The Stranglers @ O2 Academy, Birmingham – 13 March 2010

Formed as the Guildford Stranglers in 1974, one of the most successful bands of the last 35 or so years are seventies punk icons The Stranglers.

Having notched up an impressive 23 UK top 40 singles and 17 UK top 40 albums in a career spanning five decades, the original line-up minus Hugh Cornwell (replaced by John Ellis in 1990, who was later replaced by Baz Warne in 2000) have recently taken to the road with a 16 date UK Tour promoting the greatest hits album ‘Decades Apart’.

The legendary ‘Waltz in Black’ bellows from the PA prior to the men in black entering the stage to get proceedings underway with ‘(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)’. This is the first time I’ve seen The Stranglers, and of course it would be fantastic to see key figure Hugh Cornwell belting out the numerous hits that I and the mostly mature audience would remember so well. However, bassist JJ Burnel and guitarist Baz Warne alternate vocals with appropriate style and passion, with the tone and delivery of Warne coming very close to that of Cornwell.

As well as the new single “Retro Rockets”, tonight’s set-list is a non-stop hit machine which includes ‘Skin Deep’, ‘Strange Little Girl’, ‘Golden Brown’, ‘Nice ‘n’ Sleazy’, and the massive hit, with mildly sexual content that was so controversial back in 1977: ‘Peaches’. Warne adapting the lyrics: “I can think of a lot worse places to be. Like down in the street. Or down in the sewer. Or even in the Bullring with no sat-nav”, going down very well with the Birmingham crowd.

Drummer Jet Black is 71 years old, but regardless of his advanced years and recent health issues, his jazz influenced drumming is still as unique and powerful as ever. Anybody starting out on the drums would do well to listen to this man, playing both economically and franticly, as and when required. Along with Dave Greenfield on keyboard, these two guys give the band their melodic twist and instantly recognisable sound.

The band are on stage for an hour and a half, playing the likes of ‘Down in the Sewer’, ‘Always the Sun’, ‘Go Buddy Go’, ‘Duchess’ and ‘Walk on By’. Songs that make me feel sorry for the youth of today and the constant stream of pretentious, manufactured rubbish that makes the UK top 40!

Things come to a close with the first of two encores: ‘Five Minutes’ and ‘Something Better Change’. I had been sceptical about this performance, I didn’t really know what to expect. But as the band return for ‘Hanging Around’ and probably their greatest hit ‘No More Heroes’, I realise exactly how enjoyable the pleasure had been. The Stranglers have been hanging around for quite some time, but if truth be known, there are very few such heroes of rock ‘n’ roll that one can see perform in 2010.

Review & Photography: Steve Johnston