History: the meninblack- A fan’s tour diary
February and March 1981 saw the band touring the UK to promote their latest album The Gospel According To The Meninblack. Phil Coxon has written a diary of the ups and downs he experienced whilst following the band on this 23 date trek.
Just over 30 years ago, the band undertook a tour to promote the release of The Gospel According To The Meninblack. Phil Coxon (right) from Derby decided to attempt the 23 date tour across England and Scotland in February and March of 1981. He was only 18 at the time. Here’s his diary of roughing it to see the band:
Hello fellow Stranglerites! Having just read Colin’s diary from the recent tour, it got me thinking of my own experiences of following The Stranglers in the very early 80’s. Speaking to JJ at the time, he mentioned that I should write a tour diary and, as it’s the 30th anniversary of the tour, I thought it would nice to mark the occasion…
I’d already seen them a few times, first at Stafford Bingley Hall ‘78, then Loch Lomond and Wembley with the Who ’79 and the Rainbow gigs in ’80. Then I decided to go on the ‘Who Wants The World’ tour in summer 1980 with a friend. I really enjoyed the tour and was already looking forward to the next one.
Later that year dates were announced for ‘The Meninblack’ tour to coincide with the release of ‘The Gospel…’ the following February. It’s this tour that I’ve chosen to write a diary about:
The date I’d been waiting for! So with a bag packed with a change of clothes, sleeping bag, toothbrush and the all important Young Persons Railcard I was on my way to Bristol Temple Meads for the gig that night at the Locarno. I arrived nice and early to enjoy a few beers and get in the mood and then it was off to the venue where my good friend Mick was joining me later.
Got to the Locarno early afternoon, there’s already a fair few black clad fans around. The doors were open so we all just walked in and, pretty soon, the band arrived. They all seemed in good spirits and were obviously looking forward to the tour. I managed to have a good chat with JJ, who I’d met a few times on the previous tour, and explained I had to leave to meet my friend and would I be able to get back in the venue. All of a sudden he and their American manager Eddie Kleinman produced a tour pass!
WOW, I was speechless, this was amazing. Stayed to see the soundcheck, it was quite amusing too see the bewildered looks on the faces of the venue’s security as the band ran through Meninblack. So feeling very happy I was off to meet Mick and then back for the show.
The lights dim and through the cheers can be heard Waltzinblack and on they come straight into Threatened swiftly followed by The Raven. What a start! Two of my time favourites! I don’t need to go through the whole set, I’m sure you all know it well enough. Plenty of highlights Toiler, Baroque Bordello, Tank, Shah Shah into Hallow To Our Men and finally JJ’s thundering bass in Genetix.
What a show! Left the venue on a high, but now we had the problem where are we sleeping? So it’s back off to Temple Meads Station and a night spent in the waiting room. It was cold but who cares.
Wake up next morning amongst quite a few other sleepers in black and then it’s on the train and off to Plymouth for the next gig at the Poly. Take a walk around the town and wait in the hall, just killing time. That’s the main problem with touring, apart from not knowing where you’re going to sleep, you’re basically killing time. Another good show followed by another night in the railway station waiting room.
Wednesday February 11th Southampton Gaumont
Got there late morning and spend some time in the alternative clothes shop close to the Gaumont, where we bump into support band Modern Eon. Spend time talking to them, seem like really good set of lads with plenty of Scouse humour, so we make special effort to catch them on stage that night. Myself and Mick thought they were really good and we spent a lot of time with these lads and even went to see them a few times on their own tour later that year.
Phil on left (with Mick behind him) with Modern Eon
It was a better show tonight, The Stranglers were better and the crowd certainly was too, with quite a few good natured stage invaders.
Now its bedtime! Where is it going to be tonight? We can’t get into train station –there’s a jobsworth on the gate-so we end up at the local bus depot. We manage to get on one of the buses and sleep till about 5. It’s very cold tonight and we had to be up early as the buses would be going out. We just walk around ‘til it’s time to get the train to the next city…
Thursday February 12th Canterbury Odeon
Mick is 21 today so we decide to have a few beers that evening to celebrate. Then it’s off to the show, more good performances from the Eon’s and the MiB. Again we can’t find anywhere to sleep so we just walk around. Breakfast is a pint of milk about 5 in the morning off the local milky who gives us a rather strange look.
Train to Brighton, with one change on the way. We end up getting the wrong train but at least it was warm and it wasted some time. We’re both feeling pretty tired now but this is the last show before a day off and back home to be fed by mum and sleep in my bed. Oh, and also have a bath!
Great gig tonight, the venue is a night club and has a good atmosphere. After the gig, back to the station. There’s loads of fans waiting for trains back to London where we change, then train back home to Derby. The Young Persons Railcard has saved a lot of money! This was in the good old days of rail travel when there was only one fare and, with the railcard, it was half price. Not the minefield that is trying to travel by train today.
So, that’s the first week over! It’s been a great start, looking forward to the next week.
Saturday 14th February Day Off
Time to rejuvenate the body, good sleep in my own bed and fed by mum ready for the next date.
Day return to London on the train. The ranks are swelled by Dean, Steve, Chris and Dave who are all keen fans. Dean became my main companion to this day. Great gig, sold out, very lively crowd. Unfortunately so were the security! Night train back to Derby for work on Monday. The majority of this week’s gigs were close enough to home to return straight after the gig and go to work.
Monday 16th February Birmingham Odeon
A few faces are beginning to look familiar and who’s names we get to know. There’s Dave from Cheshire, who we had met in 1980, Fiona from Slough and Gary Bainbridge from Newcastle, who came to watch the Stranglers on tour and ended up working on the merchandise stall. He then spent a couple of years with S.I.S.–a really good lad.
Tuesday 17th February Hanley Victoria Halls
The first gig missed! Hanley, one of the towns that make up Stoke-on-Trent, is the second closest venue to our home but, unfortunately, the train links are very poor. The last train back was about 21.00 so the Derbys-in-black fail to attend. Gutted!
Wednesday 18th February Sheffield Polytechnic
The venue was just across from the rail station. Another good show, quite a small venue-train back home and work the next day.
Thursday 19th February Nottingham Rock City
The Stranglers make the first of many visits to Rock City. It’s an excellent venue and there’s always a good atmosphere. Another good crowd and see the same familiar faces. Late train and back home for work again.
The band’s Rock City debut 19th Feb ’81
Friday 20th February Liverpool University
Caught the train straight after work up to Liverpool. It’s the Eons’ home city so we’re expecting a bit of a partisan home crowd for the support band. Unfortunately it doesnt seem the case. Nevertheless, they’re still very watchable and it’s yet another good show from the MiB. It’s a long journey home with a couple of changes. Arrive back in Derby about 06.00 go to work again.
Manchester is not easy to get back from by train so Dean’s dad drives myself, Dean and Mick and brings us back home! Another sell out and an absolutely cracking gig. The Apollo becomes one of my favourite venues, there’s a good pub right next door that also helps!
That’s the second week over! Even though we’ve managed to get home after every gig, its been pretty hectic and tiring but nonetheless
Tomorrow is a day off before another week off work to see the northern leg of the tour.
Monday 23rd February Durham University
The start of the 3rd week. I have taken the week off work as all gigs this week are in northern England and Scotland. I catch the train to Durham and arrive early afternoon. I’m travelling alone to this gig as Mick is joining me tomorrow.
Walk through the city to the uni. I’m struck how beautiful it is, hang around on the campus chatting to Dave and Fiona who arrived later. Another good show by the lads and quite a lively crowd.
Had a bit of a recce at the train station when I arrived to look for a possible bed for the night. That proved fruitful as I managed to get into the waiting room and spent the night there. I wasn’t alone as there were a couple of stranded fans there also, so we had a good chat like Stranglers’ fans always do. Even if you’ve never met before you feel like friends or, as Colin said in his diary, like minded souls.
Tuesday 24th February Edinburgh Playhouse
Get there late morning and walk to the venue, another lovely city. Plenty of time to kill so go and wait backstage chatting to the caterers who very kindly offer me dinner. I gratefully accept and it was very nice indeed. I didn’t mind washing a few dishes in return. As you may have noticed, there haven’t been many mentions of food in this diary, mainly because, apart from the odd burger, bacon sarnie or Kentucky, not a lot was consumed…
Mick arrives and it’s time for the gig! Apart from the Loch Lomond festival, it’s my first time seeing the band in Scotland and I am immediately struck by the atmosphere. Even before the gig, it was just electric. Best gig so far and definately best crowd so far. Mind you, it was that cold in there they had to do something to keep warm!!! As you all know by now, a pretty decent bootleg came out of this gig.
Go backstage and have a chat with JJ who comes up with the idea of doing a diary (they do say better late than never!). Now it’s time to find a bed and we struck lucky. For anybody who’s not been to the Playhouse, it’s built on a hill and the rear of the building is a lot higher than the front with many little rooms off various corridors. We manage to lock ourselves in one of the rooms and look forward to a better than expected night’s sleep. Unfortunately Mick has a cough and starts spluttering while
security are still there! Someone tries the door but luckily we locked it from the inside. Eventually they disappear and we manage to get a decent sleep.
Morning arrives, how do we get out? All the doors are chained so we make our way to the front entrance when all of a sudden a big alsatian bounds towards us barking his head off! SHIT! What do we do? Luckily, the night caretaker calls him off- PHEW! ‘Er, sorry mate we, er, got locked in last night and fell asleep’ we explained. ‘Ok lads, on yer way’ he said and off we go and have a good laugh outside.
Wednesday 25th February Glasgow Apollo
Get to the venue in good spirits following the previous night. The caterers need some help at the cash and carry so we go along and help out there, anything to kill some time. Get back to the Apollo just in time to see the soundcheck where the band do a pretty poor version of Heroes before launching into an instantly catchy new one, with great bass and keyboards. Well it is the Stranglers what do you expect? One of the caterers comments how much he liked it. The track finds it’s way onto La Folie–Everybody loves you when you’re dead–the future looks good.
On with the show, could it be as good as last night? Yes, it could! Another very lively crowd but, as the Stranglers and their fans have found out previously, the Glasgow security don’t like to see the fans having a good time and make their presence felt. There was no trouble, just kids enjoying themselves. Anyway it’s another great show.
Mick is travelling back to Derby tonight so I’m left alone to find a bed. I hang around the venue until everyone has left. The night caretaker sees me looking a bit sorry for myself and let’s me sleep in the stalls. He wakes me about 8 in the morning. That was much appreciated! It’s time to leave Scotland. It’s been a very interesting and enjoyable couple of dates.
The venue is in the nightclub style, have a look round and decide to treat myself to a Kentucky. Go back to the venue to see Modern Eon. There’s a bit of hostility towards them tonight, the first time I’ve witnessed any so far. Their roadie quickly makes his way to the culprits and, even though he was outnumbered, he soon shut them up. Another good night from both bands with another lively crowd. The band coming to Waltzinblack works a treat. Even though they have totally omitted anything from Rattus or Heroes, it’s still a great set and all the crowds seem to approve. The venue is emptying fast, I spot a possible bedroom and manage to lock myself inside until about 9.00am.
Friday 27th February Lancaster University
Get to Lancaster about midday. It’s a long walk to the uni. Have a chat with the roadies as they set up and then go backstage where the caterers offer me dinner again. I gratefully make it dissapear and wash a few dishes again until Mick arrives. We sit chatting with Dave, Fiona and the Eons. Showtime arrives, lights dim and here it comes again Waltzinblack. What a classic this could become–if only i knew.
Another good gig. Then some clown thinks he’s watching the Pistols and keeps gobbing at JJ who not surprisingly gets a bit pissed off. He drops his bass and leaps into the crowd to, er, have a word with the prick, who manages to leg it as the crowd parts. JJ is unable to catch him and jumps back onstage to great cheers and they finish the set. We hang around as our train isn’t til 4 in the morning. We’re heading back to Derby and arrive home about 9.00 Saturday morning via Crewe.
Saturday 28th February Leeds University
Drop bag off quick change and on the train again to Crewe and onto Wrexham to watch Derby County play football. At least they are my home town team. Back to Derby after a good drink in Chester. I missed that nights gig in Leeds as there was no train late enough to get back to Derby afterwards. 2nd gig missed!
No gig today so play local League Sunday morning football and have a few beers and go home for dinner. I’m feeling a bit tired now so go to bed about 3 in the afternoon. Unfortunately I didn’t wake up until 7 the next evening! It takes a while to realise whats happening. Mum has fetched the Doctor who confines me to bed for a couple of days with exhaustion. This is a disaster!
I argue with parents that I’m feeling ok after a couple of days but that’s it, the tour is over for me. What an anti-climax! Three weeks of travelling, not sleeping or eating a lot, has obviously had its effect on my body. I’m feeling very dejected on missing the last few dates I soon cheer myself up by realising I’ve had an absolutely amazing three weeks!! I met some great people who I will never forget. I’ve sat in cold railway stations just talking about the Stranglers, which we all can for hours on end. People you’ve never met before suddenly become your best friends for a couple of hours thanks to one common denominator, our love of the Stranglers! If you are not one of the family, you may fail to understand.
I’d like to end with a few thanks: to the caterers for the food; Modern Eon for the music and laughs; Mick my regular companion; all the fans we met; and finally, The Stranglers, and especially JJ. Where would we be without them?
I hope you all enjoy reading this half as much as I have writing it. I know there isn’t an awful lot about the actual gigs but i can remember every other detail as if it was yesterday.
Did I do it again? You bet I did! November later that year, La Folie part one and there we were again!
Thanks to Phil for such an excellent and interesting read. No wonder he got exhaustion…
All photos & images courtesy of Phil (some live pics are from Feb 1982)