Tag Archive: West Midlands


And another one bites the dust.

Well, at least another musical off the tick list. I’m a massive fan of Queen, and a musical theatre fan, but I’d never seen We Will Rock You until this showing. Okay, I was supposed to see it two years ago, then Covid came calling. Finally, though, I got to experience what it’s all about.

We Will Rock You — Birmingham Hippodrome — 11 July 2022

I have never witnessed a show like We Will Rock You before. Or rather, never been faced with two extremes. On one hand, the cast and band with their musical performances were outstanding. As good as anything I have ever seen or heard. Then on the other, you have the book by Ben Elton. I can honestly say, it is awful. I’d compare it to a low-grade GCSE project, but that would be unfair to the students. Little or no plot, terrible script, and contrived that many lines are only there as an excuse to wring out another Queen number. Many of the songs are irrelevant to the plot as well: Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Flash, The Show Must Go On and Fat Bottomed Girls. All fillers which do not move the (tenuous at best) story along. Not only that, many are not even great Queen songs. No One But You (Only the Good Die Young), These are the Days of Our Lives and Radio Ga Ga are average at best. Even the title number, We Will Rock You, is vastly inferior to the fast live version from Queen gigs of old. At least we got a cameo of that in the bows.

And then there were the characters as written. Little to them and only made good by the excellence of those in the roles. We are introduced to Meat and Brit, whose characters are built up to be major influences on developments, then both are discarded, having served their purpose.

The dialogue was filled with song puns, like “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really, want,” then “I can’t get no satisfaction,” and the comment that the truth is “Blowin’ in the wind.” One or two maybe, but when you’re on the 30th pun, you want to scream. And that was just Act One. Similarly, did we really need four Covid references? Less is good; no chance of overkill. But you didn’t need to kill Ben Elton’s script as it was dead already in an act of suicide by the writer.

We Will Rock You — Birmingham Hippodrome — 11 July 2022

But I still enjoyed the show. Well, mostly. This was because, as I have mentioned, the cast were phenomenal. I can’t give them enough praise. In the role of Galileo was Ian McIntosh who was out of this world. I Want to Break Free, in particular. Similarly, Elena Skye gave one of the best vocal performances I have ever seen. Let’s face it, unless you can deliver with power, sass, and stage presence, don’t even try to sing Somebody to Love. Skye was brilliant. Best number of the night.

Michael McKell played Cliff and he gave a good rendition of These Are the Days of Our Lives. Likewise, Martina Ciabatti Mennel (Meat) and Edward Leigh (Brit) were on top of their game, the former, excellent in No One But You (Only the Good Die Young) and together with I Want it All.

The villains of the piece were Jennifer O’Leary (Killer Queen) and Adam Strong (Khashoggi). Both were superb. O’Leary with Don’t Stop Me Now and Strong giving us Seven Seas of Rhye, plus together on A Kind of Magic.

And I must mention the band: Zachary Fils, Matt Herbert, James Barber, Simon Croft, Neil Murray, and  Dave Cottrell. All delivered a sound of pure rock genius and it was wonderful to see them invited into the bows and take front stage at the end.

So, a standing ovation for the performances, they were excellent. Shame about the script, though. It says it all when there are only seven named principals in a show and half of them only used when needed. Ben Elton — Could have done a whole lot better. Perhaps he was Under Pressure when he wrote this book.

What! Bad pun? Jeez, it must be catching.

Cheers.

We Will Rock You — Birmingham Hippodrome — 11 July 2022

Antony N Britt 

“Rama lama lama, ka dinga da dinga dong.” 

At least that’s what I think the lyrics are. I performed We Go Together in panto and I don’t think I ever got the words right. 

Grease—Highbury Theatre Sutton Coldfield —8 July 2022

At short notice, I went to see Grease (School Edition) by Script Youth Musical Theatre Company, and I was so glad I did. Always a supporter of local companies and youth theatre and from the moment the show began, I knew I was going to enjoy the evening.

I’m not going to go over the plot of Grease (Book, Music and Lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey) and this was the first time I have seen a junior edition of any show. Shorter and more suitable for younger cast members, this edition keeps the fun and spirit of the original version. To be honest, I’ve only seen Grease once before and apart from the removal of the pregnancy plot and alternative version of Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee, I didn’t notice many more differences. I’m sure there were but the fact I was so immersed in the show is a credit to a wonderful performance by all on stage.

In the role of Sandy was Erin Mooney who was superb in her headline number (and my favourite Grease song), Hopelessly Devoted to You. Likewise, Ollie Roberts as Danny channelled his best Travolta with Sandy, and both captured their roles perfectly.

Unless living on a deserted island for the last 50 years, everyone has heard of You’re the One That I Want, Summer Nights and Greased Lightening, but there are many more feelgood songs in this show. One not just for principals, but a large ensemble as well of which there was plenty of talent. Shakin’ at the High School Hop, Born to Hand Jive, Mooning and Freddy My Love are all good numbers and certainly had the audience full of applause after each.

Grease—Highbury Theatre Sutton Coldfield —8 July 2022

In addition to the main two, Grease is full of excellent supporting characters and to be successful you need the right people in the roles. Now when I watch a youth production, one person often registers with me more than others and on this occasion, it was Evie Rice as Rizzo. Yes, it’s an iconic role but you need excellence to fulfil its potential. Evie was in character right from the go, full of sass and attitude, facial expressions, and reactions consistent throughout. Evie tells in her programme biography that Rizzo is a “Strong character, so unlike herself,” which made the performance even more remarkable. And superb in There are Worse Things I Could Do. Well done.

Another great moment was Beauty School Dropout with Finlay Laidlaw doubling as Teen Angel alongside his T-Bird, Doody. It is one of my guilty pleasures, partaking in OTT performances and Finlay was on top of his game in this number; the audience showing its love and appreciation as deserved.

Grease is a great show by the fact there are plenty of principal roles in which to shine. Harry Robbins (Kenickie), Aimie Whillis (Frenchy), Josef Hammond (Sonny), Reanne Witheridge (Marty), Zachariah Scrivens (Roger) and Bethany Sall (Jan) all gave so much.

And there were a further 23 on stage in terms of excellent dancers and ensemble. Amature Theatre is for everyone with each as important as the lead. This is a nice company which showed enthusiasm throughout, the reaction to the deserved applause appreciated. Script Youth is also managed well. I felt welcomed on arrival and throughout the experience.

In charge of Production and Choreography was Louise Farmer who can be immensely proud of her cast and crew. Assisting, though, on Choreography was youth member, Molly Chamberlain, who also figured in a principal role as Patty the Cheerleader. Musical Direction was in safe hands with stalwart of Midlands Theatre, Chris Corcoran overseeing an excellent band.

A Lovely, enjoyable evening out and I look forward to more from Script Youth Musical Theatre Company. They prove youth and theatre do go together.

With a “Shoo-bop sha wadda wadda, yippity boom de boom.” 

Grease—Highbury Theatre Sutton Coldfield —8 July 2022

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

*** Apologies for the lateness of this review. Covid came calling. *** 

It’s hard to describe Billie Eilish’s musical style: Ethereal, gothic, pop, dark pop. I can’t label it, and I don’t think you should. If anything, the correct term would be unique.

Billie Eilish

I came across Billie in 2019 after hearing a recommendation from Dave Grohl, and who was I to question the judgement of a rock god. So, I purchased the Don’t Smile at Me EP (All but an album itself) and after an eager wait, the first full release; When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? And I secured tickets for her first arena tour. Brilliant. Then Covid came cancelling and a huge wait. Since then, a Bond theme (and an Oscar), plus a further album, Happier Than Ever, has established the still 20-year-old as one of the biggest acts on the planet so when tickets went on sale again for 2022, I was first in the queue.

The set was simple. Huge stage with just brother/song writing partner, Finneas O’Connell, plus drummer, Andrew Marshall present; it gave more focus to the star of the show. There were some backing track vocals, but this was always going to be the case as many of Eilish’s songs are double tracked and more. But the main force was live to profound effect.

Kicking off with an explosive entrance, we had Bury a Friend, followed by I Didn’t Change My Number and immediately, the audience were captive of the magic and energy Billie Eilish releases. Everyone lapped it up, including me. You could call it hypnotism at times. It was how I like to enjoy gigs, immersed and totally lost in the experience.

Billie Eilish—Utilita Areana Birmingham—15 June 2022 © Antony N Britt 2022

There are so many good numbers: You Should See Me in a Crown, My Strange Addiction, When the Party’s Over, NDA, Oxytocin, and not forgetting cameos of older hits like Bellyache and Ocean Eyes. A history of dancing injuries and sporting kinesiology tape, this didn’t stop Eilish giving a massive energetic performance which she seemed to enjoy as much as the audience. Billie Eilish is refreshing. There are no airs and graces, she is not full of herself, and clearly takes no shit, often concerned for people struggling in the crush of an audience.

Billie Eilish—Utilita Areana Birmingham—15 June 2022 © Antony N Britt 2022

My top numbers of the night were Getting Older, Bad Guy, and especially the finale of Happier Than Ever, a song which is my current favourite tune of the moment. And there were others that I found a love for which I hadn’t thought of before. In this case, Lost Cause, which I cannot stop singing now.

Billie Eilish—Utilita Areana Birmingham—15 June 2022 © Antony N Britt 2022

It’s easy to see why Eilish is so popular with both audiences and peers. There is an honesty and stripped-back approach to the music that makes it pure. And there is something in the lyrics which not only resonate with the young, but also oldies like me. It was also wonderful to relive the experience with an identical set broadcast on TV from Glastonbury a week later. I was still buzzing, and it took me back to that wonderful night.

One of the best gigs I have ever been to. Here’s to many more. 

Cheers.

Antony N Britt 

***Apologies for the lateness of this review. Covid came calling.***

Some films don’t transfer well to stage, and Shrek is one of them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an okay, enjoyable romp, but not one of the best scripts with a mediocre score. And that was such a pity because Quarry Bank Musical Theatre Company are one of the best I have seen on my travels. But you can only work with what material you have and fortunately, QBMTC did pull off a storm of a show, bringing alive characters far beyond what the script expects to deliver. 

Shrek—Brierley Hill Civic Hall—June 7 2022

Based on the 2001 film of the same name, Shrek the Musical follows the plot closely, with some added extras, most notably expanding on Lord Farquaad’s plot, excellently portrayed by Tom Robinson. But he wasn’t the only one to shine. Carl Cook in the lead role was as good as Mike Myers and likewise, Sarah Coussens excelled too as Princess Fiona. Completing the trio of heroes, one actor had the unenviable task of being an Eddie Murphey. Fortunately, Luey Pearce made Donkey his own and had me forgetting the Hollywood stars’ performance completely. Other principals were Natalie Baggott (Dragon), Gillian Homer (Gingerbread Man/Sugar Plum Fairy) and Isabella Cook (Pinocchio). 

It is a credit to Quarry Bank and amateur theatre that the performances were that good, it put the West End in the shade. Sometimes with professionals, you get the feel of going through the motions yet here, professionalism came from the heart of those who do it for the love of theatre. And didn’t it show. Wonderful. 

Shrek—Brierley Hill Civic Hall—June 7 2022

Shrek has a few excellent numbers: Morning Person, Build a Wall, Freak Flag and Story of My Life. Additionally, I loved What’s Up Duloc with the wonderful Duloc Performers. But my favourite number of the night was I Know It’s Today, where three Princess Fiona’s at different ages, tell of their wish to be rescued. Credit to Connie Davies and Katie Tranter who joined Sarah Coussens in this wonderful offering. However, there were a few songs which were fillers, not adding to the plot or moving it forward. Again, a fault of the original template. 

And I hate to keep going back to the script, but it amazes me how fast things date. Only 20 years since the original film debuted, I now feel uncomfortable at the ridiculing of a person’s size with Lord Farquaad’s being used as a plot device for cheap laughs.  

The team behind Shrek, making this an enjoyable night for all, was Zoe Russell with dual duties of Directing and Choreography, while Chris Handley was Musical Director. 

Brierley Hill Civic Hall isn’t the best venue for Musical Theatre, echoing like a cavern at times but Quarry Bank raised the roof with exuberance and quality throughout. A wonderful showing from an excellent musical theatre company. 

Shrek—Brierley Hill Civic Hall—June 7 2022

Cheers.

Antony N Britt 

The Wedding Singer was never a classic movie in 1998, and the stage musical isn’t a classic either, but if you want harmless feelgood fun, this is a show for you. For what Wedding Singer lacks in depth of plot and music, it gives in escapism and nostalgia. But you still need to make the best of what you have and fortunately, Bournville Musical Theatre Company did just that.

The Wedding Singer – The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham – 21 May 2022

The show tells the story of Robbie Hart, played superbly by Stuart McDiarmid, who gets jilted at his own wedding and falls in love with waitress, Julia Sullivan (the excellent Chloe Turner). However, Julia is engaged to rich businessman, Glen (Liam Mc Nally) whose example in life Robbie tries to follow. That is until he realises happiness is better than being rich. A sound philosophy.

But a production is not just about the main roles (as original Robbie in the film, Adam Sandler, often seems to forget) You need a strong cast, plus good characters, and meaningful sub-plots. Thankfully, there were; one such stand-out performance being that of Lisa Colvin-Grieve in the role of Holly. Great character and best number of the show with Lewis Doley (Sammy) in Right in Front of Your Eyes. Doley was also excellent as one half of the comic duo of bandmates with Robbie Love as George.

There were also good showings from Jill Hughes (Robbie’s Gran, Rosie) and Sarah Frances McCarthy (Julia’s Mum, Angie). One more to note was new member to the company, Harriet Marsland, who was exceptionally strong in her number, Let Me Come Home.

As well as the rousing opening number, It’s Your Wedding Day, there were decent tunes in Someday, Somebody Kill Me, Saturday Night in the City, All About the Green and Grow Old With You.

The Wedding Singer – The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham – 21 May 2022

The show was directed by John Morrison with Rhian Clements and musical direction was in the safe hands of Chris Corcoran. Choreography was arranged superbly by Sadie Turner who also seemed to have made an unplanned excursion on stage, as she was in the programme stating, “She was looking forward to watching the show.”

First scheduled two years ago and like many, hit by Covid. The Wedding Singer also marked Bournville’s 100th Anniversary as a company. There will be a Centenary Concert at The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham on October 22 this year to celebrate this. An amazing feat to reach such a landmark. Here’s to the next 100 years.

The Wedding Singer – The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham – 21 May 2022

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

I’ve begun many recent reviews with comments about how hard it’s been during the numerous lockdowns for Performing Arts, and now it is the time for Dance Schools to have their say. Almost two years to the day that everyone was ordered to close their doors, Keeling School of Dance took to the stage with the aptly named, The Show Must Go On.

Keeling School of Dance was established in 1934 by Beatrice Keeling at the age of 14, operating from her parents’ house before continuing in the area, finally moving to Aldridge in 1976. Sadly, Miss Keeling passed away in 2014, having taught until 2012. It is good, though, that the school has continued, run by former pupils: Jane Eardley, Sarah Beckett, Elaine Wigfield and Clare Cooksey. Classes begin from age 2 right up to advanced level and adult beginners. Also on the teaching staff is former pupil, Fran Eardley, who performed widely in the show including Point Solo (Arabian Dance) and Lyrical Solo (You Will Be Found). And it’s great to see the more experienced pupils moving forward. Grace Chambers (Jazz Solo {Show Me How You Burlesque}) and Niamh Reynolds (Contemporary Solo {Godmanchester Chinese Bridge}) now teach the younger pupils while Natasha Evans (Contemporary Solo {Showstoppa}) oversees Street.

I last attended a Keeling showcase in 2019 and the positive progression of pupils was staggering to see. Several who were tots, some whom I’d worked with in Theatre before that time, were displaying quality and polished skills. How quickly three years have flown, but so much hard work has obviously happened during that time.

On show were examples from all classes Keeling provide: Ballet, Tap, Theatre Craft, Gym, Street, Contemporary, Jazz, Lyrical and Broadway. Yes, the little ones pulled the heartstrings in their Olaf costumes during When I Get Older, but it was the overall enthusiasm and determination to get everything right during all the dances which was the overriding memory of an emotional and exhilarating afternoon. In addition to the solos already mentioned, there was also Sax, an excellent tap solo from Nadia Fallouh. I cannot name everyone, the same I won’t single out more dances as this would be an overly long review and to be frank, I’d have to list them all.

There were two awards presented on the day. The Cooper Cup for progress was won by the previously mentioned Grace Chambers while the Keeling Cup for enthusiasm, commitment and improvement went jointly to siblings, Lizzie Powell-Heyworth and James Powell-Heyworth.

Grace Chambers, winner of the Cooper Cup with mum, Elaine Wigfield.
James & Lizzie Powell-Heyworth with the Keeling Cup.

This show wasn’t a vanity project for parents to see how good their kids were in a chosen field of the arts, it was to engage with the wider world and show that dance is an important part of culture and should not be ignored. Covid restrictions hit the arts badly and to bounce back fighting is a credit to the staff and pupils of Keeling. The students of today are stars of tomorrow and there were plenty on view during this showing.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

Somebody once said to me that there were better Queen tribute bands out there than Queen & Adam Lambert. Now, I rarely do tribute acts, apart from when you can no longer see the real thing like Queen. So, how did Supreme Queen measure up to the dazzling legacy and did it beat the modern-day incarnation of the band?

Well, visually, it took time because obviously, they were not Queen, but the sound! With a voice so like Freddy Mercury, lead singer, Scott Maley immediately had me believing I was listening to the real thing. And that, I guess, is what you need with tributes. For tributes are what they are and to be successful you do need to believe. After a few songs, I forgot the physical differences and I experienced legends of rock.

Starting off with One Vision and Tie Your Mother Down, Supreme Queen treated a packed audience to hit after hit: Seven Seas of Rhye, Keep Yourself Alive, It’s a Kind of Magic and Under Pressure were among 25 instantly recognisable classics. I was also overjoyed to hear the fast (and, superior) version of We Will Rock You.

The set in the main modelled itself on the stadium tour songs of the mid-1980s. I guess when you have such an enormous catalogue, things must give way. Therefore, sparse on the early albums and nothing from the final three. A shame, but it’s probably what the fans want. And to be there, the audience most definitely were fans of Queen. Such energy and enthusiasm from Supreme Queen transferred onto those watching. And not just the oldies who formed the majority. It was also good to see younger members; teenagers with parents next to me and three children all under eleven in front with their family. It was clear all were brought up on the band, gloriously indoctrinated and now having the time of their lives. Brilliant. You see, we form many of our tastes based on those of others. I, myself, was into Queen aged 10, all because my elder sister had Queen albums in 1973 while my classmates went on to like The Bay City Rollers, .

The show divided into two sets, allowing audience and band time to recuperate and then we had more of the same: I Want to Break Free, Another One Bites the Dust, Radio Ga Ga and, of course, Bohemian Rhapsody. Mimicking Queen shows of old, Supreme Queen ended with We Will Rock You (single version) and We Are the Champions.

What we also had were two long drum and guitar solos. Now, I’m not a fan of Brian May and Roger Taylor’s musical masturbations, but they were mainstays of the original shows throughout Queen’s career, so I can see why they’re included.

Supporting Scott Maley’s Mercury was Luke Timmins (Brian May), Alan Wallbanks (John Deacon) and Allan Brown (Roger Taylor). In addition, we had Ben Marshall as the keyboard player Queen didn’t have but contributing the pieces Freddy Mercury would play. All were excellent. Let’s face it, to pull off being convincing Queens, you’ve got to be damn good at what you do, and Supreme Queen were that and more.

A thoroughly wonderful night. I will be back. Long live Queen.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

Tom Bryce finds a USB stick on a train and brings it home to try and find its owner to return it. However, on viewing, he witnesses the murder of a young woman in an online snuff video. Tom is then threatened by the perpetrators to keep silent otherwise it will be bad for him, wife, Kellie and son, Max. However, Max fails to do so and Kellie is taken to be the next star performer.

I’m a huge fan of Peter James, although I only started reading him with the Roy Grace novels. I guess that makes Looking Good Dead the second book of James’ that I read many years ago. I’ve since read them all and am now going through the standalones’ back catalogue.

Looking Good Dead, like many stage productions, had a small cast so roles from the book were reassigned. In fact, Grace wasn’t the main character on this occasion, the Bryce family instead receiving the focus. However, it was nice for a fan to hear references to off-stage police persons like Norman Potting, Cleo Moray, EJ Bountwood and Alison Vosper, among others. It brought a bit more of the books to proceedings.

In the roles of Tom and Kellie Bryce we had Adam Woodyatt and Laurie Brett duplicating their Eastenders soap marriage and the chemistry between them was obvious. Woodyatt had been in Eastenders for 35 years until recently and although Tom was similar in character to Ian Beale, he was different enough to be a person in his own right. Both Woodyatt and Brett delivered strong, believable performances on the night and the same can be said for Luke-Ward Wilkinson as Max. There were some lovely scenes which portrayed the typical lack of communication between parent and offspring.

On the police side were Harry Long as Roy Grace with Leon Stewart in the role of Glenn Branson. Completing the trio of detectives was Gemma Stroyan as one of my favourite Grace characters – Bella Moy. However, I didn’t see any Maltesers on this occasion (You need to read the books to get that one). Supporting, also was Ian Houghton (Jonas Kent), Mylo McDonald (Mick) and Natalie Boakye (Janie).

Looking Good Dead looked good indeed with a main set of the Bryce’s living room with occasional illuminated cellar backdrop behind a gauze and pop-up police station. Transition between scenes were smooth and you did have the feel of everything being bigger than it was.

It was probably good that it has been 15 years since I read the novel as I couldn’t remember many details. I’m now intrigued to learn the differences but will wait for the ITV adaptation as this tale is next in line to air, then I may re-read the book. I’m pretty sure, though, the brains behind the kidnapping differed in the book.

Looking Good Dead was adapted for stage by Shaun McKenna and directed by Jonathan O’Boyle with Joshua Andrews as Producer.

Overall, an enjoyable evening and I look forward to further theatre outings for Roy Grace and Co.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

I shall start with something unconnected to The Coral by stating that the O2 Institute in Birmingham was the most difficult venue to get into (on numerous counts) in over 40 years of attending music gigs and theatres. And with a management policy ignorant of autism.

So, I was in a bad mood before we started, and I was looking for The Coral to lift me. Thankfully, they did, although I was not particularly a fan of the show format, being a 20th anniversary celebration of their self-titled debut album.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the 2002 offering; it has great tracks. But I also like songs from the subsequent nine, therefore, when the opening 11 numbers come from one album, the remainder only average one per subsequent release in a shorter set than most gigs with just 19 numbers in total.

From the first album set and following Spanish Main, standout numbers were Shadows Fall, I Remember, Dreaming of You and the epic Goodbye. I say epic because played live, the extended instrumental break during Goodbye is out of this world. Bisecting the album and second set was the hidden track Time Travel while the band took a short break. And then we had the best of the rest.

Starting off with Bill McCai and Pass it On, The Coral also treated the crowd to a couple from the 2021 release, Coral Island. Now this is where I felt the most disappointment because Coral Island was one of the best releases of last year. To only get two tracks from it, and a double album at that, left me feeling short-changed. The two on the night were Faceless Angel and Lover Undiscovered, but I would dearly have loved to hear Vacancy, among others. Still, of the remaining offerings we did get In the Morning, Holy Revelation and my own personal favourite Coral track, Jaqueline.

The Coral produce original music with a touch of nostalgia, sometimes harking back to the psychedelia of the 60s and fluctuating between melodic and raw energy. The sort of music you can lose yourself in, and long may it continue. In addition to the full-time current line-up of the band (James Skelley, Paul Duffey, Nick Power, Ian Skelley and Paul Molloy), Zak Mc Donnell and Danny Murphey join live proceedings to achieve a massive sound which in a smaller venue like the O2 Institute, makes for something special. I just wish we would have had more from them, even just a further 10 minutes.

So, not the most enjoyable Coral gig I have been to, due to the set content, but still a great night out.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

First and foremost, I’m a Stranglers fan. So much so, in my 2015 novel, Dead Girl Stalking, my protagonist had a poster of them on his bedroom wall, and he defended the band from the derision of his girlfriend whose tastes were probably more R&B. I even acknowledged the band at the front of the book as having provided a running soundtrack while writing it. So if you ever do read Dead Girl Stalking, have a little Don’t Bring Harry or Baroque Bordello at the back of your mind.

My own love affair with The Stranglers began in 1977 with a BASF C-90 taped recording of Rattus Norvegicus. A multitude of albums and 21 gigs attended, that dalliance long ago became a full-blooded relationship. I have many favourite bands but if I’m honest, the one I could not live without are The Stranglers.

The last two years have affected everyone in varying ways, none more so than the Family in Black. The loss of Dave Greenfield in 2020 was that of a family member. A constant companion, friend, and lover, all through the years I have followed the band.

Yeah, I admit, when I first heard the news of Dave’s passing, I thought, “Well, that’s it.” I couldn’t see how the band could continue. Members, some of them huge, have departed over the years but along with the trademark bass of Jean-Jacques Burnel, Dave Greenfield’s keys are the sound of The Stranglers. So I was glad when the tour still took place in memory of Dave and ecstatic when the 18th studio album, Dark Matters, was posthumously released with Dave’s keyboards present. Within the opening minute of Water, I fell in love with Dave and The Stranglers all over again. But how would they be live without the great man on stage?

The answer was – superb. From the opening bars of Waltz in Black, I had that buzz I’d not felt for so long. Then the euphoria as the band took to the stage and launched into Toiler on the Sea. The Stranglers were back.

One massive change as Toby Hounsham had the unenviable task of taking the keyboards and was described by guitarist/vocalist Baz Warne as having massive balls to do so. Toby was brilliant, in fact, reproducing Greenfield’s arpeggios and sounding just as good as any other Stranglers gig I have attended. It was also nice to see Toby well received by the faithful, thankful, like myself, that the magic is not over. As JJ Burnel stated in the past, The Stranglers are a brand, not a band, so there is no reason they should ever end. I guess it’ll happen one day but aged 58 myself, I can be selfish and hope they don’t go just yet.

On the night we were treated to classic after classic: Something Better Change, Always the Sun, Strange Little Girl, Go Buddy Go, Golden Brown, Hanging Around, Sometimes and Skin Deep among many others. But we also had six new songs from the brilliant Dark Matters. Water, Last Men on the Moon and This Song, fans are already familiar with, having done the circuit on the last tours before Covid. But there was also a debut for White Stallion, which I believe will become a permanent fixture in future tours like Relentless has been since 2006.

It’s always good to witness The Stranglers gel. I’ve followed them from near the beginning but can honestly say in recent years they have never been better live. JJ and Baz come across as two who are on the same page. This also applies to the newer recruits. Jim Macauly on drums has been with the band several years now and even contributed to songs on Dark Matters. And along with Toby Hounsham, provided great backing vocals on several numbers, just as Mr. Greenfield did for many years.

The other two new songs were performed as a JJ/Baz duet during the first of two encores. The short acoustic, The Lines was excellent before a poignant and highly emotional version of And if You Should See Dave. Written as a tribute, there was many a watery eye during the line, “This is where your solo would go.” The empty keyboard lit to all round applause and cheers.

As the case is so often, The Stranglers finished with No More Heroes, always guaranteed to bring the house down. Thankfully, I do still have heroes and hopefully, mine will be here for some time yet.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

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