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The Stranglers, forty years hanging around | FESTIVALPHOTO

The Stranglers, forty years hanging around



The very important remainders of its original lineup alive and kicking, The Stranglers –JJ Burnel in bass, Dave Greenfield on the keys and the venerable Jet Black (born Brian Duffy) on drums, plus Baz Warne on guitar and lead vocals– are out on their 40th Anniversary tour: the illustrious punk ‘camerata’ who, some say, sang the original angst of the movement using more brains than fellow initiators The Clash, Sex Pistols and The Damned together, are likely to be preparing their swan song.

To celebrate such ruby anniversary, their official website features the heartfelt appreciation Burnel has of the unkind treatment they consider to have received from the press since 1976, after a communal altercation between the band in one corner, and in the other none other than Joey Ramone, Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols, and Paul Simonon of the Clash. As a result they have passed almost unnoticed through the history of punk, and that is precisely what has allowed The Stranglers sing and say whatever they pleased during the last forty years. The recently remodeled Hammersmith –erm, Eventim– Apollo was duly dolled up for the occasion while the band’s followers, of every imaginable age and enthused by their idols’ visit, were profusely moisturising the throats which would roar for more than two hours: an unstoppable version of London Lady, with the same brutal force the legend describes the band’s primal presentations [Little lady with Dingwalls bullshit / you're so stupid , allegedly a line dedicated to Cornwell’s casual lover and today 's noted journalist Catherine Coon] blew the audience’s minds. In lieu of the original drumming by Jet Black because of his known health problems, the band's stand-in drummer Jim McCauley paved the rhythmic way for JJ Burnel to shoot heavy aural artillery and crack the night open, making bodies and brains shake to the point that honorable, allegedly ageing ladies –we personally witnessed this– began to pounce against the security fences, trying to climb over them as if they would have in 1974. To terminate any doubt on the strength of such overwhelming initial impact, the band found no better option to keep people jumping with a glorious and frenzied No More Heroes, and the more discreet but no less vibrant Coup de Grace / SOS.

From then on it was all a continuum of samples straight from The Stranglers’ distinguished yet timeless back catalogue: Summat Outanowt, a recent pearl from the Suite XVI which made everyone dance and certainly one of the reasons why the band has crossed over onto the new generations, and Peaches, sensuous result of certain Jamaican influences Burnel and Cornwell fell for –not only musical, of course– which rocked the pre-Thatcherite morals of the summer of ’77 and went to become an anthem of the era’s effervescence. At the pit, some voices were expressing their allegiance to Stranglers with Hugh Cornwell tunes while others seemed to favour the songs by the post-Cornwell Stranglers. Jet Black settled the dispute walking into the stage to pick up the sticks, using them with the poise and wisdom required by Golden Brown –understandable given his heart condition, and predictable due to the expectation to see the living legend in action, even if generously adapted to his circumstances. But no: 75-old Mr Duffy must have smoked more oxygen than usual and remained in the saddle to play, now more briskly, the haunting Always The Sun and the speedy syncopations of Genetix, to a general applause which left the zenith of the evening immersed in a mixture of nostalgia and real presence. Jet once again gave the chair back to McCauley, and what came next was the total capitulation of the proletariat to the beat of Tramp, a monumental Skin Deep, the suggestive Nice 'N Sleazy –including actual footage of the scandalous 1978 Battersea Park concert, where four professional dancers and Burnel’s sister in law stripped before thousands of people– and, of course, the mandatory grand finale, Hanging Around.

Of course the fans expressed no wish to return to reality just like that, and demanded a decent farewell by summoning the legendary drum man again. Noblesse oblige, Mr Duffy sat on his percussive throne again to see people off with Norfolk Coast, Something Better Change, All Day And All Of The Night and, in a second encore, Tank. The party ended as an emotionally charged dance party, with the dark shadow of retirement looming over the band according to latest reports. Anyhow, the crowds started the way back home with the smile of those who feel part of history; they had been witnesses at a gig full of forty years of popular music history come alive.

Skribent: Alejandro Telleria-Torres
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