The Stranglers – London, Hammersmith Apollo - 19th March 2010 Print E-mail
Written by Andy Rawl   
Saturday, 10 April 2010 06:00

Stranglers_12010 is shaping up to be a very good year indeed for Guildford's finest. The band are enjoying something of a renaissance in 2010, confirmed by their planned summer appearance at the Eavis family's summer shindig.

In truth they've never really been away. Touring consistently, they've maintained a loyal core fan-base of men and women in black. True, there have been line-up changes, notably the departure of original front man Hugh Cornwell after 13 years' loyal service. But the core of 'Man in Black Belt', JJ Burnel, and man with the keyboards Dave Greenfield has remained throughout and kept this particular and peculiar Toiler on the sea, in the 20 years since his departure.

Their return to a no-standing room-only Hammersmith is significant. Having upgraded to a five-piece for a number of years, for me it's no coincidence that their increasingly strong and consistent performances coincide with their return to a four-piece. With relatively new man Baz now fully 'Warne'-in, delivering both vocals and guitar with the appropriate sneering authority that the songs demand. Best of all, the 2010 tour features original drummer Jett Black, who bankrolled the band in the early days, from his other business interests. Given his relative seniority to the rest of the band, participation on previous tours has been sporadic, with his drum-tech often deputising. However, at least for this tour, we are blessed with a line-up that now features the core and spirit of the heroic band whose greatest accolades are that they were never imitated and/or bettered, and still continue to defy categorisation.


With a renewed vigour, no doubt bolstered by the new 2-CD career retrospective 'Decades', the band got down to business straight from the get-go, charging headlong into the ever-cheery 'Time To Die' before 'Go Buddy Go' launched a joyous yet strangely disturbing outbreak of bad dad dancing in the front stalls. Although predictably mining the rich seam of songs from the first four albums, the set-list also cherry-picked from latter-day releases, both pre- and post Cornwell to great effect, with 'Spectre Of Love' and 'Norfolk Coast' working particularly well alongside the nice-and-sleazy classics, such as 'Peaches' and 'Grip'.


Stranglers_2For me the highlight of the evening was the resurrection of 'Down In The Sewer' from the debut album. Having witnessed the perfectly serviceable revisitation of the entire 'Rattus' opus on Hugh's recent solo tour, in spite of his signature voice, his admittedly excellent band failed to provide the rabid bite that's vital to the material. You could argue that the former frontman has opted to age less disgracefully than his former bandmates and get in touch with his worthy singer-songwriter mojo. Indeed, as an artist he's delivered some great music in the 20 years since he left.


However, the current incarnation of the Stranglers are miles away from the nostalgia act that some might believe. Age has not dimmed their collective enthusiasm for the songs, the delivery and connection with their audience. Making up for lost time, the returning Jett Black turned in an astounding performance of power and precision, effortlessly mixing jazz, swing and rock-steady beats as his mood and the requirement of each song dictated. A case in point was classic Raven album cut 'Genetix', announced by a pounding tribal drum motif, driven by its new wave guitar riff, underpinned by JJ's towering bass and topped off by Dave Greenfields' trademark keyboard arpeggios. Not really a greatest hit, but a demonstration of the collective power of a great band in full-flight.


To further underpin their credentials as a valid band for the noughties, new track 'Retro Rockets' appeared mid-set and slotted-in perfectly amongst the classic tracks, complete with sneering vocals, acerbic lyrics and growling bass. It also gives Baz Warne the chance to stamp his identity on a new song. Not that he really needs to, 10 years in the band, his rich Mackem baritone fits the material perfectly. Sharing the front-man role with JJ, he's engaging and energetic, but perhaps wisely sticks to his side of the stage to allow space for Sensei Brunel's signature moves.


The melodic malice with which they deliver 'Walk On By' epitomises their unique style. Whether cover versions or originals, there's never any doubt that once they've applied their musical muscle, the song becomes one of their own. Yet, there is plenty of light and shade through the set-list: 'Skin Deep', 'Strange Little Girl' and 'Always The Sun' could never be referred to as ballads, but provide perfect balance to the shadier songs. Song choice and sequence were spot-on, with just the right ebb and flow to maintain the momentum of the gig. An example of this was there was no grandstanding for former Radio Two single of week 'Golden Brown', appearing mid-show as a perfect counterpoint to 'Walk On By'.


With the main set concluding with a trip down the sewer, we were treated to a generous series of encores that had little to do with commercial sensibilities and everything to do with pummelling the audience into sensory submission. You'd be hard pressed to pick better 1-2-3 combination of 'Something Better Change', 'Hangin'Around' and 'No More Heroes' to finish the show. Better still, the show was being filmed for DVD release, ensuring this great performance is captured for those of us that were there and for lapsed fans or sceptics that falsely believed that the best decades of the Stranglers are in the past.



Photo kudos to Noel Buckley