Magical mystery to magic...Under the auspices of the half-moon… …we were recently returned from a magical mysterious excursion through the misty Isle of Avalon. Being as we were, in possession of a newly acquired clarity and contentment never before experienced. And, as luck and or serendipity would have it, another magical adventure was just beginning to conclude its opening chapter…For tonight’s experiment, the time dial was set to the heart of the 1980s for a little light entertainment… just then a mosquito flew in to the delicate machinery of the ST90 and tripped a circuit, triggering a malfunction which caused time and reality to splinter whilst creating a trans-dimensional overlap. These phenomena had the net effect of merging different timelines creating a new reality, which would all too soon appear as just normal - having replaced the old reality and as the memory of these events fade……what?Precisely…
Suddenly we were in London’s West End in April of the year 2017.
Having not done so for a decade or two I popped in to the Borderline to see what was occurring…
Which was a stroke of luck as Lover were here for the launch of their new album Human Geography.
And jolly good it is too! Having been given a preview of this finely crafted jewel, the opportunity and desire presented itself with increasing frequency over the preceding week to hear it more…
A well-produced slice of modern pop/rock/electronica could possibly go some way towards describing this platter.
We’re probably all familiar with the Human urge to categorise things. A base psychological need to compare what we are experiencing now with what has gone before. In the case of Lover, I’ve recently heard such comparisons as Hazel O’Connor, Toyah, Blondie to name a few and to be fair I can see where they’re coming from. (To add a few to the mix myself, I can hear elements of 80’s synth pop going on in what is essentially a pop/rock band format (a feat in itself). With at times nods to Johnny Marr on Guitar etc Etc EiTC…)
But all of this is just a perception. To be specific, how I perceive what I experience with Lover. But all nods and comparisons aside, what Lover offer is a well presented modern slice of poppy rocky goodness, all art is inspired. And Lover’s art is inspirational and deserving of a listen.
Returning to clarity, it is here – with Vocals guitars and drums all present and polished while the synths and samples add layers of rich textures.
And, I hear you ask, how does this translate into the live environment?
There is more of an edge in the live environment, as one would expect but it is true to the recordings at the same time.
Singer Sarah delivers the vocals with style and serenity. While she explores and experiments with the delivery and performance of the songs adding an extra something not captured in the recorded version. A striking and cool character indeed! Commanding the attention of the audience with her vocal talent, stage presence and innate photogenicity.
Drummer Jamie is on beat giving a head down no nonsense display of drum finery, drawing all the elements of the band to a unified whole. While Bassist Casper provides the low down with style and finesse.
Keyboardist Florence provides the afore-mentioned layers of electronic textures which emanate forth with a depth and range seemingly beyond that of the recorded medium. Guitarist James is another cool customer delivering the chops and more with apparent ease.
In short, they nailed it!
It was ear-worms a go go in there last night as the loop in my brain keeps reminding me – Fallen Famous, Somebody Somewhere, White Bears, Weekend Caligula, Self Destruct to name a few.
And judging by the enthusiastic response from a healthy turnout of friendly faces and enthusiasts, people are using their ears.
Archaeologists recently working in the eastern wastelands have unearthed a rare artefact around the area of Antler Hill. It is believed that this artefact, a capsule, may contain the key to unlocking the great Cypher Columbidae…After being blown by Doris then forced to go down……to clarify, it was a bit windy so the trains stopped running, thereby necessitating the need to take the tube instead...
The sugar tongs headed me in the direction of the end of the world, whereupon Guildford Lil was to be found somewhere around the middle east…
Eventually we wound our way to Dublin to witness a siege at the castle… Well it was more of an occupation.
Here we encountered a warm welcome from Mr Bloggs, PiL and assembled occupiers.
We were watching a Reindeer dancing on the table when all of a sudden sight, sound and other sensual stimuli informed us that Occupy had taken the stage.
And what an occupation it was, as they delivered a set of Punk and New Wave classics with a bit of Johnny Cash thrown in for good measure.
Dance and revelry was the order of things for the next half hour or so – the castle-dwellers joined together in song – and we were served a solid foundation of rhythmic delights from drummer Steve and bass player Paul who together created the perfect platform for guitarist Seamus to ply his skilful craft – these elements in combination systematically and sympathetically complimenting the apex i.e. that of frontman Steve Cooklin as he led the way through the set. A journey across time with a steady hand at the tiller.
All too soon it was all over as Lil, Bloggs and YT(EiTC) retired to and were joined at the bar by Paul, Raj and Maurice.
Here, among other things, there was talk of the great pilgrimages to Staines after the notorious Opal Mint decriminalisation act was passed there toward the end of the last century. Before we ourselves took pilgrimage to India where we found sustenance and good company at Namaste and we nattered until way past last tube time…
You may have heard of Occupy!
You may have heard of Sir PiL!
You may have heard of Stamford!
You may have heard of Rebus Bloggs...Read on...
The Voodoo Lounge, Stamford
Ever been to Stamford?…
Well I have now, and what a great place it is! And The Voodoo Lounge, situated in the cellar of Mama Liz’s bar/restaurant, is a great little venue…
We venture up the A1(Ba**ard)M to go and see Occupy, a Punk/New Wave cover band from North London. I found out about them from their Bass player, none other than Paul Cooklin (or Paul in London to those in the know).
The Journey was eventful but as I have been criticised in the past for giving too much of the revue over to the journey to the venue and the Ednas consumed, I will leave that out.
On arrival we found Paul holding court in the main bar, he was in a very jovial mood and was nursing a glass of his usual Pinot Grigio.
The support for the night was George Linton, a singer songwriter who played some very good guitar and sang a great mix of tunes. I thought he had a bit of an acoustic “Groundhogs” sound, with perhaps a bit more blues and a touch of Neil Young. Catch his web site here www.georgelinton.co.uk
After a very short break, Occupy took to the stage. A four piece, Guitar, Bass, Drums and Vocals. Straight into a powerful version of the 1959 classic by Vince Taylor “Brand New Cadillac”. More Clash was to follow after some very good Jam/Stranglers/Dead Kennedys. Radiohead’s “The Bends” was a highlight for me as was the very fine “Hurt” from the Johnny Cash catalogue, and The Stereophonics song “Dakota”.
Add to the mix some more Radiohead, some Ramones, some more Clash and Pistols and Stranglers and it makes a very fine set indeed. Altogether a worthwhile trip up the A1(Ba**ard)M for us.
Brand New Cadillac – The Clash
Eton Rifles – The Jam
London Calling – The Clash
Hanging Around – The Stranglers
Police Truck – Dead Kennedys
The Bends – Radiohead
Silly Thing – Sex Pistols
Hurt – Johnny Cash
Dakota – Stereophonics
Start – The Jam
Creep – Radiohead
I wanna be sedated – Ramones
Clash City Rockers – The Clash
Submission – Sex Pistols
Babylon’s Burning – The Ruts
Holiday in Cambodia – Dead Kennedys
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!
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?
Being otherwise committed meant that for EiTC attendance at this year's Amazing Polyfest at the awesome Half Moon in Putney, was beyond the realms of possibility. So in his stead Guildford Lil gathered up the in-Blacks and headed for the heart of the known universe (i.e. Putney), from whence she and Mr Bloggs brought back this journal of their collective experiences...
Is it better to travel than to arrive?
If life is a journey then travelling should be celebrated…
Ravenette and I set out Thelma and Louise style to such a celebration, Polyfest 3: a gathering at the Half Moon in Putney organised to remember Poly Styrene (X Ray Spex) and Diane Charlemagne (Urban Cookie Collective) while supporting the charity CLIC Sargent.
Amidst the blue sky there were isolated black clouds that threatened our topless progress. We outran one only to pass under the sparkling blue to the gloom of another. But the way of life is that tinges of rain will always make an appearance. The art is not to let these droplets get you down. On the contrary it was only our car top that remained steadfastly down while my driver was getting her first blast of the Dead Kennedys to dispel thoughts of the rain filling up her vehicle.
My navigation skills backed by research meant that no satellites were required for our transit. Streetview had shown me the pub in drab grey light with thunderous clouds in one direction and bright sunshine and fluffy wisps in the other; we saw both views as we arrived. Is Putney in a meteorological zone of its own? Following careful consideration of the area’s parking restrictions we enclosed the car and took a short walk to the venue.
BLOGGS:- Backtrack several hours and myself and Lou are planning on taking in the “Visible Girls” exhibition by Anita Corbin so we travel to Farringdon only to find the exhibition is closed weekends (something they didn’t say on the web site). So as it was still early we decide to have a wander around Clerkenwell green and visit a few drinking establishments, The Dovetail, The Three Kings and The Castle – all great pubs. We then realise that it is not as early as we thought and jump back onto the tube for a swift trip to Putney Bridge.
While waiting at the bar, first one of us spotted Spizz Energi of Spizzology and the other correctly identified Saffron from Republica. This was the opening page of the I-Spy book of Polyfest performers completed and many more were ticked off during the evening. Parrot Boy was the next to join us but had little to contribute in terms of travel tales with his description of walking from the railway station. Loopy Lou and Mr Bloggs arrived (how was your journey/day?)
BLOGGS:- Fine thanks, yours? – Waiting at the bar, we were thinking of opening a book on who would be first to buy the drinks, The group of Hare Krishna who were shuffling about waiting to go on stage or Parrot Boy who had promised to “get the beers in”. Our feathered friend did not disappoint.
In the rush of catching up with each other and acknowledging a few more rounds of Polyfest performers I-Spy we only made the transition into the back room in time for Spizzology. Then I Ludicrous had us nodding along in agreement about “A Very Important Meeting”, we’ve all been to these.
BLOGGS:- That’s an interesting hand stamp I thought, on entering the gig proper. But why do I love “Her Majesty’s Prisons”?
My initial reaction to Celeste and the Tabloid Queens was that there weren’t as many people on stage as their name suggested. That was quickly replaced by being drawn into the mesmerising performance by the beautiful Celeste who effortlessly commanded the stage. When Lou told me that she is Poly Styrene’s daughter the connection was obvious and perfect. And later it was revealed that Diane’s daughter Chantelle was also in the audience. There was great enthusiasm shown by those in attendance that we were able to share in the personal journeys, for just a very short time, of these daughters of two unique women. The Putney rain/sunshine weather combination must have been ordered for this bittersweet event
Acts whizzed past, swiftly taking the stage and packing in the tunes but the relentless onslaught to the ears and the pace of change, ably compered by John Robb and Wolfy (have I got that right?), only kept our interest levels high throughout. Artists joined bands for a quick tune. The Jet Reds performed with the addition of Dominique Olliver whose long dress left everyone in the audience with questions about underwear. Musicians and singers merged and morphed together in many different combinations. The Shakespearos came along with a set of punk classics including Sounds of the Suburbs when JC Carroll (of The Members) joined them and when they ended with the splendid Turning Japanese were there enough members of The Vapors present to call it The Vapors? The mood was taken in a smoother direction by Ben from Curiosity Killed the Cat (appreciative noises were heard from Lou who was in touch with her inner 80’s self at this point). The Woodentops amazed with their beat driven songs. Those of us who tried to tap our toes along with them had to concede defeat, it just wasn’t possible to keep up with their drummer.
I have to apologise to anyone who we’ve omitted to mention, it is no reflection on quality just on the sheer pace and that we were having such fun that I did not make many notes to remind us. We heard JC Carroll with Melissa on ukulele, Saffron from Republica (thanks to my subconscious, I told her she looked ready just before she performed. Cracking song is Ready to Go but I didn’t mean to reference it), Then Jericho, Angie Brown and closing were Doctor and the Medics (“He’s tall” said Ravenette. Cue groovy dancing). Phew!
Throughout there were songs sung in tribute to Poly and Diane of which particular mention should be made of those by performed by Rosie (sorry, didn’t catch a surname) and of Jennie Bellstar with the Hare Krishna (who sang Oh Bondage Up Yours). BLOGGS NOTES: Diane Charlemagne’s “The Key The Secret” was played / mentioned two or three times. The cheerful crowd was packed in and from the stage there was the suggestion that a larger venue might be sought for next year. BLOGGS: Possibly the Roundhouse was mentioned? Whoa, big jump! Could Polyfest become a victim of its own success? We should not anticipate limits in life for growth and expansion of experience. Go with the flow. I sense that Polyfest will continue the journey. And those of us in attendance will travel with it.
BLOGGS:- The after show “Disco” was sublime, more great tunes from great DJs – unfortunately the crowd was thinning and we finally had to make our journey home via Streatham’s finest chicken shack. A great night was had by all I believe.
A great night indeed, Bloggs.
BLOGGS: Why was there a large portrait of Domestos on the wall next to Elvis Costello?
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.