It’s been a right old week for the Sugar Tongs…
Whilst aiming for Finchley in 1976 to witness the Finchley Boys first meeting The Stranglers at The Torrington, we accidently got the date out by a week and ended up at a different gig the week before, still in The Torrington, Finchley Boys present too, not The Stranglers but The Damned…
…And we didn’t even get that right, somehow we ended up in Guildford (home of The Guildford Stranglers but not Guildford Lil) Forty years later to witness The Damned still giving it their all…
I chanced upon Guildford Lil and SiB so to celebrate we partook of some sustenance in India (Maloncho to be precise), which was nice…
Then, we navigated the drunken staircase paid our dues at the bar and took up a nice spot on the barrier for the latter half of a set by none other than The Members.
Who sounded somewhat stonkingly brilliant in here tonight serving up a tight dish of well sculpted punky pop delight with numbers like, Chelsea Night Club, I ain’t Gonna be your Bitch No More and Sound of the Suburbs to name a few (hopefully correctly too etc Etc EiTC)…
JC Carroll engaged all who were gathered with his charm and wit being as he was in the Zone! Tales of time machines and super moons had the tongs a twitching. Reports from SiB up in the balcony was that the sound tonight was a bit boomy but from where Lil and EiTC were stood it was spot on! Great Stuff.
In the seeming blink of an eye we were being treated to the wonderfully atmospheric Sanctum Sanctorum issuing from the PA heralding the imminent arrival of The Damned.
And arrive they did kicking off with a mighty Street of Dreams. Once more the sound was superb and no prisoners were taken as they kicked straight into Nasty, then fast forward a decade or so to what was probably the most recent song played this evening Amen.
There was a fantastic atmosphere on stage with the lighting and back drop and the energy of the band was high, with Dave Vanian covering all corners of the stage like some manic hovering/prowling vampire.
The brilliant Disco Man next then Eloise before they headed into Strawberries territory, where we were treated to the sublime Under The Floor Again backed up with a stonking ignite and the welcome surprise of Life Goes On.
Back in time to the Black Album for Wait For The Blackout and History Of The World…
Back further MGE – Love Song, Antipope, I Just Can’t Be Happy Today, Plan 9 Channel 7 and the traditional set closer Smash It Up.
Then it was all over etc Etc EiTC…
In true pantomime style – Oh No It Wasn’t!!!
A quick breather and they were back to 76/77 to treat us to the whole of their debut Album the brilliant Damned Damned Damned. Captain put a shout of gratitude out for absent friends as he introduced it as Brian James’s masterpiece and mentioned Rat Scabies in his words “what a fucking drummer!”
And it was brilliant as you would expect from this line-up.
All too soon it was all I Feel Alright and goodnight…
But still they came back for more and treated us to a perfect nightcap in the shape of the majestic Curtain Call! Perfect!
Earlier this year in May I was stunned into silence at the brilliance of The Damned as they took The Royal Albert Hall by storm – no review was forthcoming but know this, for EiTC it was right up there as one of the greatest gigs ever and tonight was pretty Damned good too…
In his own words, some yet to be added to the OED - The legend that is Pigeon gives his account of the recent Finchley Boys 40th Anniversary Bash...
It was 9am Saturday Morning. I received a phone call from Elvisintheclouds. He was on his way to his yoga class. We spoke about the Finchley boy bash, and I asked if I was going I was (couldn’t edit that mate, it’s golden EiTC). He offered me a lift to the venue, a bed for the night, and a drop off to the tube station Sunday morning so I could go to work. So the day started with a trip to Archway Tube station North London. I met EITC at 6pm, and off we drove to The Flag pub Watford.
We Arrive in Watford just gone 7pm. The Flag is a nice setting for the event. Upon Arrival the usual suspects are already there, Alex, Sarah, Rob, Owen, Jacquie, Les Neil, Audrey, Sandra, Elaine, The Welsh Mafia. I met Neil Sparkes and Alan Hillier. It was good to talk to them, and we heard many stories about the Finchley Boys.
Walk into the venue I meet Steve Hillier. Who has my t-shirt and I bought a badge. To my right I spy a table full of goodies “Sell him Everything” I think was Mr Carnes idea. I could not believe my luck when my eyes feasted upon a poster of JJ Burnel on his Triumph Motorcycle, that was given away free with early Japanese copies of “Euroman Cometh”. I bought a Japanese copy of Euroman on eBay but my copy did not come with the said poster. “HOW MUCH? for the JJ poster I say to Steve?”. He says “you want it make me an offer?”, I say “Whatever the asking price is” he says “£15”. I open my wallet to (in disgust) find only a tenner in it. I say I will be right back and there’s a cash machine inside the venue. Withdraw another tenner. Rush back inside and yes its still there in all its glory. I can’t believe what happened I HAVE THE JJ BURNEL POSTER ON HIS TRIUMPH. I can’t recall the next half an hour, oh yes I can, proceed to show to it anyone who’s willing to let me talk to them.
First on was a band called The Smash. A punk rock covers band. They did great covers of New Rose, Ever fallen in love, Hit me with your, rhythm stick, She does it right, smash it up, Teenage kicks. got the audience dancing. They played well enough.
Next up was one of the highlights of the evening, the brilliant Neil Horgan. Who from Ireland, and one of the tops Stranglers collectors gave an impressive speech on why The Stranglers changed his life. Saying the first time he heard The Stranglers was in 1979, and “Duchess” on the radio. He then went on to tell the length and depth of his record collection “No More Heroes” was released in Turkey!! & ….. Brazil. “Ain’t nothing to it, was released in Bolivia”. He then said his mum went on to give him a birthday surprise one year, “You can’t go to The Stranglers, Neil but there coming to you”. This was in 2005 and Neil said “I saw them in London last night, they’re in Southampton tonight”. Then Hugh walked in the living room with an acoustic guitar, and did an acoustic set for Neil, who couldn’t believe it. And Hugh said to Neil “Neil I have written a song that’s better than Golden Brown, do you want me to play it to you?”. Neil said “yes please” the song was “Delightful nightmare” and said it wasn’t as good as “Golden Brown”. He then when onto say his favourite item was his Stranglers Bomber jacket! A great speech.
Next up there is a raffle that takes place, of which I didn’t enter but lots of nice items up for grabs including an acoustic white guitar, signed by all the band.
Up next was supposed to be a film, but there was technical difficulty so Neil Sparkes then introduced The Finchley Boys onstage for some stories, some have flown in from abroad for this. Steve Hillier, Alan Hillier, Alan Warne, Graham Hayhoe, Peter Enter, Peter Sharp, & Jonjo Bull.
They all gave stories of how the Finchley boys came into existence, when The Stranglers played the Torrington pub in 1976. They said they saw The Damned play live there in 1976, but when they saw The Stranglers they knew that they were something special, so they invaded the stage. There was then tales of what they got up. They were in the TW studios, when No More Heroes was being recorded. They told the story of the battle of Cleethorpes and Canterbury 1977, when a running battle with the band the Finchley’s, and some HA, one had a knife and was about to stab JJ and a Finchley boy saved him. Alan told the story of the Dingwalls incident that JJ always talks about, and he says jj says the Finchley were there, but Alan says they weren’t as they didn’t know them then. They also tell the story about when they followed the band on their first European tour.
After the Finchley’s it was time for Straighten Out who Neil Sparkes introduced. 3 Straighten Out gigs this year for me. As unfortunately I missed the second Hope and Anchor gig of the year in September. They came onto what else but “Burning up Time”. Seeing Straighten Out is always an experience, as it gives an idea to what it was like in the really early days. Keyboardist Mick “The Doctor” Turley, uses a Hammond just like Dave’s and it sounds superb. Shaggy’s bass, is how JJs bass sounded back then, and Guitarist Phil Harvey does a brilliant job emulating Hugh. It’s a concentrated set tonight. “Goodbye Toulouse” followed. But hello, technical problems early on in the set.
The pure MK1 magic continues with “Peasant in the big shitty”, “I feel like a Wog”, “Peaches”. “Nuclear Device” the Bruce and Sheila’s are in fine voice tonight Then the crowd favourite “Toiler on the Sea”. a highlight of any gig, Dave’s Keyboard intro sung by all fans in various stages of merriness. It is here that the merriness of the Southern Section could no longer take it and were the first to fall. With the hard Northern Section of the audience prompting them back up (huh? EiTC…).
A Brilliant version of “The Raven”, follows “Princess of the Street” and “Genetix”. It’s a very long set tonight part two sees the “Black and white” part of the set start with “Sweden”, “5 minutes”, “Walk on by” was well received. Time for more “Black and White” now “Sleazy”, “Tank” and “Curfew”. “Straighten Out”, “Hanging Around”, “Something better Change” and “London Lady” finish the main set.
Time for the Encore “School mam”, “Heroes” and the rip roaring “Down in the Sewer” where I among Alan Munro, Steve Maloney and Paul Anthony Kerswell find ourselves as Stage Security acting as the human barricade. I have never done Stage Security before, but like being a Stage Tech I am excellent at it (modest too EiTC).
A great evening all round a well over £7 thousand pounds raised for Charity. Thanks to Steve Hillier and The Finchley boys for organising this.
Legends, myths, fables, once upon a time etc Etc EiTC…
Well… you know how it goes?
After a hard day’s levitation, I met up with the legendary Pidge, somewhere around Archway…
We set the sugar tongs for 1976 and headed in the general direction of Finchley North London.
Probably due to the day’s precipitation and some moisture penetrating the circuitry of the navigation unit, we somehow managed to end up in Watford 40 years later, which was quite timely as there were a bunch of lads there with a few tales to tell of Finchley in the year 1976…
A couple of years ago The Stranglers celebrated their 40th Anniversary – there aren’t many bands who enjoy such longevity but they’ll be called the survivors, you know why?
Forty plus years of myths of menace, mayhem, meninblack, and other miscellaneous madness and misdemeanours but above all music (alliteration not withstanding). There has been much variety along the way but a good few constants are also weaved among the threads of this dark tapestry. Not least the followers and fans.
Among the earliest and most well-known of these are the legendary Finchley Boys. Immortalised with a name-check in the song Burning Up Time. They stood side by side with the band in the early years and have themselves become part of the story.
Tonight was a celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Finchley Boys first fated meeting with The Stranglers at The Torrington in Finchley. The proceedings tonight were not in Finchley itself but The Flag in Watford which is a large pub right next to the train station with a good sized music hall (not unlike The Torrington inside according to Finchley Boy Al Hillier).
The celebrations were arranged as a charity fund-raiser to commemorate those Finchley Boys departed for the great gig in the sky – Daddy, Leigh, Chris and John.
Stranglers Tribute Band Straighten Out were the headline act, supported by Punk covers band The Smash. There was a Q&A session with the remaining Finchley Boys as well as an auction, a raffle and lots of merchandise and memorabilia.
In addition to the Finchley’s and their families, The Flag was brimming with Family/Fans in Black here to take part in the celebrations. Any Fan in Black with a link to the internet or social media will not have missed out on the tireless organisation work of Finchley Boy Steve Hillier. And the hard work and dedication paid off as the £5k fund-raising target was well and truly surpassed with the final sum raised being in excess of £7k!
Rob Owen took Mic for the Auction which saw some of the hard-core collectors digging deep for some ultra rare Stranglers memorabilia.
A mix-up with the raffle tickets saw EiTC’s guitar and jacket allocated to other people, although I wasn’t about to raise a fuss what with it being a charity do and all…
The Smash kicked off musical proceedings nicely with some well-presented punk covers.
Special guest ‘Super-Collector’ Neil Horgan entertained all and sundry with his excellent story-telling, recounting some elements of his own personal ‘Stranglers’ journey.
Due to a technical hitch we were unable to view the video compiled by Les Neil but a link came through the following day, watch it here…
Before long The remaining Finchley Boys: Steve Hillier, Alan Hillier, Dennis Marks, Pete Enter, Graham Heyhoe, Pete Sharp and Alan Warne gathered on the stage for a Q&A session. MC for the evening Neil Sparkes fired questions from far and wide and the audience asked directly.
We all stood agog as they entertained us with the tales of their encounters with The Stranglers.
In no time at all, Straighten Out took the stage and proceeded to rustle up some Mk1 Magic.
The sound was superb and authentic, the crowd hung off every last note. SO get better and better with each listen, soften your focus and it could be the real deal standing right in front of you!
The lively crowd spilled over onto the stage occasionally which although in good spirits could potentially have spelled disaster.
Several of the crowd (not least Sandra and Al) took it on themselves to try to protect the stage. By the end of the set, the Welsh Mafia plus Pidge, Al and Sarah were on the stage providing a human barrier in a scene somewhat reminiscent of the Finchley Boys heyday!
So, after a studious day spent with like-minds in the wilds of Archway we made our way to Italy for sustenance at Il Mio Mosaic, which was nice...
Just then the 271 bus happened along, so I hopped on whereupon it crawled its way down the Holloway Road which was very busy tonight thanks to a London Derby football match being held around and about the vicinity.
Hopping off at Highbury and Islington and weaving through the crowds of stupored celebrants, I eventually found myself once more amongst like-minds. Albeit like-minds of a different kind…
Here as we were for the annual Autumnal Pilgrimage to the holy shrine known as the Hope and Anchor, to enact our parts in the ritualistic summoning of Mark 1 Magic!
The throng had dwindled a little since the last such happening but no matter as the enthusiasm of those who had made it here today more than made up for the absences.
No Waltzinblack and straight down to business as Phil, Shaggy, Mick and Mickey P, otherwise known as Straighten Out, proceeded to deliver a no-nonsense set of authentic Stranglers Black Magic.
Some cynics may say “why are you bothering to write a review for a tribute act?” Clearly such cynics are lacking in experience – particularly the experience of hearing perfect recreations of The Stranglers ‘Classic’ early catalogue.
Close your eyes and think of 1977 to 1982.
Highlights too numerous to mention it was the whole blooming lot really but in the spirit of trying to narrow it down – for me it was, in no particular order; Who Wants The World, Bring On The Nubiles, Peasant in The Big Shitty, Ugly, Grip and the magnificent School Ma’am! First Class, Top Notch, Superb etc Etc EiTC…
All too soon it was all, see you in March and all that.
Once again dispensing with waffle…(For the most part etc Etc EiTC)And getting down to business…Well that’s why you’re here?...
Then, before I knew it, I found myself in Camden and it was only Six o’clock!
In a hole in the ground I encountered a gathering who, like me, were here to hear the magnificent Ruts DC.
An early start to tonight’s gig due to the 10pm curfew for live music (Great! Cocoa and bed before the pumpkin hour methinks).
After partaking of a drink in the company of Mr and Mrs Rockula, Mrs Bloggs led me down further in to the depths of the underworld where we discovered Mr Bloggs and Straightenout (with his shirt – more on that later…) among numerous others, enjoying the delights of Department S. And what delights they were. A new experience for me seeing this band (and only really being aware of ‘that’ song), I was duly impressed.
A foundation of solid drumming and truly inspirational bass playing, layered with creative and engaging guitar, topped off with ultra-cool vocal stylings and performance. And they played ‘that’ song! And it was superb! And the sound was also superb in here tonight. Reckon I’ll be seeing this lot again.
A short break. Then before we knew it – Ruts DC took the stage and had us eating out of their palms as they delivered a solid set of Rutty, Ruttish afore alluded to magnificence, they may also have been just a little bit more sparkly than normal…
Kicking off with West One, the crowd were pleased and rightly so. Segs informed us that we may not know quite a bit of the set tonight as they kicked into the rocker Vox Teardrop and we just lapped it up.
The awesome Mighty Soldier, SUS, No Time To Kill and It Was Cold warmed the cockles before the next batch of new songs.
The catchy Brian Jones tribute Tears on Fire next. Then guest guitarist Dave joined the band which was a nice surprise and that’s exactly what they played Surprise. Leigh donned the Les Paul Jr for some nice jangliness on Soft City Lights before going back to the Standard for the excellent Peace Bomb. Second Hand Child next and great to hear how established this has become. Then new single Music Must Destroy and the crowd had clearly been doing their homework as they sang and danced along.
Back to the three piece format for the simply brilliant Love in Vain. More brilliance in the shape of Jah War. The suberb Psychic Attack headed up a couple of classics in the shape of Staring at The Rude Boys and Babylon’s Burning.
Then they were gone…
But not for long…
Back on with Dave on Acoustic for the atmospheric Golden Boy. Then electric for (the electric) Kill The Pain.
Three pieces again for a sizzling Something That I Said, before a final four piece rendition of the inimitable In A Rut! Stunning!
The sound was superb tonight with clarity between all elements… You would never have guessed there had been any technical problems, which indeed there had been as the midi backing had fallen over. Not that it really mattered as the human talent was so rich.
Almost tempted to say this was an ‘I was there!’ occasion… Which while true, Ruts gigs always are!
Great sound for a great band with great support in a great venue and other greatness etc Etc EiTC…
And while we’re on the subject of greatness: Check out the new album. It’s brilliant and Punky yet different as The Ruts/Ruts DC ever were. It’s instant and a grower at the same time. INFECTIOUS!!! With elements of dub and pop and general creative/experimental awesomeness: Not being a gambler even I’d wager that you won’t be disappointed.
Words: Matthew Elvis Brown.
Colour Images: Mrs Bloggs/Lou Smith. Monochrome Images: Andy Miller/Straightenout. Moving Images: Andy Miller/Straightenout. That Shirt Images: Courtesy of Andy’s Camera and The Mystery Photographer.
Okay I’ll level with you…
Not much time to get this done…
So will dispense with the normal nonsensical waffle and get straight down to business etc Etc EiTC…
Had you going there for a while though eh!
Another blessed weekend of music and other blissful activities culminating in two festivals in one (Sun) day.
Dibdab and EiTC paid a visit to the charming Pippfest in Dorking. A local festival with lots of live music and other really cool stuff going on – organised as part of a campaign to save Pippbrook house from being sold by the council on the private market and keep this cherished local landmark available for local community use.
Then before you knew it there I was with Guildford Lil at Guildford Station, from whence we made our way to Stoke Park where we met up with Rob, Carol and family and the Legendary Pidge.
(Always) The sun shines – on the righteous…
It’s always a risk giving a festival a title that includes the word sun. This was the experience when I saw Hugh play at the Forever Sun festival in Dorset where it forever rained and was blooming freezing…
So going to a festival called ‘Always The Sun’ made me reach for the wellies and judging by Saturdays weather we may have needed the sou’westers as well!
But, as luck would have it, here we were on a perfect sunny day.
Further luck was that Hugh’s performance was at 5.40 meaning I could catch his set and be tucked up with cocoa before 9.30! Result!
The ATS site had plenty going for it lots of great music, loads of attractions and some excellent grub. Lil and YT shared some vegan brownies, then a falafel and cup of tea later and Hugh was up…
Kicking off with Black Hair Black Eyes Black Suit, the sound was spot on ticking all the boxes. Hugh’s material really suits the 3 piece treatment and the choice of Stranglers numbers were spot on too.
An awesome Sleazy gave way to the brilliant Beat of my Heart leading on to a sublime 2nd Coming. Then it was Badge next, Ooops sorry I mean God is a Woman, sounding great too.
Caz looked slightly concerned as Hugh kicked off Hanging Around at a breakneck pace but the concern soon faded as they stormed through with a flawless solo and all, they nailed it! And the crowd showed their appreciation, while Hugh showed his appreciation for my beard… (Really!)
Through Getting Involved, Babylon and Tramp all sounding absolutely spot on! Then special mention for Stuck in Daily Mail Land which was brilliant, Caz’s harmonic bass accompaniment on the main melody once more showcasing her musical gifts and really helping the song shine.
Then Hugh announced it’s time for that song, as the whole place got behind him for a flawless Always The Sun.
I want One of Those next which was nice but what I really wanted was Bad Vibrations…
More creative bass from Caz on Thrown Away which just works in this format. A sublime Under Her Spell before the grand finale of Nuclear Device which again they totally nailed!
What can you say really.
From the brilliant drums of Chris Bell to the superb Bass and BV’s of Caz Campbell, this format is cooking with Gas for the Hugh-meister!
And Hugh was just that! Masterful!
A great performance, great sound at a great festival…
And home in time for cocoa!
Be in the moment…
So it was, after leaving India, well deepest darkest Dorset if you insist, Gurudi imbued me with the spirit of the great sages. Whereupon we swiftly levitated to Sunny Basingstoke. It was here that I alighted a mechanical carriage to the South...
Through Micheldever and the vegetable patch known as Winchester and several other towns before arriving at destination Fareham not to be confused with Wareham which, although nice, is actually nowhere near where we in fact needed to be and where we in fact were etc Etc EiTC…
En Route I met a crouton, though in reality it was Peter a thoroughly nice fellow South Londoner making his way to Wickham to volunteer. He offered to share a cab to the festival but as I already had a lift laid on, we bundled him into the Dreadmobile and made our way to base camp…
But, I digress…
An advanced party comprising Dreadinblack and WilliB arrived ahead of EiTC and set up base camp at the Heathfest site (Rob and Carol’s back garden – and a jolly nice job they did too thank you very much) in the back field beyond the reed beds and pond, before rendezvousing with YT at Il Stazione… Which was about where we came in…
The memory of a paid festival…
A quick recce around the (most impressive) Heathfest site, then we were bundled into a 4×4 and ferried off to Wickham festival – courtesy of Charlotte. John joined us for this part of the journey which meant WilliB had to travel on the jump seat (aka. The Boot or dog cabin). A short hop and we were there, wrist-banded and admiring the stunning Hampshire sunset (sun machine coming down).
We caught the last two numbers of From The Jam’s encore and it sounded very good.
Bella and Amanda caught up with us and proceeded to lead us down to the front where the FiB were in waiting for the main event. Waltzinblack and Bam The Stranglers took the stage doing their summer festival stuff with gusto.
I bounced up and down for three or four numbers toward JJ’s side of the stage then the pong got too much (the real ale and exotic foods clearly not agreeing with someone’s digestive system). So I headed for more fragrant pastures toward Baz’s side where I managed to last a few numbers – but the mix was way out on this side – with just the guitar being audible!
Holding my breath I made my way back to JJ’s side for the remainder of the set where the sound was more favourable. I think the problem was the main PA speakers were some way behind where we were standing (at the front towards the barrier) so all we could hear here was the backline. Although there did also seem to be some disparity in the levels – almost like the guitar was set for Wembley while the rest of the band were set for a pub gig.
No worry really – the greatest band with the best fans it’s all good. At the end of the set we nattered and posed before heading off back to base with Bazzainblack and Mr T in tow, we just managed to squeeze into Anthony’s car.
A midnight swim in the heated pool was most civilised but it felt very cold getting out of the pool luckily Ben had been keeping the jacket potatoes warm which helped stave off the cold. Then it was off to bed to knock out a few zeds under canvas and recover a little energy for the main event.
The memory of a free festival…
Sun machine is coming down and we’re gonna have a party…
Be in the Moment!
Did you ever have a day where you lived every moment?
The geese were a honking the cock was a crowing and the sun was a shining, so I took this as a sign and an opportunity to head across the dewy field for morning ablutions, tea and a little light practice. Perfect start!
Ben and his assorted helpers soon had breakfast on the go as the good people gathered around the field slowly began to join the day…
As more guests began to arrive, Carol was frequently seen ferrying people’s tents and luggage across the site on the ride on lawn mower and attached trailer with a huge smile on her face.
From the moment I got here on Friday evening I have to say it was difficult picking my jaw up from the ground – it really was a most incredible event that Rob and Carol and assorted helpers had set up. And in a wonderful location too. Our hosts had thought of everything from wristbands and glowsticks to 5* Toilets and Top Cuisine, they’d even managed to arrange the glorious Hampshire sunshine and an Ice Cream Van.
The words ‘Magical’ and ‘Magic’ were on my lips for the whole experience. And that’s exactly what this was – an Experience!
Did you ever have a day where you lived every moment?
Some moments are crystallised in time
And I’ve not even talked about the entertainment yet…
Up first The Drop Bears entertained us with a solid set of classic rock covers. They did a great job of warming up and wetting the appetite of the audience. With Paul’s solid drumming and Paul’s solid rhythm guitar, not forgetting Paul’s solid Lead guitar and Nick‘s steady bass all making the perfect platform for singer Hanna to strut her stuff!
Rockabilly Trio Switchblade were on next and began to get the crowd going a bit more with their fine mix of covers moulded into their very distinctive punky rockabilly style. Highlights for me were – Johnny Remember Me, Babylon’s Burning and (crowd pleaser) Golden Brown.
Our host Rob joined them for a superb rendition of Folsom Prison Blues on Voice and Harmonica and made a very convincing job of it too. There may have been a bit of Manilow in their set somewhere too! And certainly some Smiths! Well worth a look…
More rockabilly next – as The Ace Trio took the stage. No worries about back to back Rockabilly bands as the two bands both had very distinctive sounds where Switchblade sounded a little more uptempo and edgy with reverberant Tele and crunchy Precision while The Ace Trio had a more traditional/classic rockabilly feel with a smooth Gretsch and Stand up bass flavour to their sound.
The Ace Trio proceeded to deliver a flawless two set show comprising an eclectic mixture of songs given their rockabilly treatment including: Rock this Town, Nine Lives, I’m on Fire, Valerie, Killing Moon, 13 Women, Jump Jive and Wail, Rock the Joint, Slow Down, Rockabilly Boogie, Shim Sham Shimmy and Stray Cat Strut. Catch them live in a town near you (possibly on The South Coast).
By this time the sun machine really was coming down on a fantastic day…
And all too soon it was time for the grand finale as Straighten Out took the stage and entertained all and sundry with their patented blend of MK1 Stranglers Magic. Once more, close your eyes and it’s as if you’ve time travelled back to the late 70’s. Authentic doesn’t even begin to cover it! On a par with the real deal for sure etc Etc EiTC… And we all loved it!
As the crowd warmed up and had a good ol’ boogie (woogie!). Phil busted his A string, so Shaggy made an appeal for someone to re-string, I duly volunteered and soon had him back up and running. A couple of numbers later his D went and once more I was happy to oblige.
We had rat-walking, swirling Hammond, growling Precision, biting Tele and pounding relentless Drumbeats a true fix of IBM… in-Black Magic!
Did you ever have a day where you lived every moment?
That day was today!
It was like being present in every second and fraction thereof. For a short while, yet also for an infinity, time became non-linear in a day that was truly…
Archeologists recently uncovered some ancient runes located around the conjunction of major Ley Lines situated to the North and West of the great sprawling Metropolis. What they discovered upon decryption of the messages held within will astound and amaze you! The full transcription follows below, so spark up the kettle pull up a pouffe and enjoy...
Accept No Substitutes?
I’m no slave to big brand loyalty. I’m perfectly happy to test out shops’ own brands and alternatives. But then there was Sellotape. It had to be Sellotape, I stood no nonsense with inferior varieties that would not tear smoothly, I bypassed these for the one true adhesive tape. Oh but curses upon the school art project or the helpful birthday child wrapping their own pass-the-parcel that used up a whole roll of the precious tape. Salvation was at hand though. Did you know that the pound shop sells bundles of sticky tape rolls with a handy dispenser thrown in? Happy wrapping resulted.
The Tropic in Ruislip had booked the well renown Stranglers tribute band Straighten Out, a very acceptable alternative to the original (and let us bow away for now from discussion over line ups and recipe changes in relation to that big brand). A tried, tested and trusted brand was anticipated for the start to the late May bank holiday weekend until disaster struck in the form of guitarist Phil’s finger fracture. As Facebook filled up with best wishes for a speedy recovery so too did the eyes of those who looked to the Tropic for Strangular entertainment. Now I’d hate to suggest that Philip at the Tropic headed to the pound shop for a solution but an alternative was certainly sought and a resolution found. Step forward the Dead Ringers from Peterborough. Who bring us Nick Moon on guitar and vocals, Geoff Hayward on bass and vocals, Scott White on drums and backing vocals, and on keyboards is Rob Poynton (a young Jet Black lookalike, one might risk saying a dead ringer).
A bank holiday crowd can be unpredictable in numbers and apparently many of the Tropic’s regulars had splashed out in search of sun depleting the audience somewhat. Those that had splashed into Tropic made full use of the space available and were quickly on their feet as Dead Ringers took the stage. A largish room, small audience and a band that had only played about half a dozen gigs together? Sometimes these things gel in their own special way. Indeed Sometimes began the show.
Sometimes you can spend ages searching for the end of the sticky tape. You carefully hold the roll to the light and ease your fingernail over the surface at snail pace to catch the contour ripple. You hold yourself in anticipation of the tape splitting as the strip is raised. For a moment you are nervous and tense. Is the beat going to hit the right tempo? Are the keyboards going to swirl? Will there be tune but no passion? How will the voices sound? And damn it, will the bass growl sufficiently?
It takes a few songs to get used to the changes, to become attuned yourself, to ease the audience in. Wisely the band don’t relent on the pace as Straighten Out and Nuclear Device follow. Geoff slides into vocals with London Lady sounding particularly like JJ. Nick announces that next will be a slow one and produces expert pub rock guitar work on Mean to Me. These guys mean business. The audience responds, the applause pitches higher and the dancing gets crazier as the night wears on.
We are treated to Tank, Sleazy, ATS and Curfew before the first half is wound up with three in a row from NMH: Bitching, Dagenham Dave and Heroes itself. As Parrot Boy says they’re playing as a very tight unit with all the bass and lead solos being well executed and the keyboards are making quite a difference, being rather special.
I have to admit that at the start I was not convinced by Nick’s voice but it really was only a matter of time before my ears adjusted. By the time we hit Always the Sun I was sold on it. You can’t talk Stranglers without some discussion of Hugh/Paul/Baz vocals and a tribute is no exception. I was however particularly pleased with the singing on Duchess, a favourite of mine and one that really only Hugh’s voice can usually provide the polish to for me.
After the well-earned break the audience is on its feet and looking for more while the band are looking confident and ready to banter. Longships and The Raven give way to Grip. There is mention from the stage that a Facebook comment hoped that Golden Brown be omitted, they apologise and play it anyway. This elicits a snigger and a groan from my companion as the author of the aforementioned comment. For me GB is the weakest track of the night, could it be the keyboard sound? We aren’t given time to dwell on such matters as Dead Ringers storm through Duchess, Peaches and Toiler. Scott comments on his admiration for Jet continuing to play Toiler into his seventies. Parrot Boy singles Peaches out as a highlight of the evening “spot on”. Sweden, Five Minutes, Hanging Around, Something Better Change (the dancers are going wild by now). Geoff pulls off Ugly (sorry, thought about rewriting that but what the heck).
The set finishes with a decent length Sewer. There’s nothing worse than a band skimping on Sewer and this is so good that you don’t want it to end.
Encores are in order. I may have to take cover when I say that I yawn when the Stranglers start Walk On By but these chaps made me fall in love with the track all over again. An achievement as they say before starting it that they’ve not played it on stage other than at the sound check. Go Buddy Go brings the evening to an exhausting end.
Nick, Geoff, Scott and Rob are gracious in their acknowledgement that they are on stage tonight because of Straighten Out’s misfortune and they wish Phil well. The audience are with them in echoing those best wishes but are equally keen to show Dead Ringers of their appreciation for the entertainment provided tonight. At the end we spy Leigh Heggarty from Ruts DC in the house looking like he’s been enjoying the set. My trip back to Guildford takes half the time that it did to get there but it was worth the journey. I promise to demonstrate proper crazy dancing next time (without air guitar).
Just as my Sellotape substitute has proved effective I like to think that Dead Ringers will stick around too.
Brand loyalty, brand awareness, working with a product like the Stranglers’ output is a high standard to attain but give Dead Ringers a go. The fansinblack aren’t so old that they’re stuck in their ways, are they?
This just in from way down under - A superb brace of reviews from the recent Australian Tour courtesy of Meanie who regales us with tales of his antipodean adventures - Including transhemispheric double-decker submarine buses! For real! - Brilliant!!!...
Strangled in The Great Southern Land
It was with some trepidation that I agreed to accept the honourable task of reporting on The Meninblackdownunder Tour (title blatantly stolen from the tour shirt). Being neither a literary genius, nor a great storyteller, I will endeavour to provide you with a blow by blow account from my perspective.
A quick bit of background, when I moved to Australia, I didn’t think I would ever attend another Stranglers gig again, you know, bus timetables and all that, apparently there are no aquatic buses to The UK after 6PM on weekdays. I had been lucky enough to be around for the ‘Glory Days’ and was not at all keen on MKII. It was a case of tried that and didn’t like it, I was happy to remain loyal to the ‘old stuff’ and I had more than enough dodgy boots to keep me sustained. Then in 2009 I decided to dip the preverbial toe in the water when I saw that The Boys were playing a venue called The Roundhouse, at Sydney Uni, the temptation was too much, the name of the venue alone was enough to prise $1000 from me to get there, and what a night!!! Hooked again completely. I thought that would be the last time I ever saw the band and that I would die happy after the previous incarnation. For the record, I now see every Stranglers gig that I attend, as possibly the last time that I will ever see them, so it’s kind of emotional for me, I’m not ashamed to admit it. Fortunately, I have seen them seven ‘last times’ since Sydney.
So, on to the matter at hand. Back to September 2015, my phone beeps…. SMS…. a link and a question…… are you going? I click the link, it’s a heads up on ticket sales for The Stranglers tour in April……..”Am I going???”, what kind of question is that? Of course I’m going, boot computer and register for the old early bird heads up thingo. Within days I’ve pawned the family jewels and got tickets, flights and accommodation……..now we wait, and wait and wait, I post “is it April yet” regularly on Facebook. Finally it’s April and we are packing for Brisbane 1000km round trip of open road interspersed every 10km by the dicks with sticks, that’s my term of endearment for those stout yeoman who wield the stop/go signs, I swear half the working population of Australia are dicks with sticks.
The Tivoli – Brisbane
After a quick tour of family we set the GPS for Coniston Street in search of The Tivoli, we hit Brisbane at rush hour and become slightly quizzical of the GPS when it suggests that we turn left 8 times in succession, we abandon the car, I feed the meter and we set off on foot in search of the venue and then the pub, The Jubilee, to meet fellow Fansinblack. We wander in, spot a few Stranglers shirts milling about, we order drinks and sit down. I spot a few familiar faces and soon tables are being drawn together like some medieval banquet and the black knights and their ladies are seated reminiscing about old times, past gigs, football and the old country. It was great to meet some of those who had made the long and perilous journey to New Zealand and then on to Aus for the tour. I took particular delight in watching Chris Foulkes squirm as I told him the story about the brown snake in our bathroom, there is no innuendo whatsoever in that, real snake.
We sculled a few and then all set off to wait for the doors to open, it was still pretty hot, so nobody had a problem with standing outside waiting for the doors to open ten minutes after the tickets stated, which is the norm. As soon as I entered the venue memories came flooding back of the venues I had seen The Stranglers play so many years ago, before the advent of the concrete and metal insincere buildings they call concert halls, all owned by the same money grabbing company. It felt like I had come home, I grabbed my tour shirt and stubby holder post hastily as I know how quickly those things sell out here. We found a great spot and I made the obligatory trip to the bar as is customary at such occasions, beer in a bottle, not one of those plastic cups, living the high life, we were.
Support was provided by some nong with a laptop who stood like someone who wasn’t sure whether he’d peed on his white trousers and was desperately looking to see in the dimly lit venue, at the beginning we were lured into a false sense of security as he played tunes by the old skool punk elite at the beginning of his ‘set’, by the time he’d reached a painful near two hour marathon, Jo was ready to beat him to death with his laptop and she made that VERY clear. And two hours passed, the sound was pretty dire, the nong never uttered a word, remaining stooped over his gadgetry while we waited, somewhat impatiently. By 9PM the crowd were getting toey as we’d been told that there was a curfew and this dick was eating into gig time, sure enough he eventually disappeared, then the obligatory last minute adjustments started in the dark. I remember chuckling to myself as Jo stated “For fucks sake, they’ve had all day to fiddle about with that stuff!” Then, thank the maker……..
Waltzinblack, Toiler, Grip, you know the story. The band looked tired but they worked hard and played many of the standards, they made a rotten job of a couple but were totally forgiven, Skin Deep was dismal and really out of tune, Dave took the piss out of Baz on a number of occasions, which I had been told he’d done for the previous few gigs and Baz took the piss out of Australians and Brits alike, throwing in the odd Acca Dacca riff to demonstrate ”I can play fuckin’ anything me.” We watched people skate by on the multiple discarded beer bottles and laughed at the group next to us who firmly planted cotton wool in their ears when the lights went down. It wasn’t the best gig I’ve ever been to but it was still brilliant and we left sated. We steered the beast for Coffs Harbour, and home the next morning for one day at home before heading south to Adelaide.
Thebarton Theatre – Adelaide
Early morning flight to Sydney followed by a short wait for our flight to Adelaide, nothing is close in Straya. Five hours later we’re in Adelaide, I really wanted to go to this gig as I’ve never been to South Australia. We arrive at our hotel and from the outside it looks like a lifesize prop from Gotham City, complete with Gargoyles, our room is on the tenth floor, it’s very luxurious and it’s black and white and we discover that there is a roof top bar…. Complete awesomeness. I found some amusement in sitting on top of a skyscraper, drinking a stout called King Kong while trying to balance on a bar stool overlooking the city.
I had booked a few days in Adelaide to explore and I’m glad that I did, what a beautiful city, The City Of Churches. On Friday, gig day, we woke to the news that his royal purpleness, Prince, had died, the weather had turned and it was cold and pretty miserable. I did the sensible thing and booked a taxi to the pub nearest to the venue and after waiting for an hour in the cold and the rain for the invisible taxi, someone told me that it’s a waste of time booking a taxi on Friday or Saturday because they don’t turn up! Fortunately the boys in the hotel were onto it quickly and in no time we were whizzing along Henley Beach Road towards the venue, unfortunately we missed catching up with everyone at the pub as it was knocking on 7PM by the time we got there. There was none of the previous joviality outside the venue because the weather was nasty, Jo advised me “this is worse than queuing to get into a gig in England”, referring to the harsh weather. Twenty minutes later and we are inside, fantastic theatre, gloomy and old, just how I like them.
Oh Nooooo, here we go again another nong with a laptop, this one looked like an extra from Waynes World but at least he was more animated, he walked about and flicked his long hair a lot whilst drinking from a bottle…. Talent or what????
This geezer didn’t make us suffer as we had in Brisbane, an hour and a half and he was gone. Our cunning plan for being central to the stage came slightly undone when chromedome stinky appeared right in front of us with all of his bags and wind up mobile phone, it’s possible that Jo and I did not take more than a few breaths in 2 hours. Lights go down, Waltzinblack and the place was electric, it just had that buzz about it, it felt right. Toiler, Straighten Out, Grip, I’ve been Wild, Curfew (Andi et Al, sneaking about frantically on the stage)…. They’re smashing it, then, Jim’s drums spit the dummy and decide to part company with each other, the lights go up and people rush about the stage frantically Jim disappears for a while and Baz goes into comedy mode while repairs are made.
Baz “People ask us if we bring all our gear on tour, you’re joking, it would cost a million fucking pounds to bring all of our shit to Australia, this is my guitar and that’s JJ’s guitar, come on show ‘em JJ, Dave brings a few bits and so does Jim, the rest is hired. Looks like we hired a shit drum kit though, it keeps falling apart”. Baz held it all together for a good five minutes while he and JJ treated us to a few short solos, even Dave chipped in with a few rare words on occasion, mostly aimed at mocking Baz. Then we’re up and running again……Relentless, Sleazy…. Firing on all cylinders and then some. 5 Minutes appeared in the set, as did Go Buddy Go in exchange for that eternal ‘crowd pleaser’ ADAAOTN.
The announcement of GBG referenced pub rock, as it had on the B&W tour, but Baz threw in “You Aussies know all about that though, you probably fuckin’ invented it”. We finished with Heroes and could easily have gone another fifteen rounds. Then we all disappeared into the shadows, unaffected by the cold, warmed to the centre of our beings. To end my bit of the tour on such a high was all that I could ask for………… except maybe that they come back again next year, they know that they will pull a good crowd of ex-pats and with those of you mad enough to make the trek from the UK they’re always going to have fun.
Thankyou and goodnight from the arse end of the world…. Who Wants It?
In an epic transdimensional/transtemporal tale that takes us from behind The Iron Curtain into the heart of the Decadent West - Comrade Boshkin gives us this report of the last week of The Stranglers Black and White Tour. So put on your slippers, pull up your chair, spark up an Havana and enjoy...
Black and White and Grippe!
by Anatoly Boshkin
Our esteemed brother-in-black Matt Brown asked me if I wanted to contribute a guest review to his web site. I feel honored to join the ranks of guest reviewers on his excellent site which I have been following, with fascination, for several years. At first I was not sure if my writing ability is up to the task, after all English is not my native tongue, but then I recalled the words of my high school teacher giving advice on writing essays: “There’s nothing to it, write in short sentences, avoid big words, and you’ll be fine”… She and I hated each other’s guts, so I intend to completely ignore her advice and still attempt to come up with something readable.
As I was booking my flights and hotels for this trip, I realized that it was my 7th year in a row that I would cross the Atlantic to see The Stranglers live. Not bad. On this trip I would reach 25 on my Stranglers gig count (a bit tricky with the 2011 convention, which I count as 2 gigs). Not very impressive, I know, with many fans out there having their numbers in the hundreds, and some reaching double digits in a single year. My excuse, of course, is the geography (I have been living in the USA since 1994) and, shall we say, geopolitics: born and raised behind the Iron Curtain. I could only dream of seeing the band live in the first half of its existence, having thus missed the original lineup completely.
By 2010, I had only seen the band live once, at Glasgow Barrowlands, December 1993 – the one with Jet singing Old Codger and JJ having beer spilled all over him, with subsequent invitation for the culprit to come onstage for a lesson (not accepted). Those were the high points, the rest of the gig not so much; Mr. Roberts had a knack of turning the hits I had fallen in love with as a teenager into some other band’s songs, and Mr. Ellis insisted on playing guitar parts his way, cleanly and technically but without the quirkiness of his predecessor, which, again, made it sound like there was some other band on stage playing their own renditions of the songs by The Stranglers (needless to say, I did not care about most Mk II songs at all). The substitute drummer (Tim Bruce, if i remember correctly) did an adequate job but, quite understandably, nothing more, and the two original members did not look engaged, apart from the aforementioned beer-throwing episode. It was certainly an important milestone, my first Stranglers gig (and Jet’s Old Codger is a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life), but overall a bit of a disappointment. So much in fact, that when The Stranglers played a very short North American tour in 1997, I decided not to take the 4 hour drive to the nearest point of call, New York City, from Washington DC area where I lived by then, figuring that they’d do a proper US tour soon enough and I would be able to see them locally. A bit of a miscalculation: the next US tour would happen 16 bloody years later!
Fast forward a few years, there is a new guitar player in town, and fans on the Internet say they quite like him. My first taste of Baz’s playing came soon thereafter with the 5 Live album, and I was duly impressed. I heard a guitar player that managed to replicate Cornwell’s sound and style pretty damn close to the original, including the reported use of a Telecaster; I deduced a desire to please the fans and zero arrogance. Then came Norfolk Coast where I heard, to my delight, that Dave started playing, after many years of just providing the background. There was an overall feeling of a band enjoying their craft again. By now, I was very much interested again, and hoping for an imminent US tour which for some reason did not happen this year; OK, next year for sure.
In a few more years there were 4 again, JJ started singing more, and Baz, although not imitating Hugh vocals-wise, somehow still sang in a manner that did not grate this old-time fan at all. I felt The Stranglers were back! Sweet XVI sort of confirmed that the band was returning to its roots, but the real treats were the live recordings that clearly showed me that the band I fell in love with as a teenager somehow resurfaced after a prolonged near-hiatus. That, and the rumors that Jet’s health was failing, led me to a decision to stop waiting for the mountain to come to the US and catch them whenever and wherever I can, for however long they have left to run. As a side note, by then I had seen Hugh on all of of his US solo tours (even came over to watch him play the Guildfest in 1999), met him and spoke with him several times, and it was abundantly clear that the reunion was out of the question. Oh well. Bring on the next best thing!
In 2010, I recruited my best friend Sergei to accompany me for a 3-day, 2-gig trip to England. We had a fucking blast! First, Cambridge Corn Exchange, and then Hammersmith Apollo, an absolutely unforgettable experience. I waited near the head of the line for more than an hour and was able to get a place at the railing on JJ’s side, and then survived 2 hours plus of being tossed about in the human surf, ended up with multiple bruises on my rib cage but never let go of the rail, and was rewarded with a blissful audiovisual experience, from the first note of Waltzinblack to the last sound of the encore. That was pretty darn close to what I had been dreaming of ever since hearing No More Heroes on the BBC Russian Service in December 1977 and deciding right there and then that this was my band! It became clear to me that I wanted to continue going to these gigs again and again, for as long as the band keeps on running.
So here I am, 6 years later, very happy with the decision I made, and enough of my life story, let’s get to the latest trip, a week on the Black and White tour of 2016, which turned out to be the one to remember, for reasons great and not so much…
The overnight flight from Washington Dulles to Heathrow was uneventful and almost enjoyable. The usual questioning by the immigration officer on my plans in the UK raised the customary chuckle (“What, the same gig 5 times in a row? Jolly good, Sir” – bam! a stamp in the passport). A long walk to the bus station, a longish wait before a comfy bus ride to Woking, a look at Salisbury bound departures… “Cancelled”. “Cancelled” . Oh my. Don’t know what was happening there, but having crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 6.5 hours it took me 3 more hours to clear Woking. British Rail can be tricky, as many readers probably know.
Anyway, there goes my chance of a couple hours’ kip before the festivities begin. Finally at Salisbury, a taxi to the hotel (White Hart – remember the name), and then to the pub across the road where comrade Jo Black is eagerly waiting, a pint in hand. Hugs and back pats, fish and chips, pints and pints, then cognac and cigars, all with a talk between two mates about what went on in their lives in the past year. A very happy start to what would undoubtedly be a fab week!
At some point Matt Brown texts me, he’s at a local curry house (where else) with a bunch of fellow fans, so Jo and I swing back to the hotel to freshen up and pick up the gig tickets; I don my white Black & White top, then follows a short taxi ride to the aforementioned Indian establishment (to the hotel receptionist: “Er, can you please call us a taxi, we are going to an Indian restaurant, we forgot the name but remember that it ends with a double A”… she managed!). A group of fans in black is present, beside Matt there are Karen Parfitt, Adam “Pigeon” Salem, Lou and Rebus Smith, Pete from West London and his mate whose name is swept away from my memory by the subsequent streams of Kingfisher (Two Pint Pete and Keith, EiTC). Soon, we are joined by Jan Stoelinga and his wife (another name I lost, sorry!), direct from Netherlands (The lovely Jacqueline Mr Boshkins Sir, EiTC). The food is fiery, the beer cold, Pete keeps calling me Boris (from the movie Snatch, apparently I am a lookalike), I feel mildly irritated until I realize that he refers to everybody else simply as “c**t” (EiTC note: Profanity and alcoholic excess aside, he’s a top bloke Comrade!). A great time is being had by everyone. Soon, it’s time to go into the venue.
We catch most of the set by The Alarm. It’s a good one, Mike Peters is a charismatic front man, the tunes are good, the band sound fine, I’d say they are one of the best bands that I have seen support The Stranglers.
Finally, the lights go out and the magic sounds of Waltzinblack fill the hall. The first gig on each trip is always special for me. It’s a combination of a sleepless night, jetlag, many pints, the euphoria/adrenaline of starting a new chapter in my personal Stranglers adventure…. The first gig usually flashes by as a blur of happy sounds and lights, and this was no exception.
The gig over, Jo and I hurry to a pub to come down using a few rounds of Jamie and Guinness.
Back at the White Hart and who do we see in the lobby… Dave Greenfield himself! With a Stella in hand and the famous black bag (though it’s brown these days) at his feet, chatting with several companions. Somehow we find ourselves join the company, Jo asks a question and Dave is chattering away. I sit slack jawed and try to follow the conversation. Jo: “How does it feel to be the best keyboard player in the world, Dave?” Dave: “Nah, there are better ones”. Even though I had met Dave and spoke with him several times before, I am starstruck and mostly speechless, however the fact that I am on a cross-Atlantic trip to see the band for the 7th year running surfaces at some point, and everybody seems impressed. One of the gentlemen present, Gary, says he is the tour manager and offers me to be at the Folkestone venue by 3PM next day, to see the soundcheck. I can hardly believe my luck. Being an experienced drinker and not trusting my memory, I take a photograph of Gary and type a note to my next day’s self into my iphone: “This man’s name is Gary, he’s the tour manager and he wants you to be at the venue in Folkestone at 3PM, he will get you in to see the soundcheck. This was not a dream, dude, do not fuck it up!”
Next morning, I find Jo in the lobby chatting with the hotel manager Audrey. Her husband is a huge fan of Dave Greenfield and he had no idea the band would stay at the White Hart, so she said she would tease him “guess who I spend half the last night chatting with!” A hearty breakfast of one pint of Guinness each, then another quick pint of real ale at the railway station where we learn of the terror attack in Brussels (a priceless tirade from a local guy to the effect that “do you feel you have admitted enough ‘refugees’ now, euroliberals, or do you still want some more?” – about twice as long if I were to leave the cuss words in). Jo and I say our goodbyes – see you next year buddy – and onwards I go, the goal is 3PM at the Leas Cliff Hall, Folkestone, as the iphone message from the past prescribes.
British Rail does a proper job this time, and at a quarter to three I am at the ticket counter of the Leas Cliff Hall demanding my ticket and somebody to page Gary the boss man or his deputy Merv to come and let me in. The people at the counter are amused but oblige, and soon I am told to stick around and wait near the entrance to be picked up, which indeed happens at around 3:20. Gary tells me to wait at the merch stall for the band to arrive which I do, and when they show up 15 or so minutes later he introduces me, and to my surprise JJ says “We have met you before, haven’t we” – indeed, at the US tour 2 years prior we spoke at the VIP meet-and-and-greets in NYC and Philly. While we shake hands somebody says “What a great name, Anatoly” – not sure what makes it great, but I’ll take it, thanks Mom&Dad! I ask Baz for a selfie, and he responds “Sure, after we’re done here. Come inside!”
It is my first time witnessing a Stranglers soundcheck (in fact, any soundcheck), and it is quite the experience. The Alarm are present, some of the crew are scurrying around the stage, others pushing faders on the soundboard, I watch in awe and feeling special (I appear to be the only just a fan in the hall). After a few whacks at the instruments and some discussion, the band decide to play Burning Up Time, and they do, only the voices are not audible. They seem to be singing for real, so I guess the mikes were on and they heard themselves on the monitors, and I find myself being treated to an instrumental version of B.U.T. – very special indeed!
At the end of it, Gary invites me onstage for a photo with the band. As we walk towards the stage I offer profuse thanks for the wonderful experience. Gary answers along the lines of “we certainly noticed your dedication and want to do something nice in return as a sign of appreciation”. I get up on stage, Jim is nowhere to be seen (I guess he still shies away from full band photos; he should not), I hand my iPhone to Gary and the four of us line up. While Gary prepares to shoot, JJ asks me where in Russia I was born, how long have been living in America, and then delivers this one: “Do you agree that Black and White has not aged at all? I listen to it today, and it sounds as modern now as it did in the 70s”. I am not ready to handle such a profound topic and in response start telling JJ how it was the full first album I heard as a teenager in 79. The shots are snapped, Gary hands me the phone back, I wish the band a good gig, thank Gary again, and leave the building, escorted by a crew member.
The whole experience lasted for about 30 minutes and left me in a somewhat dizzy state.
I had thought that the unbeatable high point of my “career” as a Stranglers fan was when Baz addressed me from stage in Philadelphia as part of his pre-No More Heroes “Can you feel it?” banter (“And you, my Russian friend, can you feel it?”) This might very well be even more special, I am not sure. To ruminate on the subject, I walked to a bar across the street from the venue, ordered JD on the rocks and a pint of Bombardier, positioned myself in their garden overlooking the venue and lit up a cigar. As it often happens these days, ruminations were quickly abandoned in favor of Facebook, Skype and other means of sharing the joy with the outside world that do not require deep insight or even use of proper language, lol.
Having finished the refreshments and enlightened the world, I took a long walk through the streets of the fine town of Folkestone in search of proper food and historical attractions (found none, settled for a pint and a sandwich), followed by a lovely stroll along a seaside promenade back to the venue.
The faithful had already started a queue, full 2 hours prior to opening of the doors.
I go to the hotel to freshen up, along the way noticing that the Leas Cliffs Hall does not deal exclusively in rock concerts, other quality entertainment is also on offer:
Soon, Matt pages me from a curry restaurant (where else), he is there with his brother Phil who sports an impressive facial hair, in the style of the last Russian emperor Nicholas the Second. Soon we will be joined by two more fans, Lucy and Rihannon. More fiery food and Kingfisher, we relocate to a wine bar (why do they call it a “wine bar” if everybody still drinks beer and shorts?), after some drinks back to the venue where I meet up with a recent Internet contact of mine, Tony Raven. The gig is about to begin.
I make my way to the front, positioning myself near the front on the Baz’s side. My second gig of the tour begins well enough but towards the end of the Black and White section I realize that something is not right. Baz looks pale, barely speaks between songs and disappears backstage every now and again. JJ looks concerned. I do not remember noticing any deterioration in Baz’s playing or singing, but he looks unwell and quite unhappy. Approximately 3/4 through the set JJ turns to the other band members and I see him mouth “Let’s just finish”. They play 5 Minutes (if the memory serves) and go. People start shouting for encore. JJ quickly returns and explains that two of the band members have food poisoning and could not finish the set, for the first time in 40 years of operation – I suspect most of you saw the YouTube clip with his speech, so I will not transcribe it here. What impressed me was the fact that audience responded with respect and understanding, I did not hear a single boo, instead there was a long and loud applause for a band who fought hard to give the fans their music and persevered for almost 1.5 hours instead of taking the easy option of cancelling the gig, one I suspect many of the more pampered stars would choose without a second thought. Much respect!
Post-gig everybody is concerned with the health of the band, next day’s concert in Cambridge, and even the rest of the tour. As the evening marches on, though (we relocate back to the “wine bar”), the spirits rise and the mood improves. I even donate a raven badge off my jacket to a co-drinker (Rihannon in this case), which indicates a time well spent.
In the morning, I venture outside for a wake-up drink, find a coffee shop, sit down with a big cup, and notice a woman lying flat on the sidewalk across the street, apparently passed out. A couple of people seem to be tending to her; others walk by with nary a glance. The ambulance takes quite a bit of time to arrive, and when it finally does there is no big hurry on the scene. I guess the English do not lose their heads and really keep calm no matter what is going on. Finally the lady on the pavement starts moving, my coffee is finished, I head back to the hotel to pack and move on to Cambridge.
Upon arrival to Cambridge some 3 hours later, I check into my hotel, eat lunch at my favorite place in the town, The Prince Regent pub (a separate story), and head to the Corn Exchange in order to find out the state of the Stranglers camp, and if luck permits maybe hear the sounds of the soundcheck. I pick up my ticket, the person at the box office does not know anything about any cancellation, good sign but I decide to hang around the venue for a bit and see what I can find. An occasional person in a Stranglers T-shirt can be seen walking past the building, quite a number of people see the poster advertising tonight’s gig and show recognition, some even pull out their phones and snap pictures of it. I have always heard of Cambridge as a very cultural town, and here’s the proof!
After about 20 minutes I notice a crew member who I remember from the day before. As he smiles at me on the way to the stage door, I ask him “How are they feeling?” His reply is “Ugh” and a wave of the hand that I interpret as “far from perfect but good enough”. A look at the latest Facebook postings confirms my guess, we seem to have a show tonight.
It’s about 4 o’clock, a bit early to expect many fans at The Eagle, but I go in to check anyway. I do not see anybody I recognize; the Stranglers apparel is not yet represented, except for two unfamiliar gentlemen who I exchange nods with. I sit down with my pint of Abbot, and in a minute one of them walks to me and asks if I am on my own, after my “yes” he invites me to join him and his mate. Very nice and, uh, family-in-black-like! As we exchange introductions, he asks for my last name and exclaims “I know you! We are friends on the Facebook! I am Tony Armitage”. What a lovely surprise. Tony and his friend Gary drove to Cambridge from Luton (“There is nothing in Luton, do not go there”, they say) and turn out to be nice and intelligent people, we spend about two hours in a lively discussion of all matters Stranglers-related and otherwise. After a few pints, I feel the need for nourishment before the gig but am not quite in the mood for pub fare, so Tony and Gary give me directions to a kebab place that they thought was excellent (it was) and I leave. If Tony or Gary read this, thank you gentlemen for a great time, hope to see you again next year!
Passing by The Corn Exchange I see that a healthy queue has already formed, one of the familiar faces is Elaine Smith who informs me that she is attending 16 ot ouf 18 gigs on this tour. What a trooper! You must be tough as nails Elaine, I bow my head to you.
I also speak with Lou Smith who informs me that she is hoping to get to the front row, while her husband Rebus preferred to go to The Eagle for a pint. I return to The Eagle after my kebab, but cannot find him. Time to go in.
This time I position myself at the back, near the soundboard. The place is quite packed and to my pleasant surprise the band sounds as tight as ever. Everything goes great until near the middle of the Black and White section I start feeling woozy. My first thought is, “Shit, it’s the kebab” but no, the symptoms are different. After a while I realize that the nasty flu which I seem to be bringing back home from every English trip, struck early this time. The condition worsens so quickly that I have to leave the gig about three quarters in.
On the way to the hotel I pop into a supermarket and load up on flu and cough remedies, the most important of which is the sticky sweet concoction poetically branded Night Nurse. In America, the same kind of stuff goes by a bland pharmaceutic name of Nyquill. I’ll take Night Nurse over Nyquill any day, or rather night.
Into the bed I go, with a towel on my forehead and a bunch of medicine bottles on the side table, a la Mr. Bean. Good night and let’s try to survive the rest of the trip.
Cambridge, day 2
After 12 hours filled with all sorts of unpleasant dreams (and not a single night nurse in them), I decided that I improved enough to risk a walk, get some fresh air, a coffee and maybe some food. Coffee did its temporary magic, so I walked on. In all my previous visits to Cambridge I had never seen the local river, Cam, which in the tourist guides is made up to be some sort of a Seine, only a bit more scenic. I reached it this time. What a disappointment.
In addition, it started raining. I took refuge in a nearby pub named The Mitre and tested my condition with a half pint of Hobgoblin. The beer, to quote a fictional Russian scientist, “refreshed my dusty brow”. Encouraged, I ordered a sandwich and a full pint. “The food did me good” but the pint made me feel wobbly again and it became clear that the balance of the day would be best spent in bed. A day of rest in the middle of the week turned out to be a godsend and I needed to take full advantage of it.
As I walked towards the hotel, I saw a homeless-looking man playing a harp. Not a little handheld thing, but an impressive 4-footer which towered above his head as he held in his lap. The locals paid no attention. Worried that my next encounter would be a trio of hobos playing the 80’s style brass part of Down In The Sewer on heavenly trumpets, I hobbled on. Wish I took a photo, at least I’d have known know whether that was a hallucination. Not much to report about the subsequent 20 hours or so. Fever, cough, Night Nurse and bad dreams.
Mid-day Friday, a 4 hour+ train ride from Cambridge to Leeds, with 2 changes. The less said about that horrible time the better.
This is my second time in Leeds, I stay at the Radisson Blu which I prefer for its insanely comfy beds, and try to rest before the gig. Always dependable Matt comes through with a texted invitation to another curry place. With regret, I turn him down since I cannot think of food in general, and anything spicy in particular. Instead, I order room service of an over-peppered pumpkin soup and an awfully bad Caesar salad, force myself to eat some of that crap and go right back to bed. In a few short hours, it is time to pull myself out and start staggering towards the Academy..
Thank myself for good planning! When I was booking the gig tickets, I chose to sit on the balcony in Leeds, correctly figuring that after 4 days of trains and gigs I would be on my last legs. I did not figure on being sick, which turned the sitting ticket to the balcony into a real life-saver. Thus, despite my malady, I am able to enjoy a good view and sound, and another excellent gig.
Post-concert mingling, alas, was out of the question. At the end of the gig I went straight back to the hotel for another dose of Night Nurse and a night of feverish dreams.
Next morning, the last day of the tour, another lucky break for me, the relatively short distance from Leeds to Manchester. I was able to sleep late, take the journey which took less than 2 hours door to door, and check into a bed at the McDonald hotel, very close to the railway station and not far away from the Apollo, this year’s venue. Another set of city-exploring plans had to be ditched in favor of some miserable time with the drapes closed.
For the last gig of my trip and the tour, I had to make the effort to survive. The healing powers of good cognac should not be called upon casually, but this occasion felt right. When the time to get out was close, I went down to the hotel bar and ordered a dose of Remy Martin, with a cup of tea and a sandwich. Soon came a text from Matt with the location of today’s curry place, Punjab. A friendly Indian taxi driver never heard of the place, somewhat surprisingly, and it took him some effort and extra time as the originally given address was incorrect.
When I arrived, Matt and his companion Di were finishing their meal. No problem, “A cup of tea and a brandy” was my dinner order, after which it became evident that the waiter had little idea what “brandy” or “cognac” means, so I had to walk over to the bar and locate a bottle of Martel for him. Di seemed to be suffering from a flu-like condition like myself, so we share the “magic sweeties” as she called the anti-cough candies which I had been carrying a pocketful of for the prior 3 days. No magic there, sadly, just a chemical taste and a short-lived superficial relief. Unlike tea and cognac, which returned some colour to my face, as Matt noted, and allowed me to be minimally sociable for the rest of our dinner and the trip to the Apollo.
The gig was exceptional, the band at their peak and the fans at their most enthusiastic. Once again, the Manchester tour closer turned out to be my favorite gig of the trip. For the fifth time in a row, I was blown away by the first bar of Grip, a monster keyboard sound that heralded the switch from the somewhat depressing Black side of the album, with its stark white lighting, to a full color celebration of timeless hits and classics old and new. Grip is one song that I think sounds better live these days than its original recording. Another highlight of the last gig for me was 5 Minutes, the most energetic version I have ever witnessed. There was even Golden Brown in one of the encores, played for the only time on the tour (or at least its last week), which is just fine by me. At 2 full hours, this gig was over way too soon.
If I had to choose the biggest loss caused by my illness, it would not be the fact that it made me miss some sightseeing, good food and drink, record shopping, or even the last 30 minutes of the Cambridge gig. It would not be the recovery that lasted for many days after I returned home (I am still feeling the after-effects as I write this, more than 3 weeks later). It has got to be missing the post-Manchester gig action at the Big Hands bar, with so many friends-in-black I had made in the prior visits. At the end of the concert I could only muster just enough strength to greet all the friends I could locate on the floor, and then had to go to the hotel, be miserable for another night and head to the airport early in the morning.
So…. Julie, Gill, Jason, Andy & Pam, Dave Higginson, Steve and Paul, Elaine, Liz, comrade Pidgeon, Colin Davies, Kathinboots… great to see you all! I am sure I forgot somebody, but it was great to see you as well. Sorry I could only say hi and disappear. I promise to do better next year. And for now, long live The Stranglers and their fans! Amen.