There have been a quite a few different line-ups calling itself the Stranglers since the departure of singer and guitarist Hugh Cornwell, but at present the band is a settled quartet comprising of original members Jean-Jacque Burnel, Jet Black and Dave Greenfield and relatively new guy Baz Warne. I have to confess that the last Stranglers record I bough was “The Gospel According to the Meninblack” though the band have remained busy since then and have released a steady stream of albums culminating in ‘Suite XVI’ in 2006. Still, this latest version is a well drilled unit that’s more than able to do justice to all the material they have at their disposal. However before the Stranglers come out to play, there’s two bands looking to ratchet up the tension and get the crowd good and ready for the arrival of the men in black.
First is Mike Marlin and his band who play some great downbeat pop songs, though it’s a cover of the Bee Gees ‘Stayin’ Alive’ that wins him the biggest cheer of his set. Next is a true living legend; Wilko Johnson. It’s great to see the ex-Dr Feelgood man back up on stage and banging out those classic rhythm and blues numbers he and the Feelgoods made famous, and unsurprisingly he has the audience in the palm of his hand almost from the off. Aided and abetted by Norman Watt-Roy, Wilko still possesses the most crazed stare in rock though it’s when he jerks about the stage machine gunning the crowd with his guitar that excitement levels start to rise. During the set Jean-Jacque Burnel and Baz Warne make a surprise visit holding balloons and wearing nothing more than a smile! It seems strange now that the Stranglers were once accused of possessing a rugged misogyny for employing female strippers as part of their show. But now it’s the boys themselves who are engaged in a full Monty performance. How times change.Sadly Wilko Johnson’s short set comes to a close far to early, and the crowd could’ve danced along to more timeless rock n rock gems like ‘Roxette’ and ‘Back in the Night’.
With no new studio album to promote other than the new greatest hits CD Decades Apart, this gives the Stranglers licence to cherry pick the best songs from their back catalogue for tonight’s set. Racing from the starting line with a forceful rendition of ‘I Feel Like A Wog’ the band spend the next ninety minutes delivering a set that contains numerous high points. The first for me is a stomping (Get A) Grip (On Yourself), which really gets the crowd moving. It’s apparent that the band’s set up is much the same as it’s always been. The vocals are shared between and Burnel and Warne - Warne generally sings Hugh Conwell’s parts and contributes a mean guitar. Dave Greenfield is obscured by his keyboards which he uses to embellish these great tunes with intricate passages. And finally, septuagenarian Jet Black belies his age with a fierce display of muscular drumming. However pride of place is Burnel’s bass which still delivers a guttural wallop, especially on the smash and grab intro to ‘Hanging Around’ And on the evening went with one classic Stranglers tune following the other. ‘Peaches’ and ‘5 Minuets’ are greeted like old bruisers, though the band also cover their iron fists with velvet gloves occasionally, especially for a lovely rendition of the majestic Golden Brown; a tune whose prettiness masks the dark subject hidden in the lyrics. There’s also a wonderful moment when the crowd find their voice to sing along to “Always The Sun’ The band finish the set with a blast with ‘Nuclear Assault’.
The Stranglers return to romp through the Hanging Around and Duchess. Then for one last time with a riotous version of the Kinks ‘All Day and All of the Night’, and, having saved the best till last, finally finish with the crowd favourite ‘No More Heroes’.
Review & photos by Phil King