When Blur were honoured as lifetime achievers for their twenty-one years in pop at the recent Brit Awards, I had to suppress ironic amusement. I blogged at the time, asking how seven studio albums constituted greatness with notably, no releases since 2003.

In contrast, the Stranglers are now on their third studio outing since that date with latest offering, Giants, number seventeen in a long list of classic albums.

Nearing 40 years in the industry, the Stranglers have toured, played live in every one of those years to my knowledge. I saw my twelfth concert by the band at the O2 Academy in Birmingham on Saturday and like the previous eleven, no two Stranglers concerts are the same.

It would be easy, simply to roll out the standard, well-known hits but the Stranglers have never been ones for taking that route. Grip, Five Minutes and Always the Sun – all absent and did I miss them? Not one bit. Instead I got four new tracks off Giants and my first ever live experience of Sometimes, Rise of the Robots and Shut up.

From the moment the lights dim and you hear the opening chords of Waltz in Black, the hairs on the back of the neck stand on end because you know the the band are coming on. Two minutes later, the place erupts in a blazing inferno as the guys launch into Burning Up Time. The previously mentioned, Sometimes is next, followed by hit after hit; songs maybe not fashionable with the mainstream music press but to a Stranglers fan, each would top their charts.

Highlights for me were belting renditions of Relentless and The Raven, the latter of which was accompanied by a stuffed replica thrown onto the stage. The bird was promptly removed by a stagehand though not before the poor creature lost half its limbs when it fell apart. Also, strangely flung on, were what appeared to be items of underwear and a female roadie who went to retrieve a pair, took one look, grimaced and kicked them back in the audience. Obviously worn. Strange folk, these Stranglers fans at times.

The band are all in fine form, displaying that they still enjoy what they do. Jean Jacques Burnel and Baz Warne share the vocals equally and I forget the time when there was ever any other line up. Always a magic moment, No More Heroes rings out and I worry that the day will come when my heroes will become no more. Dave Greenfield, whose keyboards have hypnotised me for thirty five years is in his sixties as is Burnel. The fantastic Jet Black is seventy three, for crying out loud and as I type this, I read with horror that he has been rushed to hospital and had to miss the Oxford gig last night. Get well soon fella, you are, as always, awesome.

So what constitutes a lifetime’s achievement in music? If the Brit Awards are anything to go by, little over 100 tracks on seven albums during a twelve-year period. The Stranglers, never had, or likely will, receive the credit they deserve though with seventeen studio albums and a similar amount of live ones to listen to, I could play them non-stop for days. They may never be acknowledged in a way that their lifetimes achievements are recognised by the masses, but they have given more joy to last this particular fan – a lifetime. And that’s some achievement.

Nick

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