By Dave Woodhall.
Until last night I’d never been to an ‘album played all the way through’ gig. And I still haven’t, because the unfeasibly early start meant that I missed the first couple of songs from Guilty, which I assume were the openers One Burning Desire and Snapper. The rest were run through in Cornwall’s usual style, which meant little interaction with the audience and not much in the way of showmanship. Dressed in black just for a change, Hugh Cornwell snarls the lyrics and plays guitar much as he has for the past thirty-odd years. It’s his gig, and on his terms.
Black Hair Black Eyes Black Suit is a straightforward rocker, File Miles High a more sixties hippyish number that wouldn’t take much to imagine on a Jefferson Airplane album. The taped organ intro and lighting for Long Dead Train invokes memories of the Stranglers and therefore unsurprisingly gets the biggest audience reaction so far. Torture Garden and Halfway House round off the first set much as they appear on record, and the band exit.
Hugh going on so early meant support act The Brothers of Brazil played during the interval, enjoying a bigger and more appreciative crowd than they might have otherwise expected. They were a drum and guitar duo (drum’n’guitar?) whose style they call punkanova, a reasonably accurate description.
Before long Hugh was back into action for the Stranglers half of the show, kicking off with Toiler on the Seas from the Black & White album. Bass player Steve Fishman sings one number and Bear Cage is up next, from The Raven.
This one’s followed by the No More Heroes track School Mam, complete with background noise of children playing and some solid drumming from Chris Bell. Walk On By features some mean guitar work from Hugh, but you can’t get beyond the fact that a three piece band isn’t enough for most of these songs. Some of the Stranglers work was pretty basic, cranked up pub rock but a lot of it featured more complex arrangements that can’t be replicated with such a small band. The set closes with another number from No More Heroes, namely I Feel Like a Wog, the title of which is blacked out on this tour’s posters despite containing some of the earliest anti-racist lyrics. That’s the way the world changes.
With the encores having been announced as decided by a fan poll, we expected the obvious. Peaches, Nice’n’Sleazy, Hangin’ Around maybe. Instead Hugh came on with an acoustic to strum a solo version of Midnight Summer Dream, from 1983’s largely overlooked Feline. Hmmm – has AV been used here? A particularly jazzy version of Golden Brown followed, after which Hugh told the audience how quiet they were. True, but then again this was the sort of material that usually comes in that lull before a gig hits the home straight, rather than during the encores. There was no surprise that the night finished with No More Heroes, nor that it brought out the best in a crowd that was receptive rather than frenzied throughout.