Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Flamin' Groovies at The Scala London - Report and Exclusive Photographs by Paul Slattery

The Flamin' Groovies photographed at The Scala by Paul Slattery
This year marks the 50th anniversary of The Flamin' Groovies and 38 years since I first met them at Rockfield Studios in Wales on January 1st 1978 the night after the legendary Ramones gig at The Rainbow. Having accompanied them on their Spring tour of 1978 I was all ready to see this band conquer the world but I had to wait 35 years to see them play again when Cyril Jordan, Chris Wilson and George Alexander got together with new drummer Victor Penalosa to reform the band.

The Flamin' Groovies photographed at The Scala by Paul Slattery
Since then The Flamin' Groovies have gone from strength to strength and their gig at London’s Scala in Kings Cross last month was part of their second European tour in as many years. After living in London for quite some time Chris moved back to the US last year and life seems to be suiting him out there on the West Coast, within reasonable distance of San Francisco where the band have been in the studio in recent months. Recently the ‘Groovies released their first new single in almost 25 years to celebrate their 50th anniversary, it's called "Crazy Macy" and is out on 7" vinyl from Burger Records, with "Let Me Rock" – the first ever Jordan/Wilson collaboration - on the B-side.

Chris Wilson of The Flamin' Groovies photographed at The Scala by Paul Slattery
Victor Penalosa of The Flamin' Groovies photographed at The Scala by Paul Slattery
For me the ‘Groovies have a special place in my own personal Rock and Roll hall of fame – like the 'Feelgoods here in the UK they kept the Rock and Roll flag flying during the Seventies and were a major influence on Punk and the music that followed it. Now this re-energised band is ploughing the same furrow gaining new fans with their no-compromise approach to Rock and Roll. With a catalogue of  great songs, and superb guitars, they really can do no wrong. And as they crack into The Byrds  "Feel a Whole Lot Better",  which by now is a ‘Groovies standard, you can see that the crowd are mad for it right from the start - and go crazy they do!

Cyril Jordan of The Flamin' Groovies photographed at The Scala by Paul Slattery
George Alexander of The Flamin' Groovies photographed at The Scala by Paul Slattery
With a set list that includes great songs like "Tore Me Down" , "I Can’t Hide", "Please Please Girl" and "Tallahassee Lassie" Chris belts out a mean lead vocal and does great harmonies with Cyril while the two of them do those jangly guitar duels ever so well. Cyril still favours his heavy-as-lead Dan Armstrong plexiglass guitar – the sound from that thing is amazing and of course Cyril’s been playing it for over forty years and loves it. Victor’s tireless drums and George’s rhythmic bass provide such a superb base for each song, with Chris and Cyril building both the vocal and guitar harmonies but George gets finally his chance on vocals with the excellent "Married Woman".

The Flamin' Groovies photographed at The Scala by Paul Slattery
Then it’s "Between The Lines", "Slow Death" and "Shake Some Action" to finish. The crowd go potty and finally coax the band back to play the encores of "Teenage Head" and "Let Me Rock" and the band’s work is over. If you are a Rock and Roll fan you are going to be hard pressed to see a band this good play such a great set list and this is what makes the Groovies legends. And long may they play. I just can’t wait to see them play in San Francisco one day. - Paul Slattery June 2016

The Flamin' Groovies photographed at The Scala by Paul Slattery
With many thanks to Paul for the excellent report and photographs. You can hear The Flamin' Groovies new single "Crazy Macy" along with Paul chatting about the band in Episode 23 of Retrosonic Podcast, which is free to listen to/download from Soundcloud.

Then don't forget our superbly entertaining Retrosonic Podcast special interview and career retrospective with Chris Wilson where he takes us on a journey from his early teens, watching and being inspired by some of the great Blues musicians in Massachusetts to LA and San Francisco where he joined up with ex-Charlatans guitarist Mike Wilhelm in Loose Gravel and later The Flamin' Groovies. Responsible for some of the most iconic rock classics ever recorded such as "Slow Death" and "Shake Some Action" The Flamin' Groovies never quite made the breakthrough to commercial success, but remain a huge influence on Power Pop and Punk bands alike. Chris also covers his time with The Barracudas, recording with Dave Edmunds, meeting Ringo Starr and not to mention seeing photographer Paul Slattery again for the first time in 35 years! In this candid and amusing story, Chris also picks out some of his influences, favourite songs and highlights from his own back catalogue including his excellent solo album "It's Flamin' Groovy!"

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Billy Childish & CTMF at The Lexington London May 21st - Paul Slattery Photographs

Billy Childish at The Lexington photographed by Paul Slattery
Billy Childish made his long-awaited return to the stage with his current line-up Wild Billy Childish  & CTMF with two sold-out shows at The Lexington in Islington on May 21st to promote his excellent new album "Sq 1" which is out now on Damaged Goods Records. There was an afternoon matinee followed by a more traditional evening gig and both sets were crammed with a crowd-pleasing selection of classic tracks from pretty much all of his many line-ups over the years - from The Milkshakes to The Buff Medways, Thee Mighty Caesars to Thee Headcoats and The Musicians of The British Empire to CTMF. There was even the added bonus of Ludella and Kyra from Thee Headcoatees joining in on the encores. Rock photographer Paul Slattery has worked with Billy over the years ever since unintentionally capturing him in the front row of a Sex Pistols gig back in 1977! Paul took some great early photos of The Milkshakes too and now one of his pictures of Thee Headcoats appears on the cover of the CTMF's latest single "A Glimpse of Another Time". Here, Paul kindly shares some of his excellent photographs taken at both the Lexington shows:

For more photos of both sets please head on over to the Retro Man Blog Facebook page and hit "Like" and "Get Notifications" (if you are not already following) for access to the Photo Album. Videos can also be found at the Retro Man Blog YouTube channel here. Then, you can hear us chat about the Lexington gigs and hear a track from "Sq 1" in the latest episode of Retrosonic Podcast, available to listen/download for free from Soundcloud or via iTunes.

All Photos Copyright Paul Slattery 2016
Then don't forget our special Billy Childish edition Retrosonic Podcast when Paul and I traveled down to Billy's studio in Chatham Docks to watch him paint while we chatted about his career, playing a selection of some of his own favourite tracks and influences along the way.

The new CTMF album "Sq 1" is available from here at Damaged Goods Records along with a huge selection of Billy's back catalogue, often in special limited edition versions.

The Milkshakes photographed by Paul Slattery in 1983
With thanks to Paul Slattery for the photographs.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The Long Ryders Exclusive Paul Slattery Photos from London & Brighton + "Final Wild Songs" New Box-Set

The Long Ryders on Brighton Beach photographed by Paul Slattery
Rock Photographer Paul Slattery fell in love with The Long Ryders debut album over 30 years ago but only got round to seeing the band play live this year. Here, Paul shares some of his excellent photographs and writes about his long awaited meeting with the band in Brighton in May. "I first heard about these guys during the winter of 1984 when a friend of mine played me "Native Sons" their first album which he had picked up in New York. I loved it immediately – it was just my cup of tea – some proper Rock and Roll with a bit of alternative country thrown in. Having been a huge fan of The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Hank Williams and Link Wray it was a real treat for me to find a band that encapsulated all these strands of US rock music. So I was determined to see them and photograph them when they came here the following year. But it just was not to be.

The Long Ryders photographed by Paul Slattery
The Long Ryders Greg Sowders photographed by Paul Slattery
Whenever they were playing a gig I happened to be photographing another band and it just didn’t happen for me. In 1986 I spent a good part of the year taking photographs in China and the Far East and by the time 1987 came round the band had split up. In recent years the band had done the odd reunion, making an album of their live shows "State Of Our Reunion" in 2004, but I still never managed to see them. This year however, things were going to be different. Cherry Red released their superb box set "Final Wild Songs" and the band scheduled a short tour in May this year to promote it. So, thirty years after I had first heard "Native Sons" I finally met the band backstage at The Concorde 2 in Brighton. On a fine sunny evening I managed to cajole them all over to the beach opposite for some photographs following Billy Bragg, Fatboy Slim and Oasis who have all posed on the pebbles for me. Later that evening, in front of an excellent crowd the gig didn’t disappoint either – these guys are master musicians and you would never imagine that they don't play together all the time, they just fitted back seamlessly and poured out all their hits. Well, hits to me anyway!

The Long Ryders Stephen McCarthy, Sid Griffin and Greg Sowders (background) photographed by Paul Slattery
The Long Ryders Tom Stevens photographed by Paul Slattery
The Long Ryders back catalogue is a great one. From "Run Dusty Run"  to "Mason Dixon Line", "Ivory Tower",  "I Had A Dream" and "Final Wild Sons" to name some of my favourites, to their encore of "Still Get By" and "Looking For Lewis And Clarke" where Sid gets the crowd enthusiastically involved in the vocals. So, my thirty year wait was rewarded in real style with a masterclass in Rock and Roll from a truly great band. They really are too good to play so infrequently and they obviously enjoy playing together – they should treat us 'Ryders fans to at least a yearly reunion. How about it?

The Long Ryders Sid Griffin and Tom Stevens (background) photographed by Paul Slattery
Stephen McCarthy and Will Birch photographed by Paul Slattery
Here's a photo of Will Birch and Stephen McCarthy. Will produced the Long Ryders second album "State of Our Union" and has a long Rock history himself as a member of influential Pub Rock band The Kursaal Flyers and later Power Pop heroes The Records. In the 1990s he started writing many articles on the British music scene and, in 2000 he wrote an acclaimed and definitive account of the 1970s Pub Rock scene, "No Sleep Till Canvey Island". He then published a well-reviewed biography of fellow Essex musician Ian Dury "Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography" in January 2010."

- Paul Slattery May 2016

The Long Ryders Stephen McCarthy photographed by Paul Slattery
The excellent Cherry Red Records have just released a superb 4 CD Box Set entitled "Final Wild Songs" which crams together the original albums alongside, demos, singles and live tracks. The track-listing has been compiled by Sid Griffin and Tom Stevens from the original tapes and the entire band has contributed a track-by-track breakdown in the accompanying booklet. This booklet also features a forward by David Fricke and lots of rare photos and memorabilia and the package is completed by a great poster. You can buy the box-set from all good record stores and on-line services or direct from the Cherry Red Records web-site on-line store here.

For more photos of the London show at Under The Bridge please check out the Retro Man Blog Facebook page for access to the photo album and hit "Like" for regular updates and news. Then, in our brand new Retrosonic Podcast Episode 23, you can hear Paul talking about his Long Ryders experience and we pick our favourite track from the "Final Wild Songs" box-set too. You can subscribe to Retrosonic Podcast for free at iTunes or listen/download from our Soundcloud site.

Thanks to Paul Slattery for the great photographs, all photos strictly copyright of Paul Slattery 2016. You can check out news on Sid Griffin and The Coal Porters, as well as The Long Ryders, at his wonderfully comprehensive web-site here.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

The Everlasting Yeah & Of Arrowe Hill at the Retro Man Blog Night at The Half Moon Putney May 12th

The Everlasting Yeah at The Half Moon Putney photographed by Paul Slattery
The Everlasting Yeah put in a quite stunning performance at The Half Moon Putney that proved they are one of the best live acts around at the moment. Merging all of the best elements of their previous band That Petrol Emotion, The Everlasting Yeah really are the perfect band for all seasons and all moods. There's something for everyone. After all, TPE were as much influenced by the Soul and Funk of Curtis Mayfield, War and Sly & The Family Stone as they were Punk Rock. They took the avant garde sounds of Captain Beefheart, The Velvet Underground and Pere Ubu and mixed them all up with the sweet harmonies of the Beach Boys. But whereas That Petrol Emotion could sometimes sound like a compilation of various genres (as you can hear discussed in our recent Retrosonic Podcast with the band) the best thing about The Everlasting Yeah is that cram all of these diverse influences into one vibrant, exciting and totally fresh sound with it's own clear identity.

Raymond Gorman of The Everlasting Yeah at The Half Moon Putney photographed by Paul Slattery
Ciaran McLaughlin of The Everlasting Yeah at The Half Moon Putney photographed by Paul Slattery
Brendan Kelly of The Everlasting Yeah at The Half Moon Putney photographed by Paul Slattery
Damian O'Neill of The Everlasting Yeah at The Half Moon Putney photographed by Paul Slattery
The chemistry between all four members is apparent when they play live, they look like they enjoy each others company and it certainly pays off in their music. Brendan Kelly's bass throbs with a thunderous intent and his understanding with drummer Ciaran McLaughlin is impressive as they lock into a mighty groove. The Everlasting Yeah have added a dash of Krautrock's motorik beats into the mix too which enables the songs to develop nicely at their own natural pace. In fact there are more ideas crammed into one Everlasting Yeah song than most bands manage in a whole album! Raymond Gorman and Damian O'Neill seem to have some sort of psychic thing going on as their guitars weave in and out of each other like Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine at their best. I've always thought that Damian and Raymond were totally underrated as guitarists, they spin out razor sharp shards of spiky and inventive riffs that complement each other perfectly. Like Joey Santiago from the Pixies they take what at first might be familiar melodic lines and twist them to breaking point. You think you know when the pay off is going to come but they surprise you with another unexpected and thought provoking detour. Although Raymond handles most of the lead vocals - ably backed by Ciaran, who takes the spotlight on "Everything Is Beautiful" - there's no front-man as such, TPE's singer Steve Mack having relocated to his hometown Seattle - The Everlasting Yeah are however, a tight-knit gang who present a united front and share some stunning four-part vocals harmonies. 

The Everlasting Yeah at The Half Moon Putney photographed by Paul Slattery
The Everlasting Yeah at The Half Moon Putney photographed by Paul Slattery
The new songs they first played at The Lexington earlier in the year have been tweaked and sharpened up and tonight "Motorbeat City" and in particular a raucous "Dylan '65" both stood out with "hit" stamped all over it them. Here's a sneak preview of "Dylan '65"...

So, the follow-up album looks like it could even give the brilliant debut "Anima Rising" a run for its money judging by the strength of The Everlasting Yeah's new material. Let's hope they get into the studio pretty sharpish as I am already getting impatient to hear these tracks recorded! Opening the night were the brilliant Of Arrowe Hill who also previewed a sizeable chunk of promising new material tonight. New songs such as "You Wish It Was This Easy" closely followed by "Happy Now" prove that it looks like they are going to improve on their last album, which will be no mean feat as "A Conspiracy of Clocks" was an absolute classic. Like The Everlasting Yeah, Of Arrowe Hill can challenge you with their intelligent and thought provoking songs, nothing is predictable or easy to categorize yet both bands never lose sight of the importance of a bloody great tune!

Of Arrowe Hill at The Half Moon Putney photographed by Paul Slattery
Of Arrowe Hill at The Half Moon Putney photographed by Paul Slattery
I'd like to say a huge thank you to both bands, the Half Moon and all who helped in promoting the show and of course all of those that braved a school night and made the effort to come along, it was much appreciated! Don't forget you can check out our Retrosonic Podcast special with The Everlasting Yeah where we chatted to Raymond Gorman, Damian O'Neill and Ciaran McLauglin in the build up to the Half Moon gig. There's a comprehensive look into The Everlasting Yeah's excellent debut album "Anima Rising" and a frank and in-depth journey back through That Petrol Emotion's career and impressive back catalogue. The Podcast is generously sound-tracked with a pick of songs old and new with a couple of surprises thrown in along the way. For more information and up-to-date news on The Everlasting Yeah please check out their official website here. Thanks to Paul Slattery for the photos, you can see more pics from the gig at the Retro Man Blog Facebook page here. Give us a "like" if you want to be kept up to date on future gigs, Podcasts and videos.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Ebbot Lundberg & The Indigo Children - The Soundtrack of Our Lives Frontman to play London Gig!

Breaking news! Ebbot Lundberg, the charismatic frontman of two of Sweden's most influential bands The Soundtrack of Our Lives and Union Carbide Productions is back with a new band, The Indigo Children and a brand new album "For The Ages To Come" (Haldern Pop Recordings). We are extremely pleased to announce that Retro Man Blog and Shindig! Magazine will be hosting the band at The Half Moon Putney on June 24th along with special guests The Fallen Leaves and The Galileo 7. Tickets are available now and strictly limited to just 200 so we would recommend booking in advance especially if you are interested in coming along and have to travel. This will not only be The Indigo Children's first ever U.K. show but Ebbot's first gig in London since The Soundtrack of Our Lives last show in 2012. We will be posting up more information along with an interview with Ebbot and review on the new album very soon, but in the meantime here are some important links:

Thursday, 31 March 2016

The Galileo 7 - New Album "Live-O-Graphic", New Single "Cruel Bird" and French Tour - All in one week..!

As I write this The Galileo 7 are setting off on a marathon Tour de France of 10 gigs in 10 days. Well, having said that I just heard on the grapevine that their luxury tour bus has been involved in a little scrape in Folkestone! Hopefully their crew have got it all sorted by now and they are back on the road as they are due to kick off with gig tonight in Caen in Normandy and will then travel all the way down the length of the country to Perpignan in the Pyrenees, a short hop from the Spanish border. They will then wind their merry way back up to Flanders to finish off with a show in Lille on April 09th...En-route they will take in places such as St. Etienne, Grenoble, Toulouse - say goodbye to the town for me will you guys? - sorry for the corny Stranglers related joke there...! For full details of their voyage de Rock 'n' Roll please check out the tour dates and venue information here

The Galileo 7 photographed at last September's Retro Man Blog Night by Paul Slattery
It's certainly been a busy week for the band as they have just released a brand new single and album too. First of all we have the single, "Cruel Bird/Nowhere People" a limited edition (500 copies only) 45rpm 7" vinyl, the first 200 of which will be pressed in translucent purple vinyl. It's only available at State Records here or from the band directly either via their web-site here or at the merch stall at gigs. The proud record company sums it up perfectly..."All the by-now-familiar elements are in place—a thundering Who-like rhythm section, biting fuzz guitar, swirling organ and exquisite 4-part vocal's like a honey-coated punch in the mush!"

Then there's "Live-O-Graphic" which comes hot on the heels of the superb "False Memory Lane, we'll let the band explain: "The “Live-O-Graphic” Session…ten revved up, incendiary, ‘nearly live’ versions of previously released songs! The live backing tracks were burned out by the MK3 line-up of The Galileo 7 in one frantic hour, hemmed in by the mechanical clutter and ephemera of a working lithographic press, ignoring thumping headaches induced by a toxic combination of chemical vapours and extreme volume levels…but high on the alchemic rock’n’roll fumes of a spontaneous, unplanned recording session! These versions crackle with almost uncontainable energy, and outstrip the originals for verve and intensity. The one-take vocals and harmonies were added later in a similarly pressured and time-limited session to preserve the intense feel of the tracking session. This is a red hot ‘Live-O-Graphic’ sampler of some of The Galileo 7’s best songs".

The Galileo 7 photographed at last September's Retro Man Blog Night by Paul Slattery
"Live-O-Graphic" follows up on the idea spawned by the successful "Good Things" album from G7's singer/songwriter/guitarist Allan Crockford's other band Graham Day & The Forefathers, where they plundered the illustrious back catalogue of The Prisoners, The Solarflares and The Prime Movers to re-record a selection of classics live in the studio to document their live set at the time. So this is what we have with "Live-O-Graphic", a snap-shot not just of the sort of songs you can expect when you see The Galileo 7 play live now but more importantly the energy in which they are being played. I have already written about the impact that the line-up change had on the band with Mole switching to drums and Paul Moss joining on bass. The whole dynamic of the band seemed to be ratcheted up a fair few notches and the live shows just got better each time, this is in no small part to Mole's frenetic Keith Moon-style visual and aural blur of an assault on his drum-kit. This is really apparent on the opening track "Never Go Back" from "Are We Having Fun Yet?" which sets the stall out on what is to follow perfectly. Paul Moss also adds a lively energetic presence to the stage and this awesome rhythm section enable keyboardist Viv and Allan to add their magic. Viv's swirling keyboards are more to the fore on "Live-O-Graphic" and she also takes on lead vocals on "Don't Know What I'm Waiting For" with the others chipping in with some nice harmonising. There's a pick from all three studio albums plus a version of the stand-alone single "Modern Love Affair". The old favourites "Anne Hedonia" and "Orangery Lane" are given a right kick up the bracket with Mole's drumming adding another dimension to those much loved studio versions. I think Allan's confidence in fronting the band also seems to have been boosted with the new line-up too as anyone who saw the band put in a stunningly powerful performance at the Fighting Cocks in Kingston recently will testify. His guitar playing also deserves a lot more attention and hopefully "Live-O-Graphic" will address this too, as you only have to check the fuzzed riffing on "Orangery Lane" for an example. So the band are going from strength to strength and judging by the quality of some of the new songs they have been adding to the live set recently let's hope the prolific releases keep on coming!

Check out the The Galileo 7 web-site here for more information, we'll be playing the new single "Cruel Bird" in our next episode of Retrosonic Podcast too so please keep a check on the Blog for news on that. Also, don't forget drummer Mole's excellent State Records for loads of lovely vinyl!

Sunday, 27 March 2016

The Stranglers "Black And White" at the Brixton Academy and Reading Hexagon (with The Alarm)

The Stranglers - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog
There is something slightly unsettling about the The Stranglers "Black And White" album and the atmosphere that pervades it. It’s kind of like watching a particularly effective psychological thriller or horror movie. You know that feeling when, even after leaving the cinema, you are left with a lingering sense of dread and have that irrational urge to check under the bed before you go to sleep. It’s totally unique, a genuinely innovative and ground-breaking album with it's twisted time structures, weird angular guitar riffs and snarling vocals. There's that immensely powerful production and the iconic but weirdly compelling cover art....and that’s before we get to the bass! For "Black And White" must be the ultimate bass album with JJ Burnel in inspired form throughout. Instead of following up the commercially successful "No More Heroes" with more of the same, The Stranglers really went for the jugular with "Black And White". They were miles ahead of most of their contemporaries who were either imploding or churning out punk-by-numbers and produced this timeless album, in fact it's almost like it was beamed down from another planet. There was nothing to prepare you for "Black And White", probably only Wire and Public Image Ltd were making such similarly challenging music. Of course The Stranglers never get paid their dues - let's see how prominently they feature in this year's "40 Years of Punk" nostalgia-fest. Will they be taken seriously in the documentaries, features and exhibitions that are going to be filling our TV screens, media and galleries over the next 12 months or so? I very much doubt it. But then again, would us Stranglers fans have it any other way? The band have always thrived on being outsiders, they have survived the departure of not just one, but two lead vocalists and the semi-retirement of their legendary drummer Jet Black, to play packed out venues across the globe. The decision of the band to embark on an ambitious tour to play the whole of the "Black And White" album start to finish, proved that I wasn't the only one who always believed the album should be lauded up there with some of the greatest albums to have come out of the Punk Rock and indeed Post-Punk scenes.

The Stranglers - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog
As the familiar strains of the "Waltz In Black" intro music fill the packed out Brixton Academy auditorium, The Stranglers take the stage and launch straight into the explosive album opener "Tank". We know what's coming but it still takes the breath away. The Stranglers always had a gift for writing evocative songs and "Tank" could not have been better named! Unfortunately, health issues prevent Jet Black from touring with the band, well he is fast approaching 80 years old, and his place behind the drum kit has been taken by Jim MacAuley who at first glance bears a youthful resemblance to Jet! Just as the addition of Baz into the line-up seemed to reinvigorate the band, Jim ups the energy levels even further and I don't think the band have sounded so fresh and exciting for many a year. Next up is "Nice 'n' Sleazy", the only single to be taken from "Black And White", and with it's skewed take on a Reggae rhythm and JJ's iconic leering bass-line it's another perfectly titled track. "Outside Tokyo" is a twisted Baroque styled waltz that slows the pace momentarily before "Hey! (Rise of The Robots)" crashes in. This is probably the closest the band get to sounding like a Punk Rock band; in fact it sounds like something you might have heard in the Roxy in 1976 with its quick-fire Clash-like "1977" guitar riff intro. It then canters along at a fair pace and is all over in two glorious minutes. It's a shame they didn't get a saxophonist on stage to try and replicate Lora Logic's inspired playing from the album itself, which would have been something special.

The Stranglers - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog
Next comes "Sweden (All Quiet on The Eastern Front)" a song which was inspired by Hugh's time studying at Lund university which must have been boring as he claimed it was the "only country where the clouds are interesting". Although the band did film a humorous video for the song which you can see in the “Video Collection 1977-1982” it was somewhat surprisingly never released as a single over here despite it being one of the band’s, and certainly “Black And White’s” stand-out tracks. So, it remains in my mind the greatest single that never was, but should have been...! Well actually, I lie, a version was released as a 7” single but in Sweden only and it was entitled "Sverige" with yes, you guessed it, Hugh singing entirely in Swedish. Let’s just say that’s one for the die-hard collectors only and Baz wisely opts to stick with the English language album version tonight. "Toiler On The Sea" is again one of those wonderfully evocative songs, an epic seafaring tale made up of different sections similar to "Down in the Sewer" from the band's "Rattus Norvegicus" debut. You can really picture the grey skies bearing down on the rain lashed boat being tossed on dark waves as the metaphorical crew battle against the elements. It's this almost Viking inspired imagery that I can certainly see carried over into "The Raven" album that followed "Black And White" a year later.

The Stranglers - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog
"Curfew" is a blistering, paranoid track seething with unsettling riffs, stabs of keyboards and the fear of unwelcome invaders with the power to "turn the day into night..." The next track "Threatened" is in a similar vein to "Curfew" with it's pumping and pulsing heart-beat drumming and it affords the bizarre sight of people all around me joining in singing such choice lines as "man killed by luxury, man killed by falling tree". "In The Shadows" with it's fuzzed beyond recognition bass-line was always the weak link for me on the album and tonight hearing it played live doesn't really change my opinion unfortunately. Dave Greenfield takes over lead vocals for the sinister "Do You Wanna?" which segues into the superb "Death and Night and Blood (Yukio)" and I must say the hairs on the back my neck stand up as the two songs collide. The lyrics point to JJ's fascination with the author and poet Yukio Mishima who committed suicide following a failed attempt to overthrow the Japanese government in 1970. This was another motif he was to carry on to "The Raven" in particular with the album track "Ice" and it's "die like cherry blossom" line and references to the Hagakure, the Samurai's spiritual and moral code. I wasn't sure if they would include “Enough Time” in the set list as it's a difficult enough track to get your head around as a listener let alone as a musician, but they manage the very weird time signatures and off-kilter riffs expertly. As the song slowly winds down the stage lights come on, the stage is suddenly awash in a blaze of colour and the band start the second half of the set with a stomping "(Get a) Grip (on Yourself)".

The Stranglers - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog
What follows is an excellent pick of singles, classic tracks and a few surprises including "Walk On By" the cover version of the Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach song that was actually given away as a free seven inch single with the initial copies of "Black And White". There's quite a few tracks from "No More Heroes" including "Dead Ringer", "Something Better Change" and a blistering version of "I Feel Like a Wog" but there's only "Nuclear Device" from "The Raven". The sublime "Always The Sun" is played under a beautiful orange sunset light show and sounds superb tonight and a surprise "Princess of The Streets" from "Rattus" with JJ 's voice on top form. The older more familiar numbers are punctuated by a few songs from the last three Baz-era albums, "Mercury Rising" from the current album "Giants" and then "I've Been Wild" from "Norfolk Coast". One of the highlights is a superb "Relentless" from "Suite XVI" and "A Soldier's Diary" from the same album, which is a bit of a throwaway thrash. For me it wasn't the most inspiring selection of new-ish tracks when you think of the quality of some of the others they could have chosen such as "Unbroken", "Big Thing Coming" or "Barbara", but they seem to go down well with the majority of the crowd. Anyway, with a back catalogue of such diversity and quality as The Stranglers, they could have played for four hours and still people would be complaining they didn't play their favourite song! For the well deserved encores we get treated to "Peaches", "Hanging Around", "Go Buddy Go" and of course "No More Heroes". As I make my way out of the venue I make my mind up to go along to see the band in Reading a few days later as I just had to have another fix of "Black And White".

The Stranglers - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog
I managed to make it to Reading Hexagon in time to catch the last half of The Alarm’s support set as unfortunately I completely missed them at the Brixton Academy show due to being trapped in a pub. I remember seeing them a fair few years ago when they released their excellent debut album “Declaration” and they were a blaze of rather large gravity defying back-combed hair-do’s and acoustic guitars. The Alarm nowadays are based around the main singer-songwriter Mike Peters, no other original band members remain but I do notice some familiar faces in the new line-up.

Mike Peters and James Stevenson of The Alarm - Photo copyright Steve Cotton/Art Of The State
On the drums is Smiley who has played with Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros and From The Jam, Guitarist James Stevenson was in Chelsea, Gen X and Gene Loves Jezebel and then on the bass there’s Craig Adams. Blimey, Craig Adams…I remember seeing him at the Electric Ballroom way back in 1984 when he was in The Sisters of Mercy. Craig then went on to form The Mission with his Sisters colleague Wayne Hussey and has played with The Cult and also in later incarnations of Spear of Destiny and Theatre of Hate. There’s also a keyboard player and I’m rather disappointed that I don’t recognise him to complete the full set! Mike Peters still has that trademark back-combed hair and is a passionate and charismatic front-man who really engages with the receptive crowd. To be honest, musically it’s not my thing, but they play tight, anthemic folk-rock songs which to me sound a bit like early Bruce Springsteen and it’s all pretty enjoyable stuff. An extended version of “Spirit of ‘76” really builds up a head of steam and “68 Guns” is still a bloody great sing-along song whatever way you look at it. Mike has been battling lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia since the mid-90's and he explained about his "Love Hope Strength Foundation" charity which will have a stand at all the dates throughout the "Black And White" tour. You can find out more details about their fund raising events at the official web-site here.

The Stranglers at Reading Hexagon - Photo copyright Steve Cotton/Art Of The State
The Stranglers take the stage and run through “Black And White” again and it seems even louder than Brixton with JJ’s bass shaking the Hexagon’s foundations. Tonight there’s more between song banter than at the London show with Baz complaining about Reading’s one-way system and the perils of driving in the town before launching into “Walk On By”. He then attempts to play the TV theme tune to the Snooker and explains “I'm afraid that's what the Hexagon means to me!” and then we get told how bad our football team is too. This slight on Brian McDermott's Blue & White Army elicits a few good natured cat calls in response, “Sorry I can’t understand what you are talking about” he jokes in his strong Sunderland accent before accusing us of being Cockneys in a passable Danny Dyer voice. “OK, this is the bit where you're meant to call me a Northern monkey!” Nobody does, he’s a big scary chap is Baz! It’s hard to believe that he's been in The Stranglers for sixteen years now and I really do think he has played a huge part in the resurgence of the band's popularity.

The Stranglers - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog
There's no doubting that Hugh's initial replacement, Paul Roberts, did divide opinion among Stranglers fans (me included!) so when Baz took over and the band reverted to their traditional four-piece line-up, they seemed to rediscover their 'mojo' and have never looked back. It was a bit of a shame that the pick of classic tracks in the second half of tonight's show is exactly the same as at Brixton as I was hoping to hear a few more old favourites. In fact we actually get one less as "Dead Ringer" is replaced by an admittedly brilliant version of “Norfolk Coast”. I'm pretty chuffed though as I think it was probably this one song, when it appeared as the opening track on the 2004 album of the same name, which might well have been the catalyst for a lot of people to start taking an interest in the band again after Hugh’s departure. After all, with that crunching bass intro and the swirling keyboards it has all the hallmarks of that classic and much-loved Stranglers sound that had been missing for quite some time, maybe since “The Raven” album at least. We get "Freedom Is Insane" from "Giants" and "Lost Control" from "Norfolk Coast", I'm much happier with the choice of newer songs tonight. There’s only two encores though, “Go Buddy Go” and “No More Heroes”, which I suppose is more down to the stricter live music curfew at the Hexagon, but nobody is complaining, it’s another superb show and everyone piles out into the cold Reading air with beaming faces and great memories of seeing a band that is, against all the odds, still on top of their game. I’ll keep my fingers crossed in the hope that the band decide to do a similar tour for “The Raven” sometime in the near future, now that would be something really special too.

The Stranglers - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog
Thanks to Steve Cotton for contributing the excellent photos from the Reading Hexagon as credited above. You can check out more of Steve’s work at his “Art of the State” web-site. For more photos of both the Brixton Academy and Reading Hexagon shows please head on over to the Retro Man Blog Facebook page here for access to the photo albums. While you are there, if you like what you see and want to be kept up to date on future features, news and reviews then please give the page a “Like”. Up to date information on The Stranglers can be found at their official web-site.