Soon after the band had completed the UK Black And White tour, they headed ‘Down Under’ for an eight date tour of New Zealand and Australia, the first visit since the gigs with Blondie back in 2012.
Making the most of the trip, Baz flew down early to visit family and, following the tour, he & JJ were staying on for some motorbiking around Western Australia. On his return home, he wrote this blog about their Antipodes trip…
My younger brother Chris is a practical joker…always has been. Right up through childhood he’d love to get one over on you…that is, me, and my other two younger brothers Dave and Philip mostly. We loved him of course, and although we all had our moments…he was the real scallywag among us…and he could be, in short, a twat… Fast forward many years to when he was the singer in Smalltown Heroes, the band I was in when I met The Stranglers for the first time. During that time, me and my then missus had invested in a video camera…to document our two children growing up, which we did. They were astronomically expensive in those days…this is a decade at the very least before mobile phones and the like…and we couldn’t afford it and went into hock to get it, but those videos are of course now a family treasure. I’d use it for the band too, never really taking it on the road for fear of it being stolen, but always taking it to the studio, where any of the lads could use it to make accounts of our times there…and again, this footage, several days of it, is priceless to us. But of course our Chris would also love to use it to video his many and varied pranks. I was usually the victim, and would sometimes wake to the delightful feeling of an ice cube being dropped into the crack of my arse, or the sheets being pulled off me in a freezing cold room ( I’ve never worn anything for bed since I was a teenager)…or waking up in a sneezing fit when he filled my pillowcase with chili powder once in a residential studio in Surrey, and nearly got us thrown out before we’d even started the session…the Nora Batty style housekeeper was fucking furious…
So…fast forward many more years to April 12th 2016 and he’s now living with his family in Wellington, New Zealand. I’ve been here for a week visiting as I haven’t seen him for 2 years since he emigrated, and have flown down a week ahead of the band to see him and the clan. We’ve had a great time, and it’s my last day with them all before I fly north to Auckland to meet the band for the first show of the tour. The house they live in is wooden, and creaks and squeaks like an arthritic hooker when you so much as take a step in any direction. I’ve been billeted in the downstairs guest room which is underneath the kitchen, and have taken to wearing earplugs to bed, as in the morning the house is alive with his missus going to work and his kids to school, and it sounds like a herd of charging elephants.
So it’s on this morning I wake to a tremendous shaking. I can hear ornaments rattling even with my plugs in, and I’m so convinced Chris has snuck into my room and is returning to our youth with one of his patented jollies, that I jump bolt upright to grab him… “aarrgghh caught you, you bastard”!…but he’s not there…it’s an earthquake…a full on, Exorcist style bed rattling one…
It goes on for 30 seconds or more…and just as abruptly, stops…leaving me breathing hard and wondering if that’s the last we’ll see of it…it is…but then 5 minutes later I get a text to my phone from the relevant authorities informing me of its size and location, and asking me if I need assistance…We were 54 km away from the centre…god knows what it felt like right in the heart…we could’ve experienced that actually…we were up that way in the car the day before, sightseeing… It’s a fitting end to a rollercoaster of a week, and puts me right in the mood for a bit more earth shaking…sorry…couldn’t resist…
Later that day I fly up to Auckland and am driven into the city and our hotel. The first person I see is Gary our tour manager, who informs me that all is well, and everyone is asleep…apart from Dave G, who’s upstairs in the bar…I look up and he spots me, gives me one of his patented waves, and gets the beers in…good start. JJ comes down about an hour later, looking bleary but in good spirits,and we wander into the Japanese restaurant next door for dinner…and later, much sake later, declaring how much we’re all up for this tour.
WEDNESDAY APRIL 13TH / THE POWERSTATION / AUCKLAND
This is Auckland’s premier rock club with a capacity of around 1100, and it’s been sold out for months. My old mate Fat Bob (not so fat these days…looks great) lives here and has been to this venue many times to see various bands and things over the years…he says it can go off, and we’re hoping it will. Earlier in the day JJ and I take a cab up there for some lunch in the area, and to see our faithful and beloved crew, who all came in separately to us on a different flight. We get inside the venue, check it out and say hi, and go for noodles. As we’re sitting eating, 3 familiar faces gurn at us through the window, and we’re amazed to see Rob Owen, Chris Foulkes and Sarah Johnson who’ve flown down, and are doing the entire tour…we’re gobsmacked, and although many Brits will turn up at various places in the next 2 weeks or so, these 3 will be ever presents…and if they’re reading this, we’d just like them to know how much we appreciated the efforts they made…that’s dedication. We take the stage at 9pm sharp and the place is absolutely full to the gunnels…rammed…We rip into Toiler on the Sea and the place goes ape, and they keep it up for the whole of the next 90 minutes. After the rigours of the Black and White tour in March, which was certainly the hardest tour I’ve been involved with since joining the band, we’re getting back to more of a ‘normal’ set, and so we’re peppering the set with hits again, as well as some of our particular favourites…Nuclear Device and I’ve Been Wild being two examples… We’re really pleased with the performance and the reaction…and as it’s going to be a couple of days before jet lag kicks in (I’m lucky…I rarely suffer) we’re full of piss and vinegar and are well up to par…excellent.
During my week here with my brother, we’d looked in on the Opera House one day while we were in town. I was doing my usual thing of trying to find a good tattoo parlour for a souvenir, and we happened upon a very funky old place adjacent to the theatre for a drink. The barman was covered in tattoos (they’re extremely popular here…the Maori and Polynesian influences run very deep) and after directing me to his guys, where I eventually got sorted, invited us to look inside the venue, which unfortunately was locked. Shame…I would’ve liked to have seen inside before the troops landed. Looked great from the outside though… On arriving with the band around 10 days later, the place reveals itself inside to be a lovely old Edwardian theatre…(have a look at the online images…beautiful) and with a capacity of around 1300, is perfect for the Stranglers first ever appearance in the city. We hear from some locals that the gig could’ve sold out twice over with ease, and so when we take to the stage at 9pm there’s not an empty seat to be seen…notice I said seat…It’s a theatre, and so is completely seated. We play Toiler, go directly into Straighten Out, and then, as Dave plays the 4 note intro to Grip, something strange happens…there’s a deafening roar which I can even hear through my in ear monitors, and the audience, as one, rise to their feet, surge forward, and envelope us in their collective bosom…there are people everywhere, in the pit, up the sides , and threatening to come down over the beautiful old ornate balconies that run the width of the hall…it’s a spine tingling moment and I’ll never forget it…I look across at JJ and his mile wide grin says it all, and again, as with the previous night in Auckland, they’re with us to the very end…we play everything we’ve rehearsed…and downstairs in the dressing rooms afterwards we’re saturated and elated. We’re onstage for an hour and 50 minutes…
FRIDAY APRIL 15TH / THE HORNCASTLE/ CHRISTCHURCH
We’ve done a club and a theatre so far on this jaunt to New Zealand, so it comes as no surprise to find that we’re playing an Arena in Christchurch. Again it’s a debut, the band never having played here before, and we’re told it’s done remarkably well. Modern day arenas can be sectioned off to suit the band and the size of the audience, and they’ve cordoned this one off for around 2,000…and it’s full. En route to the sound check in the afternoon we’re amazed to see the wake of destruction still here from the 6.3 earthquake that struck in February 2011, claiming the lives of nearly 200 people. It took down one end of the cathedral such was its size. The place is like a huge building site, with more cranes than a Spanish holiday resort. The spirit of the folk here is remarkable, and when something like this happens, they just clean it up and build again…they erect temporary everything while work is going on, and just get on with it. Earlier in the day there’s an earthquake drill at our hotel, and they insist on everybody being there…the manager pointing out to me that “down here it’s very real mate, this isn’t a movie”…nuff said.
Actually there’s an aside to this…Just after the earthquake struck in 2011, we were down in Tuckers Grave after an afternoon’s rehearsal, and the landlady was besides herself with worry over one of her regulars, who was down in Christchurch at the time visiting his daughter, and who hadn’t been heard of since the strike…all attempts to contact him had failed, and they all feared the worst until he strolled into the bar a few weeks later and asked for a pint…apparently she threw it at him…
We get to the gig and encounter a weary and not very well Ed Kuepper (pronounced Cooper) who’s been our special guest over the last 3 dates. Those of you in the know will recognise him as the founding guitarist in the original line up of The Saints…Australia’s first band to whom the word ‘punk’ was attached…mostly because of their contrary nature and extremely loud and brutal sound…Ed used to play his battered old SG through an entire PA system. He’s an affable and easy going chap who I like immediately…I’m particularly interested in the old Gibson guitars he’s carrying with him(a 335 and a 345 if you must know), and he’s as keen as me to talk about them.
The Saints were from Brisbane and he and JJ have a long discussion about Jon Bjelke Petersen who was the premier of Queensland when the Saints formed, and as Stranglers fans know, was the subject of the song Nuclear Device…Ed was brought up with Petersen in power and is able to talk at length about those times, as someone who was there…JJ is fascinated. The show is another great success, and with the stage being roughly the size of an 18 yard box, there’s plenty of room for myself and JJ to cavort and work the crowd a bit. The people on the barrier but down the sides don’t often get to see too much, they just get an aural battering from the PA, so sometimes it’s nice to have a wander out and see their faces…and let them see ours. Despite not being well Ed grabs them too, and overall it’s another very far away win…the furthest south on the planet the band have ever played. There are a lot of excited people in the car park afterwards and we stop to say hello on the way out…they seem very happy with that. Three hugely successful shows in New Zealand under our belts, we’re flying up to Australia the next day for a day off (weird, a day off on a Saturday and a gig on a Sunday) and then the start of the Aus gigs.
SUNDAY APRIL 17TH / THE METRO / SYDNEY
After a fairly uneventful day off (they usually revolve around doing laundry, resting and eating…and ok, drinking…) we’re all in good spirits for a return visit to the Metro in Sydney, a venue we’ve played once before in 2004. It’s been a sell out for months too and we’re all looking forward to it. Jet lag is well and truly evident now and there are a few cranky folk around during the sound check, but all in all the vibe is good. It’s a grimy rock and roll club The Metro, and they shoehorn over 1,000 people into it somehow.
In the run up to this gig we’d been contacted by an organisation called The Blue Guitar Project, asking if we could help. It’s a foundation designed to help keep youngsters off the streets and encourage them to nurture their talents and ignite whatever sparks they may have in positive, creative and communal ways, through music and the arts. I think it’s a worthy cause and volunteer to help in whatever way I can. It’s a decision that makes me smile and balk in equal measure when I see what they want me to do…play their blue guitar for one song during the set so they can take photos and officially cite me as being ‘on board’.
The guitar in question resembles a Stratocaster of dubious provenance, and they’ve tarted it up in all manner of weirdness (check out their website here) with feathers and straps and tape and stuff…and in actual fact it’s almost impossible to play…there’s a contraption sticking out of the back which threatens to end my ability to reproduce, and forces me to hold the guitar to one side so I can play it without further damage. Andy, our guitar tech, has had a go at it during the afternoon, re-stringing it and messing with the intonation just so I can use it. The folk from the project are a bit befuddled and just expected me to play it as it was, not realising just what a heap of crap it is, but we get it up to speed and I use it for No More Heroes at the end of the encore. The crowd really appreciate the gesture and it puts the cream on an already great, sweaty gig. I’m pleased I did it.
MONDAY APRIL 18TH / THE TIVOLI / BRISBANE
We’ve played this venue before too…again in 2004. It’s a lovely kind of art deco place with a definite 1930’s feel to it, and as soon as I walk in for the afternoon sound check, it all comes back to me. As this is a back to back with Sydney, we’ve flown in, driven to and checked into the hotel, eaten, had an hours rest, sound checked and played all in the same day…a one of those ’feet not touching the ground’ days. As a consequence you go into a kind of autopilot which can help see you through days like these. The promoters’ local reps are fantastic, as they’ve been right through the whole jaunt so far, and they guide and coax us through our various duties with ease and consummate professionalism. Our driver tells us about the floods that swept through here in the winter of 2010/11 resulting in nearly 40 deaths, and in the same breath tells me about the lovely tattoo she has sweeping around her left shoulder, where she got it done, and how she can get me a discount if I want to go (I’ve been tattooed in Brisbane before)…I thank her but simply don’t have the time to do it today, and we’re flying out to Melbourne early the next day so I can’t go and do it in the morning either…hey ho. The gig is another barnstormer, and I remember the balconies trembling from the last time we were here…quite unsettling to see. This was another gig that sold out quickly, and as I look across the front rows I see Sarah, Chris and Rob, who are switching positions from gig to gig for different views and stuff. They look fairly fresh, and I remember thinking again how great it was that they were doing this…their schedule is as tight as ours and they’re making all their flights and things, despite obviously appearing ‘refreshed’ at every show…nice one…
WEDNESDAY APRIL 20TH / THE CORNER HOTEL / MELBOURNE
This is a very famous old Melbourne venue, and has been hosting shows since the 1940’s. It’s a fairly last minute addition to the tour and is easily the smallest gig we’ve done on this leg so far, with a fire limit of 800.The promoters tell us they wanted a bigger venue as this gig could’ve sold out twice over, but couldn’t secure the date they wanted. Keen not to let us go, they settled on this, and of course, we’re up for it. When we arrive for sound check we’re amazed they’re even going to get 800 people in as it looks really quite small and ‘bijou’…When we arrive for the show the crowd are spilling out onto the pavement and almost on the small stage. Dave and Jim aren’t on risers for this show as there’s just not room for them, and as we all crowd onto the stage to a deafening very close proximity roar, we all sense this could be a blinder…and it is. The sweat starts to fly from both band and audience almost immediately, and I duck under the PA to get closer to some of the crowd on my side. There’s a guy just standing blatantly filming and I decide to have some fun with him, goading the crowd around him to block his view and put their hands over his lens…which they do…he eventually sees the funny side when he realises I just won’t stop until he does…but it’s all in gentle jest. Again we play just about everything we’ve rehearsed and encore after an hour and 40… It’s too congested outside the venue for a quick escape, so we towel off and relax until it’s safe to go, but still get caught by some stragglers who refuse to leave until they at least get a glimpse of us…it’s a pleasure to talk to such respectful and well meaning fans, and we stand out back gassing for another 15 minutes or so before leaving…nice.
FRIDAY APRIL 22ND / THEBARTON THEATRE / ADELAIDE
We have another day off here (one of only 3 over the whole trip) and as there’s a nice little bar just down the street from the hotel, literally a 30 second walk, we find ourselves in there eating and drinking and getting an early night before the show. I’ve never been to Adelaide before, but true to form, because we’re here for two nights and one day essentially, we don’t get out and see anything, apart from JJ, who has a little stroll up the street for a bit of shopping…all riveting stuff…such is the life of the touring band sometimes. The last time the band we here was in 1979, and there was an altercation with the local plod (Jet Black at the helm of that one I’m led to believe…sounds about right…) resulting in the whole group being nicked and escorted out of town the next day. Thankfully attitudes have changed over the last 30 something years, and we don’t get any grief whatsoever, only a large enthusiastic crowd and a good show. Everyone is feeling the effects of the whirlwind like schedule, apart from me really, having had a week to get acclimatised before everyone else lands. There are a few cranky souls about but in general the mood is good. We play very well and encore smoothly, and reckon that Adelaide will definitely be on the next schedule when we return…whenever that is…
The last show. Tomorrow JJ, myself and Gary our tour manager are embarking on a road trip with some Triumph motorcycles we’ve been loaned, down to the southern part of Western Australia. The idea is to visit a vineyard or two, chill out, and just generally lark about at the end of what has been a very busy 3 months for us…with a months’ rehearsal in February and two tours at opposite ends of the planet in March and April. It’s our little treat to ourselves, and an opportunity to ride in a country where we wouldn’t ordinarily get the chance. And to those ends we’ve been introduced to some folks, albeit by email only at this point, friends of friends, who are going to look after us and help us in the week ahead…but we’ve never met them. So an hour before the gig, JJ and I find ourselves in a strange house in Freemantle with strange folks, having a drink and shooting the breeze. It feels like a dream actually, as we realise that the last three months of hard work are coming to an end and we’re about to go riding into the unknown…we don’t know any of these people, yet here we are in their home, putting ourselves into their care as if they’re old pals…As it happens, over the next week we’re overwhelmed by the hospitality of J.A., Susie, Linz and Lucy, who become very fast friends and who are the easiest going and loveliest of people…nothing was too much trouble, and by the end I felt like I’d known them for years..
But back to the gig… The Metropolis is another famous old gig in these parts, and somehow there’s 1200 people inside it. There’s a feeling that comes over you at moments like this…you’ve done the tour, you’ve been playing consistently for weeks and are very match fit, and you know there’s a room full of expectant people who’ve come to see you, most of them, for the very first time… I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to say that you can’t fail, but there’s a certain swagger and confidence that comes with these types of gigs…very far from home, where you just think, “here we are…and we’ve done it”…hard to explain, but I hope you know what I mean. And so it proves. The place goes truly nuts…It’s Saturday night in Freemantle, and they’re all out…mostly rock fans of course, but there’s a fair smattering of poseurs who just love to be seen in the hippest of places, at the hippest of gigs. Sometimes there’s a light or a shadow falling right, or just the positioning of someone out in the crowd, that makes you notice them for the whole gig…or at least makes you aware of them. People in the crowd would be amazed to know what we can see…we can see everything. There’s a guy up on the balcony with a checked shirt on and a jumper tied around his shoulders, an easy target for a start dressed like that, and he’s been the life and soul of his little group of admirers for most of the gig…and he’s watched the band for probably all of five minutes…fair enough…he’s paid his money (or has he?) and he’s free to spend the evening as he sees fit…but I notice he’s beginning to irritate quite a number of people around him, and it’s time to single him out. JJ’s noticed him too, and he and I exchange knowing glances as he senses what’s about to happen. We finish a song, and I start to draw attention to the guy…but he’s so wrapped up in himself that it takes a good couple of minutes of people shouting at him, nudging him and pointing in our direction, before he gets the message and shuts himself up…to the jeers and boos of the crowd…he then gives me the finger and storms out…to rapturous applause…I could’ve left him alone…but that’s not in my nature… Likewise the very drunk woman just down to my left who kept shouting that she wanted to come up onstage and dance…when I finally took the piss out of her once too often she became very abusive and signalled what she’d like to do to me, something involving a dragging motion across her throat…lovely…Once we came out for the encore she’d calmed down and I duly invited her up with us…seems she’d drowned her sorrows a bit too much at not being invited earlier and as she was climbing over the barrier the light in her eyes finally went out and she keeled over…last seen being carried out over the heads by big tattooed bouncers with one of her shoes missing…well I did try…
Afterwards the dressing room is full of friends and crew and as we all disperse into the outside area for some air, we reflect on a great and very worthwhile tour. It’s been a little over three years since we were last down this way, as special guests to someone else, and it’s been great to know that we can still come down and sell out in our own right. Dave and the crew all fly out the next day, Gary goes to visit family in Freemantle for an evening, and JJ and I head north on the bikes to stay with the previously mentioned folks in a remote cabin on a beach looking out over the Indian Ocean.
The following day Gary rode up to meet us. The weather was so bad that we couldn’t do anything riding wise, so we had to wait it out until the next day. That wasn’t ideal either but we decided we’d waited long enough and with only a few days to play with anyway, struck out for the south, and a town called Dunsborough, about 350 km from our position. We got saturated almost immediately but stuck it out, eventually riding into the sun, and got to Dunsborough in the late afternoon. Chancing upon a restaurant called Clancy’s Fish Pub seemed too good to be true, but there it was, and so after a thorough drying out we went there for fish and beer…(with a mad biker taxi driver who talked incessantly and told us the weather had been perfect for months and we’d picked the wrong week to be riding) just what we needed after a long day on the bikes.
The following day we were invited on a wine tasting tour with a designated driver and a whacky husband and wife guide team…they had a cooler in the car with special unspillable glasses, and we’d had a couple of glasses before we’d even got where we were going… Gary, not being much of a drinker these days, opted out and went for a solo ride up the coast…he got saturated. JJ and I got merry and spent an inordinate amount of money on wine…to be shipped home…oops a daisy… The last I remember of that day was driving down a dirt track at dusk, looking for kangaroos…even Aussies still get a kick out of seeing them…
The next day we rode back up to Freemantle, about 260 km, and got saturated… JJ and Gary rode into a grey curtain of rain about 75 yards ahead of me, and just completely disappeared…I’ve never ridden in rain like it…and probably never will again. We returned the machines to the shop in Perth (JCS Motorcycles Perth…thank you very much…and in case you’re wondering, Gary had a Bonneville T100, JJ had a Thruxton, and I had a Tiger 1050…all nice bikes in their way…the idea was for us to swap and ride each other’s bikes, but we got attached to our own and kept them for the duration) and were taken to a lovely place in Freemantle to dry out and relax…I fell asleep in the car…just couldn’t keep my eyes open a second longer. It wasn’t exactly the dream trip we’d been looking forward to, but it was a great experience and we all admitted we were glad we did it…very funny too… One final thank you again to all the people we met who helped in whatever way, professionally or otherwise, on whatever day…you all helped to make our journey a very smooth and memorable one…We shall return.
BAZ / MAY 2016
Thanks to Baz for writing yet another entertaining blog detailing the band’s travels around the world & also cheers to all the British fans who treked halfway across the globe to see the band down under. Respect! Thanks also to the various people who provided the photos used in this blog: Baz, JJ, Gaz K, Louie N, Andi L, Chris Warne, Rob O and Sarah J