At long last, The Stranglers made it back to the Emerald Isle, beginning their 2022/23 European tour with a trio of dates in Limerick, Dublin and Belfast. Ruth Rae attended all three evenings, and this review is of the band’s Dublin show.
The Dublin Olympia theatre is a grand old Victorian venue whose stage has been graced by everyone from Laurel and Hardy to David Bowie. Yet they let a load of Stranglers fans in (what were they thinking?)! In fact, they had a strict policy of only allowing so many into the front section, thereby preventing the usual crush in the mosh pit. That said, the fans at all of the Irish gigs were well behaved on the whole, which was refreshing for those of us there to enjoy the music.
Support every evening came from The Membranes, a band originally formed by John Robb in the late 1970s during his youth in Blackpool. Nowadays, the band consists of founder John on bass and lead vocals, with a drummer, a guitarist and a keyboard player completing the line-up.
The modern incarnation of the band draws upon science and nature for their musical inspiration, with ‘Do The Supernova’, ‘Dark Energy’, ‘Snow Monkey’ and ‘Deep in the Forest Where the Memories Linger’ among the setlist.
Robb invites the energy of the audience towards the stage, and with a very physical performance, gives his energy back out, in keeping with the themes of his music. At the end of the set, he immediately jumped down to greet the audience and to personally sell copies of The Membranes’ latest album on CD ‘What Nature Gives…Nature Takes Away’.
The excitement was palpable as the crew reset the stage for the mighty MenInBlack, and a great cheer rang out as their customary instrumental ‘Waltzinblack’ introduced drummer Jim Macaulay, keyboardist Toby Hounsham, guitarist Baz Warne and bassist JJ Burnel to a sold-out Olympia Theatre. The band launched straight into ‘Toiler On the Sea’, followed by crowd favourites ‘Get A Grip On Yourself’ and ‘Sometimes’.
The Stranglers continued with a crowd-pleasing collection of their hits, then 8th on the set list ‘Don’t Bring Harry’, sung by the now 70-year-old Burnel, who retains all of his considerable stage presence and still makes his bass growl and throb through the speakers. As a 7th dan Karate master, he remains both physically and mentally sharp, and his playing is absolutely exemplary – it’s no surprise that so many musicians cite JJ Burnel as an inspiration!
Baz Warne, now in his 22nd year as a Strangler and 14th year as lead vocalist, is one of the best live guitarists out there and a great frontman for the band. He proudly introduced keyboard player Toby Hounsham who played his 50th show with The Stranglers that evening, and drummer Jim Macaulay playing his 400th Stranglers gig. Some wit from the audience shouted, “How many has JJ played”, to which the man himself replied, “All of them”.
Toby had been ceaselessly practising one of my favourite songs ‘Sweden’ – he told me it’s also one of his favourites – which has notoriously fast and complex keyboard runs. Baz had informed me that it would be on the set list for this evening, so I’d been enthusiastically looking forward to hearing it. Poor Toby had a bit of a false start (nerves / excitement?) but take two was flawless, and the vocal harmonies from all four band members were wonderful to hear.
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The gremlins also struck Baz, who messed up the ending to ‘Always The Sun’, leaving Jim hanging over his drum kit, shaking his head and laughing. My friends and I agreed in the pub afterwards that this is all part of the charm of a Stranglers gig – we love these moments!
The enthusiastic crowd continued to enjoy and sing along with the remainder of the main set, the band equally entertained by our participation. Some of us decided to change the shout back of “Bruce / Sheila” in ‘Nuclear Device’ to “Baz / JJ” while pointing at them in turn – well, it works! After a rousing performance of ‘Tank’, the band had a brief interval, before JJ and Baz returned to perform two songs semi acoustically ‘The Lines’ and ‘And If You Should See Dave’.
One disrespectful eejit in the crowd kept shouting as they were about to play their tribute song to late keyboard wizard Dave Greenfield, who was tragically taken too soon by Covid in 2020, and an irate JJ had sharp words: “Do you want me to fucking shout at you? I’m talking about Dave. I knew Dave for 45 years”. I got very emotional and cried throughout the song – later I realised that Dublin would have been the place where I’d have seen Dave play next, in May 2020, had the year turned out differently.
I managed to pull myself together for the encore ‘No More Heroes’ – the band didn’t play ‘Go Buddy Go’, which was understandable, I’m sure they were feeling the loss of Dave keenly. Dave was definitely with us in Dublin though, and the applause for him was sincere and heartfelt when the lights shone upon the unmanned keyboards as JJ and Baz sang “This is where your solo would go”.
The Stranglers continue their tour with another 10 dates across Northern Europe this autumn, followed by 12 dates in Spain and France during March 2023 – if you can see them then do, everyone I spoke to at the gigs and in the pubs in Ireland had high praise for a band at the top of their live game. After the excellent Belfast show, JJ was asked if the band would continue – he assured us that they certainly have no intention of quitting – which is music to my ears!
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‘Usually found jumping around down the front at gigs, I also relish taking photos and videos, singing, speaking with fellow music fans, and asking musicians the questions nobody else does Writing about my favourite bands and connecting with people who love music too keeps me more-or-less sane I’ve worked for over 25 years at a video production company, mainly filming live music events, therefore I have an additional backstage perspective!’