The Stranglers at G Live, Guildford on 3 February 2022. The Ruts supporting.
Billed as the ‘final full UK tour’ this Covid delayed gig is something I have looked forward to for… well years.
As soon as it was announced I wanted to return to the town where I first saw a gig – Penetration at Guildford Civic Hall in 1979 – and see The Stranglers in the town where they started out. During the Covid delay we lost keyboardist Dave Greenfield to the evil plague – a real sickener when that depressing news emerged as I painted a bench in my back yard one sunny May Lockdown day. This has meant the latest album, Dark Matters, and this tour have become memorials to Dave – a respectful celebration.
If there is one band I have associated with throughout my gig-going life more than any other it’s The Stranglers. Six decadesinblack from the 70s to the 20s….for them and for me. Plenty have followed them more than me but they are a massive part of ‘my’ music.
For me it all started with No More Heroes on the weekly Radio 1 chart show. I remember discussing my potential purchase of the single with school (and lifelong) friend Big Gra (GGu – Sprog from Staines) – I was concerned it was a bit of a short track and I was skint. Big Gra pointed out that they cut them short on the charts and as a respected spikey topped, Doc Marten wearing punk of the class I took his nod of approval and bought the single, picture cover, from Squeeze Inn record shop in Ashford Common… a few units along from Davro’s Discount Store, where young Bobby joked and laughed with customers.
Weeks later I returned to buy the No More Heroes album and that was it. A lifetimeinblack had started. That was 1977.
My first giginblack wasn’t until 8 July 1980 – London Rainbow. This was quite quickly followed by two gigs on the Menininblack album tour in 1981, Hammersmith Odeon and again London Rainbow. My first black shirts were in my wardrobe – the first of many.
Some old tickets, handwritten lists and scrapbook bits help piece togther my decadesinblack. I can be sure that as I arrive in Guildford this is at least my 28th Stranglers gig. It could be more.
The 28inblack includes more recent appearances supporting Simple Minds, Alice Cooper and a Hyde Park Green Day out. The there are festival performances at Guildford Festival, Reading Festival and Ross-on-Wye.
One that always sticks in the mind was the trip to Wolverhampton in the early 90s, from my then Coventry home, and when standing outside trying to sell a spare ticket, Stuart Pearce (England full back and massive Stranglers fan) rocked up while we (mate Chrisinblack, CMe, was there) were spotting lookalikes to kill time. ‘This bloke looks a bit like Stuart Pearce’ I muttered – “it IS Stuart Pearce!” I got him to sign the spare ticket and kept it. It was top gig – beer fuelled – I remember Walk on By particularly and Dave Greenfield doing his downing a pint while playing his solo thing. That was in the Paul Roberts frontman era.
Tonight’s line up
Some people get a bit sniffy about the post-Hugh Cornwell years but he left in 1990, 32 years ago. Paul Roberts was the guitarless frontman from 1990 to 2006 and Baz Warne took over as main vocalist and guitar from 2006, having been in the band on guitar from 2000. John Ellis played guitar in the Paul Roberts years as well.
On drums in recent years has been Jim Macaulay. The last gig original drummer Jet Black played was in March 2018 and prior to that he would play part of the set as he moved into semi-retirement. I wonder if I’ll see him again – last time was in Salisbury on the 2015 Black and White anniversary tour. He played for part of the set.
The man now in the hot seat and in the shadow of Dave Greenfield, on keyboards, is Toby Hounsham.
So with Jean-Jacques Burnel (bass), the only original Strangler, tonight we have Baz Warne (guitar/ vocals); Toby Hounsham (Keyboards) and Jim Macaulay (drums)… They are today’s Meninblack😎
G Live: Tonight’s Venue
My first visit to G Live. It’s modern and like a mini Bournemouth BIC and a preferable size. A spacious bright bar area and tonight all standing downstairs in the high ceiling auditorium, with a seated balcony with some thin sections of seating extending down each side of the balcony – I guess they are great seats if you don’t want to/ can’t stand. Capacity 1700 with this set up.
It’s at the top end of the main high street in Guildford so some pubs to choose from. Inevitably I had to pay homage to The Star Inn near the bottom of the main street – the pub where the band played early gigs.
Tonight’s support: The Ruts
This is a treat. It’s not often I see a support band that I once drew logos of on a Tippex patch on my taken in drainpipe jeans 😳 thank god there were no mobile phones when I was a lad.
I bought In a Rut when it came out, served in a clear polythene outer. I never saw them live until there were just the current three left. That was at Mr Kyps, Poole in 2015 – an ear splitter. Then a couple of Ruts also appeared in the Dead Men Walking hybrid band with Kirk Brandon and Jake Burns which was a novel evening.
What a great set. Most are in early to see them. We get greatest hits and a new one: SUS; It was Cold; West One; Never Surrender; Jah Wars; Staring at the Rude Boys; In a Rut and, of course, Babylon’s Burning. What a set. A top clutch of tunes.
In A Rut at G Live (My YouTube phone clip)
The Stranglers at G Live
See I got you here eventually – excuse my indulgence. I thought it was pretty full for The Ruts but by the time I made it back in from the everlasting wait at the bar, the Waltzinblack walk-on music was over and the place was heaving with tall mature blokesinblack.
Toiler on the Sea, a Black and White album classic to start before heading backwards with Something Better Change and Sometimes (brilliant): songs to spit words out to. (My YouTube clip of Sometimes)
The new boy Toby is introduced on keyboards to an supportive cheer from ‘the familyinblack’.
There’s a luxurious collection they have to choose from – Skin Deep and Nice ‘n’ Sleazy in the early selections, with a couple selected from the new Dark Matters album – which is a strong memorial to Dave Greenfield. Water and cover (Disciples of Spess) This Song Will Get Me Over You. Five songs from the new album in all throughout the show. Two of those are as an acoustic pairing later on: The Lines, an acknowledgement of aging and experience, and the inevitably emotional And If You Should See Dave . (Have a listen.)
It’s a big appreciative crowd without being wild. We are all getting oldinblack I guess. In Nuclear Device the shouts of “Bruce… She-ila” were a little muted – perhaps there’s a lot of ‘Golden Brownies’ in. It does get a huge cheer and the mobile phones are in the air. The lighting seems more elaborate than usual for The Stranglers and there is a space themed projected backdrop for some of the set. That Stranglers logo is never far away.
A track to make it into the set from one of the Baz Warne sung albums – Suite XVI – is Relentless. A classic of the modern Stranglers era.
Walk on By is as magnificent as ever. The fourinblack meandering down their focussed paths each of their instruments take. The set builds to my favourite section: Straighten Out; Duchess then Hanging Around. Tops.
After that a few bottles of Corona 😷 lager are cracked open as a nod to the pandemic, JJ mentions how they couldn’t get a gig round here back in the 70s in the early pub gig days. That beforr a bit of pub rock in the form of Go Buddy Go – one of the first Stranglers songs.
To end, JJ ascends the sparkly lit steps to the drum and keyboard platform, for a mock My Way finale as he decends, bass slung at the ready and they launch into the song that started it all for my ears in 1977: No More Heroes. Still a beauty.
Goodnight. I’ll see you in Bristol.