2016 has not been good for rock fans. In the first few months we’ve seen the passing of David Bowie, Lemmy and Keith Emerson. When the news of Bowie broke, I recall commenting that people my age are going to be seeing a lot of this in the near future. Add to that, I’m unlikely to witness AC/DC in any familiar incarnation soon. Things are certainly changing. More personal to me, though, I’ve also had to concede I may never again see a Stranglers gig featuring Jet Black on drums.

I guess it’s inevitable when you’ve followed music through five decades, that your heroes will one day be no more, but you still hope the magic will last a little longer.

March 12, Birmingham O2 Academy, I gazed upon the stage with eyes confirming what I already knew, even though the reality hurt.

One drum kit.

For the past four years, despite health issues, the drummer in black has beaten the odds and appeared in a cameo role during tours. Sadly, not this year. If it’s the end, we wish Jet well and thanks for everything.

But it begs the question. How much longer will it be before I have seen my last Stranglers gig? Something I ask every year but until the inevitable happens, I’ll keep turning up to lose myself in the ecstasy of the moment.

Now a regular for a few years, Birmingham lad, Jim MacAulay plays in the band alongside Jean-Jacques Burnel, Dave Greenfield and Baz Warne. Slight change in lineup, though nothing different about the performance.

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My 16th Stranglers show dating back to 1983 and as all previous, it didn’t disappoint.

Billed, The Black and White Tour, the band played the album of the same name in full for the first part of a near two hour set. Exploding straight into Tank, followed by Nice and Sleazy until the final conclusion with Enough Time, a song I finally heard live for the first time. As always, the band were in fine form although it was noticeable the atmosphere lifted another notch higher once Black and White had concluded and a wider variety set commenced with (Get a) Grip (On Yourself). Now I don’t mean that as any criticism of Black and White, I simply think playing the album from start to finish maybe lessened the anticipation with the audience already knowing what was coming next.

Not so the the second half which was as excellent as the first but with a few surprises thrown in. By far the biggest was the first time absence in my memory of Golden Brown. Call me controversial, but it’s about time. Must be frustrating for a band to be expected to play certain tracks every concert so I applaud the decision to exclude this sacred cow. That doesn’t apply to No More Heroes, though. Never remove that one from the set, guys, just so you know.

Other favourites were there in a set which spanned the decades: Five Minutes, Something Better Change, Always the Sun, plus more recent classics including Relentless and Norfolk Coast. A nice surprise was A Soldiers Story. Not sure about being the first time live, but it certainly was for me.

The guys come round my way every March/April and 2016 was as good as ever. Loads of energy with no sign of the band ending soon. Ironically, one of the biggest cheers of the night was the usual Baz ad-libbing during Peaches.

 “I could think of a lot worse places to be.
Like down in the street,
or down in the sewer,
or Villa Park at the end of the season.”

Hey, the show was in Birmingham and if you’re not into football, all I can say is, it’s a local joke.

2016 – a year not yet three months old where so many rock legends have left us. Not so the Stranglers. Yes, it’ll happen sometime, but until I see it in Black and White, I’ll savour every minute, every year.

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Cheers.

Nick

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