Spring tours have been something of a regular feature in the calendar of Stranglers fans, and Spring 2019 has proved no different. There isn't a theme attached with this year's 'Back on the Tracks' tour, but it lent itself for a great publicity picture for the tour. And, like previous tours, we find ourselves at the final date of the tour in Manchester and the very fine Apollo Theatre.

With the strains of the now familiar 'Waltz in Black' announcing their arrival, the band fire up with a blistering rendition of 'Tank' followed by the lesser-known 'I've Been Wild', the sole track on show tonight from their Paul Roberts-era. Despite that lack of new material on previous tours, the band's set list has never become staid or boring. One of the highlights of the set tonight is the angular and off-kilter alt-pop of 'Baroque Bordello' from 'The Raven' while the inclusion of 'Bring on the Nubiles' in the set has proved a talking point with fans, given the current climes political correctness. The Stranglers seem unphased by this as they dispatch the song with gusto, juxtaposing it nicely with the up-beat pop of 'Uptown'. Some criticise the band for their over-reliance on Hugh Cornwell-era material. No-holds-barred renditions of 'Relentless' and 'Unbroken', however, show that the band have continued to create songs of merit under Baz Warne's residency. Then there's the new songs too. The previously debuted 'Water' sounds more refined and no less intriguing with its 6/8 time and different parts. We also get brand-new track 'Men on the Moon' which goes down well with the fans, old and new alike,` and augurs well for the much-talked of new album.

Predictably a significant part of the set is given over to the crowd pleasers, including the likes of 'Golden Brown', 'Always the Sun' and 'Duchess'. Hardcore fans petition for them to be dropped having heard them time and time again while for the casual fans they are the highlight of the night. With so many songs in the band’s seventeen-album back-catalogue it's difficult to cover all bases and some albums get overlooked, for example 'Feline' and, ironically, the latest album 'Giants'. But the band have chosen wisely and there's something for everybody in the 23-song strong set. With their impressive sewer-inspired back-drop, the only song they could possibly close with is a stirring rendition of 'Down in the Sewer', their 'Bohemian Rhapsody' moment. There's still time for a three-song encore. 'No More Heroes', as always, is a dead cert for the final song and sees Burnel hammering his bass and letting it resonate before going onto the most frenetic bass intro ever. This is preceded by arguably one of the best cover versions ever ('Walk on By') along with an epic rendition of 'Hanging Around' which sees Baz gets lost in the moment and miss his vocal cue.

And there it is for another year's tour. With the band sounding as good as ever live, summer festival appearances lining-up and trips to Europe, Japan and the US later in the year, there remains a healthy appetite to see the band from Guildford. With a newly released film and the prospects of a new album, the outlook for the band's many loyal fans promises to be as interesting and colourful as ever.

Photos by Denzil Watson

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