It’s that time of year again. The last day of the 6 Nations Rugby. The F1 Motor Racing season starts shortly. Spring is well on the way. And like a clock that is set the same time every year – it is time to tack a trip to Brum, to the o2 Academy, as the Men In Black are back – say the Brummie annual hello to The Stranglers.
The o2 Academy is busy tonight – gigs on in all three venues and, year on year, the audience grows for the annual event with Burnel and the boys. Tonight’s support comes from London boys and reggae-inspired punk rude boys Ruts DC. A welcome to the “Good people of Birmingham and surrounding areas….” These Londoners are a good fit as support – be-hatted, the reggae punks show that their snarling political lyrics and punk attitude hasn’t deserted them with age. The original Ruts we short-lived, just 3 years, and a journey of incarnations with highs and lows. Ruts DC came back in the late noughties – Segs, Ruffy and Heggarty releasing new album ‘Music Must Destroy’ in 2016 and this tour with The Strangers before further solo dates later this year. Tonight it is their biggest hit from 1979, ‘Babylons Burning’, band as tight and angry as they were in the day, that goes down best with the crowd – we sing and they get a rapturous applause. “See ya. Enjoy The Stranglers Right? I will.” And they do – the be-hatted band wanders the audience during the main act’s set.
So bang on 9 – it’s the cheekily impish ‘Waltzinblack.’ THE intro to THE men in black. J.J. Burnel, Baz Warne, Dave Greenfield and Jim Macaulay (aka) The Stranglers take to the stage. Burnel stands above the crowd bass in hand, broad grin on face, and sets the band off ans they mean to go on: ‘The Raven’, before snarling down the mic for ‘Was It You?’ he questions menacingly. The warm and friendly Warne welcomes the punters…“Well here we are again…. another Sat night in Birmingham, how the f***** hell are you?”
And boom! ‘(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)‘. “ooooooooooo” the audience go, already having a blast. The Stranglers may now have been going 40 odd plus years, but the crowd is eclectic, teenagers to pensioners, rockers, punks, and everyone from every walk of life in between. And their set tonight covers everything, from snarling punk, to poptastic commonality, to beautifully glorious. ‘Nice ‘n’ Sleazy’ does what it says on the tin – and then to a trio of the Stranglers at their most commercial ‘Always The Sun’ gets the crowd singing, alarms in the air, an uplifting vibe to Summers approach, ‘Strange Little Girl’ and then the gloriously beautiful, with twinkled light effects ‘Golden Brown.’ We sing.
Then back to snarly punk with ‘Bear Cage.’ At the set rolls on, in frenetic fashion,’ Warne quips as a punter is pulled from the crowd at the front of the set; “World’s oldest punk rocker carried out of the gig….some people never learn do they?” A whole new meaning to the word’s silver surfer. Someone shouts get on with it….. the band look at him. Promptly taking off they guitars and grabbing a beer. Think you’ll find matey, it is The Stranglers who are the band who are ALWAYS in charge of proceedings. And then we’re back on it ‘Walk On By…’
Burnel remains one of the BEST bass players out there and with some great riffs to play – bam bam bam on the bass – and it’s ‘Peaches.’ Sadly, no appearance of the legendary Jet Black now 78 and not in the best of health, his touring days are sadly over, drumming duties are courtesy of local Brummie Macaulay – as we’re into ‘Genetix’. ‘Down in the Sewer‘ rolls and rolls and gets faster and faster into a whirling dervish – and a completion to the main set.
Back on for just two (‘Relentless’ is dropped) and first up frenetic ‘Go Buddy Go’. A man in front of us is relentlessly pogoing, and has been for several songs. Then Burnel, front of the stage again, massive grin on his face, slaps his bass. We know what’s coming. ‘No More Heroes.’ Ends boom, with house lights up, to rapturous applause. Warne sums the night up as the band bid farewell: “Absolutely f***** fantastic Birmingham….!”
Our annual fix – we have big grins on our faces. The Stranglers always go down epically in Brum, it’s a kinda homecoming for them. WHY are these guys still out touring? Because THEY. LOVE. IT. As much as we do.
And like a good wine, they just get better and better with age. The Stranglers remain uncompromising, they they do it their way, and let us in on the ride. They’ll be back in 12 months. Right here. In Birmingham. Probably the same date. It’s in me diary already. No more heroes anymore? Pah. I’ve (yet again) just seen THE Men In Black!
Was It You
(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)
Nice ‘n’ Sleazy
Never Look Back
Always the Sun
Strange Little Girl
Who Wants the World?
Walk On By
Freedom Is Insane
Down in the Sewer
Go Buddy Go
No More Heroes