The Stranglers - Salisbury - 25 March 2013

Review and photograph by Sean Wellington

The StranglersI first saw The Stranglers live on 23 October 1979 at the Locarno Ballroom in Portsmouth. This was The Raven tour, promoting their fourth studio album. I was 15 and attending my first ever gig to see my then favourite band. 34 years later and The Stranglers remain my favourite band. Yes, I listen to a wide range of music from alt-folk, through Americana to rock and even pop, and I love listening to live music of almost any genre, but The Stranglers remain the original and best. I have all 17 studio albums, the early ones of course on vinyl, although I no longer have a record player on which to enjoy these classics. I now prefer CDs as I still like to own a physical artefact and have not fully embraced the digital download.

So I am a serious fan, but acknowledge that some of these 17 albums are not that great. There was a major dip in form, in my opinion, between Dreamtime and Norfolk Coast, however the recent studio albums have been good, the band reenergised by the creative input, guitar and vocals of Baz Warne.

I have seen The Stranglers live on countless occasions. My friends Steve and Paul and I would take it in turns to drive to the gig, often in Brighton, London, Portsmouth or Southampton, but sometimes to odd venues like a 1 day festival at Fontwell Racecourse in 1993. We would arrive early, eat in a local fast food outlet and then have a few drinks before the gig. We never watched the support band. We all wore Dr. Martens Boots, black jeans and black leather jackets. For a while we all rode motorcycles, just like Jean-Jacques Burnel. Paul has now emigrated to New Zealand and Steve was preparing for a business trip to Italy so I made the short trip to Salisbury with Aline who had the promise of a photo-pass.

The venue itself is a bit like a sports hall and rather soulless but the support band is playing as we arrive and the sound seems good. We have a well-practiced routine. First we find a good vantage point, then Aline goes off to the ‘pit’ in front of the stage to take photographs, normally for the first three songs, returning to the previously arranged location.

There is a good-sized crowd and a wide age range with younger fans standing shoulder-to-shoulder with those of a somewhat older vintage. The atmosphere builds as the band comes on stage to Waltzinblack and then launches straight into Toiler on the Sea. This showcases the signature Stranglers sound of bass and drums, with swirling keyboards and guitar cutting through. The sound is great and the band on top form, the best I have seen for many years. Jet Black is still recovering from illness and the stand-in, Jim McAuley, is excellent. Actually, the entire band is excellent, individually and collectively, and I am struck by how well they play now compared to the 1970s.

The set list spans the significant career of this great band and includes early tracks such as the frenetic Goodbye Toulouse, Peaches and chart-friendly songs such as Duchess, Always the Sun and Golden Brown. The new material is very much at home and Relentless is a particular highlight. Baz Warne has now played more than 500 gigs with The Stranglers and it shows; his guitar and vocals are polished and assured. I particularly enjoy Midnight Summer Dream, a song that I really like but not heard much live.

The band seems to genuinely enjoy playing. Dave Greenfield performs his trademark one-handed keyboard solos while drinking a glass of beer. JJ smiles and banters with the audience, and Baz thanks us all for coming out on such a cold night and later remarks that we seem determined to have a good time even if it is a Tuesday.

The crowd chant ‘Jet Black, Jet Black, Jet Black’ as the man himself appears and takes his place on the drum stool for Genetix and the last third of the set. Nice ‘n’ Sleazy sounds particularly good, JJ prowling around the stage as he plays the familiar bass line. The first encore comprises Something Better Change and then No More Heroes, the latter introduced with a minor earthquake as JJ demonstrates the power of his Shuker bass guitar and custom-built amplification. The second encore features both drummers leading an assault on Tank.

Later I have a conversation about the gig and whether old punk bands are still relevant in 2013. Personally I have never thought of The Stranglers as a punk band, after all why are these labels important? I do think nostalgically about the early gigs I attended and continue to watch all manner of bands playing in all sorts of venues. I particularly enjoy watching great musicians playing great songs with passion and energy. On these criteria, The Stranglers remain highly relevant.

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Photograph © Sean Wellington 2013