Now that the dust has settled after the recent tour, here are some of my thoughts for what they are worth.
Gigs at The Roundhouse, if nothing else, provide an excuse for a half day in the office which in turn provide the opportunity for a pre-gig meal and a few beers ahead of the main event. As you know so well, new set lists are a closely guarded secret within The Stranglers' camp until the first night. Now personally I am not one to go all out to avoid situations where set spoilers are likely to crop up and that is just as well as Pigeon revealed all (not in that way!) on social media within a few hours of the band leaving the stage in Brighton! Nevertheless, even with a full knowledge of the set list, just the anticipation of hearing these songs, some for the first time ever, was enough for me.
The first surprise was Walzinblack which had been given a military makeover completely in keeping with the March On theme (although Baz's grip on military terminology.... 'Company Halt!, Battalion Commence!' was never going to earn him his CSM stripes!). The band then launched themselves out of the blocks with the dream sequence of the 'Longships' to 'The Raven' segue. This admittedly was not as much of a surprise as it could have been by virtue of the fact that fans have been talking about such an opening for a number of years now. To my ears 'Longships' sounded a little clunky in London, but what the hell, this is what we wanted and this is what we got. A great start!
More surprises were to follow with the reintroduction of 'Nice In Nice'. As one of the songs from my earlier times with the band it was great to hear it again and perhaps a couple more songs from the mid-eighties period could be considered for next time... 'Dreamtime' itself would be great! Soon to follow were two gems on the bounce, none other than 'Four Horsemen' and 'The Man They Love To Hate'. The latter sadly did not survive in the set beyond the first few dates as the band concluded that it wasn't coming together properly. For my part (as a mere punter with somewhat compromised hearing) it sounded just fine, but then again I would always favour a flawed rarity in the set over a tried and tested 'safe' regular.
'The Man They Love To Hate'
5th March 2015
(thanks Andy Miller)
Another guest appearance (and again one with a short half-life) was 'Ice', which together with 'Longships', 'The Raven', 'Baroque Bordello', 'Genetix' and 'Duchess' made for the most 'Raven' heavy set played by the band since, well The Raven tour I suppose. Personally I would have thrown in 'Don't Bring Harry' and 'Nuclear Device' for good measure, but hey you can't have it all can you?
The remainder of the set was a well balanced mix of old and new, with a leaning towards old, although 'Norfolk Coast' was reasonably well represented across the tour with 'I've Been Wild', 'Lost Control' as well as the title track included.
One of the gig (and tour highlights) was of course 'Down In The Sewer' which took me back to the gigs in my early 20's when I could be found at the front stripped to the waist leaping about for all I was worth. These days I can manage a sedate bounce and the T-shirt stays on! The song is and always will be the band's finest moment and here it was perfect in all but one respect in that 'Rats Rally' was in need of another couple of loops, as it stood it sounded rather truncated.
Next up for the tour was The Cambridge Corn Exchange. Never a favourite of mine, the venue is badly laid out (especially to a gig goer who likes a pint but has a small bladder!) and can be pretty soulless. But, it is only 25 minutes from home and it was my birthday, so it had to be done. The evening didn't start so well as I nearly entered into a fight with some moron who, despite being only 10 feet from the PA, insisted on having more personal space than a Hollywood A-lister at a premier. He proceed to protect and even extend his safe haven by pushing back into Gunta and I. Harsh words were said, but blows were not exchanged. In the event I was quite comfortable as I knew how to pick my fights, he was a short-arse too, besides which I was also standing next to a recently svelte, six-foot something oil rigger! Any way it was a storm in a tea cup and the bloke was last seen filming 'Golden Brown' before presumably finding more space elsewhere. The rest of the gig was passed very enjoyably indeed.... for Cambridge.
A big gap followed until the excursion north for the Scottish dates, two of which would be firsts for me, namely Aberdeen and Kilmarnock. After uneventful flight (always the best ones I think) we settled into the hire car and headed to the west of the city for breakfast with sometime photographer David Boni before clearing Glasgow with a north easterly bearing towards Falkirk to pick up more playmates. The road to Aberdeen was new to me so it was with great interest that I passed Stirling Castle, The Wallace Monument and the battlefield of Bannockburn, as well as many other conurbations familiar to me only through the Classified Football Results on a Saturday afternoon!
Upon locating the venue, 30 minutes were killed by a walk along the beach. For someone who grew up near Brighton, Aberdeen promenade is rather unfamiliar as it left me wondering at which point did the lowering sky and the angry waves of a grey North Sea actually meet?
'The northern seas are cold......'
...... as indeed are the beaches!
In contrast the warm interior of the Beach Ballroom was most welcome as was a cup of tea and a rich tea biscuit! Musically to hear 'Longships' and 'Nice In Nice' in a soundcheck setting was an additional treat.
The venue itself is certainly worthy of comment. The Beach Ballroom is an art deco ballroom on the sea front famed for its steel sprung dance floor (the bounce of which was not lost on either band or crew). Constructed in 1926 of local granite (no surprises there!) the venue has also played host to The Beatles, Cream and Pink Floyd.
The Beach Ballroom, Aberdeen
The gig itself was a belter, clearly enjoyed by audience and band alike. Jet was not present so set changes were inevitable. One further gem took the form of 'Dead Ringer' which gave Dave Greenfield yet more opportunity to 'croon' during this 'March On' tour, 'Genetix' and 'Four Horsemen' being his other hits!
Next morning I awoke with a head as heavy as the Aberdeen skyline, all thanks to an uncharacteristic journey into the world of shots. The preceding pints of course played no part in creating this malaise I was experiencing. On the journey back to Glasgow those towns of the lower Scottish football leagues passed unnoticed as I tried to sleep off this sambuca and Jägermeister induced pain!
Suitably recovered by early afternoon we returned the hire car and took a shuttle bus back into Glasgow city centre for more of the same. Tonight's gig was to be in Kilmarnock and transportation was well organised with a bus, a Wonkae bus you could call it, to and from the venue. The gig was taking place in another notable venue, the Grand Hall, formerly the town's library and reading room. Along with the Beach Ballroom, give me character venues like these any day over yet another O2 Academy.
The Grand Hall, Kilmarnock
27th March 2015
The band loved this one again and I have to say that for me this was the gig of my tour.
The following day, with a clearer head than was the case 24 hours previously, I took the advantage of an early walk up Sauchiehall Street since our hotel was on the corner at one end. An address of 518 was my destination, the reason, this is the home of the Royal Highland Fusiliers, this merged regiment incorporated the Royal Scots Fusiliers with whom my Grandfather fought in 1944-45 (http://jameskitchenerheath5051929.blogspot.co.uk/). Sauchiehall Street is a long road and 518 was a pretty long way from the hotel, so it was a real disappointment to get there to see a locked grill across the front of the building and an apologetic sign which stated 'It is with regret that we are currently unable to open at weekends'..... oh arse!
Finally, the culmination of this jaunt was also the last night of the tour at the O2 Academy in Glasgow and as for the previous two nights the band delivered a crackling set. The stand out moment tonight was the inclusion of 'Go Buddy Go' in the set, a song about which JJ seems to be quite reticent. Perhaps lyrically the song appears a little dated but nevertheless it remains one of the most potent songs that the band can play live and I hope that we haven't seen the last of it.
Until the summer then....