The Stranglers at Scunthorpe Baths Hall

Tuesday night in Scunthorpe and the Baths Hall is pretty well full for a visit from The Stranglers, a band who, after nearly forty-five years in the business are still touring regularly and who as far as live performances go, seem to be riding a wave. It’s chilly out but inside the crowd is warming up nicely.

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Support comes from the always excellent Dr Feelgood although we may have to cut them some slack on this particular night because vocalist Robert Kane is proper poorly. Rather than cancel the show he transfers much of his vocal duties to guitarist Steve Walwyn and the result is a show which, if not peak Feelgood, (and how long could we argue about just when that was?), is still a very fine slice of crunchy rock and blues. Even when afflicted the Feelgoods have an energy and panache that many newer bands would do well to emulate. Highlights include Milk And Alcohol, Down To The Doctor and Roxette and they tie things up very nicely thank you with a blistering Route 66. As if we could ever forget Winona. She was great.

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There being no new Stranglers album to promote, not even an addition to their extensive range of archive live performances, theirs is basically a greatest hits show but with hits like these who’s complaining? The band have been on great form for a couple of years now, gathering rave reviews wherever they go.

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Last time I saw them was at The Engine Shed in Lincoln three or four years ago the show was a much more subdued and minimalist affair but this time they’ve invested in some smart looking staging, a backdrop of a tunnel filled with stagnant water and fallen masonry and some spinning air vents which light up from time to time giving the whole thing the feeling of one of those video games where you have to start by escaping through the sewers, fighting rats and goblins on the way. Add some nice lighting effects and it makes for a great show especially since the band are on great form.

Guitarist and vocalist Baz Warne certainly seems up for it, winding up the front rows by observing that the band have never played Scunthorpe befoe and ignoring shouts of “Yes you have”. He then proceeds to take an old joke for a new walk by enquiring how the thorpe got into Scunthorpe and then explaining that it was of course by way of the Vikings, who used it to indicate a settlement or small town. New arrivals could be forgiven for thinking that they have wandered by accident into a local history talk. As for the rest of the name? He shrugs. “Who can say. There’s cunts everywhere.”

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And so the scene is set for an evening of great music and good natured joshing that kicks off nicely with Waltz In Black as an intro, leading into the rough and tumble of Goodbye Toulose.

The legendary Jet Black, although officially a member of the band, no longer tours and on the road drumming duties have been taken up by Jim Macauley who has clearly made a close study of the master’s work because the distinctive patterns and changing time signatures that marked the band out from their contemporaries and rivals are all present and correct.

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Of course what sets The Stranglers apart is the interplay of the swivel hipped JJ Burnel’s melodic basslines and Dave Greenfield’s swirling baroque keyboards. Hidden behind a multi tiered keyboard stack only the top of Greenfield’s head is visible, making him look rather like the entree at one of those restaurants where you eat monkey brains through a hole in the table. He and Burnel are on great form and there is no sense of anyone just going through the motions here. It’s all full on stuff.

As for the highlights, well I wish I was knowledgable enough to pick out a really obscure album track and comment on how it differs from its original incarnation but the truth is I really like Always The Sun, and it’s going to be my favourite at any Stranglers show I go to. I sing it badly and loudly for most of the car ride home.

So there you go. If you get the chance to catch The Stranglers on this tour I’d grab it if I were you because as elder statesmen of the punk generation go, there aren’t many better around.

Images in nicer quality at Dr Feelgood | The Stranglers

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