Off the beaten track – The Stranglers live at Caldicot Castle

“We’re playing castles now,” Stranglers guitarist/singer Baz Warne says through a wide smile early in the set..

The Stranglers supported by Buzzcocks in a medieval setting…

Making for Monmouthshire from West London with Today programme chat pushing the potential for ‘blustery showers’ on the other side of the Severn Bridge while apps indicate fair weather, we didn’t have much idea of the kind of climate waiting…

Arriving at scenic Caldicot Castle it was all blue sky and heat, Stranglers fans swallowing Brewdog beers from cold cans, that’s what the bars were serving. Beyond the brewer’s ‘bitter’ past, the session IPA – Wingman – seemed fitting given Baz Warne’s other band, and comfortably quenched considerable thirst.

Behind the battlements, Caldicot Castle is an intimate space – it looked like a Brixton Academy-size crowd swapping tour stories in the sunshine. I didn’t catch the first support, a local band, but at 7pm Danny Farrant’s drum battery behind ‘What Do I Get‘ mercifully drowns out ‘Bohemian Rhapsody‘ – who was that DJ? – heralding Buzzcocks’ set. The subsequent sprint through ‘Singles Going Steady‘, or most of it, is peppered with songs from ‘Sonics In The Soul‘, which I’m sure I hear Steve Diggle referring to as ‘our first album’. If so, perhaps that’s a post-Pete Shelley marker.

You could drop Diggle on any stage anywhere and he’d give it everything. Stranglers fans know the songs and respond to his drive to play them, which he only interrupts for a pull on his pint of champagne. There’s no direct acknowledgement of the headliners, it’s “Have a great night” before a triumphant ‘Harmony In My Head‘ and Buzzcocks’ job is done.

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The Stranglers at Caldicot Castle, June 2024 - photo by Nic Howden

Then we’re dragged back to the DJ’s take on the 1970s, all ‘Go Your Own Way‘ and ‘Layla‘. Dire Straits’ ‘Sultans of Swing‘ is the fanfare before ‘Waltzinblack‘, which must be the closest the bands have come since the Hope & Anchor Front Row Festival. But nothing can suck the feelgood, the bonhomie, from this Caldicot Castle Saturday evening.

For the next hour and 40 minutes, from a trenchant, totemic, ‘Toiler On The Sea‘ to traditional closer ‘No More Heroes‘, The Stranglers are kings of the castle, honed through those two sets a night in springtime. The gold, the chandeliers and the joie de vivre made the journey west along with myriad musical highlights.

Watch a clip of ‘No More HeroesHERE

A headline performance in the middle of a festival run, Cruel World, Stone Valley South and Great Estate dates already done, you could forgive a ‘greatest hits’ turn but this was a Stranglers crowd and a show the band were looking forward to. So, ‘Breathe‘, Baz’s soaring, waltz time epic, ‘Genetix‘, ‘Sewer‘ and ‘Go Buddy Go’ were back in the mix.

ith some Hives-style synchronicity, the frontmen shed their matching bomber jackets three songs in, after ‘The Raven‘, which JJ Burnel delivers with a slightly less breathy vocal than the Royal Albert Hall take. Stripped of the March openers from ‘The Gospel According To The Meninblack‘, this 22-song gig features four from ‘Rattus Norvegicus‘, four from ‘The Raven‘ and three from ‘Dark Matters‘.  

See a video clip of ‘The RavenHERE

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The Stranglers on fire at Caldicot Castle, June 2024 - photo by Nic Howden

Relentless‘, ‘Suite XVI’s muscular masterpiece, whips up a singalong, ‘Sleazy‘ is back, with menace, and it’s great the way ‘Skin Deep‘, ‘Breathe‘ and ‘Peaches‘ split the big production ‘Golden Brown‘ from a poignant ‘Always the Sun‘.

It felt like time was up for ‘Genetix‘ after Dave Greenfield died, despite the Stranglers’ decision to keep playing. Amazing then how Jim Macaulay follows Jet Black’s intricate drum pattern, how Toby Hounsham can replicate Dave’s keys and vocal, and how Jean Jacques Burnel, on the bloody bass, can still loop the band back in from their independent plays at the apex. ‘Genetix‘ is as unique, as fantastic, as ever in 2024.

With Donald Trump all over the news, again, giving more crazed vent to his ego, ‘White Stallion‘ has arms in the air on and off stage as it recognises the 2016 US poll follies, “How could we have been so stupid”, and has me hoping that ‘we’ won’t be again.

From there it’s ‘Nuclear Device‘, ‘Walk On By‘, ‘Hanging Around‘, ‘Something Better Change‘ and a seismic ‘Sewer‘ to a cacophony of whoops, cheers, rapture. “Stranglers” chants bring the band back out, Burnel introducing ‘Go Buddy Go‘ with a take on his pub rock story. The ‘Heroes‘ bass intro follows and we throw ourselves around at the front again, until the finish. Fantastic show. For keeps.

The Stranglers take a bow at Caldicot Castle - photo by Nic Howden

Main Photo Credit /Photos and Videos: NIC HOWDEN

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