meanwhile, had a grounding in classical guitar, but he hadn’t considered a full-time career in music until he stopped to give one of Jet Black’s associates a lift and met his future bandmates at Black’s off licence. The last Strangler to enlist, Brighton-born keyboard whizz Dave Greenfield, came to the band through an advert in UK rock weekly Melody Maker, during the early summer of 1975.
Greenfield’s daring psychedelic Hammond organ skills and Moog synthesiser textures added the X factor to the already intriguing sounds his colleagues were throwing into The Stranglers’ melting pot. Cornwell’s rapier wit, sneering vocals and minimal, choppy guitar style set him apart as an ideal proto-punk frontman, while Burnel’s driving, yet infinitely melodic basslines provided the perfect foil for Black’s, hypnotic, no-frills drumming.
“THEIR SONGS USED TO SPIT AT YOU”
Friends and insiders knew the band were onto something special as early as the summer of 1975, with their first manager, Brian Crook, recalling, in Robert Endeacott’s book Peaches: A Chronicle Of The Stranglers 1974-1990, “the odd gig here and there in pubs and working men’s clubs showed that this band had a future”.
Yet, while they had a unique sound and a dedicated work ethic, breaking through required reserves of hard graft and patience. During 1976 alone, The Stranglers performed around 200 gigs and sometimes shared stages with unlikely headline artists – not least pop crooner Ricky Valance, of Tell Laura I Love Her fame, for whom they opened a show at Kettering’s Central Hall, on 22 May.
However, the band successfully established themselves on the London circuit, playing countless shows in venues such as Dingwall’s, in Camden, and Kensington’s Nashville Rooms during 1976. They also opened shows in the capital for nascent punk icons Patti Smith and Ramones, though an altercation between JJ Burnel and The Clash’s Paul Simonon, after a Ramones gig at Dingwall’s, in July 1976, confirmed what The Stranglers already knew: London’s punk elite didn’t accept them among their own.
“We were slated for not digging Iggy Pop and The Stooges,” Burnel later recalled. “And for not going down the King’s Road to [punk-friendly pub] The Roebuck and [Malcolm McLaren’s] SEX shop like the Pistols and The Clash.”
Nevertheless, more receptive ears were listening – not least astute A&R man Andrew Lauder, whose United Artists imprint had previously released titles by artists The Stranglers heartily approved of, among them Can and Dr Feelgood. After performing a private show for Lauder, the group formally signed to United Artists on 6 December 1976 – just days after Sex Pistols’ notorious, expletive-ridden interview with Bill Grundy on the Today show. Suddenly punk was hitting the headlines, and The Stranglers were perfectly placed to record their debut album.
“I WANTED THE RECORD TO SOUND DIRTY, AGGRESSIVE AND SUBVERSIVE”
Neither band nor label wasted time in getting down to business. In January 1977, The Stranglers entered TW Studios, a small recording complex tucked away behind a nondescript Fulham Palace Road shop front, wherein they nailed Rattus Norvegicus in little more than a week, with assistance from engineer Alan Winstanley and producer Martin Rushent. The latter was more than a little impressed – if perhaps also slightly intimidated – by the band’s presence.
“There was something sinister and evil about the band I didn’t want to hide,” Rushent recalled in Robert Endeacott’s Peaches. “Whether that was real or they were putting it on, I don’t know, but it seemed to work. Their songs used to spit at you and I wanted that to come across. I thought if it was all tarted up in echoes and flashy production techniques it would dilute the impact. I wanted the record to sound dirty, aggressive and subversive.”
Rushent duly achieved this aim, yet while Rattus Norvegicus was rarely less than edgy, it never stinted on hooks or hummable tunes. London Lady and Burnel’s provocative Ugly (“I guess I shouldn’t have strangled her to death/But I had to go to work and she had laced my coffee with acid”) tapped into the nihilism of the times while sweetening the pill with winning melodies, and the anthemic Hanging Around and wired (Get A) Grip (On Yourself) were executed with a precision and vitality way beyond most of punk’s three-chord chancers.
Elsewhere, The Stranglers further demonstrated their versatility on the album’s signature hit, the reggae-influenced, innuendo-laden Peaches, and they even had the audacity to include Princess Of The Streets, a melancholic, blues-tinged workout featuring a sorrowful Burnel vocal and an imperious Cornwell guitar solo. Having gleefully ripped up punk’s rule book, they chose to bring Rattus Norvegicus to a dynamic conclusion with Down In The Sewer: a suite-like tour de force stretching out over eight minutes, during which neither tension nor intrigue let up for a second.
While not the album’s official title track, this prog-punk epic significantly influenced the concept behind Rattus Norvegicus (the name deriving from the Latin for the common brown rat). Effectively Hugh Cornwell’s treatise on life in contemporary London, the song’s visceral lyrics (“There’s lots of rats down here/You can see the whites of their eyes”) were informed by an episode of a post-apocalyptic 1975 BBC TV drama, Survivors, in which the protagonists leave the safety of a farming community for the city, which they can only enter through a rat-infested sewer.
Released on 15 April 1977, Rattus Norvegicus then appeared with an unforgettable rear cover image of a rat silhouetted against a glorious orange sunset which had been unearthed by United Artists’ art director Paul Henry. Fittingly, the rat – a much-maligned creature in possession of an enviable survival instinct – has remained The Stranglers’ most prominent insignia ever since.
“‘RATTUS NORVEGICUS’ WAS BELLIGERENT, NASTY AND OVER THE TOP, IT WAS JUST FANTASTIC!”
Suggesting the band would indeed endure, Rattus Norvegicus quickly found favour among The Stranglers’ rapidly burgeoning fanbase, and it rose to No.4 in the UK album chart. Establishing a pattern which would soon become the norm, the album divided opinion in the media, though some of the day’s more enlightened critiques (NME: “Make no mistake, these guys are going to make records that will be played ’til they wear out”) acknowledged that this unusually determined band had every chance of outlasting the flash-in-the-pan confines of punk.
As a spate of legend-enshrining discs such as No More Heroes, Black And White and The Raven would shortly prove, that’s exactly what The Strangers did – and they continue to defy the ravages of time while enjoying the support one of rock’s most ardent fan bases. Yet, for newcomers and stalwarts alike, Rattus Norvegicus remains the logical point of entry into this singular band’s oeuvre.
“Like so many kids, I was floored by punk – the thrill of the music, the look, the attitude and the politics all made sense to my 16-year-old mind,” author and music journalist John Robb wrote in 2018. “But there was one band that really made a connection – The Stranglers. They were different because they were darker and more twisted and their music was more aggressive – and nowhere more so than on Rattus Norvegicus. It was belligerent, nasty and over the top, it was just fantastic!”
For many of you, the 1980s was the decade that should be conveniently forgotten. It was neither as gritty as the 1970s, nor as stylish as the 1990s, but was a time of yachts, yellow jackets and mullets that somehow managed to grow longer the more you looked at it. It was a time of disappointment, and not even the marriage of a Prince and his fairytale Princess managed to paper over the widening cracks between tricky and poverty, as Britain was led by a Prime Minister of questionable values and intent.
Wars were springing all over the world, John Lennon was shot dead and the Chernobyl disaster took place. While stocks soared, living standards fluctuated, providing a rich bed of nutrient-rich soil from which great music could grow.
The decade’s musicians were determined to sing out their truths, over a cascade of drum machines and pummeling riffs. Much like their fans, these artists were a group searching for an identity, carefully piling together their ideas into a musical continuum that saw them cry out for their identity, yearning for richer textures to compensate for the soulless, singular policies their country was now seemingly espousing in an effort to compensate for its lack of substance.
Eddy Grant sang at the rise of crime that surrounded Britain, The Stranglers detailed the pleasures of love in a world of poverty and pain, and Dexys Midnight Runners celebrated the unconquerable spirit of the Irish diaspora, wherever they were fortunate enough to stand.
Rock provided the rhetoric for the artists who were happy to sing out their perspective of truth, never ceasing to the pressures of the decade, or falling victim to some of the fashions of the decade. It was growing harder for solo Beatles to stay relevant, but Paul McCartney did so with Tug of War, arguably the last of the essential Beatle albums and George Harrison also had his moments, especially on the strangely beautiful ‘Mystical One’.
The decade that began with the murder of a Beatle couldn’t silence the others, and by the close of the decade, Ringo Starr emerged triumphantly, leading the All-Starr Band through a variety of stellar concerts across the USA.
1982 was a time of great change for music, not least because it was a time of forward-thinking, and introspective forms of expression. Simple Minds launched themselves as a more palatable alternative to Dublin born U2, while Echo and The Bunnymen prided themselves on maintaining a foothold in the abstract.
Elsewhere, Culture Club used their platform to champion Jewish, Irish and black musicians, creating a band that was as much a melting pot as it was a feisty group of players. The tightly knitted group managed to put together a ballad of tremendous beauty and pathos, every note sung with great passion and persuasion, never underestimating the lyric at hand.
We’ve reduced this list to 40, keenly understanding that we could have put in 100s and 100s. Madonna didn’t really get going until 1983, so she didn’t make the cut; The Boomtown Rats were running on empty by 1982, so they’re absent from the list, and there’s no Ricky Springfield because we’ve just come out of a pandemic, and don’t wish to inflict more unnecessary pain on the unsuspecting world. The only other paradigm we’ve enforced is that no artist can appear twice on this list, meaning those wishing for doubles are to be sadly disappointed. Here is our 40:
40 best songs released in 1982:
‘Wanderlust’ – Paul McCartney
‘Come On Eileen’ – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
‘The Look of Love’ – ABC
‘The Back of Love’ – Echo and the Bunnymen
‘Sexual Healing’ – Marvin Gaye
‘Golden Brown’ – The Stranglers
‘Town Called Malice’ – The Jam
‘Shock The Monkey’ – Peter Gabriel
‘1999’ – Prince
‘Eminence Front’ – The Who
‘Crazy’ – Pylon
‘Spaceage Love Song’ – A Flock of Seagulls
‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’ – Culture Club
‘Gloria’ – Laura Branigan
‘Glittering Prize’ – Simple Minds
‘It Started With A Kiss’ – Hot Chocolate
‘It Ain’t What You Do It’s The Way That You Do It’ – Fun Boy Three with Bananarama
‘The Message’ – Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five
‘Back On The Chain Gang’ – The Pretenders
‘Beat It’ – Michael Jackson
‘Back Chat’ – Queen
‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’ – David Bowie
‘Chariots of Fire – Titles’ – Vangelis
‘Come Dancing’ – The Kinks
‘Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)’ – Elton John
‘Ghosts’ – Japan
‘Mad World’ – Tears for Fears
‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ – The Clash
‘Old Town’ – Phil Lynott
‘Wearing and Tearing’- Led Zeppelin
‘Edge of Seventeen’ – Stevie Nicks
‘Rip It Up’ – Orange Juice
‘You’ve Got Another Thing Coming’ – Judas Priest
‘You Got Lucky’ – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
‘Ain’t No Pleasing You’ – Chas & Dave
‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going ‘ – Jennifer Holliday
Hugh Cornwell at Arlington Arts Centre, Mary Hare, Newbury 7.4.2022
Not long since I saw ex-Strangler Hugh Cornwell, now 72, supporting The Undertones in Frome, but this is a much more focused affair: Hugh and his band only tonight. The first night of a three day weekend gig hat-trick with gig buddy Dave starts with a cab ride from Chieveley M4/ A34 Services to The Arlington Arts Centre. (Thanks to my sister, mum and nephew for the lift up there
The auditorium has a 252 capacity when fully seated but the rear seats/ front standing arrangement that is set up tonight holds 380. We are standing with bags of space around, with the seats being full – 90% of the audience must be 60s plus or had a hard life. Net result is that when Hugh comes on – no support tonight – I am stood right in front of him, about 10 feet away without being enveloped in a sea of Covid bodies. This is quite surreal having listened to Hugh and the Stranglers for 45 years plus. I remember playing the tennis racket guitar to No More Heroes on my parents’ old box gramophone like it was yesterday..well last week anyway and now I’m stood in front of my once hero and now respected musician in his 70s. We are both rocking on. These individuals are like lifelong friends you never really knew.
The added novelty of being stood in front of my own legendinblack (he was all inblack) ‘singing’ my own versions of Stranglers songs and some of Hugh’s solo numbers was extended to not taking a photo, not even a sneaky one, in accordance with ze rules. Fair enough if that’s what someone thinks works – might make this blog a bit of a dry read mind (hence a beer bottle photo makes the cut.
One of my top tips is not to look your heroes in the eyes when mouthing the wrong words to their carefully crafted lyrics – mouth shut until the choruses.
The first part of the set is as clearly advertised: his solo material which is a good way of doing it – it keeps any impatience for a Stranglers song at bay – something that Hugh has had to wrestle with since he suddenly left the band in 1990. He’s joined by much younger bassist and drummer for both sets who really get a work out, especially with those Stranglers’ JJ bass lines.
It’s a mix of material, starting with three from first solo album Nosferatu, one from Guilty and then latest work Monster, before the very thin looking Hugh stops for an introduction. He explains the story behind Mr Leather, from Monster: his failed meeting with Lou Reed in New York, after some mutual admiration, when both of them got flu. Lou Reed died sometime later so that was his chance to meet gone.
Monster the title track catches the ear but it’s hearing Losers in a Lost Land from Nosferatu that I glow at hearing the most – the opening familiar lines ‘see the actors leaving Stratford…’. I remember being disappointed with the first solo effort when it came out and I bought my copy. Now it has more nostalgia… that’s one for a vinyl spin soon then.
The solo set ends for an interval with First Bus to Babylon from the album Wired. By this time I’m studying Hugh’s guitar work closely; watching the effort in every finger. I acquired a secondhand electric guitar a few weeks ago and my level of appreciation of the fret board activity and general level of awe has shot up.
The second set starts with Dead Ringer and then we are off into Thrown Away, Duchess and Strange Little Girl and more. “Stranglers songs, huh….you want some more?” “Yeaaah!” Not so much louder than for the solo stuff everyone – don’t upset him.
Hanging Around – amongst the best Stranglers songs. We lose sound at one point from the PA so we get the raw sound from the Vox amps which only enhances the feel of a gig in your front room – I was quite disappointed that got sorted so promptly. Then in Skin Deep the stage lights were lost and the main lights went on. Weird. A room full of mainly old blokes bopping about in bright lights: it was like stumbling into a midweek exercise class…but everyone carried on and it got a cheer.
Nuclear Device next followed closely by Sweden, which opened with lines in Swedish, as appear on the Swedish version (Sverige – Jag är insnöad pä östfronten) and there are a few more interjects of Swedish. Brilliant. Song of the night – great version and the ‘all quiet on Eastern Front’ lyric spat out with Ukrainian thoughts.
Goodbye Toulouse, Tank and it was London Lady to finish. That’s it. Goodnight. That’s yer lot and it’s off to the merch stand where I can’t resist the Monster double vinyl album which Hugh signed.
Next day I read that a sore throat put pay to the next four dates of the tour.
My previous Hugh Cornwell gigs
Aside from the recent Undertones support slot I’ve seen Hugh a fair few times, first one being in Nottingham as part of a double header with Spear of Destiny. I still have the ticket for that one from 1996.
There’s also been a Bridport Electric Cinema gig (2013), The Brook, Southampton (2009) and a few Wimborne Tivoli Theatre gigs (2005, 2008), one interspersed with Hugh reading extracts from his autobiography and various signed books and CDs acquired at these.
That’s my Hugh stuff… catch him soon again I hope.
Published by ivaninblack
Still wild about live music – bands – gigs – festivals – after 42 years at it. All photos have been snapped by me or I will point out otherwise – I’ll even own up to any blurry mobile phone ones. If gigaholic is a phrase then in recent years I think I’ve become one. View more posts
Exactly a month ago today, on Monday, February 21, 2022, The Stranglers played their final ever gig in Bristol as part of their ‘Final Full UK Tour’.
It was a night that had been some two years in the making, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns and one that had also seen a change in the band’s line-up following the death of keyboardist, Dave Greenfield in 2020.
Following their show at the O2 Academy in the city, singer Baz took to his online blog to write about his experience – and previous experiences – playing for a Bristol crowd. He called it „one of [his] favourite places to play“ and said „it’s just amazing“.
Baz has been documenting the band’s entire tour – even in parts right down to their downtime and travel experience (even tooth troubles) – on The Stranglers official website. He’s written about rehearsing in Bath, just down the road, the „sobering thought“ of The Stranglers maybe never playing in London again and even about opening up the Cambridge Corn Exchange’s hospitality bar in Dave’s memory (this was his home gig).
But when it came to Bristol, which the band happened to play this year on bassist JJ Burnel’s 70th birthday, this is what Baz had to say: „This has long been one of my favourite places to play, don’t ask me why. It’s got the same nonchalant, couldn’t really give a f*** attitude to it, like most of the other O2s have.
„Not much thought has gone into the comfort and safety of the artists or crowds…as long as the numbers come through the door. It never ceases to amaze me how, on walking into the venue, you never think they’ll get the people in that they’ve told you to expect…it just looks so small.
„It’s pokey and rough around the edges…but again, at show time, it’s just amazing.
„I think for me it’s the proximity of the crowd, and how every conceivable space is filled with people. You have to crane your neck to see the folks at the very top…and you can see that they’re bracing their hands on the ceiling, so far up are they…just amazing.
„It’s also a certain persons birthday tonight, and it’s a biggun…so the evening, sort of rightly so, seems to centre around that.
„Not that he’s too swept away by it, being the celebrated birthday curmudgeon he is, but he takes it in his stride, and it’s fair to say, I saw in his face how touched he was that the whole audience sang happy birthday to him. Then it was gone…ha ha..and he celebrated by taking his shirt off for the encores, just so everyone could see how well this particular septuagenarian has faired over the years.
„Even more amazingly, the whole band gather in the hotel bar later to toast him over a late drink. Nice end to another great evening.
„I’ll be particularly sad not to play this venue again, if that’s what happens. It’s always held affection for me…and as always, that’s down to the crowds that come.
„Every single time we’ve played here it’s sold out in a heartbeat…and how they can get 2000 people in is beyond me. I hope our paths cross again Bristol O2…but don’t hold your breath.“
THE UNDERTONES + HUGH CORNWELL – CHALK, BRIGHTON 17.3.22
Following the numerous postponements of the past two years, Derry’s finest, The Undertones, finally arrived in Brighton to perform at Chalk fittingly on St Patrick’s Day and delivered a real treat.
Largely a greatest hits set, it was delivered full speed with great energy. First time I’ve seen The Undertones live and it exceeded my expectations.
I admit I’m sometimes a little apprehensive seeing bands, who’ve been around awhile or reformed, as some just go through the motions. No fear of that from the first notes of ‘Family Entertainment’, which opened the set. On stage for almost an hour and a half, the tempo didn’t drop.
The Undertones are: John O’Neill – rhythm guitar and backing vocals Michael Bradley – bass guitar, keyboards, lead and backing vocals Billy Doherty – drums Damian O’Neill – lead guitar, keyboards and backing vocals Paul McLoone – lead vocals
Paul McLoone has taken over on vocals since the band reformed without Feargal Sharkey, who left the band in 1983. Paul gave a great performance fronting the band. The other members were familiar faces to the packed audience being part of the band back in their heyday of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
The band’s energy and rapport with the packed audience created a great atmosphere with a lively mosh pit area. Further back the whole crowd was fully engaged with the band’s performance.
There were many notable highlights, especially favourites from their debut album, such as ‘Jimmy Jimmy’, ‘True Confessions’ and the iconic ‘Teenage Kicks’. Although anybody further back from the mosh pit area, probably had to watch ‘Teenage Kicks’ through a sea of mobile phone filming that track. That didn’t happen in these early gigs in Derry and Belfast back in 1976.
The newer post-Feargal Sharkey material, such as ‘Thrill Me’, and ‘Enough’ (from 2003 ‘Get What You Need’ album) and ‘Dig Yourself Deep’ (from 2007 ‘Dig Yourself Deep’ album) fitted in with the classics from the band’s early days.
Another old favourite was saved to the end of the three song encore for a perfect ending to the concert, ‘My Perfect Cousin’.
The Undertones are definitely a band who still have a passion for playing live and giving their all, resulting in a great performance, which fed through the whole of Chalk. It was a shame that there was an early curfew, as I think the band and crowd could have gone on even longer. A 90 minute set and people still wanting more, in a good sense not short changed, says something about The Undertones as a live band and the quality of their material.
The Undertones setlist: (Intro tape) ‘Just For You’ (The Glitter Band) ‘Family Entertainment’(from 1979 ‘The Undertones’ album) ‘You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It?)’ (from 1979 ‘You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It?)’ single) ‘I Need Your Love The Way It Used To Be’ (from 2003 ‘Get What You Need’ album) ‘Jump Boys’(from 1979 ‘The Undertones’ album) ‘Billy’s Third’ (from 1979 ‘The Undertones’ album) ‘The Love Parade’(from 1983 ‘The Sin Of Pride’ album) ‘Thrill Me’ (from 2003 ‘Get What You Need’ album) ‘Jimmy Jimmy’ (from 1979 ‘The Undertones’ album) ‘Tearproof’(from 1980 ‘Hypnotised’ album) ‘It’s Going To Happen!’(from 1981 ‘Positive Touch’ album) ‘Enough’(from 2003 ‘Get What You Need’ album) ‘Teenage Kicks’(from 1978 ‘Teenage Kicks’ EP) ‘True Confessions’ (from 1979 ‘The Undertones’ album) ‘Oh Please’(from 2003 ‘Get What You Need’ album) ‘Nine Times Out Of Ten’(from 1980 ‘Hypnotised’ album) ‘I Gotta Getta’(from 1979 ‘The Undertones’ album) ‘Girls That Don’t Talk’(from 1980 ‘Hypnotised’ album) ‘Here Comes The Summer’(from 1979 ‘The Undertones’ album) ‘When Saturday Comes’(from 1981 ‘Positive Touch’ album) ‘Male Model’ (from 1979 ‘The Undertones’ album) ‘Dig Yourself Deep’(from 2007 ‘Dig Yourself Deep’ album) ‘Wednesday Week’(from 1980 ‘Hypnotised’ album) ‘Hypnotised’(from 1980 ‘Hypnotised’ album) ‘(She’s A) Runaround’(from 1979 ‘The Undertones’ album) ‘Girls Don’t Like It’(from 1979 ‘The Undertones’ album) ‘Listening In’(from 1979 ‘The Undertones’ album) ‘Get Over You’ (from 1979 ‘Get Over You’ single) (encore) ‘More Songs About Chocolate And Girls’(from 1980 ‘Hypnotised’ album) ‘I Know A Girl’(from 1979 ‘The Undertones’ album) ‘My Perfect Cousin’(from 1980 ‘Hypnotised’ album)
The support from former Stranglers’ frontman, Hugh Cromwell was a mix of his solo material and Stranglers’ tracks. Still dressed in black, Hugh Cornwell was in charge of his Fender Telecaster guitar and vocals and was backed by a bassist and drummer for their 50 minute set. It’s the second time I’ve seen Hugh Cornwell live, and it still took some getting used to hearing the Stranglers classics in the set without that distinctive keyboard sound. The quality of songs like ‘Duchess’, ‘Only The Sun’ and ‘Skin Deep’ means they still work and unsurprisingly were the tracks that went down best with the packed audience.
Of his solo material, here were a few tracks from his ‘Monster’ album, which celebrates the lives of some influential figures, notably Lou Reed and their aborted meeting in New York on ‘Mr Leather’ and 1940s Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr on ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in Hollywood’.
Very competent performance, if a little one paced at the start, before injecting a bit more tempo towards the end of the set. It ended on a high with the Stranglers tracks ‘London Lady’ and ‘5 Minutes’.
Hugh Cornwell setlist: ‘Black Hair Black Eyes Black Suit’(from 1999 Hugh Cornwell ‘Black Hair Black Eyes Black Suit’ album) ‘Big Bug’(from 1979 Hugh Cornwell and Robert Williams ‘Nosferatu’ album) ‘Duchess’(The Stranglers song from 1979 ‘The Raven’ album) (found on 2006 Hugh Cornwell ‘People, Places, Pieces’ live album) ‘Mr. Leather’ (from 2018 Hugh Cornwell ‘Monster’ album) ‘Skin Deep’(The Stranglers song from 1984 ‘Aural Sculpture’ album) ‘Monster’(from 2018 Hugh Cornwell ‘Monster’ album) ‘Strange Little Girl’(The Stranglers song from 1982 ‘Strange Little Girl’ single) (found on 2003 Hugh Cornwell ‘In The Dock’ live album) ‘Always The Sun’(The Stranglers song from 1986 ‘Dreamtime’ album) (found on 2006 Hugh Cornwell ‘People, Places, Pieces’ live album) ‘The Most Beautiful Girl In Hollywood’(from 2018 Hugh Cornwell ‘Monster’ album) ‘Goodbye Toulouse’(The Stranglers song from 1977 ‘Rattus Norvegicus’ album) (found on 2006 Hugh Cornwell ‘People, Places, Pieces’ live album) ‘Bad Vibrations’(from 2012 Hugh Cornwell ‘Totem & Taboo’ album) ‘London Lady’(The Stranglers song from 1977 ‘Rattus Norvegicus’ album) (found on 2010 Hugh Cornwell ‘New Songs For King Kong’ album) ‘5 Minutes’(The Stranglers song from 1978 ‘5 Minutes’ single)
To say that this is overdue would be the understatement of the year…or 2 years…
The entire world has changed, irrevocably, and things will never be the same.
Of course, people have been saying that about us for years too…people who have a talented flair for the blindingly obvious.
Coming to see The Stranglers in 2022 is what it is.
It’s been pretty well documented in recent months but, taking the decision to continue after our tragic loss, was never going to be easy…it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, and I can’t begin to imagine how hard it hit JJ. He doesn’t say too much about it, which I take to be one of his ways of dealing with it, and whenever the subject of Dave is raised by outsiders, we both still pretty much clam up to be honest.
However, the English way can be to find the humour in everything too, and sometimes the darker the better. There’s much to reminisce about and we catch ourselves laughing like drains thinking about Dave, and some of his ways and peculiarities. A funnier man, sometimes, you couldn’t have wished to meet. I think he’d appreciate that he’s never far from our thoughts, and although it’s still raw from time to time, on we go.
Anyone who came to see us in France last year tell you it was different (duh) but was still The Stranglers. Toby is a wonderful keyboard player, and very respectful to Dave’s legacy. He plays what he needs to play, no more, and he does it with style and economy.
The crowds out there were fantastic. I know it was very difficult for some of the fans to see another guy up there…imagine how it was for us, especially JJ, who’s been used to turning around and seeing Dave across the stage since1975. But we triumphed, in our way, and that was in no small part down to Toby’s dedication to his task and how precious he was about getting things right. He’s also a total geek and a lovely bloke…daft as brush in his own posh frightfully English way, and up for anything. He fit right in, and we were received with nothing but love and encouragement.
Hopefully the UK will treat us the same.
TUESDAY JAN 18
As I live the furthest away, I always travel a day or so earlier than everyone else. So as I write this I’m on the train down from Yorkshire where I live, to London, and then connecting across to Bath, where we’ve rehearsed since the beginning of time. It’s a glorious winters day with not a cloud in the sky, and I’m full of hope and anticipation. I spoke to JJ yesterday and we were both like a couple of schoolboys…chomping at the bit as the old saying goes.
He, Jim, and Toby all get in tomorrow, and we’ll make a start.
Bring it on…
WEDNESDAY JAN 19
Great start today. Toby and Jim are already there when I arrive at the farm, and JJ is a couple of hours away, having done karate in London last night. We haven’t seen each other since France, so the kettle goes on and we have a catch up…as you’d expect.
Running through the songs today, at random, it’s evident that the gigs in France were a real boon. Muscle memory plays a big part in what we do, and if your fingers don’t go to exactly the right place first or second time around, they get somewhere close to where they need to be, and you can adjust accordingly. A couple of run throughs of each tune, and it starts to sound like it should. So after a bit more rust sanded off and edges smoothed, we feel it’s time for a pint at Tuckers.
Some habits are hard to break.
THURSDAY JAN 20
It’s an early start for Jim and Toby this morning, and I hear their car pull away from the cottage around 10. JJ and I follow on around 11.30 and we’re into it by noon. It’s amazing how things come flooding back when you start to get into the zone, and by 2 o’clock we’ve got the basis of the set sorted out and are beginning to nail it down. I think tomorrow will have it done. We change and shift things around for the first few gigs anyway, so things will settle down.
But for now, I think it’s safe to say it’s probably 90% there already.
I love it when a plan comes together.
FRIDAY JAN 21
SATURDAY JAN 22
We heading off up to the first city of the tour today. We always have a a day or two of pre-production at the first venue if we can. This time out it’s Lincoln. We’re playing the Engine Shed on Tuesday, which is part of the university, and I seem to remember starting a tour here before a few years ago.
Myself, JJ, Toby, and Gazza our tour manager are in the car and there’s that lovely feeling of anticipation as we finally head out on the road. Didn’t think I’d feel that again. It’s tinged with sadness, but it’s there.
Jim shot off home after yesterday’s rehearsal to see his family before joining our bubble tomorrow. We’re trying as best we can to keep away from as many people as possible, at the management’s insistence. One tickle of this fucking virus with anyone, and we all go home.
I haven’t got the first idea how effective this is going to be, but we’ve got to try.
We get to the hotel late in the afternoon, and immediately the omens aren’t good. There’s a mess up with our rooms, and as we’re staying here for 4 nights, and spending a decent amount of money, we expect better. It gets worse before it improves. I’m feeling for JJ who eventually gets billeted in another room for the first night, as there’s already someone in his intended room. He tries the door with two different keys and still can’t get in. He’s not best pleased and I don’t blame him. His new room resembles Vladivostok, it’s so cold, and as we’d stayed in a house in the west country for the previous few days with a broken boiler, in sub-zero temperatures, he’s starting to think he’ll never get warm again.
Three bottles of wine at dinner and some hot food seem to revive him though, and I see him smile properly for the first time today.
SUNDAY JAN 23
A day off…a Sunday roast, a couple of pints, and some football.
The simple pleasures of a wintry English Sunday.
The calm before the storm.
MONDAY JAN 24
This is our first day of proper pre-production, and it’s starting to build up now…it’s getting close. All four of us manage to get our backsides out of bed and meet for breakfast at 8.30, and there’s a definite air of excitement about.
It’s coming down to it.
It’s hard to describe how I’m feeling.
The French gigs took away any feeling of not being prepared, of not being ready, and bedded Toby in as best and as quickly as possible. I’ve had several experiences now of looking behind me and not seeing Dave there…I won’t say I’m used to it, but it is what it is, and Toby is so good, he’s taken all the sting out of worrying about how it’s going to sound. It just catches me sometimes is all…but we’ll get there.
The production rehearsal goes incredibly well today. The crew have built another amazing set, and the show looks magnificent. Jim has been working closely with the lighting guys to come up with yet another terrific and very original set, and when things are in full flow, it’s jaw dropping. I won’t say any more about it, other than we love it.
We go for a lovely curry afterwards, five excited blokes shoe-horned into a taxi and babbling away like teenage girls, then all retire to our rooms satisfied…and raring to go.
The planned early night doesn’t come of course, and I’m still awake at 2.30 going over things in my head for tomorrow.
TUESDAY JAN 25 – LINCOLN ENGINE SHED
Well, it’s upon us…our first UK gig since Oct 2019, on the Alice Cooper tour.
You deal with many things being in a band, especially a band as old as this one. Things can , and do, change in a heartbeat, as we know only too well. So it was difficult to know how this was going to go. We knew we were prepared musically, and with a great visual show…but how will it be received? With indifference? Respect? Hostility even?
We needn’t have worried. As soon as we walk on, the roof literally lifts off the place, and we know that unless we fuck up big time, we’re going to get through this. There are the usual gremlins to accompany first gigs from our point of view, like running orders, tempos and so on, but tonight’s gig is all about the crowd. They’re crammed into the venue…it’s absolutely bouncing, and they sing and cheer and slam along to their heart’s content. It’s truly heartening. It’s poignant too…there’ll be a lot of them who’ve come to say goodbye…they probably won’t see the band again, and that’s why we’ve got to give it our all…like we always did.
I look up at Toby and he’s thoroughly enjoying himself. The grin on his face says it all, and he plays a really good gig…coupla little mistakes, but he knows what they are.
I look at JJ, and he’s concentrating hard. Neither of us like to look like we are, and as the tour progresses we’ll both get into the swing and it’ll become second nature to us, like it always was. Jim is of course, and as usual, the absolute driving force behind everything. I always have him right up front in my ears mix, and he’s nailing it already. I need to lock right in with him, and he’s making it easy.
We’ve chosen to encore with a couple of low-key things to start with. JJ and I sitting on stools and playing The Lines and then our tribute to Dave, both from Dark Matters This is where things get sticky for us both. I glance across at him and there’s a particular fleeting look that steals across his face during Dave, and I’m gone. He likes to keep his emotions in check, and he’s very good at it…there’s rarely anything given away… unless you know him very well. That’s just the way he is…but there’s no denying this has got to him, and he struggles to keep his cool. I’m not so lucky…and although I’ve been told I look like a murderer sometimes when we’re playing…I’m actually a bit of a soft touch. I well up in the backstage area for a few seconds, drawing concern from my colleagues…but then I’m ok.
It won’t happen again…I’ve gotten a hold of it now. I’m told the audience stood in absolute silence when we did this, but I was in another place during what seemed like the longest five minutes of my life. Whatever we played after that I can’t remember, although I remember we did No More Heroes as always to finish.
An amazing and dizzying start.
Onwards and upwards.
WEDNESDAY JAN 26
Not much to say about today, other than we spent nearly 8 hours in the car driving from Lincoln up to Aberdeen, then probably had a wee bit too much to drink when we finally arrived…or at least I did.
Oh ma heed…
THURSDAY JAN 27 – ABERDEEN TOWN HALL
We play a lot in Aberdeen. We were just talking about in the car on the way up, and trying to remember all the different venues we’ve played here over the years, from the band’s early days, doing the old Capital, right up to tonight’s venue, which we haven’t played before.
It’s a lovely old municipal building made of the ubiquitous granite (of course), and has echoes of a lot of similar style places we’ve played before around the world…lovely old place.
When we arrive for the show The Ruts are in full swing, and are as mighty as ever…what a band. We’re chuffed to have them along on this as we’re all old mates and have played together on many tours, including a very memorable one in Australia and New Zealand, and a great previous UK tour a few years ago. For a three piece band, they make a huge noise, and it’s clear they’ve been waiting for this tour with as much anticipation as we have…they’re tearing into it.
When our turn comes we steam into Toiler on the Sea, and all of a sudden, even after only one other gig, it’s starting to click. We’ve made a few changes to tonight’s set, as we always do, and no doubt will continue to do as the tour stretches out, and they’re working very well up to now. Any band will tell you how important the structure of the set is, pacing, tempos, bass starts, drum starts, ups and downs, and we take it very seriously. As soon as it starts to feel right, you can sense it, and it spurs you on.
The audience tonight are magnificent and are right behind us from the second we step on the stage. Everyone plays very well, and we’re beginning to smooth the rough edges off and get a real feel for how this tour is (hopefully) going to go.
Toby is just unfazed by it all and plays, once again, superbly. You can see a lot of faces in the crowd turning toward him, trying to work him out, and get used to the huge change that’s been thrust upon us, and him…and already, he’s winning. There’s a lot of emotion running through some of the crowd too, and you can see teary eyes and hugging from time to time. It’s going to take some folk some time to get used to it, but there’s no turning back now.
Might sound like a big cliche, but we’re doing this as much for Dave as for ourselves.
A huge win tonight, from every angle.
FRIDAY JAN 28 – GLASGOW O2 ACADEMY
Ask any touring band you know of what their favourite cities to play are, and somewhere inevitably Glasgow gets a mention. This is a place steeped in musical history, and the locals are very proud of their musical heritage and taste, and turn out in absolute droves to see their favourite bands…as it was, is, and shall always be.
This is the first of two sold out shows here, and as always, we’re raring to go…I love this city.
The venue itself is a pretty run down affair, typical of most of the O2’s we play. It’s old and tired, and in actual fact, that adds a lot to it’s charm…it’s like an old vaudeville entertainer that doesn’t quite know how to retire. What really marks this place out though are the staff. Every single one of them, doormen and security included, came up and said how good it was to see us and have us back on their turf…warm and friendly folk to the last…lovely.
Once this place is full though, and it gets very full indeed, the faded facade and chipped paint disappears under a sea of sweaty smiling faces and flailing arms, and the whole thing lifts off into another stratosphere. You can’t fail to be swept along by it, and it puts it’s arms around you like a loved old jumper.
We rip into the first three tunes with glee, and it’s obvious this is going to be a blinder…and it is. Again there are a few familiar faces in the front rows and they’re shouting encouragement ( at least that’s what I take it to be…my wife is Scots so I can understand the lingo very well usually, but half pissed Glaswegian can be a difficult thing to decipher at the best of times) and having a ball. Like us, they’ve waited a long time for this.
It’s very hot in here, despite being a very large hall, and JJ and I are shiny with sweat after half a dozen songs. I love that…doesn’t feel like a gig unless you sweat.
Roll on tomorrow.
SATURDAY JAN 29 – GLASGOW 02 ACADEMY
Tomorrow rolled on, and another absolute stormer. There are a lot of folks here from last night, as you’d expect, but they’re bouncing along as if they haven’t seen us for years…or ever. We really love Glasgow. I tell the crowd that on our ride from the hotel to the gig we decided that their city is probably one of our favourite places to play. Always full on, never boring, always appreciative, and never less than memorable…we’ve had some amazing times in this city over the decades.
It would be nice to come up and play here again one day…..
Thank you Scotland X
SUNDAY JAN 30
I think I’m gonna skip Sundays and Wednesdays in this little blog from now on, unless something happens. We don’t gig on those days, so just assume we’re travelling…..and drinking…
MONDAY JAN 31 – STOKE HANLEY VICTORIA HALL
A Monday night in Stoke might not sound like the most appealing proposition, but nothing could be further from the truth.
It’s a funny venue this one. From the outside it looks quite modern, and it’s obvious it’s had a facelift in the last few years, externally at least. Inside however, is a different story. It’s a Victorian concert hall…high, wide and handsome. At some point there was a police station and jail on site too, and the dressing rooms are the old cells, taken back to the brickwork…a classic example of re-appropriation. The stage is relatively shallow, but deep enough for our needs, and we’re right on top of the crowd…nice and intimate in a fairly big hall.
I love playing venues like this, they’ve got history and quirks, and you can imagine them in their pomp over a century ago.
The crowd are fantastic and are really up for it, and we’re all swept along from the word go.
For first encores JJ and I have been playing The Lines, followed by “And if you should see Dave” at all of the shows, and we’ve been growing into it. Tonight I think we get it spot on for the first time, and it reduces folk in the front row to tears. It’s an emotional part of the evening for sure, but we’re keeping it together as best we can.
This is the first time, and most probably the last, that I’ve personally played at this famous , lovely old venue, and I’m so pleased we did it. Great gig, fantastic crowd, happy days.
TUESDAY FEB 1 – NORWICH UEA
We’ve got a long happy relationship with this venue. We’ve played it many times. I’ve had a birthday here, and the reason I always come on stage with my guitar on is because of an incident here a few years ago where we came on, I picked my guitar off the stand at the side of the stage where unbeknownst to me it had become tangled up and unplugged itself…I made a grand sweeping gesture to start the song (can’t remember what it was but I’m pretty sure I started it) and nothing came out…I stood there looking like a fucking banana, hearing the laughter coming up from the crowd….never again…
Tonight is as full as I’ve ever seen this place, and it’s intimacy is always great…they shout stuff at you and you can get right back in their faces.
It’s an early show tonight, as there’s some kind of student type disco thing going on later, and it seems we’re the warm up…ha. The Ruts plough into their set and sound like a well oiled machine, which of course they are. They go down a storm as always and leave the crowd nicely warmed up for us. We play as well as we have so far on this tour and it’s smiles all round as we do a long full on set and finish with NMH as always.
I thank the crowd for all the good times over the years, and wish them well.
As with a lot , if not all, of the venues on this tour, it’s doubtful we’ll be seeing the UEA again.
All the best Norwich.
WEDNESDAY FEB 2
THURSDAY FEB 3 – GUILDFORD G LIVE
Ok…back to where it all started for one last hurrah. Guildford G Live is pretty much a big, square boxy room, but a lovely, modern very well appointed venue. It’s never been renowned for it’s ecstatic reactions at gigs, and we’ve played here a lot, but instead preferring the laid back stoicism of the Surrey set…very English and really rather…reserved.
Tonight though, they know this a very different evening. Toby’s parents and older family are all from here, so they’re at the gig in force, putting even more pressure on his shoulders. One thing I’ll say about him though, is that it just never seems to get to him…he’s always cool. There may be the old swans feet syndrome going on…frantic under the surface…but you’d never know it…he never gives anything away…he is, after all, originally from Surrey.
And also the crowd know this is potentially the last chance to see “their’ band. We’ve been in Guildford for a couple of days now, and both JJ and Toby have been giving us a potted history lesson of how it used to be back in the day…it’s obviously very dear to their hearts, JJ in particular pointing out things about what buildings stood where, and how it’s changed in the decades since they prowled these streets. In fact, the hotel where we’re staying has a very important piece of Stranglers folklore on it’s doorstep…the old scout hut in Shalford, where JJ, Hugh Cornwell and Jet played their very first notes together…and it’s still there. So we go for a visit.
It’s a scout hut…unimposing, a bit knackered, and you wouldn’t look at it twice…but without it, none of us would be here.
The show is a blinder, and the good people of Guildford are in very fine voice. This show has been sold out right from the start, so we know it’s going to be good…and they surpass themselves. JJ has a few things to say about the old days and they respond to him warmly.
Back in the dressing room I think I hit the nail on the head when I say it was a lovely, emotional, warm and friendly gig.
Not something you could always have said about Stranglers gigs in this part of the world.
Really rather well done Guildford…hurrah!
FRIDAY FEB 4 – LONDON BRIXTON O2 ACADEMY
This is the first of two nights we have here. It’s currently one of London’s most famous rock venues as I’m sure most of you know. What you probably don’t know if you’ve never been or played here, is that it’s also a huge freezing cold dump of a place. It looks a million dollars from the outside, but once in through the doors it’s an all too familiar story that as a gig goer, you’ll find in a lot of this companies’ venues in the UK. There’s not a huge amount of respect for the crowd (poor, underwhelming facilities), and even less respect for the bands. The backstage areas are cramped, again with poor facilities, usually freezing cold, this one certainly is…it’s fucking perishingly cold in here, and it’s got “well at least it’s somewhere to play…shut up and be grateful” written all over it. Most of these buildings were formerly cinemas or old dance halls, and they just don’t have what touring bands need, space, warmth, comfort…or any thought given to access and parking for buses and crews. Touring these places in the winter can be a pretty unpleasant experience, and no band should have to stand at the side of the stage before they go on, blowing into their hands, as JJ, Toby and I find ourselves doing as the Waltz is played before our entrance. It really was that cold. I even mentioned it to the crowd at one point and got a huge cheer…so it hadn’t gone unnoticed. The crowd though, were as always, magnificent and a few songs in, the cold is forgotten and we’re on it. Once that connection is made between the band and the audience, we hold it firmly in our hands and don’t let go until the death…and neither do they.
It’s only after the concert on the endless twisty turny route back to the dressing room (something else that’s never thought out) that you realise its freezing and it’s turning what little sweat you might have worked up, to cold clammy fingers stroking your skin. Your shirt becomes a freezing mess and you need to strip it off quickly before you catch your death.
Yeah I know…all a bit melodramatic but that’s what it feels like.
We’re far from the only band to complain about this too, but as long as the Academy have a grip on the live music scene in this country for medium to large size venues, there seems little to be done. I understand that they’ve been hit as hard as anyone during the pandemic, and like us all, they’re slowly trying to crawl their way back into the black, but their venues are notoriously bad, and in desperate need of face lifts and upgrades…end of rant.
(NB…we hear through the grapevine later that at tonight’s show, someone brought their dads ashes with them in a box, and threw them at the stage, covering a couple of unsuspecting punters at the front. I sincerely hope this was true…I’ve never heard of anything so bazaar happening at our, or anyone’s gigs before. It’s therefore highly likely that we inhaled some minute particles of Mr Punters dear old papa at some point during the proceedings.
SATURDAY FEB 5 – LONDON BRIXTON O2 ACADEMY
On arriving at the Academy for the sound check this afternoon, we’re greeted by some fans outside who’ve put on extra layers for tonight’s show. It seems it wasn’t only the band that were freezing last night. Later during the show I see one of them right on the barrier, and she’s fully wrapped up in furry jacket and woolly hat…no doubt stamping her feet too.
I suffer from sound issues right from the off tonight, with my earphones malfunctioning, and I limp through the first three songs barely able to hear anything. I greet the crowd, who respond with a huge roar so I’m told, but I can feel it more than hear it. Two of the guys come on stage to help me, and as soon as they swap out my earphones for my spares, I’m back in the room. Again though, this venue having the design flaws it does for loud live music, all of our earphone mixes are erratic, and poor Dave, our monitor engineer, has his work cut out for him tonight, as he did last night. He’s really on it though this lad, and works very hard to keep us all happy…me predominantly. I’ve never had to have so many adjustments made by him at all the gigs we’ve done so far combined, and he’s pulling all the stops out…thank god. It’s totally thanks to him that I got through this show.
It’s a really good show in the end and we’re all triumphant in the dressing room afterwards.
As are The Ruts…they’re superb as always, and for just three of them they absolutely fill the huge Academy with sound…mighty indeed. I kick myself that I was so preoccupied with my own woes tonight, that I forgot to name check them. It won’t happen again.
It’s a sobering thought though, that The Stranglers may never play in London again.
Things go a bit pear shaped here when after driving up to Manchester for the Warrington show, I discover I can’t speak, and we have to postpone the next 3 dates in Warrington, Nottingham and Cardiff…although by now you’ll know that they’ve all been rescheduled.
Thanks for your patience everyone…although I’m sure a lot of you were as pissed off as we were.
FRIDAY FEB 11 – MANCHESTER APOLLO
After any setback, a lot of people will use the old hackneyed expression ‘ get back on the horse’…never a truer word said.
This wonderful old theatre has, for a few years now, been the site of the last show of whatever tour we’re on. I can’t remember how it started, but bands can be superstitious too I suppose, and probably after a successful show, or tour, or something, it was suggested that this would always be our end show…or not…I really can’t say.
Anyhow, it’s not applicable here, as we find ourselves in one of our favourite venues just less that halfway through the tour.
It doesn’t disappoint…it never does. The roar of three and a half thousand lubricated Mancs fills the air, we launch into Toiler, and it’s as if the break we’ve just had never happened. We don’t like to break the momentum of a tour with anything other than legitimate days off. A rest is always appreciated, as we really give it some when we play, and it’s draining, but we generally don’t like too much time off…it can make you rusty.
But not tonight. It seems to have invigorated us, and we play a really tight punchy set that surprises us all, considering we’ve missed three shows.
You just never can tell.
It’s only when you’re back in the sanctity of your hotel room later that it dawns on you that you may never play these wonderful old places again with the band…or maybe you will…
If tonight was our last ever show in this city, or at least at the Apollo…it was an absolute cracker….
Thank you Manchester…
SATURDAY FEB 12 – LEEDS O2 ACADEMY
A short drive across the ever treacherous but always scenic M62 and we’re in Leeds. This particular venue is always brilliant, and the crowd are right on top of you…right there. I’ve always had a soft spot for Leeds O2, and tonight is the fullest I’ve ever seen it.
We absolutely slam into the first number, the place goes up, and never comes back down again. As I look around, every conceivable space is filled, and it’s a sea of faces right up into the rafters. It proves to be the hottest gig of the tour so far too, and JJ and I are pretty shiny from about five numbers in. Jim and Toby are really locked in too, and the whole thing just motors along. We’re really starting to click now, and we move smoothly through the gears, ramping things up, then bringing them back down again when we need to. The pace of the set is just about perfect now, and after moving songs about and making other changes at previous shows ,we’ve pretty much settled on a set, and I’d be surprised if we do anything radical with the running order from now on…but you never know…things are there to be messed with.
The acoustic encore we’ve been doing has been pretty emotional at times on previous evenings. It’s caught me a couple of times, and tonight it catches JJ. Not one for generally showing much emotion at all really, about anything, it’s a surprise to see him choke up during ‘Dave’, and he bears down hard to get through it…which of course he does as the pro he is…but it’s a reminder that although things are going really well and we’re playing great shows to packed houses, the spectre of Dave is never really far away, and can bite you on the arse at a seconds notice.
Dave would have loved that :)…
SUNDAY FEB 13 – TRAVEL DAY
We’re driving from Leeds to Portsmouth today. It’s pissing down with rain, the motorways are jammed solid…it’s England on a Sunday…but we’re in high spirits.
Can’t wait to get to the hotel bar.
MONDAY FEB 14 – PORTSMOUTH GUILDHALL
It’s been a few years since we’ve played this lovely old venue, and again, it’s probably the fullest I’ve seen it. They’ve opened the balcony this time, and the beautiful upholstery of the seats up there is perfectly in keeping with the grandeur of the place.
It’s a wet, cold, miserable night in Portsmouth…but they’ve turned out in droves, and the place is absolutely rocking. Any thoughts of a more sedate evening are quickly dispelled with the roar that greets us as we step on the stage. The Ruts have had a great evening too, (in fairness they always do) and have blown away any cobwebs, ready for us to do our stuff.
There’s sometimes a little bit of rust, even after only one night off, but not tonight. Toby proclaims it to be the tightest we’ve played on the tour. Jim struggles a little bit with his monitoring, getting a huge kick back on his drums from the back wall. He’s sitting very high up on his riser and paying for it a little bit tonight. There’s a big bass trap too, and the sound booms around a little, but not too much. This old hall was clearly never meant for loud rock bands, and we test it to the limit.
For the first time this tour, I encounter something that usually only happens at festivals…the gig absolutely flies by…seemingly in the blink of an eye, and I look down at the set list to discover we’re nearly done. I can’t quite describe the feeling. Toby seems to have felt the same thing. We’re all dripping wet, sitting in the dressing room thinking…shit, where did that go?
Portsmouth has always been good to us…let’s hope we can play somewhere close sometime in the future.
Great city, great gig.
TUESDAY FEB 15 – SOUTHEND WESTCLIFFE PAVILLION
The weather seems to have chased us right down the country from Leeds. We drove down in an absolute pelting rain storm the whole way on Sunday, it persisted all through Monday in Portsmouth, and it seems to have decided to save the best for last in Southend. The weather is absolutely appalling, and apparently there’s more on the way…people love to tell you that don’t they…” ooo, there’s a lot more on the way”. We’re confronted with some fans outside the stage door who look like they’ve been through it…drowned rats. They’ve clearly been waiting a while and are shiveringly wet. If we weren’t in our bubble, the usual thing would be to bring them out some tea, as we’ve done on many occasions before, but alas, we can’t. I feel bad.
The show is as you’d expect on a Tuesday night in Southend… a bit reserved, rowdy in places, but generally sedate. This is a council run venue, and all the usual anal restrictions are in place, including of course, no alcohol in the hall…and that really makes a difference believe me. So instead, the good folk of Southend stand and really watch the band…you feel very much like you’re under a microscope at these types of gigs, and they scrutinise everything. You pick your game up at gigs like these…you pick your game up every night of course, but more so when you know you’re being studied. So we play really well, and enjoy a different type of gig.
I doubt very much that we’ll ever be back at this venue, but we’ve had some good times here over the years, and I tell the crowd that at the end. The respond heartily, and filter out into the gloom outside, no doubt planning a last orders drink at a local bar somewhere. There’s quite a crowd outside and they’re in very good spirits all things considered…there’s a couple of them who are really rather pissed…
I wonder where they got the drink from….
WEDNESDAY FEB 16
Gone drinking in Brighton…..
THURSDAY FEB 17 – BRIGHTON DOME
The Dome is another of those old music halls that’s somewhere between boho chic, and chintz…a bit like Brighton itself really. We’ve played here many times and are always warmly received. We’ve spent a couple of days here and there seems to be a healthy cross section of the folk I’ve seen in the streets…straights and weirdos, hippies and rockers, and the occasional goth…which always raises a smile…especially as they seem to be middle aged men, intent on scaring the kids, all the while looking very silly indeed…takes all sorts.
This was Dave’s hometown, and he gets a great chant from the crowd…” there’s only one Dave Greenfield”…which of course we all know there was…but Toby is playing like a demon on the tour, and quite rightly gaining accolades everywhere we go. He’s unfazed by it all, and just gets on with it impeccably.
We glide smoothly through the gig, and are chuffed with the end result, playing very well, and lapping up the applause…as we do.
I’ve got some dear old friends in Brighton, and after the gig I speak to them as they drunkenly wend their way home…they had a great time and are full of praise for Toby especially…nice one.
I don’t know if we’ll ever play in Brighton again, but if we do, we know what to expect…the unexpected.
FRIDAY FEB 18 – NEWCASTLE CITY HALL
In another dazzling display of dodgy routing (so far it’s been pretty good on this tour actually) because of having to postpone the tour twice, and being at the mercy of venue availability like everybody else, we find ourselves wearily climbing aboard the tour bus with the road crew, and driving through the night from Brighton up to Newcastle. Originally, we were taking the train, but Storm Eunice decides to make her presence felt, so pretty much all forms of transport are suspended, so to get there, we go old school.
It’s worth the journey.
Those of you who come to see us in the north east will probably know of my relationship with a certain section of the crowd, who seem to take offence at my place of birth. You may even be one of them. Those of you who are sensible and above such things however just need to know that I’m from a town called Sunderland, and as far as the idiots are concerned, that’s enough to hate me and shout some pretty nasty abuse… (to the best of my knowledge I’ve never been a mackem cunt…but there you are).
I’ve also however, got some very dear geordie mates who always get onto me for abusing the crowd. They don’t hear the crap that’s shouted at me and think I’m just a wind up merchant…spewing unprovoked bile at their brethren.
Simply put, I’m defending myself. It’s only ever been good natured banter from my side, but of course, like a lot of things, it goes too far sometimes, and I’ve been as guilty as them for hurling insults. I’ve got a pretty quick temper, inherited from my old dad, and can just snap. It’s made for some interesting spats over the years, so I always approach Newcastle gigs with trepidation…walking on stage to a torrent of boos doesn’t put you in the best frame of mind generally speaking.
I’m explaining all this because stepping on stage tonight was a pleasure. There was none of the expected bullshit from the boo boys…and if they felt like it, even they realised tonight was never going to be about them and kept schtum. I was very pleasantly surprised. I had a few barbed sarcastic comments ready for them, but amazingly didn’t need them…even they maybe realising that it’s not where you’re from…it’s where you’re at. Or maybe they were just told to shut the fuck up.
Either way, tonight is easily the best Newcastle gig we’ve done in my two decades plus in the band. There was really a lot of love in the room, and we rose to it, playing a blinder. Just goes to show the effect a good crowd can have on you…anybody in a band will tell you that.
We came away from the City Hall with very warm hearts.
Thank you Newcastle…never thought I’d see the day.
SATURDAY FEB 19 – BIRMINGHAM O2 ACADEMY
Another big old draughty barn that benefits 1000000% from a crowd. A more inhospitable venue during the day, you’ll go far to find. It’s horrible, freezing, and antiquated, and also with a very low ceiling, on and off the stage. It’s very easy to get blinded by the lights if they’re not positioned just so, and we usually spend sound checks here grimacing and squinting at the lights. However, get 3,000 people in it, and the atmosphere is difficult to beat, anywhere in the world. Brummies know how to go for it…always have. This city is changing so much and so fast, it’s almost like going from a different city to another on each subsequent visit. Jim’s a black country boy, and as we drive through the urban sprawl, he fills us in on one economical council funded disaster after another…and he knows his stuff. It’s fascinating to hear.
The roar that greets us, and had greeted The Ruts, is something to behold…you can actually feel it. A Saturday night in Birmingham is always a great gig, and right from the off the whole room becomes one living, breathing thing…a cliche’ I know…but true.
We’ve done three off the spin now including this one, and are like a well oiled (cliche’ tastic!) machine. One of those shows you don’t want to end…of course, it does, and we’re off into the cold Birmingham night before you know it.
Gladdens the heart…it really does.
SUNDAY FEB 20
MONDAY FEB 21 – BRISTOL O2 ACADEMY.
This has long been one of my favourite places to play, don’t ask me why. It’s got the same nonchalant, couldn’t really give a fuck attitude to it, like most of the other O2s have. Not much thought has gone into the comfort and safety of the artists or crowds…as long as the numbers come through the door. It never ceases to amaze me how, on walking into the venue, you never think they’ll get the people in that they’ve told you to expect…it just looks so small. It’s pokey and rough around the edges…but again, at show time, it’s just amazing. I think for me it’s the proximity of the crowd, and how every conceivable space is filled with people. You have to crane your neck to see the folks at the very top…and you can see that they’re bracing their hands on the ceiling, so far up are they…just amazing. It’s also a certain persons birthday tonight, and it’s a biggun…so the evening, sort of rightly so, seems to centre around that. Not that he’s too swept away by it, being the celebrated birthday curmudgeon he is, but he takes it in his stride, and it’s fair to say, I saw in his face how touched he was that the whole audience sang happy birthday to him. Then it was gone…ha ha..and he celebrated by taking his shirt off for the encores, just so everyone could see how well this particular septuagenarian has faired over the years.
Even more amazingly, the whole band gather in the hotel bar later to toast him over a late drink. Nice end to another great evening.
I’ll be particularly sad not to play this venue again, if that’s what happens. It’s always held affection for me…and as always, that’s down to the crowds that come. Every single time we’ve played here it’s sold out in a heartbeat…and how they can get 2000 people in is beyond me.
I hope our paths cross again Bristol O2…but don’t hold your breath.
TUESDAY FEB 22 – READING HEXAGON
I would hazard a guess and say that even to people from Reading, a Tuesday night out probably isn’t the most appealing thing in the world…and I mean that with all due respect.
But as we know, things can often turn out very differently from what you’d expect…and this gig was certainly that. It could very well turn out to be one of the gigs of the tour, and certainly one where we played almost flawlessly from start to finish. The room itself, despite it’s weird hexagonal shape(yes…that’s why it’s called The Hexagon folks) is very well designed for sound, having been, as people, particularly blokes from a certain era will attest, the venue for most of the televised snooker from the 1970’s and 80’s. It’s a very flat, dry room, which is perfect for sound, and we’ve got one of the best sound engineers at front of house in the business…it sounds the mutts nuts. It’s also high, wide and handsome, so the lighting trusses all go in perfectly, and it looks fantastic…we’ve got one of the best lighting designers in the business too…aren’t we lucky.
After any excesses of the night before, we’re in fine fettle, and play very well indeed. My ear monitors are improving all the time too…did I mention we’ve got one of the best monitor engineers in the business? Well we have…and he’s worked hard and closely with us all to get the sounds we each need. Tonight is almost perfect, and if you gauge how flustered I might be by how many times you see me look at the engineer to my left and ask for a sound adjustment, you’ll know that I didn’t have to do that once tonight…not once.
The crowd are amazing for a Tuesday too. I know I bang on about the difference that the night of the week makes to a gig, but it’s very important. In a perfect world we’d play every night of the week, if the week was composed purely of Fridays and Saturdays, but you’re at the mercy of availability for a lot of these halls, and you get what you’re given a lot of the time.
I loved tonight…we all did.
WEDNESDAY FEB 23
A point to make about today. Toby has been suffering from a rotten dead tooth that’s been getting steadily worse as the tour has gone on. His dentist at home told him before we came out on the road, that he’d be ok and they’d address it once he got home.
Poor guy has suffered in silence as much as he could, but today it just got too much. He’d already been to an emergency dentist in Birmingham a few days before, who x rayed him and gave him some antibiotics….but to no real effect.
Cutting a long story short, he phoned another dentist in Reading the night of the show…played the afore mentioned great show in considerable pain, then promptly got up this morning, went to a guy in Reading, and got the fucking thing pulled out…then got in the car with us all, and we made our way up to Sheffield. He sat and barely uttered a word…proper old school.
I’ve had teeth issues on the road before, many years ago in France, and it’s no picnic I can tell you…
THURSDAY FEB 24 – SHEFFIELD CITY HALL
This used to be one of those places that you always saw in band touring ads in the 70’s and 80’s…very much on the circuit. It hasn’t really been a fixture for many years now, which is a shame because it’s a really beautiful old theatre…fantastic architecture and very nicely appointed. There are three tiers, and a beautiful atrium of stained glass high above the crowd…it’s some place. Unfortunately it’s also an all seated venue, right up to the stage, with maybe a four feet wide walkway separating the edge of the stage from peoples knees in the front row.
Ah the front row…
It seems that there’s a society, or group of some kind, that have been given the entire front row tonight. They sure don’t look like Stranglers fans to me, and indeed quite a few of them don’t look like they really want to be here at all. A couple of people never move, show any kind of emotion or enthusiasm, and if it wasn’t for the fact that their eyes are open, you could be forgiven for thinking there was no pulse or heartbeat at all. The fans behind them look very bemused as to why these people are here, taking up valuable real estate that they clearly would love to have, but they soon get over it, and the whole crowd rise out of seats and the festivities begin. We’ve had a night off, and start the show a little creakily…but by the fourth or fifth number we’re back in the saddle and making up lost ground. I have a bit of a relationship with Sheffield, and spent a lot of time down here a few years ago. I spot some familiar faces in the crowd from time to time, and the whole place is warming up nicely.
It’s during a break and a drink that things take a slightly surreal turn. I mentioned earlier that the front row weren’t your average gig goers, and that becomes very apparent when one of them jumps up, points her phone at me, and bellows at me to wish Mick a happy birthday…whoever the hell Mick is…in no uncertain terms. She seems totally oblivious to the fact that she’s stopped the show, and there are 2000 people behind her wondering what the fuck is going on. I served a very long apprenticeship in my youth playing the working men’s clubs in the north east of England, and this feels like that. It’s funny though, and I soon warm to the conversation, and explain to the crowd what’s going on…much to their amusement. Life on the road has always been unpredictable.
And just to punctuate how unpredictable the world can be, we hear today that the fucking Russian madman, I won’t say his name, has finally decided to invade the Ukraine…he’s actually gone and done it…in this day and age…
Puts our little touring world and bubble into shocking perspective
FRIDAY FEB 25 – LEICESTER DE MONTFORD HALL
This is a beautiful old theatre, and a first for me. JJ seems to recall the band playing here decades ago, and indeed, this is only the second time the band have played Leicester since I joined…the first being at the O2 just down the road a few tours ago.
When I was a kid and beginning to read the music press of the day, and taking notice of touring bands and all that starry eyed wonderful stuff, this gig was always on the circuit…everybody played here for years, and I always wondered what it would be like to play a venue like this. Funny how some things just stick in your head.
And so, here we are. The place is buzzing and as we arrive at the hall I can hear The Ruts tearing into their final stretch, so I step side stage to have a look. They’re so tight and well drilled…they really do make it look effortless. I have a look out through the curtain beside me, and can see the place is rammed. The Ruts finish with a huge rush of adrenalin as they always do, and leave the stage to thunderous applause…job done.
We take to the stage half an hour later to the same huge roar, and quickly settle into the gig. I think we play really well, but afterwards JJ confesses to it being his worst show of the tour…” I fucked up in every single song tonight”.
We always go on about how we’re our own worst critics, and he’s no different. You want to give your very best, but we’re a live living breathing band, and things of course, don’t always go smoothly. I have to confess though, I think he’s being a little hard on himself. I have him loud and proud in my ear monitors, and didn’t hear any of the mistakes he’s talking about. Jim says the same…”dunno what you’re on about…you sounded fine to me”.
It’s nice to know though that we still care very much about what we do.
I think tonight is a triumph, and I tell the crowd as much at the end.
Another really good gig, and I’m chuffed that on a personal level, I finally got to play such a lovely famous old place.
SATURDAY FEB 26 – CAMBRIDGE CORN EXCHANGE
Well, this is the one we were looking forward to, and sort of dreading in equal amounts…Dave’s home gig, the beautiful old Cambridge Corn Exchange. This has long been a Stranglers stronghold, due to Dave, and at one time JJ, living very close to Cambridge itself. We’ve done this on every UK tour I’ve done with the Stranglers, and I’ve played here when I was in Smalltown Heroes, seemingly 100 years ago.
It never changes.
The streets surrounding it are every bit the quintessential English town streets of ancient academia…most of the cities’ colleges being located in the centre. Gothic, imposing architecture, narrow streets teeming with bars, cafes and people, and droves of Stranglers fans crowd the pavements…it’s always impressive coming down here in the afternoon to sound check…the place is absolutely alive.
This gig was scheduled to be the last show of the tour, but of course due to the postponements we had earlier, it’s now the penultimate one. It’s been sold out for two years, and each time one of the crew comes backstage in the minutes leading up to us going on, they say “gonna be a lively one tonight…they’re totally up for it” and you can hear the noise they’re making from our dressing room down in the bowels of the hall.
We step on stage to a barrage of deafening roars…and it never lets up for two solid hours…they’re amazing. A lot of Dave’s friends are here, as is his widow Pam, and emotions are running high as you’d expect…especially when JJ and I play ‘ And if you should see Dave’. I’ve managed to keep it together doing this song for most of the tour, but tonight it gets to me…especially the line ‘ it would be nice to say hello…this is where your solo would go’…the lights change, and the keyboard podium is lit…eliciting a huge roar and cheers from the crowd…not a dry eye in the theatre as they say.
Afterwards we open up the hospitality bar upstairs in Dave’s memory…it was one of his favourite parts of the tour in years gone by, where he’d meet up with all his pals from his village, and his missus, and hold court. I have some great memories of him doing that. There are quite a few fans up there, and we spend a lovely half an hour or so catching up with people. I’ve got a lot of mates from Dave’s village too, having played there with him many times in his beloved club just down the road from his house, and it’s good to catch up with some of them. I see Toby deep in conversation with Pam, which is a nice thing, and overall the evening is a warm and loving celebration…with a really good gig chucked in the middle of it.
Farewell Cambridge Corn Exchange…well, for now anyway…
SUNDAY FEB 27 – WARRINGTON PARR HALL
This is the first of the postponed gigs to be stitched onto the end of the tour. I’ve never played here before, and the last time the Stranglers played here was just before I joined with the Mk 2 line up. It’s one of the smallest venues on the tour, with a very ‘comfortable’ size stage, and a capacity of around 1200. It’s been sold out since the very beginning.
As the crow flies, I don’t live that far from here, and Mrs Warne has come to see the show, stay the night, and take me home in the morning. The last time I saw her was the enforced break when I had to go home earlier in the tour. I wasn’t what you’d call a ray of sunshine for those few days, so it’s very nice to see her when I’m feeling more human. The chaps are pleased to see her too, and I hear her and Jim guffawing at something in the next room.
We play a very tight, but maybe fatigued set tonight. It’s been a very long tour, and with everything that’s happened, all the emotion and pure energy that’s been flying around for nearly two months all told, we’re beginning to feel it now…properly. We’re all tired.
The crowd couldn’t care less about that though, and this beautiful little old theatre is absolutely bouncing. It gives us the final kick we need, and pushes us easily, for now at least, over the finish line. A great show, and the hottest of the tour… (I keep saying that don’t I?) We’re dripping in the dressing room afterwards…but we’ve done it. There are two more shows to fulfil in March in Nottingham and Cardiff, so we’re not really saying goodbye just yet, but it still feels as if we’ve really achieved something…something that was out of our reach for a long time, and something that felt like maybe it would never come back…but against all the odds…every last fucking one of them…it did.
Raising a final glass before we all go our separate ways for a few weeks, JJ looks at me and says ” maybe God is a Stranglers fan Baz”
If you believe in such things, it would be hard to disagree…
The Stranglers have played a venue in Glasgow every time they toured the UK. That means, for the past 45 years, it has been a main stay for the band and there’s a reason for that, if you can make it in Glasgow, you can make it anywhere! It’s a tough nut to crack but ultimately worth it. The tour had been re-scheduled twice leading up to the gig and Covid took its toll on the band. Losing their keyboard player Dave Greenfield in May 2020 could have resulted in a premature end to the band but to honour Dave’s memory, they took the difficult decision to carry on. The tour has sold out many dates so far and this resulted in an additional date being added to Glasgow. The Stranglers have never really needed an excuse to tour but having a new critically acclaimed album to share with their “family” had given it more credibility than merely touring for touring’s sake either to celebrate an anniversary or play their greatest hits.
The Stranglers have had some weird and wonderful support bands join them throughout the years but possibly the best of those were signed up for the 2022 Dark Matters Tour. Ruts DC have headlined many tours, but they have a long history with the band, so they were the perfect choice. It’s not that long ago, the two bands toured the UK together so its mutually beneficial for them to kick off some form of normality as the UK tries to recover from the lockdown.
The O2 Academy was nearly full by the time Ruts DC came on stage which is rare for a support band and testament to their popularity. The band kicked off with one of their better-known singles “Something That I Said”. Another early tune quickly followed as “SuS” brought the crowd alive as the iconic tune had Leigh Heggarty thrashing his black Gibson Les Paul during the chorus. The dynamic of the song shows off what the band do best. There’s a new album in the pipeline for the band in 2022 and a tour is being planned for later in the year but meantime, the set in Glasgow was made up of the seminal songs from their first two albums supplemented by two from their last album “Music Must Destroy”. One of these newer songs “Kill the Pain” is a mid-set regular. There was a brand new tune, “Born Innocent” played right before “Jah War” and it was well received. The band played two of their popular chart singles “Staring at the Rude Boys” and “Babylon’s Burning” but it was “Psychic Attack” that brought the evenings to a close. Seg’s Jennings was resplendent as ever and the drumming of Dave Ruffy belies his years as he seems to find the energy to drive the band from the back. The guitar playing from Leigh Heggarty is a marvel to behold. Judging by their relish still to perform, there’s plenty life left in the band.
“Waltzinblack” always signifies the arrival of The Stranglers. A second night in Glasgow and a great number of familiar faces on the barrier to see the last remaining original member of the band take the stage. The set list often changes when the band are on a full tour but tonight, “Toiler on The Sea” remained as the opener. The iconic bass driven song from the bands third album “Black and White” is revered as one of their greatest songs. It’s a chance for Tony Hounsham to introduce himself to those onlookers who had not seen him in action. Toby cut his teeth in a tribute band where he had learned the material and now revered as Dave’s disciple. There may have been a massive expectation to not just fill in for Dave but to do his legacy justice and he did that handsomely. Toby faithfully reproduced Dave’s phenomenal keyboard playing and put any concerns the crowd had at ease. Next up was “Something Better Change” followed by “Sometimes” this rounded offa trio of songs from the first threealbums. The hard-core element of the crowd was already bouncing. It’s not all about the old songs though as “Water” fromthe new album “Dark Matters” showed how the band have embraced their iconicsound. The song is already a regular in the set having been written four years ago and aired on a few tours already. The bands fourth studio album, “The Raven”, provided a good number of songs in the set and “Don’t Bring Harry” got a rare outing and it went down surprisingly well. The sound was stark with Toby’s meticulous keyboard playing backed by Burnel’s delicate vocals. The hits from the 80’s have often been treated as a toilet break but “Strange Little Girl” and “Always the Sun” went someway to breaking that mis-conception judging by the sing-a-long. “Peaches” always gives Baz the opportunity to unleash his humour on the audience when he ad-lib’s to “I can think of a lot worse places to be…”, “The Ukrainian Border” replaced the original lyric much to the amusement of the on-lookers. As JJ quietly started the bass intro to “Baroque Bordello” you could feel the growing acknowledgement from the crowd as another track from the popular fourth album was played. The song showed Toby could also fill in for Dave on vocals.
“White Stallion” gave the band the opportunity to show off the best of the new album. The heavy electronic synth and bass reverberated the entire venue as JJ spread his arms wide to engage the crowd. The bands dark side is always simmering and “Curfew”, brought back some nostalgia as JJ sang “Go to Scotland, no obligation”. A sight to behold as the crowd acknowledged the inclusion of the song in the set as a sign that band were still in touch with their fans. The band delivered a memorable performance of “Nuclear Device” and “Straighten Out”. “Walk on by” reminded the audience that the musicianship on show was considerable as the band used every ounce of talent to play the popular Dionne Warrick classic. As Toby and Baz took turns to solo, JJ’s bass runs were under pinned by Jim Macauley’s hard hitting drumming. Baz continued to show his flair with an unusual looking Burns guitar as the band ended the main set with “The Last Men on the Moon” from “Dark Matters”. After a brief stage blackout, JJ and Baz returned to sit on two stools to play “Lines” and “If You Should See Dave”. There was a slight technical hitch as the pair played through the first song as if they were miming. No front of house PA and the in-ear monitors did not alert them to that fact. As the crowd waved and pointed at them, it wasn’t until the end of the short song that either of them realised what had happened. Baz too the chance to do a little dance to make light of the situation. The quickly got back on track and finally splayed through “Lines”. JJ took the opportunity to pay tribute to his dear old friend who had passed prior to playing “And If You Should See Dave”. It’s a poignant song and was respectfully received by the entire crowd as they took a few precious moments to remember Dave Greenfield. The two front men took their leave from the stage once again only to return moments later to ask the crowd if they had a preference of encore, they teased the sell-out crowd with their first single “Grip” or the iconic “Tank” from “Black and White”. As the crowd cheered loudly for both, it would appear that “Grip” won the battle but not to disappoint anyone, “Tank” swiftly followed. After the riotous applause, JJ walked up some steps on the rear stage riser right below the massive Stranglers logo and he ripped into “No More Heroes”. This gave the audience their last chance of the evening to savour The Stranglers before they waved goodbye to Glasgow for what might be the last time. Time will tell but there’s still another 20 dates left on the tour if you’re able to locate a venue that still has a ticket. With so many sell out dates, it bodes well for the band and the new material has rewarded the faithful for sticking with them.
PUNK IS NOT DEAD ! Si certains en doutaient, le punk est bel et bien vivant en 2022. La preuve ? Les Stranglers sont venus nous la donner pour un concert exceptionnel sur le plateau de Ground Control. Dark Matters, leur 18ème album, est sorti en septembre dernier.
Dark Matters, ôde au sombre ? Co-écrit en partie avec Dave Greenfield, le claviériste des Stranglers emporté par la maladie en 2020, l’album aborde aussi bien des thèmes comme le deuil et la vieillesse que des vues plus politiques. À l’écoute, qu’on ne s’y trompe pas : l’album n’a rien de plombant, bien au contraire. On retrouve les nappes de synthé propres à la musique des Stranglers, ces fameux arpèges qui firent le succès de l’incomparable “Golden Brown”, présent sur l’album La Folie de 1981. Encore aujourd’hui, ils confèrent au groupe un son reconnaissable entre tous.
L’esprit punk, lui aussi, est toujours bien présent. À croire qu’il ne les a jamais quittés depuis 1974, date de leurs débuts sur les scènes des pubs londoniens. Aujourd’hui composé de Jean-Jacques Burnel, Baz Warne et Jim Macauley, le groupe n’a jamais cessé d’exister.
Sur la scène du Ground Control comme sur l’album, les morceaux se succèdent avec une cadence qui nous rappelle que The Stranglers n’ont rien perdu de leur énergie. Le concert commence et les guitares répondent aux claviers sur le titre d’ouverture de l’album : “Water”. Vient ensuite le morceau “I’ve Been Wild”, où la basse de “JJ” Burnel nous entraîne dans une folle course poursuite rock qui nous plonge dans l’ambiance de l’album Norfolk Coast.
Après les tubes “Always the Sun” et “No More Heroes”, le groupe concluera le concert par le dernier morceau de l’album, “The Last Men on The Moon”, qui fait la part belle aux magnats de la conquête spatiale. Rebelles et à contre-courant, les Stranglers ? Toujours !
Setlist : Water I’ve Been Wild This Song Norfolk Coast Always the Sun Don’t Bring Harry White Stallion Relentless Hanging Around No More Heroes Moon
Concert filmé le 8 décembre 2021 au Ground Control, Paris.
This past Monday, February 28th, The Stranglers appeared as one of the guests on the French TV music program ARTE Concert Ground Control. Hosted by the French musician Christophe Chassol, the program features bands and solo artists in performance and conversation. On the February 28th broadcast, the current lineup of The Stranglers (bassist and founding member JJ Burnel, vocalist and guitarist Baz Warne, drummer Jim Macaulay and keyboardist Toby Hounsham) are shown performing five songs. The first 20 minutes of the hour-long show were devoted to the band. And they returned at the end of the show to close it out.
Opening with a powerhouse version of “No More Heroes” that showcased their signature prog-meets-punk sound and was augmented by a stage-invading dancing guy clad in a kilt, The Stranglers were also shown performing their cover of The Disciples of Spess’ “This Song” (which appeared on their most recent album, Dark Matters) as well as the classics “Hanging Around,” “Tank” and “Always The Sun.” The crowd in the studio watching the performance appeared to be having a fantastic time.
In addition to his performance with The Stranglers, Burnel also did an interview in French on the program with Chassol. And Burnel participated in a four-way conversation in English with Chassol and the brothers Jim Reid and William Reid of the Scottish band The Jesus and Mary Chain, who were also guests on the show.
The other guests on the program were Keren Ann and Quatour Debussy and Molly Lewis.
The program was streamed live on ARTE Concert’s YouTube channel and on ARTE Concert’s Facebook page. It is available for on-demand viewing at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UauZL-m1Ohg. It can also be viewed below:
On Monday, March 14th, The Stranglers’ full performance for Ground Control, including several songs that were not broadcast on February 28th, will be available for on-demand viewing on ARTE Concert’s Web site at https://www.arte.tv/en/arte-concert/.
John Curley is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, writing album, book and DVD reviews, the occasional feature and contributing to 10 Albums That Changed My Life for the print magazine as well as writing live reviews, features and posts for the UK music blog Sounds From Across The Pond for Goldmine’s Web site.
Oh my word! This is certainly not one to miss! The Undertones AND ex Stranglers frontman Hugh Cornwell will both be performing in Brighton on the same bill at the popular Chalk venue this month!
The Undertones emerged from Derry in 1976, the result of five friends (John O’Neill, Damian O’Neill, Fergal Sharkey, Billy Doherty and Michael Bradley) learning how to play basic rock and roll.
Even by the standards of that decade Derry was not the rock and roll capital of anywhere. With no live bands worth watching, they learned by listening to mail order records, reading one of the few copies of NME that made it to Derry but most of all from listening to John Peel’s wonderful show on BBC Radio One. Practicing in their bedrooms eventually led to the band recording John O’Neill’s ‘Teenage Kicks’ in 1978 on Terri Hooley’s Good Vibrations label in Belfast. The legendary DJ John Peel received a copy and liked it so much he played it twice in a row on his radio show.
The Undertones signed with Sire Records and ‘Teenage Kicks’ was re-released, resulting in the band’s first appearance on Top Of The Pops. Over the next five years, John O Neill, crafted further pop gems such as `Here Comes The Summer`, ‘Jimmy Jimmy`, `You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It)’ and ‘Wednesday Week’ whilst Damian O’Neill and Michael Bradley contributed ‘My Perfect Cousin’. They also recorded four highly acclaimed LPs. Indeed, they almost enjoyed the life of professional musicians. In 1983 Feargal Sharkey left the band to pursue a solo career and the remaining members decided to call it a day. The Undertones were to remain silent for the next sixteen years.
In 1999 The Undertones reconvened, without Fergal Sharkey, to once again perform their two-minute, three and a half chord songs to a new generation of fans in Derry. Fellow Derryman Paul McLoone replaced Sharkey on vocals and his vocal prowess and electric onstage presence soon convinced any doubters that he was more than capable of doing the job.
After much consideration the band released an LP of new songs called ‘Get What You Need’, which was critically acclaimed by Q magazine, Uncut, Rolling Stone and Hot Press. Songs like ‘Thrill Me’, ‘I Need Your Love The Way It Used To Be’ and ‘Everything But You’ showed that the art of writing short, sharp songs had not been lost over the previous two decades.
In 2003 ‘Thrill Me’ was released as a limited edition 7” vinyl single and found its way to John Peel’s turntable. He introduced it on his show commenting, “And these are words I thought I would never be saying on radio again, a new single from The Undertones”. He liked it so much he played it twice, just as he did with ‘Teenage Kicks’ in 1978.
The band marked Record Store Day 2013 with a 7” vinyl only release, recorded in the famous Toe Rag studio in London. A return to their punk roots, ‘Much Too Late’ sold out the 1,000 copies before the day was out.
In 2016 the Band released vinyl remasters of their first two LPs; ‘The Undertones – The Undertones’ and ‘The Undertones – Hypnotised’ along with a 7” vinyl remix of the 1979 single ‘Get Over You’. Remixed by Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine/Primal Scream). Michael Bradley also published his book ‘Teenage Kicks: My Life As An Undertone’.
2018 marked the 40th Anniversary of the release of their most influential and famous song, ’Teenage Kicks’. On 21st April for Record Store Day 2018 the band released a Vinyl Singles Box Set containing the 13 x 7” original Undertones singles from the classic early period: 1978-1983
The current line-up has been together for over 20 years now which is very impressive. It consists of John O’Neill – rhythm guitar and backing vocals (1975–1983, 1999–present), Michael Bradley – bass guitar, keyboards, lead and backing vocals (1975–1983, 1999–present), Billy Doherty – drums (1975–1983, 1999–present), Damian O’Neill – lead guitar, keyboards and backing vocals (1976–1983, 1999–present), and Paul McLoone – lead vocals (1999–present).
Support on the tour will come from Hugh Cornwell who is one of the UK’s finest song-writing talents and accomplished live performers. The original guitarist, singer and main songwriter in The Stranglers enjoyed massive UK and European success with ten hit albums and twenty-one top forty singles, etching himself into the UK’s musical psyche with ‘Peaches’, ‘No More Heroes’, ‘Golden Brown’, ‘Always The Sun’, ‘Grip’, ‘Nice N Sleazy’, ‘Duchess’, ‘Walk On By’, ‘Strange Little Girl’ and ‘Skin Deep’.
For the forthcoming Brighton date, fans can expect a mix of prime solo songs and iconic Stranglers hits, sung and played by the man himself and his band. In fact, the Brighton & Hove News Music Team have previously reported on his appearance in Leeds of all places! Enjoy our review HERE.
‘It’s Going To Happen’ at Chalk in Pool Valley, Brighton on Thursday 17th March 2022, so go and get your ‘Teenage Kicks’ as ‘Here Comes The Summer’. The doors will open at 6:30pm and the fun will begin. You can bring along ‘Jimmy Jimmy’, ‘Julie Ocean’, your ‘Perfect Cousin’ Kevin, a ‘Male Model’,‘Hannah Doot’ and ‘Boy Wonder’.
Order your tickets HERE or HERE or order from your usual ticket agent!
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Hugh Cornwell returns with his highly anticipated tenth solo album “Moments of Madness” with ten outstanding tracks that are set to surprise. The album is released on Friday October 7, 2022. MOMENTS OF MADNESS – NEW ALBUM AND TOUR Hugh Cornwell returns with his highly anticipated tenth solo album Moments of Madness with ten outstanding tracks that […]
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17 Apr 2022 When you’re a fan of both The Stranglers and Wrexham, it seems almost inevitable you are going to work out which of the band’s impressive back catalogue would fit in well on the terraces at The Racecourse. So it was that radio presenter and musician Neil Crud came to record what can […]