Live Zone

The Stranglers / Therapy?, 02 Academy Birmingham, 17th March 2018



The place was rammed, upstairs and downstairs; the capacity is 3,009, and many had already seen the band at least once on this 19-date tour.

Gig # nine on the latest tour, the so-called ‘Beast From The East’ dumped a shit load of snow across parts of the country, especially the Midlands, add to that nasty black ice and that meant dangerous driving conditions for those brave enough to go see their favourite band on this cold Saturday night, “no matter what!”

Some posted on social media they did not make it and were gutted. But the majority did. Treated to a stonking gig and a few more obscure songs they would not usually expect on a set list. One fan praising the band on social media incouding some of their “oddball songs” in the set.

The band walk on stage to a rapturous welcome, to the instrumental “Waltzinblack”, from their 1981 album “The Gospel According to the Meninblack”. Simple stage production: Huge video screens at the back, crisp LED lighting, two tiers with drums and keyboards raised at the back. No PA stack on the stage, speakers “flown” (hanging), so there was no restricted view from the sides tonight. Sound quality was 100% spot on.

The crowd range from teenagers to Grandfathers and Grandmothers – some would have been original punks no doubt – and along the front row of the safety barrier you can spot the old and the new Stranglers’ tee shirts, and the odd hand-written message to their heroes on stage.

They deliver 24 songs faultlessly, lifting tracks from 12 of their 17 studio albums, and have changed the set list a tad from the previous gigs on this tour. There’s no “Skin Deep” or “Nice and Sleazy” tonight.

Kicking off with “Curfew” and then their first single from 1977 “(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)” which most call “Grip”. Then “15 Steps”, non-album single “Bear Cage” from 1980, “Nuclear Device (The Wizard Of Aus)”, and “Norfolk Coast”

Then the biggie that is sure to get the fans animated. “Peaches”. Timeless and a gorgeous bit of song writing. That spine-jerking bass line. Ladies bottoms flashed up on the video screens. “Peaches” released as a single at the same time as The Sex Pistols put out “God Save The Queen” in 1977, “Peaches” peaking at # eight in the UK chart.

“Relentless”, “Don’t Bring Harry” – JJ on lead vocals on this one –  and then another banger that they could never get away with not offering up: “Golden Brown”. One punter muttering to his lady friend that this was written about heroin addiction.

A slightly irritated eaves-dropper telling them both that was factually incorrect, “go ask the band”. Luckily they didn’t! Who knows? Who cares? Great, great song. Dave Greenfield’s tinkling electric piano riff the icing on the cake.

Another cracking song that is a treat to the ears, “Always The Sun”, which precedes the 1964 Dionne Warwick cover, “Walk On By”, penned, of course, by Burt Bacarach and Hal David. A number 21 hit for The Stranglers in 1978. Great version. Dave’s extended organ work is sheer class.

“Water”, “Something Better Change”, the fabulous “Duchess”, “Time Was Once On My Side”, “Just Like Nothing On Earth”, “Hanging Around”, “Freedom Is Insane”, “I Feel Like A Wog”, “London Lady”, and then they end the set with “Tank”.

A two-song encore of “Go Buddy Go”, and the wonderful closer “No More Heroes”, one of the best songs to emerge from any British band in five decades. Fact. They have been dishing out two encores with four songs on the previous dates of this tour, but tonight, it was the one encore and the two songs.

(Maybe they wanted to get out before they were snowed in? Some gigs getting two hours of their time on stage. Not quite tonight).

The band take their bow at the front of the stage, arms around each other, and big grins, the crowd going nuts and the house lights up; so the guy at the back of the stage can get that shot of band and full house, onto their social media straight away.

In this shot, every last person on the balconies and up in the “God’s” can be seen on their feet and yelling their appreciation of the night’s events. Even those old buggers who have been forgetting about their high blood pressure and dodgy hips/knees/backs * delete where appropriate! * and pogo-ing like a mad person for half the night, to the soundtrack of their (much!) younger years.

This band have been at it since 1974, when they began life as The Guidlford Stranglers before dropping the reference to their home town. Today Jean-Jacques Burnel is the sole original member, but keyboard man Dave Greenfield has been with them since 1975.

Drummer Jet Black (aka Brian John Duffy) is still a member for recording duties, but he doesn’t tour any more (since 2015), at the grand old age of 80-years-old this August (2108). Jet’s former drum tech Jim Macaulay, steps in for touring and does a great job behind that giant kit. 53-year-old Sunderland-born Baz Warne fronts the band on lead vocals and guitar, joining the ranks around 18 years ago.

JJ still does his trademark karate kicks while paying bass, as an expert martial arts exponent, but perhaps not quite as energetic or as many these days. The boys give it some welly though, delivering around an hour and 45 minutes of their hits – and more.

Northern Irish band Therapy? who formed back in 1989, open the night for the headline stars, and are in fine form, a good choice for this crowd. The odd tee shirt displaying their logo in the crowd. They offer up a fine cover of Joy Division’s “Isolation” in their short and punchy set. Worth catching when they pop up at various summer festivals this year.

The set list for the band everyone had come to see, included many of their major hits, vintage album tracks from a dozen of their albums, including their debut LP, “Rattus Norvegicus” from 1977, and their latest, “Giants” which dropped six years ago.

They had massive success as a recording band; 23 UK top 40 singles and 17 UK top 40 albums to date. There’s life in the old road dogs yet though, and do not be surprised if they score another hit or two before they are done. Come on TV advertising suits; grab a Stranglers track or two for your next big campaign…

High Cornwell quit the band in 1990 to pursue a solo career, and recently he has collaborated with punk poet John Cooper Clarke on a major label album project and tour. His replacement, Paul Roberts, went in 2006.

But tonight, and on every date of this tour, it is this sterling line-up and these cool cats who matter. Ex-Toy Dolls singer Baz does a fine, fine job as front man and lead singer, and his between song banter gives the night some added flavour too.

Hecklers are dealt with by his sharp tongue: “Do not fuck with a man with a mike”. Quite. He has a loyal fan base who adore him as part of this legendary band, so who he replaced is pretty much irrelevant to them.

One fan, Ivan, on the band’s Facebook page, sums up the Birmingham gig nicely: “Hadn’t seen them since Hugh left but loved the gig and hearing the more obscure tracks rounded off a fantastic night”.

Anther loyal fan, Paul, references the bad weather: “Fantastic gig, The Stranglers just get better and better, shit journey home, but worth it”. Nuff said.

I saw this band in 1978 or ’79, when they were major chart stars. They were aggressive, somewhat menacing, bloody loud and shit hot. Like a punk juggernaut coming at you head on, on the wrong side of the road. Once seen and heard, never forgotten.

Today they are quite a bit less scary, but still have that power, attitude and somehow; a renewed energy that keeps them relevant and by no means a nostalgia act. They still mean business and can still kick ass. The title of their most recent album is pretty damned apt methinks: Giants.  Sure are….


Photos: Jason Sheldon

* Note: All photos are from the band’s March 2012 appearance at the same venue. Snow and ice prevented our snapper from reaching the venue tonight!


Review: Simon Redley




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