The Stranglers + The Popes + Mike Marlin @ Birmingham 02 Academy – 10th March 2012

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If you place a reminder in your diary every year, then put these guys on the list, you can pretty much be guaranteed they’ll be around for you to see live. One of the UK’s most enduring bands, The Stranglers‘ unique style has lead to 23 UK top 40 singles and 17 UK top 40 albums. A true stubbornness to call it quits, even with the loss of more than one lead singer; they’ve successfully achieved a career spanning four decades.

Formed in ’74 by founding members Jean Jaques (JJ) Burnel, Jet Black and Hugh Cornwell, Dave Greenfield joined them within a year. A series of successful punk hits, then embracing a more commercial yet unique sound during the eighties, The Stranglers became a regular not only in the charts, but on the touring scene, until Hugh Cornwell split to go solo 1990. Not to be outdone, The Stranglers became one of the few bands, especially at that time, to replace their lead singer and carry on, employing Paul Roberts on vocals. Roberts left 12 years ago, but that was no stopping the boys, bringing in guitarist Baz Warne on vocals – a shared duty with JJ Burnel. Now rolling into their fifth decade – clearly nothing stops them, with Brunel nearing 60, and the incredible Jet Black, still drumming away at 73, putting many of the audience to shame.

These perennial tourers – this being The Giants Tour (in line with the new Album released 5th March) – every day in March covers pretty much any city you can name in the UK, followed by a road trip through Europe in April.

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It being a Saturday, support are early and we have the 10pm curfew. So first up tonight at 6.45pm is Mike Marlin, who as a young lad was inspired by the up and coming punk and British acts. By ’82 he gave up music as a career but along with the day job, at night he continued to write. It was 2011 before he released his first album ‘Nearly Man’ followed in quick succession by his new album, released in February 2012 ‘Man on the Ground.’ With full band, his songs are introspective and deep – think Lenard Cohen, certainly taking the darker side of inspiration. There’s a couple of hundred people here, and the sound is pretty terrible, he finishes his set with a spiraling melody, and polite applause from the crowd.

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Next up we have The Popes, who in the nineties were known for Shane McGowan from The Pogues as their lead vocalist. After the loss of The Popes banjo god Tommy McManamon in 2006, it was time to get back together and they’re here celebrating their new album ‘Outlaw Heaven’. The line-up features Paul ‘Mad Dog’ McGuiness, Charlie Hoskins, Will Morris (Drums), Laurie Norwood (Bass) and Fiddler Ben Gummey. ‘Mad Dog’: “Happy New Year – you up for it?” and we’re in for half an hour of punk meets Irish folk, upbeat, energetic and fun. Sound now much better, new track ‘Queen of Manhattan’ is a punchy song, with a plucked ditty jingle. ‘Mad Dog’ is chatty and gets the crow behind the band. ‘Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down’ gets the ever increasing crowd singing along, and includes a full on Irish fiddle dervish. They finishes the set off with a song for lost friends, an acknowledgement of creative and musical talent lost, “When I Die, I Will Go To Rock n Roll Heaven…”. ‘Mad Dog’ rips his shirt off, and points to the tatts on his back. Good fun, well worth seeing if you get a chance.

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Then turn 8.30, and on come The Stranglers dressed, as usual, all in black, to usual impish ‘Waltzinblack’ and into first track ‘Burning Up Time.’ Warne: ” Well good evening Birmingham – how are we? We have a new record out – I hope you know that….” so tonight’s set features a lot of their new tracks, smattered with the classics. The new stuff is indeed classic Stranglers, in their more “mellow” less punk phase. It’s good and will indeed take some listening to. The sound, thankfully, is now spot on. The venue is increasingly filling, not everyone knows it’s an early night, so there’s a few stragglers, and they are enjoying the new stuff, but it’s the older stuff that gets them going.

‘Hanging Around’ they bounce along too, ‘Golden Brown’ as always, is beautifully played, a classic in its very own special right, and still sends the hackles up n the back of your neck. Followed up by ‘ Strange Little Girl’ and their cover of ‘Walk On By.’ The first part of the set is the more melodic side of The Stranglers, they’re into the title track off the new album ‘Giants’. The cover of this album features the four band members in a line, Jet Black akin with oxygen mask, but take that as the joke it is meant to be…..

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Then JJ starts off with that classic bass line and we’re into a rip-roaring edition of ‘Peaches,’ much to the crowds appreciation. Few more sings, splattered with new track, and another bass line with jangly synth, sing along everyone ‘No More Heroes, ‘ followed by ‘Relentless’ a modern classic with a mesmerising swirling melody. Next up ‘Something Better Change’ – the audience punch their fists in the air in time.

Of and on, the first encore starts of with ‘Time To Die’ and yet another classic – ‘Duchess.’ And they’re off – the crowd bay “Stranglers, Stranglers, Stranglers” and it’s not over. Back on, Warne: “Hope you’ve enjoyed your fuckin’ selves…”, an acknowledgment to the support, and we’re into ‘All The Day and All of The Night’, Warne gets the crowd chanting in the middle of the track, “Hello, look at all the bald heads!” He acknowledges sections of the audience, at the back to the right, to the left – “No booing, don’t get competitive, it’s only a game…” and back into the song. And tonight’s set is finished on ‘Tank.’ And it’s 10pm. And after rapturous applause it’s time for home.

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I saw The Stranglers pretty much exactly a year ago. The set then was older stuff, a bit more punk, more aggressive – their new stuff is more mellow, like a classic malt, still exquisite. As a band they keep it simple, as musicians, they are all individually class acts, JJ probably one of the best bass players on the touring circuit. Still they remain uncompromising. And still they clearly love what they do. After all these years. Any new kids on the block can learn a lot from these guys, not only in staying power, but on the whole way they deliver a truly stunning musical performance. Undoubtably, they will be back next year – cos there’s simply just no stopping The Stranglers. And long may they continue.


Intro – Waltzinblack
1. Burning Up Time
2. Sometimes
3. Raven
4. Lowlands
5. Hey! It’s The Rise of the Robots
6. Hanging Around
7. Unbroken
8. Time was on My Side
9. Golden Brown
10. Strange Little Girl
11. Walk On By
12. Giants
13. Peaches
14. Mercury Rising
15. Lost Control
16. Shut Up
17. No More Heroes
18. Relentless
19. Something Better Change

Encore 1:
20. Time To Die
21. Duchess

Encore 2:
22. All The Day And All Of The Nigh
23. Tank

Listening: Take your pick from way too many albums!


Review by Zyllah Moranne-Brown
Pictures by Ken Harrison


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