March On Manchester – Guest reviewer Maria Meli gives a first-hand account from the front line…
Few bands can claim a 40+ year longevity. The Grateful Dead, with their fiercely loyal Dead Heads, lasted only 30. The Stranglers, with The FamilyinBlack, have surpassed the life span of most marriages, including their own personal relationships, reaching a point where, in a 40-year marathon, concerts are now better attended than early years, and where older fans are passing the baton to younger ones – children, family and friends. Their audience has mushrooming demographics and these people get it; they understand the satire, they understand the socio-political commentary, the expressions of human emotions and struggle, the aggression, and they just plain revel in the sheer fun of it. Some find such kinship with their music, it is a therapeutic vehicle for them. For some, it is an addiction they cannot get enough of, resulting in the annual migrations of FamilyinBlack members to multiple concerts in various locations, both within and outside of the UK, and vice versa, fans from other countries not blessed with concert dates travelling to see them.
On March 21, a convention of FamilyinBlack and fans-at-large descended on the Manchester Academy for a special night: two opening bands and the Stranglers, with a not-so-common appearance by original drummer, Jet Black, for four songs.
First up, punk outfit The Membranes fronted by bass- playing John Robb, a Stranglers fan. In their 25 minutes, Robb barely stood still, zipping about like the photons that he sings about. He came down into the media pit and up onto the barrier, playing to the audience and interacting with them.
Next up, The Rezillos, Edinburgh’s precursors to the B-52s. The Rezillos were colourful, with the two original singers, Fay Fife (Sheilagh Hynd) and Eugene Reynolds (Alan Forbes), giving animated performances, along with helmeted guitarist, Jim Brady, a Glaswegian with the energy of a Tasmanian devil. As they exuberantly performed songs like “Life’s a Bitch” it made you think, yes, “Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked in Tonight.”
Around 9:00 pm though, the lights turned down and the strains of marching and barking orders wafted through the venue, in keeping with the March On double entendre of the tour and the familiar notes of “WaltzinBlack” danced through the air. The audience hummed along as they always do. The MeninBlack kicked into “Longships” followed by “The Raven” an easy and natural pairing.
They moved up and down tempo throughout the night, all songs well-positioned in the set list. As soon as “(Get a) Grip (on Yourself)” started, so did the familiar bopping and chain swaying. “Time to Die” with its characteristic four notes that remind me of a Western, provided guitarist, Baz Warne, and bassmeister, Jean-Jacques Burnel, swagger time, along with another intro sing along for the audience. Jet Black claimed his drum kit for the unique “Baroque Bordello,” the band’s trademark “Golden Brown,” upbeat “Always the Sun” complete with audience participation and altering of lyrics by Warne, and Black’s personally branded “Genetix.” Quite an achievement for a 76 year-old man.
“I’ve Been Wild” from the more recent album, Norfolk Coast, got an airing, making you think, “Yes, you have!” The eponymous “Norfolk Coast” rumbled out from the stage, the inspiration that gave Burnel his musical mojo back after years of feeling uninspired.
This was followed closely by “I Feel Like a Wog” – a custom-made fit. Warne’s confident vocals poured out and his body anchored by the microphone as he sang and stuttered the lyrics. A pounding, powerful wall of sound came out and we were treated to a mid-air jump by Burnel. Still relevant today in a UK facing waves of immigration and politicians vowing to stem the tide. Which was succeeded by the happier, but ever observant (and appropriately relevant) “Skin Deep” – a palate cleanser. “Relentless” Warne’s tune showing he can rock as hard as Burnel, and a fan favourite, also had full-throttle stage time.
The evening was punctuated by Dave Greenfield’s weird and wonderful bass vocals and versatile keyboards. Jim Macaulay, crown prince of percussion, got an enthusiastic welcome from the crowd. Chants of both “Jet Black” and “Jim Mac” could be heard.
An almost two hour well-delivered performance was topped off by three encores. “Peaches” with the traditional altering of lyrics, “Walk on By,” the cover they made their own, and “No More Heroes” which saw Burnel tease the audience – banging on his bass to elicit a behemoth growl, eventually leading into the dextrous intro and the full blown sound and light show, as the crowd danced joyfully. This is another Stranglers song that hasn’t dated and is embraced by fans weary of a lack of role models. Overall, a most memorable evening.
Words/Photos/Video courtesy of Maria Meli