Review: The Stranglers & Therapy? – Ulster Hall, Belfast
The Beast from the East brought snow to our shores last month and disrupted roads, travel and everyday life for some. It even caused The Stranglers to pull their Belfast gig leaving fans disgruntled but quickly they announced 6th April as the new date and I was lucky enough to go along to see them in action.
First up, with billing as ‘very special guests’ were one of my favourite bands, the mighty Therapy?. The three piece strode onto the stage of the Ulster Hall to the cheers of a hard core bunch of fans up the front of the venue and opened the set with their cover of Joy Divisions’ ‘Isolation’. This is not their first rodeo and it shows as the trio are tight musically and well accustomed to a bit of stage banter with the crowd. Dedicating it to George Best, Alex Higgins and Ken Dodd, ‘Die Laughing‘ is blistering and following it with what seems to be a new song ‘Callow‘ only shines a light on the weaker spots of the latter. ‘Stories‘ sounds a bit offkey and like the tuning has been dropped a quarter, or it could be the acoustics in the Ulster Hall but something is not quite right. This is evident again on ‘Turn‘ and this slightly marrs what is ostensibly a greatest hits set for the band. Songs like ‘Teethgrinder‘ and ‘Knives‘ get a rattle before the set ends on my favourite, ‘Nowhere‘. Despite tuning issues and the niggling ‘not quite right’ sound Therapy? play a great show and no doubt have gained a few more fans from this guest slot tonight.
With a short interlude to refuel at the bar, the crowd are all eager and abuzz to see The Stranglers. Hands up here, I am one of those people who only knows the hits of The Stranglers; I’m talking ‘Golden Brown‘, ‘Peaches’ and ‘No More Heroes’. So, following a cursory listen to some albums before the show, I was excited to see what they had in store.
‘Waltz in Black‘ is played setting the atmosphere for the band and I am genuinely gobsmacked that I have heard this eerie and quirky tune before but never realised who it was by. Coming onto the red lit stage, the crowd go wild and give a Belfast welcome to the band who quickly kick off with ‘Curfew‘. It’s an assault on the ears but in a good way, with it’s charging bass line in the capable hands of JJ Burnel and its dystopian lyrics all the more eerie in the wake of the current tensions with Russia. ‘(Get a) Grip (On Yourself)‘ is the follow up and Baz Warne spits the lyrics out, working the crowd and the stage in equal measures. ‘Bear Cage‘ from 1979s The Raven album is followed closely by ‘Nuclear Device‘. Warne jokes with the crowd that he thought we’d forgotten about them due to the blizzards and the rescheduled date but thanked us all for showing up tonight. With the Ulster Hall packed it seemed they were intent to make it worth our while.
‘Peaches‘ with it’s inimitable bassline and lascivious lyrics is welcomed with cheers and everyone sings along with abandon. On ‘Golden Brown‘ Dave Greenfield takes centre stage with it’s overriding harpsichord lending a waltzing feel. Warnes guitar solo is smooth and timeless over the top, and it’s clear the band are a finely tuned machine. ‘Always The Sun‘ is more of a classic pop song and to enhance the lyrics the lighting tech is working overtime flashing the lights to give the feeling of a warm sun. What it does pick up however, is a short haired woman atop a mans shoulders who appears to be flashing something of her own, but from my place in the crowd I can’t tell if it’s her bra or its contents that she is exhibiting to a laughing Warne on stage. After the song finishes he thanks whoever helpfully trained the spotlight on the woman in question and laughingly admonishes her telling her she may regret that share in the morning. But sure, at least it’s a memorable gig for them!
A cover of ‘Walk on By’, best known as a Dionne Warwick song, seems an odd choice for a punk band but on this Warnes voice shines with its sneering quality. They certainly reinvent the song and make it their own. ‘Duchess‘ sounds like it could be a Kinks song and Greenfields keys make the song. ‘Hanging Around‘ is a simple song elevated by Warnes stage presence and Burnels bassline. ‘London Lady‘ from Rattus Norvegicus‘ is quintessential English punk with its slang and euphemisms that I’ll not go into… Jim Macauley, touring drummer really hammers out the beat on this track and it’s a catchy, bouncy number.
Ending the set on ‘Tank‘ from Black and White, the band are not long gone from the stage before they are back for an encore due to the crowd demand. ‘Go Buddy Go‘, the double A side with ‘Peaches‘ but for this reviewer, the lesser known of the two, is a 1950s themed rock and roll tune that gets everyone dancing and singing along despite the heat of the venue. The final song of the set is ‘No More Heroes‘ which is welcomed like the old friend it is. It gets me thinking that whilst there may not be many heroes these days, especially in music, for the remaining members of The Stranglers to still keep touring consistently, delivering great shows and filling venues for over 40 years, who needs heroics? Hard working bands are where it’s at and tonight’s two bands on the bill have shown that. Let that be inspiration to any aspiring punk or rock bands.