And so it begins…
To say that this is overdue would be the understatement of the year…or 2 years…
The entire world has changed, irrevocably, and things will never be the same.
Of course, people have been saying that about us for years too…people who have a talented flair for the blindingly obvious.
Coming to see The Stranglers in 2022 is what it is.
It’s been pretty well documented in recent months but, taking the decision to continue after our tragic loss, was never going to be easy…it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, and I can’t begin to imagine how hard it hit JJ. He doesn’t say too much about it, which I take to be one of his ways of dealing with it, and whenever the subject of Dave is raised by outsiders, we both still pretty much clam up to be honest.
However, the English way can be to find the humour in everything too, and sometimes the darker the better. There’s much to reminisce about and we catch ourselves laughing like drains thinking about Dave, and some of his ways and peculiarities. A funnier man, sometimes, you couldn’t have wished to meet. I think he’d appreciate that he’s never far from our thoughts, and although it’s still raw from time to time, on we go.
Anyone who came to see us in France last year tell you it was different (duh) but was still The Stranglers. Toby is a wonderful keyboard player, and very respectful to Dave’s legacy. He plays what he needs to play, no more, and he does it with style and economy.
The crowds out there were fantastic. I know it was very difficult for some of the fans to see another guy up there…imagine how it was for us, especially JJ, who’s been used to turning around and seeing Dave across the stage since1975. But we triumphed, in our way, and that was in no small part down to Toby’s dedication to his task and how precious he was about getting things right. He’s also a total geek and a lovely bloke…daft as brush in his own posh frightfully English way, and up for anything. He fit right in, and we were received with nothing but love and encouragement.
Hopefully the UK will treat us the same.
TUESDAY JAN 18
As I live the furthest away, I always travel a day or so earlier than everyone else. So as I write this I’m on the train down from Yorkshire where I live, to London, and then connecting across to Bath, where we’ve rehearsed since the beginning of time. It’s a glorious winters day with not a cloud in the sky, and I’m full of hope and anticipation. I spoke to JJ yesterday and we were both like a couple of schoolboys…chomping at the bit as the old saying goes.
He, Jim, and Toby all get in tomorrow, and we’ll make a start.
Bring it on…
WEDNESDAY JAN 19
Great start today. Toby and Jim are already there when I arrive at the farm, and JJ is a couple of hours away, having done karate in London last night. We haven’t seen each other since France, so the kettle goes on and we have a catch up…as you’d expect.
Running through the songs today, at random, it’s evident that the gigs in France were a real boon. Muscle memory plays a big part in what we do, and if your fingers don’t go to exactly the right place first or second time around, they get somewhere close to where they need to be, and you can adjust accordingly. A couple of run throughs of each tune, and it starts to sound like it should. So after a bit more rust sanded off and edges smoothed, we feel it’s time for a pint at Tuckers.
Some habits are hard to break.
THURSDAY JAN 20
It’s an early start for Jim and Toby this morning, and I hear their car pull away from the cottage around 10. JJ and I follow on around 11.30 and we’re into it by noon. It’s amazing how things come flooding back when you start to get into the zone, and by 2 o’clock we’ve got the basis of the set sorted out and are beginning to nail it down. I think tomorrow will have it done. We change and shift things around for the first few gigs anyway, so things will settle down.
But for now, I think it’s safe to say it’s probably 90% there already.
I love it when a plan comes together.
FRIDAY JAN 21
SATURDAY JAN 22
We heading off up to the first city of the tour today. We always have a a day or two of pre-production at the first venue if we can. This time out it’s Lincoln. We’re playing the Engine Shed on Tuesday, which is part of the university, and I seem to remember starting a tour here before a few years ago.
Myself, JJ, Toby, and Gazza our tour manager are in the car and there’s that lovely feeling of anticipation as we finally head out on the road. Didn’t think I’d feel that again. It’s tinged with sadness, but it’s there.
Jim shot off home after yesterday’s rehearsal to see his family before joining our bubble tomorrow. We’re trying as best we can to keep away from as many people as possible, at the management’s insistence. One tickle of this fucking virus with anyone, and we all go home.
I haven’t got the first idea how effective this is going to be, but we’ve got to try.
We get to the hotel late in the afternoon, and immediately the omens aren’t good. There’s a mess up with our rooms, and as we’re staying here for 4 nights, and spending a decent amount of money, we expect better. It gets worse before it improves. I’m feeling for JJ who eventually gets billeted in another room for the first night, as there’s already someone in his intended room. He tries the door with two different keys and still can’t get in. He’s not best pleased and I don’t blame him. His new room resembles Vladivostok, it’s so cold, and as we’d stayed in a house in the west country for the previous few days with a broken boiler, in sub-zero temperatures, he’s starting to think he’ll never get warm again.
Three bottles of wine at dinner and some hot food seem to revive him though, and I see him smile properly for the first time today.
SUNDAY JAN 23
A day off…a Sunday roast, a couple of pints, and some football.
The simple pleasures of a wintry English Sunday.
The calm before the storm.
MONDAY JAN 24
This is our first day of proper pre-production, and it’s starting to build up now…it’s getting close. All four of us manage to get our backsides out of bed and meet for breakfast at 8.30, and there’s a definite air of excitement about.
It’s coming down to it.
It’s hard to describe how I’m feeling.
The French gigs took away any feeling of not being prepared, of not being ready, and bedded Toby in as best and as quickly as possible. I’ve had several experiences now of looking behind me and not seeing Dave there…I won’t say I’m used to it, but it is what it is, and Toby is so good, he’s taken all the sting out of worrying about how it’s going to sound. It just catches me sometimes is all…but we’ll get there.
The production rehearsal goes incredibly well today. The crew have built another amazing set, and the show looks magnificent. Jim has been working closely with the lighting guys to come up with yet another terrific and very original set, and when things are in full flow, it’s jaw dropping. I won’t say any more about it, other than we love it.
We go for a lovely curry afterwards, five excited blokes shoe-horned into a taxi and babbling away like teenage girls, then all retire to our rooms satisfied…and raring to go.
The planned early night doesn’t come of course, and I’m still awake at 2.30 going over things in my head for tomorrow.
TUESDAY JAN 25 – LINCOLN ENGINE SHED
Well, it’s upon us…our first UK gig since Oct 2019, on the Alice Cooper tour.
You deal with many things being in a band, especially a band as old as this one. Things can , and do, change in a heartbeat, as we know only too well. So it was difficult to know how this was going to go. We knew we were prepared musically, and with a great visual show…but how will it be received? With indifference? Respect? Hostility even?
We needn’t have worried. As soon as we walk on, the roof literally lifts off the place, and we know that unless we fuck up big time, we’re going to get through this. There are the usual gremlins to accompany first gigs from our point of view, like running orders, tempos and so on, but tonight’s gig is all about the crowd. They’re crammed into the venue…it’s absolutely bouncing, and they sing and cheer and slam along to their heart’s content. It’s truly heartening. It’s poignant too…there’ll be a lot of them who’ve come to say goodbye…they probably won’t see the band again, and that’s why we’ve got to give it our all…like we always did.
I look up at Toby and he’s thoroughly enjoying himself. The grin on his face says it all, and he plays a really good gig…coupla little mistakes, but he knows what they are.
I look at JJ, and he’s concentrating hard. Neither of us like to look like we are, and as the tour progresses we’ll both get into the swing and it’ll become second nature to us, like it always was. Jim is of course, and as usual, the absolute driving force behind everything. I always have him right up front in my ears mix, and he’s nailing it already. I need to lock right in with him, and he’s making it easy.
We’ve chosen to encore with a couple of low-key things to start with. JJ and I sitting on stools and playing The Lines and then our tribute to Dave, both from Dark Matters This is where things get sticky for us both. I glance across at him and there’s a particular fleeting look that steals across his face during Dave, and I’m gone. He likes to keep his emotions in check, and he’s very good at it…there’s rarely anything given away… unless you know him very well. That’s just the way he is…but there’s no denying this has got to him, and he struggles to keep his cool. I’m not so lucky…and although I’ve been told I look like a murderer sometimes when we’re playing…I’m actually a bit of a soft touch. I well up in the backstage area for a few seconds, drawing concern from my colleagues…but then I’m ok.
It won’t happen again…I’ve gotten a hold of it now. I’m told the audience stood in absolute silence when we did this, but I was in another place during what seemed like the longest five minutes of my life. Whatever we played after that I can’t remember, although I remember we did No More Heroes as always to finish.
An amazing and dizzying start.
Onwards and upwards.
WEDNESDAY JAN 26
Not much to say about today, other than we spent nearly 8 hours in the car driving from Lincoln up to Aberdeen, then probably had a wee bit too much to drink when we finally arrived…or at least I did.
Oh ma heed…
THURSDAY JAN 27 – ABERDEEN TOWN HALL
We play a lot in Aberdeen. We were just talking about in the car on the way up, and trying to remember all the different venues we’ve played here over the years, from the band’s early days, doing the old Capital, right up to tonight’s venue, which we haven’t played before.
It’s a lovely old municipal building made of the ubiquitous granite (of course), and has echoes of a lot of similar style places we’ve played before around the world…lovely old place.
When we arrive for the show The Ruts are in full swing, and are as mighty as ever…what a band. We’re chuffed to have them along on this as we’re all old mates and have played together on many tours, including a very memorable one in Australia and New Zealand, and a great previous UK tour a few years ago. For a three piece band, they make a huge noise, and it’s clear they’ve been waiting for this tour with as much anticipation as we have…they’re tearing into it.
When our turn comes we steam into Toiler on the Sea, and all of a sudden, even after only one other gig, it’s starting to click. We’ve made a few changes to tonight’s set, as we always do, and no doubt will continue to do as the tour stretches out, and they’re working very well up to now. Any band will tell you how important the structure of the set is, pacing, tempos, bass starts, drum starts, ups and downs, and we take it very seriously. As soon as it starts to feel right, you can sense it, and it spurs you on.
The audience tonight are magnificent and are right behind us from the second we step on the stage. Everyone plays very well, and we’re beginning to smooth the rough edges off and get a real feel for how this tour is (hopefully) going to go.
Toby is just unfazed by it all and plays, once again, superbly. You can see a lot of faces in the crowd turning toward him, trying to work him out, and get used to the huge change that’s been thrust upon us, and him…and already, he’s winning. There’s a lot of emotion running through some of the crowd too, and you can see teary eyes and hugging from time to time. It’s going to take some folk some time to get used to it, but there’s no turning back now.
Might sound like a big cliche, but we’re doing this as much for Dave as for ourselves.
A huge win tonight, from every angle. 🙂
FRIDAY JAN 28 – GLASGOW O2 ACADEMY
Ask any touring band you know of what their favourite cities to play are, and somewhere inevitably Glasgow gets a mention. This is a place steeped in musical history, and the locals are very proud of their musical heritage and taste, and turn out in absolute droves to see their favourite bands…as it was, is, and shall always be.
This is the first of two sold out shows here, and as always, we’re raring to go…I love this city.
The venue itself is a pretty run down affair, typical of most of the O2’s we play. It’s old and tired, and in actual fact, that adds a lot to it’s charm…it’s like an old vaudeville entertainer that doesn’t quite know how to retire. What really marks this place out though are the staff. Every single one of them, doormen and security included, came up and said how good it was to see us and have us back on their turf…warm and friendly folk to the last…lovely.
Once this place is full though, and it gets very full indeed, the faded facade and chipped paint disappears under a sea of sweaty smiling faces and flailing arms, and the whole thing lifts off into another stratosphere. You can’t fail to be swept along by it, and it puts it’s arms around you like a loved old jumper.
We rip into the first three tunes with glee, and it’s obvious this is going to be a blinder…and it is. Again there are a few familiar faces in the front rows and they’re shouting encouragement ( at least that’s what I take it to be…my wife is Scots so I can understand the lingo very well usually, but half pissed Glaswegian can be a difficult thing to decipher at the best of times) and having a ball. Like us, they’ve waited a long time for this.
It’s very hot in here, despite being a very large hall, and JJ and I are shiny with sweat after half a dozen songs. I love that…doesn’t feel like a gig unless you sweat.
Roll on tomorrow.
SATURDAY JAN 29 – GLASGOW 02 ACADEMY
Tomorrow rolled on, and another absolute stormer. There are a lot of folks here from last night, as you’d expect, but they’re bouncing along as if they haven’t seen us for years…or ever. We really love Glasgow. I tell the crowd that on our ride from the hotel to the gig we decided that their city is probably one of our favourite places to play. Always full on, never boring, always appreciative, and never less than memorable…we’ve had some amazing times in this city over the decades.
It would be nice to come up and play here again one day…..
Thank you Scotland X
SUNDAY JAN 30
I think I’m gonna skip Sundays and Wednesdays in this little blog from now on, unless something happens. We don’t gig on those days, so just assume we’re travelling…..and drinking…
MONDAY JAN 31 – STOKE HANLEY VICTORIA HALL
A Monday night in Stoke might not sound like the most appealing proposition, but nothing could be further from the truth.
It’s a funny venue this one. From the outside it looks quite modern, and it’s obvious it’s had a facelift in the last few years, externally at least. Inside however, is a different story. It’s a Victorian concert hall…high, wide and handsome. At some point there was a police station and jail on site too, and the dressing rooms are the old cells, taken back to the brickwork…a classic example of re-appropriation. The stage is relatively shallow, but deep enough for our needs, and we’re right on top of the crowd…nice and intimate in a fairly big hall.
I love playing venues like this, they’ve got history and quirks, and you can imagine them in their pomp over a century ago.
The crowd are fantastic and are really up for it, and we’re all swept along from the word go.
For first encores JJ and I have been playing The Lines, followed by “And if you should see Dave” at all of the shows, and we’ve been growing into it. Tonight I think we get it spot on for the first time, and it reduces folk in the front row to tears. It’s an emotional part of the evening for sure, but we’re keeping it together as best we can.
This is the first time, and most probably the last, that I’ve personally played at this famous , lovely old venue, and I’m so pleased we did it. Great gig, fantastic crowd, happy days.
TUESDAY FEB 1 – NORWICH UEA
We’ve got a long happy relationship with this venue. We’ve played it many times. I’ve had a birthday here, and the reason I always come on stage with my guitar on is because of an incident here a few years ago where we came on, I picked my guitar off the stand at the side of the stage where unbeknownst to me it had become tangled up and unplugged itself…I made a grand sweeping gesture to start the song (can’t remember what it was but I’m pretty sure I started it) and nothing came out…I stood there looking like a fucking banana, hearing the laughter coming up from the crowd….never again…
Tonight is as full as I’ve ever seen this place, and it’s intimacy is always great…they shout stuff at you and you can get right back in their faces.
It’s an early show tonight, as there’s some kind of student type disco thing going on later, and it seems we’re the warm up…ha. The Ruts plough into their set and sound like a well oiled machine, which of course they are. They go down a storm as always and leave the crowd nicely warmed up for us. We play as well as we have so far on this tour and it’s smiles all round as we do a long full on set and finish with NMH as always.
I thank the crowd for all the good times over the years, and wish them well.
As with a lot , if not all, of the venues on this tour, it’s doubtful we’ll be seeing the UEA again.
All the best Norwich.
WEDNESDAY FEB 2
THURSDAY FEB 3 – GUILDFORD G LIVE
Ok…back to where it all started for one last hurrah. Guildford G Live is pretty much a big, square boxy room, but a lovely, modern very well appointed venue. It’s never been renowned for it’s ecstatic reactions at gigs, and we’ve played here a lot, but instead preferring the laid back stoicism of the Surrey set…very English and really rather…reserved.
Tonight though, they know this a very different evening. Toby’s parents and older family are all from here, so they’re at the gig in force, putting even more pressure on his shoulders. One thing I’ll say about him though, is that it just never seems to get to him…he’s always cool. There may be the old swans feet syndrome going on…frantic under the surface…but you’d never know it…he never gives anything away…he is, after all, originally from Surrey.
And also the crowd know this is potentially the last chance to see “their’ band. We’ve been in Guildford for a couple of days now, and both JJ and Toby have been giving us a potted history lesson of how it used to be back in the day…it’s obviously very dear to their hearts, JJ in particular pointing out things about what buildings stood where, and how it’s changed in the decades since they prowled these streets. In fact, the hotel where we’re staying has a very important piece of Stranglers folklore on it’s doorstep…the old scout hut in Shalford, where JJ, Hugh Cornwell and Jet played their very first notes together…and it’s still there. So we go for a visit.
It’s a scout hut…unimposing, a bit knackered, and you wouldn’t look at it twice…but without it, none of us would be here.
The show is a blinder, and the good people of Guildford are in very fine voice. This show has been sold out right from the start, so we know it’s going to be good…and they surpass themselves. JJ has a few things to say about the old days and they respond to him warmly.
Back in the dressing room I think I hit the nail on the head when I say it was a lovely, emotional, warm and friendly gig.
Not something you could always have said about Stranglers gigs in this part of the world.
Really rather well done Guildford…hurrah!
FRIDAY FEB 4 – LONDON BRIXTON O2 ACADEMY
This is the first of two nights we have here. It’s currently one of London’s most famous rock venues as I’m sure most of you know. What you probably don’t know if you’ve never been or played here, is that it’s also a huge freezing cold dump of a place. It looks a million dollars from the outside, but once in through the doors it’s an all too familiar story that as a gig goer, you’ll find in a lot of this companies’ venues in the UK. There’s not a huge amount of respect for the crowd (poor, underwhelming facilities), and even less respect for the bands. The backstage areas are cramped, again with poor facilities, usually freezing cold, this one certainly is…it’s fucking perishingly cold in here, and it’s got “well at least it’s somewhere to play…shut up and be grateful” written all over it. Most of these buildings were formerly cinemas or old dance halls, and they just don’t have what touring bands need, space, warmth, comfort…or any thought given to access and parking for buses and crews. Touring these places in the winter can be a pretty unpleasant experience, and no band should have to stand at the side of the stage before they go on, blowing into their hands, as JJ, Toby and I find ourselves doing as the Waltz is played before our entrance. It really was that cold. I even mentioned it to the crowd at one point and got a huge cheer…so it hadn’t gone unnoticed. The crowd though, were as always, magnificent and a few songs in, the cold is forgotten and we’re on it. Once that connection is made between the band and the audience, we hold it firmly in our hands and don’t let go until the death…and neither do they.
It’s only after the concert on the endless twisty turny route back to the dressing room (something else that’s never thought out) that you realise its freezing and it’s turning what little sweat you might have worked up, to cold clammy fingers stroking your skin. Your shirt becomes a freezing mess and you need to strip it off quickly before you catch your death.
Yeah I know…all a bit melodramatic but that’s what it feels like.
We’re far from the only band to complain about this too, but as long as the Academy have a grip on the live music scene in this country for medium to large size venues, there seems little to be done. I understand that they’ve been hit as hard as anyone during the pandemic, and like us all, they’re slowly trying to crawl their way back into the black, but their venues are notoriously bad, and in desperate need of face lifts and upgrades…end of rant.
(NB…we hear through the grapevine later that at tonight’s show, someone brought their dads ashes with them in a box, and threw them at the stage, covering a couple of unsuspecting punters at the front. I sincerely hope this was true…I’ve never heard of anything so bazaar happening at our, or anyone’s gigs before. It’s therefore highly likely that we inhaled some minute particles of Mr Punters dear old papa at some point during the proceedings.
SATURDAY FEB 5 – LONDON BRIXTON O2 ACADEMY
On arriving at the Academy for the sound check this afternoon, we’re greeted by some fans outside who’ve put on extra layers for tonight’s show. It seems it wasn’t only the band that were freezing last night. Later during the show I see one of them right on the barrier, and she’s fully wrapped up in furry jacket and woolly hat…no doubt stamping her feet too.
I suffer from sound issues right from the off tonight, with my earphones malfunctioning, and I limp through the first three songs barely able to hear anything. I greet the crowd, who respond with a huge roar so I’m told, but I can feel it more than hear it. Two of the guys come on stage to help me, and as soon as they swap out my earphones for my spares, I’m back in the room. Again though, this venue having the design flaws it does for loud live music, all of our earphone mixes are erratic, and poor Dave, our monitor engineer, has his work cut out for him tonight, as he did last night. He’s really on it though this lad, and works very hard to keep us all happy…me predominantly. I’ve never had to have so many adjustments made by him at all the gigs we’ve done so far combined, and he’s pulling all the stops out…thank god. It’s totally thanks to him that I got through this show.
It’s a really good show in the end and we’re all triumphant in the dressing room afterwards.
As are The Ruts…they’re superb as always, and for just three of them they absolutely fill the huge Academy with sound…mighty indeed. I kick myself that I was so preoccupied with my own woes tonight, that I forgot to name check them. It won’t happen again.
It’s a sobering thought though, that The Stranglers may never play in London again.
Things go a bit pear shaped here when after driving up to Manchester for the Warrington show, I discover I can’t speak, and we have to postpone the next 3 dates in Warrington, Nottingham and Cardiff…although by now you’ll know that they’ve all been rescheduled.
Thanks for your patience everyone…although I’m sure a lot of you were as pissed off as we were.
FRIDAY FEB 11 – MANCHESTER APOLLO
After any setback, a lot of people will use the old hackneyed expression ‘ get back on the horse’…never a truer word said.
This wonderful old theatre has, for a few years now, been the site of the last show of whatever tour we’re on. I can’t remember how it started, but bands can be superstitious too I suppose, and probably after a successful show, or tour, or something, it was suggested that this would always be our end show…or not…I really can’t say.
Anyhow, it’s not applicable here, as we find ourselves in one of our favourite venues just less that halfway through the tour.
It doesn’t disappoint…it never does. The roar of three and a half thousand lubricated Mancs fills the air, we launch into Toiler, and it’s as if the break we’ve just had never happened. We don’t like to break the momentum of a tour with anything other than legitimate days off. A rest is always appreciated, as we really give it some when we play, and it’s draining, but we generally don’t like too much time off…it can make you rusty.
But not tonight. It seems to have invigorated us, and we play a really tight punchy set that surprises us all, considering we’ve missed three shows.
You just never can tell.
It’s only when you’re back in the sanctity of your hotel room later that it dawns on you that you may never play these wonderful old places again with the band…or maybe you will…
If tonight was our last ever show in this city, or at least at the Apollo…it was an absolute cracker….
Thank you Manchester…
SATURDAY FEB 12 – LEEDS O2 ACADEMY
A short drive across the ever treacherous but always scenic M62 and we’re in Leeds. This particular venue is always brilliant, and the crowd are right on top of you…right there. I’ve always had a soft spot for Leeds O2, and tonight is the fullest I’ve ever seen it.
We absolutely slam into the first number, the place goes up, and never comes back down again. As I look around, every conceivable space is filled, and it’s a sea of faces right up into the rafters. It proves to be the hottest gig of the tour so far too, and JJ and I are pretty shiny from about five numbers in. Jim and Toby are really locked in too, and the whole thing just motors along. We’re really starting to click now, and we move smoothly through the gears, ramping things up, then bringing them back down again when we need to. The pace of the set is just about perfect now, and after moving songs about and making other changes at previous shows ,we’ve pretty much settled on a set, and I’d be surprised if we do anything radical with the running order from now on…but you never know…things are there to be messed with.
The acoustic encore we’ve been doing has been pretty emotional at times on previous evenings. It’s caught me a couple of times, and tonight it catches JJ. Not one for generally showing much emotion at all really, about anything, it’s a surprise to see him choke up during ‘Dave’, and he bears down hard to get through it…which of course he does as the pro he is…but it’s a reminder that although things are going really well and we’re playing great shows to packed houses, the spectre of Dave is never really far away, and can bite you on the arse at a seconds notice.
Dave would have loved that :)…
SUNDAY FEB 13 – TRAVEL DAY
We’re driving from Leeds to Portsmouth today. It’s pissing down with rain, the motorways are jammed solid…it’s England on a Sunday…but we’re in high spirits.
Can’t wait to get to the hotel bar.
MONDAY FEB 14 – PORTSMOUTH GUILDHALL
It’s been a few years since we’ve played this lovely old venue, and again, it’s probably the fullest I’ve seen it. They’ve opened the balcony this time, and the beautiful upholstery of the seats up there is perfectly in keeping with the grandeur of the place.
It’s a wet, cold, miserable night in Portsmouth…but they’ve turned out in droves, and the place is absolutely rocking. Any thoughts of a more sedate evening are quickly dispelled with the roar that greets us as we step on the stage. The Ruts have had a great evening too, (in fairness they always do) and have blown away any cobwebs, ready for us to do our stuff.
There’s sometimes a little bit of rust, even after only one night off, but not tonight. Toby proclaims it to be the tightest we’ve played on the tour. Jim struggles a little bit with his monitoring, getting a huge kick back on his drums from the back wall. He’s sitting very high up on his riser and paying for it a little bit tonight. There’s a big bass trap too, and the sound booms around a little, but not too much. This old hall was clearly never meant for loud rock bands, and we test it to the limit.
For the first time this tour, I encounter something that usually only happens at festivals…the gig absolutely flies by…seemingly in the blink of an eye, and I look down at the set list to discover we’re nearly done. I can’t quite describe the feeling. Toby seems to have felt the same thing. We’re all dripping wet, sitting in the dressing room thinking…shit, where did that go?
Portsmouth has always been good to us…let’s hope we can play somewhere close sometime in the future.
Great city, great gig.
TUESDAY FEB 15 – SOUTHEND WESTCLIFFE PAVILLION
The weather seems to have chased us right down the country from Leeds. We drove down in an absolute pelting rain storm the whole way on Sunday, it persisted all through Monday in Portsmouth, and it seems to have decided to save the best for last in Southend. The weather is absolutely appalling, and apparently there’s more on the way…people love to tell you that don’t they…” ooo, there’s a lot more on the way”. We’re confronted with some fans outside the stage door who look like they’ve been through it…drowned rats. They’ve clearly been waiting a while and are shiveringly wet. If we weren’t in our bubble, the usual thing would be to bring them out some tea, as we’ve done on many occasions before, but alas, we can’t. I feel bad.
The show is as you’d expect on a Tuesday night in Southend… a bit reserved, rowdy in places, but generally sedate. This is a council run venue, and all the usual anal restrictions are in place, including of course, no alcohol in the hall…and that really makes a difference believe me. So instead, the good folk of Southend stand and really watch the band…you feel very much like you’re under a microscope at these types of gigs, and they scrutinise everything. You pick your game up at gigs like these…you pick your game up every night of course, but more so when you know you’re being studied. So we play really well, and enjoy a different type of gig.
I doubt very much that we’ll ever be back at this venue, but we’ve had some good times here over the years, and I tell the crowd that at the end. The respond heartily, and filter out into the gloom outside, no doubt planning a last orders drink at a local bar somewhere. There’s quite a crowd outside and they’re in very good spirits all things considered…there’s a couple of them who are really rather pissed…
I wonder where they got the drink from….
WEDNESDAY FEB 16
Gone drinking in Brighton…..
THURSDAY FEB 17 – BRIGHTON DOME
The Dome is another of those old music halls that’s somewhere between boho chic, and chintz…a bit like Brighton itself really. We’ve played here many times and are always warmly received. We’ve spent a couple of days here and there seems to be a healthy cross section of the folk I’ve seen in the streets…straights and weirdos, hippies and rockers, and the occasional goth…which always raises a smile…especially as they seem to be middle aged men, intent on scaring the kids, all the while looking very silly indeed…takes all sorts.
This was Dave’s hometown, and he gets a great chant from the crowd…” there’s only one Dave Greenfield”…which of course we all know there was…but Toby is playing like a demon on the tour, and quite rightly gaining accolades everywhere we go. He’s unfazed by it all, and just gets on with it impeccably.
We glide smoothly through the gig, and are chuffed with the end result, playing very well, and lapping up the applause…as we do.
I’ve got some dear old friends in Brighton, and after the gig I speak to them as they drunkenly wend their way home…they had a great time and are full of praise for Toby especially…nice one.
I don’t know if we’ll ever play in Brighton again, but if we do, we know what to expect…the unexpected.
FRIDAY FEB 18 – NEWCASTLE CITY HALL
In another dazzling display of dodgy routing (so far it’s been pretty good on this tour actually) because of having to postpone the tour twice, and being at the mercy of venue availability like everybody else, we find ourselves wearily climbing aboard the tour bus with the road crew, and driving through the night from Brighton up to Newcastle. Originally, we were taking the train, but Storm Eunice decides to make her presence felt, so pretty much all forms of transport are suspended, so to get there, we go old school.
It’s worth the journey.
Those of you who come to see us in the north east will probably know of my relationship with a certain section of the crowd, who seem to take offence at my place of birth. You may even be one of them. Those of you who are sensible and above such things however just need to know that I’m from a town called Sunderland, and as far as the idiots are concerned, that’s enough to hate me and shout some pretty nasty abuse… (to the best of my knowledge I’ve never been a mackem cunt…but there you are).
I’ve also however, got some very dear geordie mates who always get onto me for abusing the crowd. They don’t hear the crap that’s shouted at me and think I’m just a wind up merchant…spewing unprovoked bile at their brethren.
Simply put, I’m defending myself. It’s only ever been good natured banter from my side, but of course, like a lot of things, it goes too far sometimes, and I’ve been as guilty as them for hurling insults. I’ve got a pretty quick temper, inherited from my old dad, and can just snap. It’s made for some interesting spats over the years, so I always approach Newcastle gigs with trepidation…walking on stage to a torrent of boos doesn’t put you in the best frame of mind generally speaking.
I’m explaining all this because stepping on stage tonight was a pleasure. There was none of the expected bullshit from the boo boys…and if they felt like it, even they realised tonight was never going to be about them and kept schtum. I was very pleasantly surprised. I had a few barbed sarcastic comments ready for them, but amazingly didn’t need them…even they maybe realising that it’s not where you’re from…it’s where you’re at. Or maybe they were just told to shut the fuck up.
Either way, tonight is easily the best Newcastle gig we’ve done in my two decades plus in the band. There was really a lot of love in the room, and we rose to it, playing a blinder. Just goes to show the effect a good crowd can have on you…anybody in a band will tell you that.
We came away from the City Hall with very warm hearts.
Thank you Newcastle…never thought I’d see the day.
SATURDAY FEB 19 – BIRMINGHAM O2 ACADEMY
Another big old draughty barn that benefits 1000000% from a crowd. A more inhospitable venue during the day, you’ll go far to find. It’s horrible, freezing, and antiquated, and also with a very low ceiling, on and off the stage. It’s very easy to get blinded by the lights if they’re not positioned just so, and we usually spend sound checks here grimacing and squinting at the lights. However, get 3,000 people in it, and the atmosphere is difficult to beat, anywhere in the world. Brummies know how to go for it…always have. This city is changing so much and so fast, it’s almost like going from a different city to another on each subsequent visit. Jim’s a black country boy, and as we drive through the urban sprawl, he fills us in on one economical council funded disaster after another…and he knows his stuff. It’s fascinating to hear.
The roar that greets us, and had greeted The Ruts, is something to behold…you can actually feel it. A Saturday night in Birmingham is always a great gig, and right from the off the whole room becomes one living, breathing thing…a cliche’ I know…but true.
We’ve done three off the spin now including this one, and are like a well oiled (cliche’ tastic!) machine. One of those shows you don’t want to end…of course, it does, and we’re off into the cold Birmingham night before you know it.
Gladdens the heart…it really does.
SUNDAY FEB 20
MONDAY FEB 21 – BRISTOL O2 ACADEMY.
This has long been one of my favourite places to play, don’t ask me why. It’s got the same nonchalant, couldn’t really give a fuck attitude to it, like most of the other O2s have. Not much thought has gone into the comfort and safety of the artists or crowds…as long as the numbers come through the door. It never ceases to amaze me how, on walking into the venue, you never think they’ll get the people in that they’ve told you to expect…it just looks so small. It’s pokey and rough around the edges…but again, at show time, it’s just amazing. I think for me it’s the proximity of the crowd, and how every conceivable space is filled with people. You have to crane your neck to see the folks at the very top…and you can see that they’re bracing their hands on the ceiling, so far up are they…just amazing. It’s also a certain persons birthday tonight, and it’s a biggun…so the evening, sort of rightly so, seems to centre around that. Not that he’s too swept away by it, being the celebrated birthday curmudgeon he is, but he takes it in his stride, and it’s fair to say, I saw in his face how touched he was that the whole audience sang happy birthday to him. Then it was gone…ha ha..and he celebrated by taking his shirt off for the encores, just so everyone could see how well this particular septuagenarian has faired over the years.
Even more amazingly, the whole band gather in the hotel bar later to toast him over a late drink. Nice end to another great evening.
I’ll be particularly sad not to play this venue again, if that’s what happens. It’s always held affection for me…and as always, that’s down to the crowds that come. Every single time we’ve played here it’s sold out in a heartbeat…and how they can get 2000 people in is beyond me.
I hope our paths cross again Bristol O2…but don’t hold your breath.
TUESDAY FEB 22 – READING HEXAGON
I would hazard a guess and say that even to people from Reading, a Tuesday night out probably isn’t the most appealing thing in the world…and I mean that with all due respect.
But as we know, things can often turn out very differently from what you’d expect…and this gig was certainly that. It could very well turn out to be one of the gigs of the tour, and certainly one where we played almost flawlessly from start to finish. The room itself, despite it’s weird hexagonal shape(yes…that’s why it’s called The Hexagon folks) is very well designed for sound, having been, as people, particularly blokes from a certain era will attest, the venue for most of the televised snooker from the 1970’s and 80’s. It’s a very flat, dry room, which is perfect for sound, and we’ve got one of the best sound engineers at front of house in the business…it sounds the mutts nuts. It’s also high, wide and handsome, so the lighting trusses all go in perfectly, and it looks fantastic…we’ve got one of the best lighting designers in the business too…aren’t we lucky.
After any excesses of the night before, we’re in fine fettle, and play very well indeed. My ear monitors are improving all the time too…did I mention we’ve got one of the best monitor engineers in the business? Well we have…and he’s worked hard and closely with us all to get the sounds we each need. Tonight is almost perfect, and if you gauge how flustered I might be by how many times you see me look at the engineer to my left and ask for a sound adjustment, you’ll know that I didn’t have to do that once tonight…not once.
The crowd are amazing for a Tuesday too. I know I bang on about the difference that the night of the week makes to a gig, but it’s very important. In a perfect world we’d play every night of the week, if the week was composed purely of Fridays and Saturdays, but you’re at the mercy of availability for a lot of these halls, and you get what you’re given a lot of the time.
I loved tonight…we all did.
WEDNESDAY FEB 23
A point to make about today. Toby has been suffering from a rotten dead tooth that’s been getting steadily worse as the tour has gone on. His dentist at home told him before we came out on the road, that he’d be ok and they’d address it once he got home.
Poor guy has suffered in silence as much as he could, but today it just got too much. He’d already been to an emergency dentist in Birmingham a few days before, who x rayed him and gave him some antibiotics….but to no real effect.
Cutting a long story short, he phoned another dentist in Reading the night of the show…played the afore mentioned great show in considerable pain, then promptly got up this morning, went to a guy in Reading, and got the fucking thing pulled out…then got in the car with us all, and we made our way up to Sheffield. He sat and barely uttered a word…proper old school.
I’ve had teeth issues on the road before, many years ago in France, and it’s no picnic I can tell you…
THURSDAY FEB 24 – SHEFFIELD CITY HALL
This used to be one of those places that you always saw in band touring ads in the 70’s and 80’s…very much on the circuit. It hasn’t really been a fixture for many years now, which is a shame because it’s a really beautiful old theatre…fantastic architecture and very nicely appointed. There are three tiers, and a beautiful atrium of stained glass high above the crowd…it’s some place. Unfortunately it’s also an all seated venue, right up to the stage, with maybe a four feet wide walkway separating the edge of the stage from peoples knees in the front row.
Ah the front row…
It seems that there’s a society, or group of some kind, that have been given the entire front row tonight. They sure don’t look like Stranglers fans to me, and indeed quite a few of them don’t look like they really want to be here at all. A couple of people never move, show any kind of emotion or enthusiasm, and if it wasn’t for the fact that their eyes are open, you could be forgiven for thinking there was no pulse or heartbeat at all. The fans behind them look very bemused as to why these people are here, taking up valuable real estate that they clearly would love to have, but they soon get over it, and the whole crowd rise out of seats and the festivities begin. We’ve had a night off, and start the show a little creakily…but by the fourth or fifth number we’re back in the saddle and making up lost ground. I have a bit of a relationship with Sheffield, and spent a lot of time down here a few years ago. I spot some familiar faces in the crowd from time to time, and the whole place is warming up nicely.
It’s during a break and a drink that things take a slightly surreal turn. I mentioned earlier that the front row weren’t your average gig goers, and that becomes very apparent when one of them jumps up, points her phone at me, and bellows at me to wish Mick a happy birthday…whoever the hell Mick is…in no uncertain terms. She seems totally oblivious to the fact that she’s stopped the show, and there are 2000 people behind her wondering what the fuck is going on. I served a very long apprenticeship in my youth playing the working men’s clubs in the north east of England, and this feels like that. It’s funny though, and I soon warm to the conversation, and explain to the crowd what’s going on…much to their amusement. Life on the road has always been unpredictable.
And just to punctuate how unpredictable the world can be, we hear today that the fucking Russian madman, I won’t say his name, has finally decided to invade the Ukraine…he’s actually gone and done it…in this day and age…
Puts our little touring world and bubble into shocking perspective
FRIDAY FEB 25 – LEICESTER DE MONTFORD HALL
This is a beautiful old theatre, and a first for me. JJ seems to recall the band playing here decades ago, and indeed, this is only the second time the band have played Leicester since I joined…the first being at the O2 just down the road a few tours ago.
When I was a kid and beginning to read the music press of the day, and taking notice of touring bands and all that starry eyed wonderful stuff, this gig was always on the circuit…everybody played here for years, and I always wondered what it would be like to play a venue like this. Funny how some things just stick in your head.
And so, here we are. The place is buzzing and as we arrive at the hall I can hear The Ruts tearing into their final stretch, so I step side stage to have a look. They’re so tight and well drilled…they really do make it look effortless. I have a look out through the curtain beside me, and can see the place is rammed. The Ruts finish with a huge rush of adrenalin as they always do, and leave the stage to thunderous applause…job done.
We take to the stage half an hour later to the same huge roar, and quickly settle into the gig. I think we play really well, but afterwards JJ confesses to it being his worst show of the tour…” I fucked up in every single song tonight”.
We always go on about how we’re our own worst critics, and he’s no different. You want to give your very best, but we’re a live living breathing band, and things of course, don’t always go smoothly. I have to confess though, I think he’s being a little hard on himself. I have him loud and proud in my ear monitors, and didn’t hear any of the mistakes he’s talking about. Jim says the same…”dunno what you’re on about…you sounded fine to me”.
It’s nice to know though that we still care very much about what we do.
I think tonight is a triumph, and I tell the crowd as much at the end.
Another really good gig, and I’m chuffed that on a personal level, I finally got to play such a lovely famous old place.
SATURDAY FEB 26 – CAMBRIDGE CORN EXCHANGE
Well, this is the one we were looking forward to, and sort of dreading in equal amounts…Dave’s home gig, the beautiful old Cambridge Corn Exchange. This has long been a Stranglers stronghold, due to Dave, and at one time JJ, living very close to Cambridge itself. We’ve done this on every UK tour I’ve done with the Stranglers, and I’ve played here when I was in Smalltown Heroes, seemingly 100 years ago.
It never changes.
The streets surrounding it are every bit the quintessential English town streets of ancient academia…most of the cities’ colleges being located in the centre. Gothic, imposing architecture, narrow streets teeming with bars, cafes and people, and droves of Stranglers fans crowd the pavements…it’s always impressive coming down here in the afternoon to sound check…the place is absolutely alive.
This gig was scheduled to be the last show of the tour, but of course due to the postponements we had earlier, it’s now the penultimate one. It’s been sold out for two years, and each time one of the crew comes backstage in the minutes leading up to us going on, they say “gonna be a lively one tonight…they’re totally up for it” and you can hear the noise they’re making from our dressing room down in the bowels of the hall.
We step on stage to a barrage of deafening roars…and it never lets up for two solid hours…they’re amazing. A lot of Dave’s friends are here, as is his widow Pam, and emotions are running high as you’d expect…especially when JJ and I play ‘ And if you should see Dave’. I’ve managed to keep it together doing this song for most of the tour, but tonight it gets to me…especially the line ‘ it would be nice to say hello…this is where your solo would go’…the lights change, and the keyboard podium is lit…eliciting a huge roar and cheers from the crowd…not a dry eye in the theatre as they say.
Afterwards we open up the hospitality bar upstairs in Dave’s memory…it was one of his favourite parts of the tour in years gone by, where he’d meet up with all his pals from his village, and his missus, and hold court. I have some great memories of him doing that. There are quite a few fans up there, and we spend a lovely half an hour or so catching up with people. I’ve got a lot of mates from Dave’s village too, having played there with him many times in his beloved club just down the road from his house, and it’s good to catch up with some of them. I see Toby deep in conversation with Pam, which is a nice thing, and overall the evening is a warm and loving celebration…with a really good gig chucked in the middle of it.
Farewell Cambridge Corn Exchange…well, for now anyway…
SUNDAY FEB 27 – WARRINGTON PARR HALL
This is the first of the postponed gigs to be stitched onto the end of the tour. I’ve never played here before, and the last time the Stranglers played here was just before I joined with the Mk 2 line up. It’s one of the smallest venues on the tour, with a very ‘comfortable’ size stage, and a capacity of around 1200. It’s been sold out since the very beginning.
As the crow flies, I don’t live that far from here, and Mrs Warne has come to see the show, stay the night, and take me home in the morning. The last time I saw her was the enforced break when I had to go home earlier in the tour. I wasn’t what you’d call a ray of sunshine for those few days, so it’s very nice to see her when I’m feeling more human. The chaps are pleased to see her too, and I hear her and Jim guffawing at something in the next room.
We play a very tight, but maybe fatigued set tonight. It’s been a very long tour, and with everything that’s happened, all the emotion and pure energy that’s been flying around for nearly two months all told, we’re beginning to feel it now…properly. We’re all tired.
The crowd couldn’t care less about that though, and this beautiful little old theatre is absolutely bouncing. It gives us the final kick we need, and pushes us easily, for now at least, over the finish line. A great show, and the hottest of the tour… (I keep saying that don’t I?) We’re dripping in the dressing room afterwards…but we’ve done it. There are two more shows to fulfil in March in Nottingham and Cardiff, so we’re not really saying goodbye just yet, but it still feels as if we’ve really achieved something…something that was out of our reach for a long time, and something that felt like maybe it would never come back…but against all the odds…every last fucking one of them…it did.
Raising a final glass before we all go our separate ways for a few weeks, JJ looks at me and says ” maybe God is a Stranglers fan Baz”
If you believe in such things, it would be hard to disagree…
WEDNESDAY MAR 23 – NOTTINGHAM ROCK CITY
So as you all know by now, this was a date that had to be postponed when I was indisposed in February. Thinking back, I don’t think I’ve ever had to do this…with The Stranglers or anybody else…you just…do the gig…going home in the middle of a tour just isn’t the done thing…bummer… We’ve all done shows when we’ve felt like shit…I’m sure there’s not a musician in the world who hasn’t…but when no sound actually comes out of your mouth…and you’re a singer…it’s home to the couch for you…usually feeling very sorry for yourself, and for the fans that would’ve been coming to the show…especially at such short notice. So, although it wasn’t my fault folks, I’m sorry for the inconvenience…it pissed us off as much as it did you believe me. However…here we are. It’s only been 3 or so weeks since the tour ended in Warrington, and since we have a one month rule about rehearsing, ie if it’s under a month since the last show, we don’t rehearse, we all meet up in the hotel in Nottingham the night before for dinner and a catch up. Gary, Toby and myself shoot the breeze, probably drink a bit too much, and attempt to retire relatively early…yeah right. JJ is doing his karate again in London, and joins us the next day.
Nottingham Rock City is something of a British rock institution. It has to be something of a record that this club has been able to survive since 1980, when it first opened its doors, because not too many of this size do. It would be fair to say that it’s not the most salubrious of venues, and I remember coming here many years ago with Smalltown Heroes, to flooding from blocked toilets, cramped stinking dressing rooms, and surly security eyeing you suspiciously…and some funny smells too…most recognisable, some not, but all peculiar. Things have changed a bit since then thankfully. The dressing rooms are actually ok now…at least you can have a pee without pissing on your shoes, and the staff are always welcoming and friendly…but the place is always a bit grubby and in need of a bit of TLC…that’s obviously how they like it.
At least it’s not an O2…
The crowd have been waiting for this show for a long time. As we stand in the wings waiting for the waltz to start, you can feel the electricity in the room, and the noise and vibe is right in your face…you almost feel you could reach out and grab it. We take to the stage to a deafening roar, and steam into Toiler…the place erupts, and we don’t come back down for the next two hours or so. Because this is a re arranged show, we’re missing our regular monitor engineer who has a couple of prior engagements. Our guy for the next few days is Stu Macaulay…familiar name? Yeah, it’s Jim’s little brother…and he’s been chucked right into the deep end. Stu is a well known and respected studio, monitor, and front of house engineer, and has been around for years…they’re well respected in the field these Macaulay boys.
Doing the monitors for The Stranglers is something of a poisoned chalice…it’s extremely difficult, and many a good man has been broken by the experience over the decades. There are cues and levels to adjust for each member of the band, generally all the way through the show, and if they’re not right…there can be trouble. It takes time to learn everything so it’s flawless, and that’s time that Stu hasn’t had. Our main guy has left him files and notes, so he’s not completely in the dark, and he’s doing the best he can, which is pretty good for a first gig with no pre production…I certainly wouldn’t like to do it. Thankfully we’re all on in ear monitors now, so things can be much better controlled. When I joined the band, and obviously the decades before…it was fucking deafening on stage. Jet used to have virtually half a full PA stack blasting into his head, as did Dave…and we all know how loud the bass could be at times…it was war. If you couldn’t hear yourself on stage in those days, you just turned yourself up…fuck everybody else. Now, to get the glorious sound we get out front, which is the most important thing, we’re a lot more sedate on stage in our volume levels…thank God.
Stu does a great job all things considered, and we’re both grateful and praiseworthy to him afterwards…he looks pretty relieved. We know that as the pro he is, it’ll be much better for the next gig.
This gig was a stormer though, and when I tell the crowd that it’s extremely doubtful that we’ll ever play here again, there’s a huge groan, and I see tears around the place.
Take care of yourself Nottingham Rock City…here’s to the next 40 odd years…
FRIDAY MAR 25 – CARDIFF UNIVERSITY GREAT HALL
This is always a fun place to play too…friendly staff and nice facilities, and a totally sold out show to look forward to. It’s a lovely day in Cardiff today, and the city is alive with people making the most of the warmer weather, and around the university where we’re playing, the pavements are alive with students and gig goers…drinking and enjoying the freedom…lovely.
We’ve been here for a couple of days too, and had a great meal the evening before in a little family run Italian place around the corner to the hotel that we stumbled upon a few years ago and really enjoyed…especially Dave, who had his favourite lobster I seem to remember.
We arrive earlier than usual for sound check than we usually do, to try and iron out any of the main problems we had on Wednesday in Nottingham. Stu has been making his own notes, going through everything several times, and making great progress…he’s got a few points of his own to make, and some things he wants to clarify, and as we start to play and run through stuff it’s that apparent he’s sorted pretty much everything out…it sounds great, and I relax, knowing I probably won’t need to call on him much at the show later…always a good thing. If nobody talks to the monitor engineer at all during the gig, we’ve all had a good one, including him. JJ also has a new bass guitar to try out, and he’s absolutely ecstatic with it…so much so that even though he only took possession of it on Wednesday, and our guitar tech Brendan has only had it for one night to look over and adjust anything if needs be, JJ uses it for the whole gig tonight, and it sounds fucking great. Doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you’ve been doing this, getting a new guitar is always a thrill…always…I love it.
We play very well tonight, and the crowd respond warmly. It’s an elongated, wide room this one, so folk are right on top of you at the front, and spread out widely at the sides…so it’s always fuller than it looks. Walking out to the wings you’re aware of people that you can barely see from the stage…don’t know what their view must be like, but they all seem happy enough, and are pleased you’ve made the effort to walk out and see them.
I also get a verse of happy birthday from pretty much all of them, and that gives me a smile…even JJ raises one, birthday hater that he is…ha…
I thank the crowd as I’ve done right across the tour, for the good times…and there have been many in Cardiff, and tell them that hopefully, God willing, we might see them again some day.
Thank you to everyone who came out to these last two postponed shows and changed their plans accordingly…and to the good folk of Warrington who did the same.
And thank you to everyone else…all of you…everyone who came out in February and propped us up with their love and support, helped us through some sticky moments, and were just there for us.
We can never express how much we appreciate you all doing that…but somehow I think you’ll know…that’s what families are for.
Watch this space…
BAZ / MARCH 2022