Punk News Reviews

Stunning Stranglers 50th Anniversary show captivates Cambridge!

Two sets plus encores equally delighted both hardcore Stranglers fans and casual gig-goers

Punktuation’s Roger Kasper joined photographer Ruth Rae at The Stranglers Fifty Years In Black gig at Cambridge Corn Exchange on Wednesday 20 March, 2024 – here’s his review of the evening:

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a fucking great time tonight!” That’s Stranglers bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel as we near the end of an epic concert at the Corn Exchange. This is a JJ many longstanding fans have rarely seen. Not that he doesn’t enjoy gigs – but that he’s willing to go up to the microphone and say so.

We all agree, by the way. It’s been a groundbreaking and extraordinary gig from the start, when the traditional taped opening of ‘Waltzinblack‘ is jettisoned in favour of the moog intro to ‘Just Like Nothing On Earth‘.

Unusually they are playing two sets and the new Fab Four land at precisely 8pm for the first set dressed in black evening suits – posh Meninblack! Drummer Jim Macaulay is even sporting a tie.

The Stranglers 50th Anniversary Tour - Cambridge 2024

Despite painstakingly avoiding Facebook posts and reviews which mention the setlists, I had stumbled over the first two numbers, ‘Hallow To Our Men‘ following is not the big surprise for me. It’s an edited version from the ‘Gospel According to the Meninblack‘ album but still feels meaty. Newbies to the Stranglers may have been slightly bemused by the opening two tracks – but there’ll be plenty of time for them to play catch up.

Time for JJ to take to the mic for the first time tonight and tell us what we knew – that we were all here to celebrate 50 years of the Stranglers (they were officially registered on 11 September 1974, Mastermind fans). And no, I didn’t get the Australian journalist question either.

“Not many bands can say that they’ve got to 50 years,” JJ says. “Imagine Taylor Swift celebrating her 50th year. Mind you, she’ll only be 54,” he jokes. He plays tribute to our dear departed friends Jet Black and Dave Greenfield (original Stranglers drummer and keyboardist) and will continue with a tuneful tribute to another departed friend later in the evening – ‘Dagenham Dave‘.

Now he’s back to the mic, this time on vocal duties for ‘The Raven‘ and then guitarist Baz Warne nudges him aside for ‘Baroque Bordello‘ from the same album. It sounds identical to the recent ‘TheMenInBlackInTokyo‘ live album.

The Stranglers JJ Burnel - Cambridge 2024

The band then break away from albums four and five and leap to album eight for ‘North Winds‘ from ‘Aural Sculpture‘ – JJ again on vocals. Has he got his confidence back?

Then it’s the first massive moment of the evening – keyboardist Toby Hounsham on lead vocals – just as Dave was – for ‘Genetix‘. He will feature again later on backing vocals, particularly on crowd pleasers ‘Always the Sun‘ and ‘Wild Stallion‘. A brilliant ‘Princess of the Streets‘ follows (JJ again), then ‘Breathe‘, ‘Hanging Around‘ and an incredible ‘Down In the Sewer‘, really powered through by Jim’s drums.

Phew. Time for a rest as men and women of a certain age head for a comfort break, listening to cover versions of the band’s main hits. Tori Amos’ ‘Strange Little Girl’ sounds particularly good over the speakers. Must give that a spin soon on my modest hif-fi.

It’s precisely 9.20pm. Strap yourselves in and let’s go again. Yes, it’s ‘Who Wants The World‘, the much ignored (by the record-buying public) single from the Meninblack era, which has not had much live play by the band since its release. ‘Time to Die‘ also rears its lovely head as fourth in the second set, rather than an opener.

Some of the usual suspects make up the second set, with noble exceptions being ‘Ships That Pass the Night‘ (electric rather than acoustic) and ‘Lost Control‘ from ‘Norfolk Coast‘. Baz takes the mic and mirthlessly mocks the audience sitting in the balcony (‘lazy bastards’ he jokes). “The real people are down here,” he says, as all hands at the front are raised. “I’ve only been in the Stranglers for 25 years but this is already my favourite venue,” he adds.

Threatened‘ sounded dancey, ‘Skin Deep‘ is always a joy, and ‘Relentless‘ is one of the best songs from the post-Hugh Cornwell era. ‘Golden Brown‘, ‘5 Minutes‘ and ‘Something Better Change‘ are mainstays that get an outing and the band leave the stage to an explosive ‘Tank‘.

The Stranglers Toby and Baz Cambridge 2024
The Stranglers Toby Hounsham and Baz Warne - Cambridge 2024

God it’s been an amazing evening. The sound is tip top. It’s like a force of nature, absolutely enveloping everyone in the packed hall. The light show has complemented the music perfectly. Not over-the-top like some shows – just pitched perfectly. Chandeliers at a Stranglers gig, eh? Who’d have thought that at the Red Cow in 1976.

And they’re back for an encore. The audience is exhausted by this marathon, but they still want more. “When Dave died during Covid I thought, ‘oh well, I’ve had a good run.’ But we discovered Dave’s clone, Toby. We even found a photo of them together from 30 years ago, although Toby looks like Jacob Rees-Mogg,” says JJ.

“So, it’s given us a few more years as I didn’t think Dave was replaceable.” And it’s true. There’s an even newer energy to the band and with JJ in fabulous martial arts shape – well, why rule out a 2025 tour?

The Stranglers Jim Macaulay Cambridge 2024
The Stranglers Jim Macaulay - Cambridge 2024

“Now to mark our 50th, we’d like to play the oldest Stranglers song, written when times were more innocent. You could go to a dance, but you wouldn’t get a blow job. But now…” And JJ takes us into ‘Go Buddy Go‘, as the auditorium rocks in aproval – 2, 3, 4 we sing in unison – and then ‘No More Heroes‘ sees us off in brilliant style.

Is this the best Stranglers live era ever? Well, it’s certainly up there. The energy, the songs, the obvious great time they are having on stage, all transfers to us in the standing area – and even the balcony! As my mate Trev said: “They just keep taking things to a new level.”

Let’s hope, as JJ says, we’ve got a few more years of them yet.

The Stranglers crowd Cambridge 2024

Main Photo Credit / All Photos and Videos: RUTH RAE

Set 1

  1. Just Like Nothing on Earth
  2. Hallow to Our Men
  3. The Raven
  4. Baroque Bordello
  5. North Winds
  6. Genetix
  7. Princess of the Streets
  8. Breathe
  9. Hanging Around
  10. Down in the Sewer


Set 2:

  1. Waltzinblack intro
  2. Who Wants the World?
  3. Dagenham Dave
  4. Duchess
  5. Time to Die
  6. Ships That Pass in the Night
  7. Peaches
  8. Threatened
  9. Skin Deep
  10. Always the Sun
  11. Golden Brown
  12. Relentless
  13. 5 Minutes
  14. Lost Control
  15. White Stallion
  16. Something Better Change
  17. Tank


Encore:

  1. Go Buddy Go
  2. No More Heroes
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