I am sure that I am in good company when I say that the tour was highly anticipated and perhaps even a bit of a distraction from all the shit that we have been going through for the longest time…. At least for those that complied with the rules.
Again like many others, when it finally became apparent that the probability of the tour going ahead I had to face the task of locating tickets for Stranglers gigs as well as several others that had been all but forgotten about as we entered that period of suspended animation. For someone as disorganised as myself this was quite a task involving trawling each and every possible ticket vendor with the inevitable requirement to reset long forgotten passwords on each account! It was so bad that I had lost track as to which gigs I had actually purchased tickets for. The physical tickets that I had in hand were for the second night at Brixton, Norwich (purchased at a time when our son, Rudi, was living in Norwich) and a newly issued Aberdeen ticket. Such was the delay to the tour schedule that my Brixton tickets, stored for safekeeping on our kitchen noticeboard, had been thoroughly bleached by sunlight over the course of two summers!
It has become something of a tradition over the past ten years or so to do all of the Scottish dates and that was not about to change. Packing for the tour, albeit minimalisticaly on account of Easyjet’s luggage policies felt like a completely alien task. The flight went well, although the approach into Aberdeen was a little too rocky for my liking.
As gigtime approached how wonderful it felt to be in the company of long term friends undertaking something that we all took so much for granted prior to COVID-19. Of course the commonplace appearance at the soundcheck was no longer a possibility as the band were existing in a COVID bubble or the duration of the tour (and as we know, even this was not enough to safeguard all of the gigs).
The great prospect of the tour for me was that the package remained intact and for the entirety of the tour my two favourite bands were on the bill. As an aside, I struggle here, although uncomplainingly, that Ruts DC have cemented such a strong touring relationship with The Stranglers with a couple of UK tours and antipodean dates under their collective belts. I would always have assumed that the natural touring partnership for Ruts DC would have been with The Damned, given their long association and unique relationship, but whilst Ruts DC have played with The Damned on numerous occasions since 2011 it has been The Stranglers that they have fallen in with on the touring front. I haven’t explored this further as I suspect that it is the wedge on offer that comes into play in such situations!
But let us leave the dirty subject of money aside. I was firmly positioned in front of the stage for the emergence of Ruts DC at 7.45 sharp. Segs opening remark on how good it felt to be back was shared by a good crowd for an early start… another obvious benefit of putting a band like Ruts DC in as tour support… these are the things that will bolster the recovery of our beleaguered music venues… give the punters value for money!
As ever the band delivered a note perfect set of old and new with a new ‘new’. ‘Born Innocent’ was unleashed on the Aberdeen crowd and I can say that it is cracking. To my (albeit gig-damaged) ears the song had elements of the material on ‘Animal Now’ which for me is great. One of the dilemmas I guess for a band such as Ruts DC who have, since taking the plunge again in 2011, been extraordinarily prolific on the recording front is what to include and what to exclude from the set. In this respect, I do miss the ‘Animal Now’ and'Rhythm Collision Vol. 1' material that the band relied upon early doors. The shortened support slot places further limitations on the band as there are certain songs that just have to be played. In this respect I look forward to Ruts DC headline sets… when I can deliver my list of demands!!
Ruffy, Segs and Leigh did a sterling job in restoring ‘Mojo’ to a gig audience that were through no fault of their own rather out of practice! Onwards and upwards.
As The Stranglers’s 9pm stage time approached some of the audience, myself certainly included began to feel a little anxious. After all this was not a routine run of the mill tour. The diehards were facing seeing the band for the first time ever without Dave Greenfield. Since his passing in May 2020 I have mulled over what makes the The Stranglers the Stranglers. After many long sessions in my wife’s sewing room (a converted outhouse in the garden) that we for a time converted into a poor man’s gin palace, we concluded that Dave’s keyboards were absolutely the bedrock of the band’s sound. Talking to friends on the topic, Gunta and I were not alone in this opinion, and as such troubled minds awaited the opening bars of ‘Waltzinblack’.
Now I don’t know how for how long the band and management burned the midnight oil discussing how to introduce the new boy with the biggest shoes to fill, but in my opinion they came up with the perfect solution. Let’s start the gig with three songs that simply drip Dave Greenfield, ‘Toiler’, ‘The Raven’ and ‘Sometimes’…. if young Toby navigates that particular musical minefield (as indeed he certainly did!) we’re half way to winning the battle of hearts and minds. It was only after ‘Sometimes’ that Baz introduced him, at which point he had demonstrated his ability and hopefully placated hose with the greatest fears. A clever strategy. The band went further in the set when ‘Walk On By, was played as the mobile members of the group took to the wings to allow all audience focus to fall on Toby’s handling of one of Dave’s greatest accomplishments. Again he came through with flying colours.
‘Dark Matters’ has perhaps attracted the most positive reviews that the band have enjoyed for the past 40 years or more, so there was great interest to hear these songs live. Of course, the likes of ‘Water’ and ‘This Song’ had been aired on previous tours but there was more to come, not least the massive noise of ‘White Stallion’, my enjoyment of which was greatly enhanced by the school disco moves executed by Nick Pryde right in front of me!
After the equally brilliant ‘Last Men On The Moon’ (marred only by the ugliest guitar that I have seen this side of a ‘flying V’!) the tone turned rather more sombre. Stools were brought on stage for an acoustic segment. The reflective ‘Lines’ was followed by the one that we knew was coming but did not want to face…. ‘And If You Should See Dave...’. JJ introduced the track simply to ‘those that have moved on’. On later dates he was more expansive but tonight emotions were running raw and he was clearly choked.
It would be unstranlerish to end on such a maudlin note, so the pace was upped for the end of the set to wind up what was a thoroughly enjoyable and poignant gig and a return to gigging for many.
Glasgow the following night delivered as always the expected mayhem. Unfortunately, whilst we saw Ruts DC on the second night we had to leave before the Stranglers set which left London to look forward to.
I had a ticket for the first Saturday gig in Brixton, which became the second on the announcement of a gig on the Friday. The fact that Mo was now in Manchester meant that I was able to take her ticket for the extra Brixton date. So started two nights of the most brilliant pre-gig banter with some of the nicest folk in the Strangler's fold!
It was at this point, post Brixton that things started to go awry. Owen had reported COVID positive in advance of the Brixton gigs, Jacqui soon followed as did I. This put paid to our planned visit to Manchester. This was a double disappointment as over and above the gig we were due to attend the Manchester Open Exhibition where our daughter Mo (currently studying Fine Art at Manchester School of Art) has had a piece accepted for display.
I have now had COVID for nine days and although I am working from home I am suffering from acute cabin fever.
Post-script... I am now negative! The tour is over for me but I am very much up for some of the festival dates, not forgetting Rebellion. See you soon I hope!