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Stranglers - Rock City, Nottingham, 23/3/2022

  by Denzil Watson

published: 21 / 6 / 2022

Stranglers - Rock City, Nottingham, 23/3/2022

Back in May 2020, in the wake of legendary keyboard player Dave Greenfield’s untimely death, the Stranglers’ forums were in shock and united in their grief and sadness at his passing. The talk then moved on to discussing whether the band was now finished or would carry on. Here the mood was far from unified. How could they carry on when his playing defined the band’s signature sound? When it was finally announced that the band would continue and play their previously announced final full UK twenty-three date tour in Autumn of 2020, opinions remained divided before speculation as to who would fill Greenfield’s not inconsiderable shoes started. Due to the continuing impact of Covid, the tour was rescheduled to Spring 2021 and then again to January of this year. Amidst all the moving of dates, the band released their eighteenth studio album, “Dark Matters” to universal acclaim. With Greenfield having previously recorded his keyboard parts and featuring on eight of the album’s eleven tracks, the set was warmly received by fans and critics alike. With the positive vibes surrounding the release of feeding through into the tour’s ticket sales, many of the shows in late January and February sold out and soon after the tour had commenced the band received rave reviews. Mid-tour though, illness briefly struck, resulting in a couple of shows being postponed, before resuming again and successfully concluding. Hence tonight, as we find ourselves at Nottingham’s Rock City on a Wednesday night in March, it is quite literally a case of fourth time lucky. With the band rested up after arguably one of their most successful UK tours to date, the capacity crowd are in high spirits. The lights go down, the opening keyboard riffs of “Waltz in Black” drift from the speakers and the crowd give a collective cheer. The band enter two-by-two from either side of the stage and immediately launch into “Toiler on the Sea” and the partisan crowd sway in appreciation. This soon turns into a fully blown (middle-aged) mosh pit as JJ Burnel attacks his first lead vocal of the evening’s set with an energy that belies someone who has just entered their seventh decade. By the time the band belt out Rattus fave “Sometimes”, the band (and crowd) are in full flow and everything is sounding fantastic. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the night’s twenty-two strong setlist mirrors that of the main tour. The band have always struggled to do justice to the whole of their extensive back catalogue and this jaunt has given them a further challenge. The strength of “Dark Matters” has meant there is now even less room in the set for the “classics”. Of course, we get the crowd pleasers; the 6/8 time of “Golden Brown”, the reggae-infused “Peaches” and the out-and-out feel-good-pop of “Always the Sun”. But equally, we get the dark overtones of the piano-led ode to heroin “Don’t Bring Harry” and the currently ever-so-poignant “Curfew”. Another ‘Black and White’ favourite, “Nice ‘n’ Sleazy”, illustrates one of the key reasons behind the band’s longevity; the on (and off) stage chemistry between Burnel and guitarist/co-front man, Baz Warne. He’s now been in the band twenty-two years, and even the staunchest pro-Hugh Cornwell Stranglers fan would struggle to argue he isn’t a Strangler. Anyhow back to the set. The main part has no fewer than four cuts from the current album. The pick of them has to be the operatic full-on prog rock of “White Stallion” which gets as big a cheer as any of the old standards, just pipping the brooding, Doors-y swirl of “Water” and more straight-forward punk-pop of “This Song”. Amidst all this, on a riser stage right behind a bank of keyboards, is the man who seemingly had one of the hardest jobs in music; to fill the shoes of arguably one of the greatest keyboard players of all time. The very fact that Somerset-born Mungo Jerry keyboardist, Toby Hounsham, has slotted into the band seamlessly while getting the nod of approval from the group’s loyalist of fans says it all. The section of the Stranglers back catalogue that takes the hit is (predictably) the Paul Roberts years which go unrepresented. Equally, there’s only one track of the band’s previous trio of albums that feature Baz. However, if you have to pick only one track from them, it has to be the brilliant melancholy of Suite XVI’s “Relentless”, one of the greatest Stranglers tracks of the modern era. After the final chords of “Hanging Around” close the set, there’s little doubt they’ll be back. And back they come, in stripped-down form, with Baz and JJ perching on bar stools with acoustic guitars for the self-therapy of “The Lines” and the emotionally charged “And if you should see Dave”. The second encore sees the full band return and JJ paying tribute to the “pub circuit” before launching into a ballsy “Go Buddy Go”, both powered by the fantastic drumming of Jim Macaulay. And no prizes for guessing the band’s final song. Will this be the last time we hear their signature tune, “No More Heroes”, belting out from the PA from the venue they have been regular visitors to since their first visit back in February 1981? I guess that one remains to be seen. Photos by Denzil Watson.

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Stranglers - Rock City, Nottingham, 23/3/2022

Stranglers - Rock City, Nottingham, 23/3/2022

Stranglers - Rock City, Nottingham, 23/3/2022

Stranglers - Rock City, Nottingham, 23/3/2022

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Following the loss of founder member, keyboardist Dave Greenfield and Covid related rescheduling, punk legends The Stranglers make a blazing return to the stage in Nottingham. Denzil Watson reviews.


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