When I was fifteen if you'd asked me who was my favourite band I'd have said the Stranglers. Back in the mid-eighties, home taping was killing music, but some people even bought cassettes full of half dead music. When I had about two dozen pre-recorded cassettes, ten of them were by the Stranglers and the first one I bought was "The Raven." I was also listening to Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned ("Phantasmagoria" was released on my fifteenth birthday), Killing Joke, Ultravox and baggy trousered schoolboy essentials Madness. "The Raven" threw me a bit as I'd only heard the brilliant pop hit "Duchess" back in 1979 on Noel Edmonds' Jukebox Jury TV show and no other songs on this experimental rock album were anywhere near as straightforward. Bizarrely the BBC banned the "Duchess" video for being blasphemous as the Stranglers dressed as choirboys in black shades and sang the song in a church, yet it was alright to show a still photo of the Stranglers dressed as choirboys singing in a church whilst the song played. The album intrigued me and grew, with songs about Vikings, dying cities, nuclear devestation, middle eastern dictators, malevolant alien farmers and gene manipulation - not the average lyrical subject matter. Next time I had enough special metal to buy some tapes I got their first two albums "Rattus Norvegicus" and "No More Heroes" on the same day, two albums full of lyrics my mother did not care for.
Hugh Cornwell left the Stranglers quite some time ago but he's kept on playing lots of Stranglers' songs. On this tour his trio were playing his latest album, the excellent "Hoover Dam" followed by every song from "Rattus Norvegicus." "Hoover Dam" is a full tilt power trio affair and the songs hit just as hard and catchy as his older ones. Album opener "Slow Boat to Trowbridge" switched places with penultimate cut "Wrong Side of the Tracks" so the gig opened with some Hendrix inspired guitar slinging. "Slow Boat" is the big rocker and feels better later in a live set when the crowd are well warmed up. Hugh does not like flashers at his gigs and there were notices up in a futile bid to stop all those annoying people who stick their cameras up in front of your face while you're trying to watch a band so they can post a crappy little film with diabolical tinny sound on You Tube. Best to keep the guitar flashy and not distract the guitarist with flashing - he might miss a fret and that makes him fret! He snatched a camera off one naughty man near the start of a song and kept on playing, banging on almost the same beat.
After a short break the three 'ells (Cornwell, bouncing bassist Caroline Campbell and rolling drummer Chris Bell) came back to their station to smack the shit out of "Sometimes." The first three songs were delivered faithfully, then Caroline sang "Princess of the Streets," giving JJ Burnel's lyrics an amusing lesbian twist. Back in '77 JJ shouted "Change it Hugh!" to usher in the guitar solo on the "Something Better Change" top ten smash hit and Hugh had got the urge to change "Rattus" arrangements. His delivery of the lyrics to "Hanging Around" was sped up, which didn't work as well, but the psychedelic arrangement of "Peaches" improved the ol' beach plodder no end. I was amused by the German tourists who'd started lurking on the beaches. "Grip" really got everyone going like strangers from another planet finding rock'n'roll to be the best thing the human race has to offer the universe and "Down in the Sewer" was epic and awesomely twisted. Most bands don't even bother to play as many as nineteen songs but Hugh had five more encore treats in store for the survivors! The almost chart topper "Golden Brown," a homage to Bob Dylan and a hint of what might be his next tour plan perhaps? The last couple of songs were the apocalyptic "Straighten Out" and "No More Heroes." I wouldn't be surprised if he played the whole of the second Stranglers album on the next tour, but you never know. The gig was so good that I spent thirty three quid on a divine invasion of Birmingham to repeat the experience the next day and had a ridiculous blast.
After Hugh's Manchester gig I jumped on a bus to Fuel and managed to catch a set by Leeds technoid duo Worried About Satan, soundtracking a French film "13" about an illegal Russian roulette ring. I missed Plank, but I've seen them more than any other band this year so it wasn't exactly the end of the world. Not yet, anyway...