thu 25/07/2024

The Stranglers, Roundhouse | reviews, news & interviews

The Stranglers, Roundhouse

The Stranglers, Roundhouse

Punk veterans prove they are still a heroic force to be reckoned with

The Stranglers: a beefy musical stew dominated by brutal bass and smouldering organ

Well, better late than never. I wanted to see The Stranglers at The Roundhouse in April 1977, but a combination of homework, strict parents and being way too young meant that I had to make do with playing their debut album Rattus Norvegicus IV to death in my bedroom. Neatly 35 years later I finally made it and the band did their bit by performing more tracks from their early years than they did from their very well-received latest album, Giants.

The quartet was in remarkably fine fettle. The part of Hugh Cornwell, who left in 1990, is currently played by genial Sunderland musician Baz Warne. He could not quite reach the high notes at times, but he is an imposing guitarist and a friendly figure, sharing frontman duties with still bouncy Jean-Jacques Burnel, who, at 60 years old appears to have supped from the same punk rock bass-players' fountain of youth as Glen Matlock and Paul Simonon. Organist Dave Greenfield bid his PJ Proby bob farewell years ago, while despite being 73 years old, drummer Jet Black does not seem to have aged since the Queen's silver Jubilee.

Despite being 73 years old, drummer Jet Black does not seem to have aged since the Queen's silver Jubilee

There was more wit than there might have been all those years ago too, when the band was castigated for misogyny and sounding too much like The Doors. During a frenzied assault on "No More Heroes" master of the swirling arpeggio Dave Greenfield played his keyboard one-handed while drinking non-stop from a can of lager, as if he was a ventriloquist reciting the alphabet while downing a pint of milk. Early in the set and then later during "Peaches" some skimpy knickers were thrown onto the stage. Maybe not exactly Tom Jones quantities but still flattering, prompting a snifff from Burnel and a quick response from Warne of "not my size".

It was no surprise given the longevity of the black-clad band that they had an impressive back catalogue to dip into. Further moments to treasure included "Golden Brown" and their lysergic take on Bacharach's "Walk on By". The set was also peppered with some standout new tracks including the latest album’s title track "Giants" and the funky-reggae "Mercury Rising", which would not sound out of place on an old Red Hot Chili Peppers album.

Between the new cuts and the hits old faithful tracks from the band's early days just kept on coming and sounded as vital as ever. A mighty roar went up for the pungent and urgent "Sometimes" and the beefy stew of brutal bass and smouldering organ on "Hanging Around", but these were relative whispers compared to the tumult that greeted the final song "Something Better Change". It was noticeable early on that there was only a smattering of pogoing, but by the end the front half of the Roundhouse was a sea of geriatric moshing. This continued during the extended encore, which included some rather ramshackle harmonies on "Duchess", a workmanlike cover of The Kink's "All Day and All of the Night" and finally a thunderous rendition of "Tank".

The Stranglers were never a fashionable punk band. They were not as outrageous as the Sex Pistols, not as political as The Clash. They were not as poppy as Buzzcocks or as stylish as The Jam. But this gig was a reminder that they could play their instruments, crank out an infectious  melody and deliver the goods over and over again. I cannot imagine they were any better than this 35 years ago. And at the risk of being the kind of muso-bore that I’ve always hated, the sound mix at the Roundhouse was the best I've encountered in years, with every lyric crisp and audible. 

Leaving the gig I had a look at Twitter and discovered that the band's most famous fan, current England manager Stuart Pearce, had been sighted in the audience. I don’t know whether he was in the mosh pit downstairs or in the posh seats upstairs, but either way I suspect he had more fun here than he'll ever have during his stint overseeing that shower we call our national football team. 

Watch The Stranglers perform "Golden Brown"



By the end the front half of the Roundhouse was a sea of geriatric moshing


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Good review except that you couldn't have played Rattus THAT much as you would have known that they only played THREE tracks (Sometimes, Hanging Around and Peaches) from their debut and FOUR (Lowlands, Time was once on my side, Giants and Mercury Rising) from the new album GIANTS! Also it was a plastic beaker that Dave drank from not a can.....

Stubs, Duly noted. 1977 was an annus mirabilis for The Stranglers with a pair of formidable albums coming out in quick succession. Apologies for conflating Rattus and No More Heroes. Both were worn out on my turntable. The new album is great but for me last night was dominated by the sounds of 1977. As for Dave Greenfield's choice of drinking receptacle, the years have been relatively kind to me but my eyesight is not quite what it was. In 1977 I'd have been at the front, last night I was way back in the circle. I suspect JJ Burnel probably didn't look 25 from the mosh pit either.

Bruce, thanks for reviewing the Stranglers, a great and popular band who are finally getting the recognition they deserve. Great review of great night.

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