Tonight at the Academy it’s to see one of the most enduring bands – The Stranglers. Initially renowned through pub rock, then punk, then more commercial and then more rocky, 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 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 11 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, now 72, putting many of the audience to shame, drumming his way through an hour and a half set.
Support tonight comes from another enduring singer, Wilko Johnson, creating music since ’74 initially with Dr. Feelgood and then for a period of time with Ian Dury’s band The Blockheads. Tonight he gives a half hour set, with snippets of Dr. Feelgood, slightly punk in sound – with rocking horse rhythm and blues. He gets a good response from the crowd.
Then turn 9pm, and on come The Stranglers dressed, as usual, all in black, to the cheeky impish ‘Waltzinblack’ intro. Immediately in to the politically incorrectly titled ‘I Feel Like A Wog’ the first part of the set rattles through a series of their classic tracks.
The enquiring ‘Was It You?’ and the sleazy classic ‘Peaches’ and a few words from Warne: “Believe we’re in fucking Birmingham….. Any behaviour completely excused, so get off your fuckin’ heads. Ok?” And then we’re off again into the rip-roaring ‘(Get A ) Grip (On Yourself)’.
The Stranglers audience are stubbornly loyal, just like the band. The Academy is just over half full, average age span between forties to fifties (though few punks are in the audience – clearly now grown up and responsible) and whilst chilled, are very responsive, willing to participate and respond to the band.
Couple of tracks later, and they sings along to ‘Always The Sun’ before the beautiful cords to the melting classic that is ‘Golden Brown’, still after all these years, a song that makes the hackles stand up on the back of your neck.
The set continues with slightly lesser known tracks – the crowd still engaged and up for it, some bouncing along, beer being thrown.
Warne, comfortable as band spokesman and main vocalist (in Geordie accent) : “How we doing on this Saturday and ‘super moon’ ( a reference to the closest the moon has been to the earth in 18 years and the so- called pending doom this will cause). Next some for ladies. I see a few lasses and girlies but are their any ladies?” and then into ‘Two Sunspots’. Then a few more songs, including the harmonies of the rolling ‘Relentless’ from the 2006 album ‘Suit XVI’ and close of the main set to ‘Nuclear Device (Wizard Of Oz)’.
Then back on for the encore – Warne: ‘Thankyou, thank you, thank you – thank you to our support and Wilko fuckin’ Johnson. Apparently.” Then into ‘Go Buddy Go’ the crowd singing the ‘GoGoGo’ bits and getting the timing spot on for “two, three, four…”. Song two and we’re into ‘Hanging Around.”
And it’s not over yet – another encore to the thumping ‘All The Day And All Of The Night’ with Warne chatting to the audience halfway through. Then Burnel dabbling on the bass, here come the riffs and we’re into the classic ‘No More Heroes.’ To an acknowledgement that they’ll return next year – Burnel strips off his shirt and chucks it into the crowd.
The Stranglers are totally uncompromising. After all these years they have lost none of their stamina, none of their edge, none of that punk attitude, they sound great musically whether in punk vengeance or great harmonies on tracks such as ‘Golden Brown’ and ‘Relentless’. The Stranglers are one of those bands who have been touring so long, that if you like going to gigs, you’re likely to have seen them at least once ( I think this is at least the fourth time for me.) They’re really good fun, you will bop along to some many songs you know. Full respect to them. Long may they continue. They’ll be back next year. Go and see.
Intro – Waltzinblack
1. I Feel Like A Wog
2. Was It You?
4. (Get A ) Grip ( On Yourself)
5. Freedom Is Insane
6. Always The Sun
7. Golden Brown
8. Nice ‘N’ Sleazy
10. Baroque Bordello
11. 5 Minutes
12. Never Look Back
13. Two Sunspots
14. Dead Loss Angeles
16. Something Better Change
17. Sweden ( All Quiet On The Eastern Front)
19. Nuclear Device (Wizard Of Aus)
20. Go Buddy Go
22. All The Day And All Of The Night
23. No More Heroes
Listening: Take your pick from way too many albums!
Review – Zyllah Moranne-Brown
Photos – John Colson