When I was younger, my mother gave me a record player and one of her vinyls. This was The Stranglers Greatest Hits from 1977 – 1990. I would play it whenever I had the opportunity and my mother, and I would sing along, particularly to the famous ‘Golden Brown.’ I still play it sometimes and let that wave of nostalgia sweep over me with the eerie vocals and mystical keys.
So, it is no surprise that when The Stranglers announced they would be playing in Portsmouth for their Definitive Tour, I jumped at the opportunity to see them. Set to coincide with the re-release of their first seven albums, the tour saw the English rock band visit cities all over the nation from Liverpool to Glasgow. And, sell out at Bristol’s O2 Academy and Cardiff’s Tramshed.
Only two of the original band members remain now – Dave Greenfield on keys and Jean-Jacques Burnel on bass. Because of this, I had heard a few people comment ‘that’s not the real Stranglers’ but in response to that I say, ‘tell that to the people at the sold out gigs and the huge crowd at Portsmouth’s Guildhall.’
And, I’m not lying, the crowd was huge even for a Tuesday night.
I arrived early to catch the supporting band Therapy?. They are an alternative metal band from Northern Ireland which have been active since 1989. On the night, they played their own songs as well as covering tracks from Joy Division and Irish punk band Stiff Little Fingers. I personally wouldn’t have picked them to support The Stranglers but I really enjoyed them nonetheless. They had a gritty, headbanging vibe with loud guitars and an insanely talented drummer. The three members put on a great show and although metal is not normally my thing, I would definitely watch them play again.
After their 45-minute set, there was a short interval before the main act took to the stage. Countless people flocked to the bar but the rest of us, many wearing Stranglers shirts, eagerly waited with eyes locked forward. Finally, red lights flickered on, a carnival tune sounded, and the members came out, one by one, as we all cheered as loud as we could.
The Stranglers played an impressive two hour set with an encore. They performed all of their famous hits from ‘Peaches’ to ‘All Day and All of the Night’, ‘Walk on By’ and then some. The music was accompanied by light shows and projections which added to the wonder and colour of that moment, creating a truly immersive experience.
With all the songs they played, I realised how prolific The Stranglers really were as a band. I thought I knew loads of their songs but then, in the Guildhall on a ‘school night’, I found myself mumbling to tracks I had never heard before. I was gobsmacked. Had they really made this much music? It made me respect The Stranglers that much more as musicians.
As I bobbed along to tracks I recognised and didn’t recognise, I waited excitedly for that one song – Golden Brown. I know it’s cliched of me to say it’s my favourite, but I have fond memories of it. It was the first song I had heard from The Stranglers and it reminded me of when I was younger and naïve and didn’t know it was about heroin. And anyway, it was The Strangler’s highest ranking single for a reason.
The Stranglers had done so well up to this point to be authentic, but they couldn’t deliver on Golden Brown. The keys, the most important part of the melody, was jarring and Greenfield couldn’t keep up with the tune.
The vocals were off. I don’t know what the issue was but, for most of the song, the singer’s voice was missing that much-needed reverb. Yet despite this, the crowd didn’t seem to mind. Men and women, old and young all jumped and swayed to the beat, singing and laughing along.
Although The Stranglers have been around for over 40 years, they still have it. The original line-up may have changed over the years, but they still have the same charm and energy as when they first started. Even with some of their mistakes, I would jump at the opportunity to see them again and join that crowd once more to have the time of our lives.