Guest Review: Stranglers Mini Tour July 15 – Holmfirth and Blackburn according to Mully…
LAST OF THE BUMMER WHINE
Holmfirth Picturedrome and Blackburn King Georges Hall – July 2015
An uneventful flight from Belfast to Liverpool early Wednesday morning found me awaiting the arrival of my lift and gig buddy for another two Strangler gigs on that wee island off the coast of Ulster. Sat waiting, I contemplated e-mailing Mr Roget (he of the Thesaurus fame) to propose an addendum to his published tome – the insertion of Kevin Nacey under “kind-hearted, generous, princely, etc…” For the second year in a row, Kev has picked me up from the airport, driven to two gigs and ferried me back for the return flight – what a star. All that and having to put up with me as well!! But before I could compose such an e-mail, the man himself pulled up in his black BMW and after man-hugs and other catch-up greetings, my baggage was secured in the boot and we were off.
Anyway, we are soon on the road to Holmfirth – a very pleasant drive up hill and down dale, the not too hot sun shining, taking our time and enjoying the scenery through some beautiful picturesque villages. Eventually we arrive at our destination – The White Horse Hotel/B&B – a quaint family run hostelry nestled in the Yorkshire countryside on the banks of a babbling stream. Booked in, bags deposited in our rooms we await the arrival of the missing third of our tour triumvirate – the legend in Strangler gig-dom – Elaine Smith.
All too soon the Big Three, the Crucial Three, the Three Little Gigs-goers (or more likely The Three Stooges) are once again re-united as a taxi pulls up and emerging from the back seat, a hand clutching a giant Strangler poster from last night’s venue is followed by the lady herself. In the hotel bar, after a couple of pints and after getting changed into gig-gear, Elaine organises a taxi to take us into town – which felt like a trip with Postman Pat, as the taxi wended its way through the narrow streets of the Holmfirth metropolis. I wouldn’t say it was all hills, but I think I saw Ranulph Fiennes and a couple of Nepalese Gurkhas setting up a base camp by the side of the road.
Deposited at the venue, we cross the road and make our way to The Bridge Inn to meet up with any like-minded people for the pre-gig social. Dandering along towards the bridge to The Bridge (no doubt hence the name), my first encounter (of many) that day was none other than young Elliot – standing out from the crowd, smiling from ear to ear. I had met this young man back in our hotel after the Preston gig last year with his Mum Lindsay and Dad Martin (and I didn’t even see them standing there too) until after Elliot and I had caught up again. I have known a few ‘Strangler Kids’ going to gigs with their parents – but this boy is different gravy. He possesses an near encycolpedic knowledge of the band and you can tell when talking to him it isn’t just cos his Dad is a fan – you can talk Stranglers with Elliot and not feel condescending or patronising. Early on in the day and this catch up had me buzzing with excitement already.
Heading bar-ward (I mean it was getting on half an hour since our last pint) and I bump into Jim Mac having a quiet pint outside the bar. Had a quick chat with him and got the inside track on Coventry’s support act, Table Scraps – sounding good and friends of Jim’s – must make the effort to catch them. As we were joined by Rikki and after more (Versace) smiles and catch ups, I eventually make it into the bar. Liquid refreshment in hand, Kev, Elaine and myself make our way to the tables outside There we are joined at various stages and via various rounds of cider and beer by Billy Barr, Mark T, Pete G, Julie, Eileen, The Munro’s, Matt & Karlos. Sitting in the sun, downing alcohol – the craic was ninety – stories told and re-told, jokes and japes – highlight being Mark bringing out the bar’s ‘Ring For Attention’ notice for poor Billy (who will never live the Belfast Bell(e) experience down). If I thought meeting up with Elliot was a pleasant surprise – when I bump into John & Tracy (another Preston meet) today’s social rocketed into stratospheric heights.
Kev and I depart for greasy chip shop fare as others order food from the cuisine on offer at The Bridge. Once fed and (re)watered, the hardcore infantry maneuver to take up their offensive positions on the barrier whilst the cavalry decide to decamp to The Nook where other ‘family’ have congregated. Rounding the corner of the narrow alley leading down to an enclosed courtyard, there larger than life – Dave Colton, with Phil, Mandy and Elizabeth – amongst others. Dave was surprised to see me – and with Phil there, it was another Big Three – a third of The Pavillion Nine. Who was it sang ‘Three Is The Magic Number’? – I think they might have been onto something there !! More imbibing and hilarity (even a tickin’ sandwich) takes place until it is time to ride into action and charge into the breach.
Holmfirth Picturedrome is a class venue – tight, double balcony all-round the rectangular room, with a sloping floor to give everyone a good view of the stage and a slightly raised rear platform with a bar and where the merch had set up. Without too much effort even after missing the support act, I was able to make my way up to the front just behind Kev, Elaine et al and met a few others who I hadn’t seen earlier.
The lights dim, the intro music blasts out and the crowd cheering heralds the start of the concert. Even now, after years of attending Strangler gigs, there seems to be a tangible excitement fizzing in the air as ‘Waltzinblack’ is played and the band walk onstage. Kicking off as they did in Belfast with ‘Toiler..’ the instant rumbling, thunderous bass intro gets the crowd moving and as JJ rocks back and forth to the rhythm, the rest of the band join in. The first three songs (there’s that number again) – ‘Toiler..’, ‘Straighten Out’ and ‘Grip’ blow everyone away. The energy levels are kept topped up with ‘I’ve Been Wild’, but just as I’m readying myself for ‘Four Horsies’ – a personal highlight of the March On Tour – the band play ‘Curfew’ instead. By the time ‘Golden Brown’ starts with a drumbeat similar to a Parades Commission ruling back home, I depart the front for the obligatory smoke break. Very few smokers in Holmfirth – there is just me and one other guy, but as any other nicotine addicted leper will tell you, we always spark up conversations and this guy regaled tales of all the bands he had seen over the years here and was amazed I’d came over from Belfast tonight to see The Stranglers.
Back in just in time for ‘Five Minutes’, but rather than returning to the front, I mooch towards mid-centre and through to a more sedate position and watch the remainder of the show from there. ‘Time To Die’ with its sing-along “der-ner ner-ner-ner” guitar section always gets me. At one stage Baz commented on giving a prize for the best haircut – usually awarded to a middle-aged baldy bloke, but tonight he highlighted Eileen’s purple dyed coiffure, but cheekily added a purple rinse/parma violet joke. He was beckoned over and as he bent down to hear what she had to say, was forcibly thrust betwixt her bosom – much to his surprise and obvious delight. Tonight’s other highlights include ‘TWOOMS’ – really digging this one and following that , Baz’s extended guitar improv into ‘Lost Control’ (is it me, or does that vary each night?) allows the rest of the band some breathing space and a chance to catch their breath. ‘Duchess’ and ‘Hanging Around’ raise the energy levels just at the peak – the crowd singing and dancing and pogo-ing to the climax of the set. Thank you’s and goodnight – but we all know there is still the encores to come. Still too much bonhomie for me, but I do understand the showbiz side needs attending to and then ‘Walk On By’ goes off into it’s psychedelic overdrive, Warwick on acid, glorified best. As JJ steps up to thump his Shuker and sonically reduce the crowds internal organs to mush, we know it will be the last song as ‘Heroes’ starts – the bass intro acting like a fuel injected carburettor – as the crowd erupt into a bouncing throng. The ending leaves everyone on a high – it’s just the bows, the thank you’s and offstage.
Elliot manages to purlion Jim’s drumsticks (promised from before) and Baz’s sweaty towel (rather you than me pal), as the set-lists are distributed to the grabbing hands of fans. The family gather to debrief, meet-up, get some photos taken and then we debunk into the arena’s other bar area for liquid replenishments and the post-gig comedown. New friends were introduced to old and even more alcohol consumed. As the group steadily dwindled, the three last one’s standing ordered ourselves a taxi back to The White Horse and bed. That is of course after Elaine did her best Nora Batty impression getting into her room.
Another day, another morning and another gig. Post breakfast, whilst awaiting Kev to get out of his kip, I asked our landlady where I could grab a packet of cigarettes – “About half a mile up the road” she replied. Setting off I started up the hill – half way up altitude sickness started kicking in and Mr Fiennes waved hello from his tent. Twenty cigs successfully purchased and a bottle of Lucozade downed, I made the reverse journey back down – only this time I think it was the bends that kicked in as I descended too quickly. Thinking about it now, it may just have been my hangover that was affecting me!!
By my return, both Kev and Elaine were ready to rock and roll and as we packed our bags into the car Mark T & Pete drove up, stopping for a quick chat. Then we were off again, destination Blackburn and the Grand Hall for yet more Strangling and socialising with like-minded people. A reasonably short trek had us arriving a bit early for check-in, so we passed the time next door in the pub for another early start on the pints – but I was on my holidays – so all was forgiven. Fed, watered and after a forty-winks in our rooms, we re-entered the bar and once again the pre-social meet’n’greet began as more and more Strangler T-shirts started to fill the pub. Julie had arrived and introduced us to Paul and Simon. Barry Spooner and fellow Nottingham punk associate arrived – it is always good to ruminate over all things punk and Strangler related with Barry – the merit of bootleg recordings and green vinyl records were discussed in great depth – and allowing me respite from the idiot indoors. John rang to see where we were meeting up and the general consensus was The Jubilee pub, just opposite the venue (despite the review it was given by the cab driver).
We were almost the first fans in this pub – only another couple playing pool had beat us – but soon the numbers increased and it wasn’t long before John, Tracy, Mark and Mike had joined the company – also met up with John H for the first time. I thought I hadn’t packed the SLF soapbox, but it wasn’t long before it made its appearance – just because I am from Belfast does not automatically mean I am a fan and it didn’t take long before I was rhyming off the long list as to why this K-Tel brand of Punk was not for me. I do understand why other people do like The Stiffs, I really do, but that’s their choice. Now RUDI on the other hand….. Anyway, the message came forth that doors would be closing in 15 minutes and once they were closed no-one was getting in. Obviously the barrier crew had already ventured over early, so we hurriedly made our way across and in through the Grand Hall’s grand doors, down the stairs and into the room for tonight’s gig. However, just before I go through I bump into Les – I’d forgot this gentlemaninblack was coming down from Bonnie Scotland – and he had young Paddy Vex in tow as well.
A bit harder to wend my way forward tonight but manage to get up close enough. Same set as last night to start – but the crowd were more tightly packed, more eager for the mosh and the heat generated was rapidly rising. Disappointingly, once again ‘Four Horsemen’ was omitted, but the first section flew past in the blink of an eye and the heat was still rising. ‘Golden Brown’ allowed me some respite as I departed for a well-earned smoke break. Exiting the hall, I look for the smoking area and eventually asked one of the security men where it was situated – “T’aint any”. So we go outside the front then? “No, doors are shut” WTF? No smoking area!! Jeez. I make my way back inside, but there is little chance of making it back to my original position – I find a sweet spot, good view of the stage and a gentle draught coming from the bar area. I remain here for the rest of the show, chewing gum like a speed freak.
There is a lot of banter tonight between the crowd and Baz. Someone shouted out “Geordie c**t” and I’m not sure which part of that comment offended him the most as he retorted he was neither. We also heard how allegedly a young JJ asked his parents for a Blackburn Rovers strip, to which the crowd responded with chants of “Shearer, Shearer” and Baz dryly quipped “Now he is a Geordie c**t”. The rest of the set careered towards the close – the heat was truly stifling, but the audience remained in overdrive. Overall I preferred Holmfirth but it was a close call. Probably due to either the heat, the ‘pit-stops to catch breath and the amount of banter – or a combination of all three, but only one encore was played tonight as ‘Walk On By’ is dropped, leaving only the climax of ‘Heroes’ to sate the baying crowd.
And that was that. I didn’t hang around too long to say my goodbyes as I needed a smoke – however, there was plenty of time to gather and mingle outside as everyone needed cooling down too. After catching up with a few old friends, most crossed back into The Jubilee to quench our thirst and still there was time to make new acquaintances as Danny and I were chatting before realising we were friends on Facebook – always good to put a face to the name you ‘virtually’ conversed with via the interweb. So that was another trip coming to a close and after a bit of a diversion to escort Sarah part-way to her hotel, we meet up with some other gig-goers at a pub in town. It was here we managed to get a taxi back to our hotel and the sanctity of our beds.
Leaving early the next day, Kev drops the girls at Blackburn train station and me in Liverpool town centre. I had some time to kill until my flight home to Belfast, but knowing Liverpool and having been given some directions to interesting record and collector shops in town, I managed to fill the time well enough. In fact I spent so much time in town, I had to get a taxi up to the airport to ensure I made my flight!!
My seventh and eighth gigs of the calendar year were completed. Different from the March On Tour – the sound was better, the band were tight as a gnat’s chuff, but the set lists in March were much more challenging for the audience and with that more entertaining. That said, I wouldn’t have missed the last two days – the great company, great camaraderie and great craic – the three C’s. Thank you one and all – probably missed loads out, but I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess at how many brain-cells were drunk away over the two days and nights. It was only a shame some of the other ‘regulars’ were not in attendance – but I still have a further two gigs this year to catch up with them again.
Laters crocodiles – keep it greasy.