Leadmill, Sheffield, 7/3/2004
published: 15 /
Since Hugh Cornwall left 13 years ago, the Stranglers have been written off many times. Back on the comeback trail with a stunning new album and replacement Paul Roberts, Denzil Watson finds they have convincingly managed to reinvent themselves
It's been over 13 years since Hugh Cornwall turned his back on his fellow Stranglers and walked out on the band he'd fronted since the mid-1970's. Since then, unlike their more fashionable peers - the Clash and the Sex Pistols to name but two, they've been written-off so many times and been given little in the way of critical music press column inch-age. How many new bands, for instance, cite the Stranglers as their burning musical influence? A travesty really given there was always something more contemporary and durable about their Doors-influenced take on the punk-rock thing - they were also one of the few punk bands that could actually play their instruments for Christ's sake! But things are just about to change. After several uninspired post-Cornwall albums they've struck gold with new LP 'Norfolk Coast'. Rightly garnering critical acclaim, it's a real throw back to The Stranglers days of old, circa 1978.
Tonight, two days into their UK tour, they appear a band rejuvenated, a packed Sunday night Leadmill a testament to this. Opening with the title track to 'Norfolk Coast', it's hard to believe they're powered along by drummer Jet Black, a punk rock OAP at the wrong side of 65. But he shows no signs of waning as he drives through the set. Meanwhile, Dave Greenfield is as nimble on the keyboards as he ever was. Their martial arts fanatic bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel, high in the mix and as key to The Stranglers chemistry as he always was, still pulls some pretty mean shapes. Relative newcomer, vocalist Paul Roberts cuts a very different shape to the menacing Cornwall as he flits, almost Peter Pan like, across the stage while the more lumbering Baz Warne (ex-Toy Dolls) on guitar bears more than a passing resemblance to ex-Eastender Grant Mitchell.
Set wise the band judge it just about right, interspersing cuts from their impressive new LP with a number of greatest hits from their Hugh Cornwall days. Latest single 'Big Thing Coming', a song which recently dented the charts while lifting its keyboard riff almost note-for-note from 'No More Heroes', shows just how much their fortunes have changed recently. 'Duchess', 'Five Minutes' and 'Peaches' help remind us just how good they were at balancing chart success with being down right subversive at the same time. High points of the set - a blistering 'Tank' and a menacing 'Something Better Change', the latter rather strangely sung by frontman Paul Roberts rather than Burnel. Sadly though, no 'Nice'n' Sleazy'.
Overall then, an enjoyable walk down memory lane for the many thirty-somethings in the crowd plus the newer fans. As for the Stranglers, they join a host of illustrious old punk bands who've lost seemingly irreplaceable front-men only to successfully re-invent themselves. The Men in Black are back!
The photograhs that accompany this article were take by john Harris and origianlly appeared on his http://www.livephotos.homestead.com