Concert Review

The Stranglers 50th Anniversary Tour Kicked Off in Scotland in Style!

The Stranglers “Golden” Anniversary kicked off their tour in Glasgow’s SEC Armadillo then onto Edinburgh’s Usher Hall. The second night was a sell out and cemented the bands reputation as a tour de force.

SEC Armadillo Glasgow 8th March

There are only a handful of bands that have reached the significant milestone of playing live and recording material for 50 years. Formed in 1974, their pub rock past morphed as the punk scene came to the fore in ’76 and they never looked back. The band courted controversy in the early years and pushed the boundaries with their lyrical content and antagonistic attitudes. Their hardcore following would also bring a menacing atmosphere to their gigs as The Stranglers frontmen projected the same vibe. Bassist Jean Jacques Burnel had some famous bust ups with his peers and being an exponent of Karate, you didn’t dare mess with him. The Stranglers also had a playful tongue in cheek side to them and all of this would be played out as the band kicked off their 50th Anniversary tour in Scotland.

Considering the bands close relationship with their fans, it was a strange venue to kick off the tour. The SEC Armadillo is an impressive venue, but it is all seated. When the tour dates came out, there were a few fans confused by this choice but, they made the most of it. Having travelled far and wide, the “Familyinblack” were assembled, albeit strewn throughout the venue. What would also challenge the fans was the stage backdrop. Looking more like a cabaret lounge complete with chandeliers, the setting was complete for the band to come on sporting dinner attire. Smart suit jackets and trousers with some golden touches. The golden theme was also endorsed with their instruments. Jim’s golden drum kit stood out the most, but Toby’s keyboards gave it a good run for the money. Baz’s golden fender telecaster custom out shone JJ’s modest gold scratch plate on his Jon Shuker Bass. The entire look was a sign of the band’s playful side but the dark under current was never far away.

The customary “Waltzinblack” intro music was replaced with the synth intro to “Just Like Nothing on Earth,” a subtly apt song to begin with for the Meninblack and they followed with “Hallow to Our Men.” Both songs from “The Gospel According to The Meninblack.” The complicated syncopated driving rhythms of both songs were a welcome relief to the audience after much anticipation of what would be dug out from the back catalogue. Jean Jacques took to the mic to say, “thank you very much, that’s the weird stuff out of the way now.” He went on to say they’d play two sets with a half hour break. The next song was dedicated to Dave Greenfield and Jet Black, both sorely missed having passed away. “Fly Straight With Perfection…….” Jim Macaulay (Drums) and Toby Hounsham (Keyboards) appeased the loss of the original members and did it not just sympathetically but uncannily like them which is no mean feat. “The Raven” morphed into “Baroque Bordello.” Two crowd favourites as “The Raven”, the fourth studio album, is often touted as a favourite by many fans. One of my favourite songs of old, “North Winds Blowing” made a welcome live return to this set and was followed by another classic from “The Raven.” Every bass player had their eyes trained on JJ as he treated them to a live bass lesson during “Genetix.” Jim channelled his inner Jet again playing the most recognisable drum pattern and Toby did a fantastic job singing Dave’s part. Songs from the bands seminal first album “Rattus Norvegicus” were finally aired with “Princess of the Streets.” Of course, the bands latest material would not be forgotten as “Breathe” from “Dark Matters” saw Baz Warne strap on an acoustic to loop the first part of the song.

Finally, as the hi-hat on the drums signalled the start of “Hanging Around”, one brave audience member made his way to the front of the stage. Bridging the gap between seats and stage, Scott Philip, no stranger to the band, broke the enforced deadlock and encouraged others to get out of their seats. Within seconds, there was a healthy number of fans at the front forming some sort of resemblance of a normal Stranglers gig. The first set was brought to a rousing end with “Down in the Sewer.” The final song of their first album and always a fan favourite when it’s played. Absolute highlight of the night for many as the band played a blistering rendition.

After a 30 minute interval, the refreshed fans returned to their seats for the most part but for some, back to front of stage. On stage to entertain and amuse, the solo figure of long term friend of the band, Jock the Box and his trusty according teased the crowd with his famous rendition of “Waltzinblack.” The traditional start to a Stranglers gig with a Scottish flavour signalled a return to black shirts and black boots for the band. The second set started in a similar fashion to the first with “Who wants the World.” The first of four songs from “No More Heroes” got the crowd slightly more animated. “Dagenham Dave” may have got them moving but “Duchess” saw them bouncing and in full voice. Baz asked for the house lights to be put on so he could see all their faces up in the gods.

The hits continued and the crowd got rowdier as the band continued to run through their 50 year old back catalogue. The second set certainly had a more familiar feel to it with “Always the Sun” and “Golden Brown” thrown in for good measure, and it was always going to be the ’77-’82 material that would stir up the memories of old like “Peaches” and “5 Minutes”. The traditional co-ordinated stalk to front of stage during “Nice ‘n’ Sleazy” was oddly replaced with “Ships That Pass in the Night.” Burnel and Warne made their way down the stage steps to front of stage. “White Stallion”, from the bands latest album has become an absolute monster of a song live, the huge sound belting out of the PA rocked the venue to it’s core. Bringing the main set to a close, “Tank” and “Something Better Change” reminded the crowd why they love this band so much.

It didn’t take long for JJ to return to the stage and thank the crowd for their tolerance throughout the 50 years and to thank them for putting up with their changes in line up and not following the commercial route which ultimately helped them in the long run. So, the oldest Stranglers song ever “Go Buddy Go” brought the entire evening back to the very start. That pub rock band with the driving blues rock feel shook the audience in their seats enough to get them all upstanding. JJ Burnel then did his best to knock them back down with his bass intro to “No More Heroes” but undeterred, the crowd battled on. The band stood and waved adieu, night one done and dusted.

Usher Hall Edinburgh 9th March

The second night of the 50th Anniversary tour saw the band move to Scotland’s capital. The band had often bypassed Edinburgh on previous tours, but the Usher Hall was sold out. The iconic Edinburgh venue was literally packed to the rafters. The biggest difference from the night before, there was standing room for the crowd to enjoy more freedom of movement.

There were no changes to the set for Edinburgh, the band may rotate songs later in the tour but for those that were there for the second night, no surprises. This did not seem to dimmish the reaction any as the animated crowd gave the band the reassurance and further endorsement for the anniversary tour.

The sound was immaculate both nights and the crushing bottom end from Jim’s drums and JJ’s bass tested the resolved of the audience on many occasions.

The band will play 13 dates on this UK and Ireland tour of which half of them are currently sold out. It will be a busy year for them as they take the tour into the USA for the Cruel World concert before returning to the UK and onto Europe later in the year.

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About The Author

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Raymond Thomson - Deputy Editor

I am a photographer/musician/engineer living in Scotland. My passion is music and motocross and I share my work on facebook/punk4RT and facebook/madmaxmedia. I do like a bit of throw back to the heydays of the 60’s/70’s/80’s when it comes to taking shots of bands. I grew up on the music papers (NME/Sounds/Melody Maker) and drew influence from Pennie Smith/Jill Furmanovsky/Anton Corbijn/Bob Gruen/Adrian Boot/Charles Peterson.
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