Whatever Happened to…… The Stranglers?
Ah the mid 1970s. Recession, unemployment, riots, Royal celebrations…. Fast forward 35 years to 2012 taking in 24 Top 20 singles and 18 Top 40 Albums. A lot of acts today will be lucky if they get half-a-dozen never mind that many but at Manchester Academy on 24 March it was easy to see why The Stranglers have continued past the sell by date of many of their contemporaries to remain as fresh and new as they ever were. Touring ostensibly to promote their first album in six years, Giants, the band played Manchester as the last date of their UK tour before departing to Belgium for the start of their European leg, The Stranglers showed what makes them one of the most influential bands to come out of the punk era of the 1970s and why as long as they can keep touring they will be selling tickets.
The fun started before they even took the stage (officially) with Irish Folk rockers The Popes and their eclectic mix of electric mandolin (two of), fiddle, top hat, crystal skull kissing, cow bells, high kicking, arse kicking rabble rousing ditties. Formed originally by Shane McGowan they have long outgrown their creator to become their own monster and one that takes no prisoners giving the audience a polished and bravura performance of old favourites such as Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down along with material from their new album, New Church. Whipping the crowd into a frenzy they were joined on stage at the dying dervish moments of their final track by Baz and JJ wearing green mankinis (I kid you not) and Guinness hats. I’m sure I speak for many when I say that’s an image I will not be forgetting in a hurry.
By the time JJ and Baz appeared back on stage (fortunately now fully clothed) Stranglers fervour was well in advance and not even Jet Black’s absence due to a recent chest infection could dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd as the band took to the stage to the eerie opening chords of the Hammond organ and launched into Burning Up Time hitting the ground running.
Considering this track dates from 1977 arguably when some of the crowd were either not born or were infants the fact that everyone immediately recognised it speaks volumes for the reach and influence of the group. Backed up by Ian Barnard as Jet Black’s apprentice and Dave Greenfield behind his bank of keyboards, track after track followed in a torrent each one being met with the same shouts of approval and if anyone wanted any confirmation just how much this band have written here it was; Hanging Around followed seamlessly on from Rise of the Robots and then we had the latest single Time Was Once On Our Side from the new album; a bass line lead pure slice of Stranglers class which led into what could have been dubbed “nostalgia corner” of a grouping of the majority of the Cornwell fronted singles from nearly two decades ago; Golden Brown, Strange Little Girl and Peaches to name but three of the group. However if you didn’t know these had been originally performed by another singer well you wouldn’t have guessed it as Baz whilst not having the same laconic delivery as Cornwell arguably commands these lyrics as his own and I heard no dissenters. I’ve Lost Control and Shut Up took us to No More Heroes and the place was now pogo-ing by itself.
Fortunately there were no repeats of previous gig drink throwing over JJ which was just as well as by now both the crowd and the band were on a roll and by the final track of the main set, Something Better Change, all you could see was a sea of hands and heads as long term fans and first comers alike sang along with the lyrics. At this point the band left the stage only to return moments later after the obligatory chants to play Time to Die and Duchess. That was it. Or so we thought. A second encore – All Day And All of the Night at which point it was quite possible that the roof would be lifting off and an explosive finale of Tank. Then that was your lot.
Listening to all the tracks you become aware just how much The Stranglers have achieved, the standard of their music and above all the diehard loyalty of their fans. Yes there were bits where only the diehards will have been happy- I’ve never been too keen on guitar breaks mid song – but when the guitarists are JJ and Baz you can rather forgive the indulgence of somebody with their obvious quality doing what they enjoy; a fact which was evident throughout the gig as the band laughed and joked their way through a polished and incredibly tight set. The fact is this band have an amazingly deep well of back catalogue on which to draw and it is a constant testament to their ability as a band that of the 23 tracks played only 4 were from the new album, one more than from their debut album, illustrating the fact that had you been asked to put the songs in their various decades with one of two exceptions it would have been difficult to execute the task with any certainty. Only one thing would be certain, that these were tracks by The Stranglers, always influential, always fresh and never, ever out of style.
Burning Up Time
(Hey) Rise Of The Robots
Time Was On Our Side
Strange Little Girl
Walk On By
I’ve Lost Control
No More Heroes
Something Better Change
Time To Die
All of the Day And All Of The Night
The Popes new album – New Church (Shake The Tree Records) is out now and a headlining tour will take place in the Autumn
The Stranglers: Giants (Coursegood Records) – available now
Words: Gillian Potter-Merrigan
Photos: Brian Merrigan