Sunday 2 April 2017

The Stranglers & Ruts DC at Guildford G-Live March 21st 2017 with Photos by Derek D'Souza

The Stranglers - Photographed at Guildford G-Live by Derek D'Souza
The Stranglers story started here in Guildford, indeed there was a far from subtle clue in their original choice of name – The Guildford Stranglers. Thankfully they ditched the prefix pretty quickly, I mean it doesn’t quite have the same Rock’n’Roll ring to it as say, The New York Dolls or Hanoi Rocks does it? It’s hard to believe that this green and pleasant area of Surrey could spawn a band that would become arguably one of the most challenging, violent and unpredictable bands of all their so-called Punk peers. The typically English picture postcard idyll of Chiddingfold, Bramley Village Hall and the Scout Hut in Shalford sound more like locations from an episode of Midsomer Murders rather than important landmarks in The Stranglers story. But just like a plot from the unlikely crime series there was something dark lurking beneath the veneer of suburban commuter belt respectability. But the inner cities don’t have it all and probably Paul Weller’s line “I know I come from Woking and you say I’m a fraud” came the closet, not just geographically (Woking is less than 10 miles away from Guildford) but also philosophically to prove that the "uncool" suburbs can also be a hotbed of seething, righteous anger and creativity.

JJ Burnel of The Stranglers - Photographed at Guildford G-Live by Derek D'Souza
The Stranglers played their first ever gig in Guildford and were initially buoyed by Jet Black’s local ice cream and off-licence businesses but the band seem to have maintained a rather ambivalent attitude to the town over the years. After all none of the members were born there and tonight there’s none of the usual trappings of a “hometown” gig as such. Indeed during the early years tensions seemed to be fraught between the band and the town and somewhat ironically, tonight's venue, the G-Live was built on the site of the old Civic Hall from which The Stranglers were once banned by the local council. Just down the road from here nearly 40 years ago, The Stranglers walked off stage half way through a gig being filmed for the BBC's "Rock Goes To College" with the parting shot "Guildford University never represented Guildford, we hate playing to elitist audiences so f**k off!" Unsurprisingly, the BBC never televised the show. Luckily nowadays there’s no such animosity between The Stranglers, the town and its local audience and the band are playing to a loyal and enthusiastic crowd where elitism couldn’t be further from anyone’s mind.

The Stranglers - Photographed at Guildford G-Live by Derek D'Souza
There’s nothing quite like that sense of anticipation when the lights go down and the familiar strains of the "Waltzinblack" intro boom out of the PA system. I still get shivers up and down my spine even now. The band takes the stage and they launch straight into "The Raven" which is the perfect opening number with its lengthy, pulsating intro. After last year’s stunning “Black And White” tour tonight, the emphasis is back on the "Greatest Hits". There is a twist though in that we don’t get "Duchess" or "Nuclear Device" but instead we do get "Who Wants The World" and "Bear Cage". These two tracks always seemed to be hiding under the considerable shadows of the band’s more commercially successful singles but tonight both sound unbelievable, particularly “Who Wants The World” which is transformed into a massive terrace chant with it’s slamming singalong chorus. Anyway, with such a huge back catalogue they are always going to miss out a few of your favourites but the one and a half hour show is packed with enough of the old familiar crowd pleasers to keep everyone happy. "(Get a) Grip (On Yourself)", "Nice ‘n’ Sleazy", "Peaches", "Hanging Around" and "Something Better Change" all sounding as fresh and vital as ever. There’s also the occasional album track thrown into the mix, “Never To Look Back” proves that despite “10’s” weak and dated production and its somewhat pedestrian cover versions, there were a few moments of sheer class to be found on the album. From the debut we get “Sometimes” and from the latest album “Giants” we get “Freedom Is Insane” and “15 Steps” which highlights Baz’s excellent guitar work.

Baz Warne of The Stranglers - Photographed at Guildford G-Live by Derek D'Souza
Baz certainly relishes his role and he’s got the balance just right - he can croon “Golden Brown” in his impressive baritone but also exudes that necessary Stranglers menace. He has a great rapport, not only with his band-mates, but also with the fans. I was reading some comments on Facebook after one recent show and someone mentioned that they thought Baz had 'saved' The Stranglers. You know, I think they might have a point in a way, he definitely re-energised and enthused both the band and many of those fans disillusioned with Hugh's departure and the Paul Roberts era. The band certainly look like they are enjoying themselves, at no point do you get the feeling that they are going through the motions despite JJ and Dave performing with the band for over 40 years. JJ has hardly changed over the years and his bass still sounds like a Triumph Bonneville revving up. He makes eye contact with members of the crowd, acknowledging some familiar faces with a grin here and a wink there and tries to upstage the serious tone of “Golden Brown” with some neat ballet pirouettes behind Baz’s back. Dave Greenfield takes a swig of drink while playing one of his trademark keyboard runs one-handed and takes over the lead vocals on “Genetix”. Now this track does your head in just listening to it on record so I’m not sure how they can play it live. With its weird time signatures it’s not exactly what you would call a dance number, well unless you’ve had a few pints and “have your feet the wrong way round” as Graham Day once sang. Although he is still considered part of the band Jet no longer performs live due to health issues and has been replaced full-time by the excellent drummer Jim MacAulay, who even resembles a young Jet! It’s a shame that Jet can’t make an appearance tonight here in the town were he somehow assembled the band from such an unlikely and disparate bunch of people. I bet during those early rehearsals in the Shalford Scout Hut they would never have imagined some 40 years later that they'd still be playing to sold out venues all over the world. So, thank you Guildford!

Segs of Ruts DC - Photographed at Guildford G-Live by Derek D'Souza
You certainly get value for money when you go to see The Stranglers - as support they have had acts of the calibre of Wilko Johnson and The Alarm and on this tour Ruts DC have been invited along to open the shows. Ruts DC, just like The Stranglers, are still producing superb new music and are riding high on a wave of positivity with the release of their excellent new album "Music Must Destroy". Following the "Rhythm Collison Vol. 2" Reggae and Dub orientated collaboration, the new album sees them stripped back to a more guitar based 'Rock' sound. The band have also pared down accordingly to a three-piece featuring the original Ruts rhythm section of bassist Segs Jennings and drummer Dave Ruffy with Leigh Heggarty on guitar. Such is the strength of the new material that it comprises a large chunk of the night's well received set, "Kill The Pain" has a soaring memorable chorus and "Psychic Attack" is an absolute belter, spitting vitriol with a blistering energy that belies the band's age. You can hear what I mean in Episode 24 of our Retrosonic Podcast. Segs is looking dapper in his suit and trilby, he shows us a bright blue plaster on his finger and jokes "I’m struggling, me and JJ had a bit of a fight backstage but I think I got off quite lightly". It didn’t affect his bass playing noticeably! He handles most of the vocals and has a suitably gruff voice which is ideal when you think back to Malcolm Owen's trademark growl.

Dave Ruffy of Ruts DC - Photographed at Guildford G-Live by Retro Man Blog
Talking of gruff vocals, on the album itself Henry Rollins provides the backing vocals on the title track "Music Must Destroy", it's a slower paced yet heavy number which played tonight is another stand-out. The quality of the new songs and the fact that they are much rawer means that they fit in seamlessly alongside the familiar classics such as "In A Rut", "Staring at the Rude Boys" and "West One (Shine on Me)". Segs and Ruffy have sometimes been labelled the "Sly & Robbie of Punk", they even appeared in the BBC's "Story of Reggae" documentary. Tonight "Mighty Soldier" and a peerless "Jah War" remind us that they always had an instinctive love and grasp of Reggae that informed, but never overpowered The Ruts sound. It's a treat to watch Dave Ruffy drumming on these tracks. Of course we are treated to "Babylon’s Burning" and they even manage to squeeze in the manic two minute blast of "Society" before leaving the stage to warm and rowdy applause. You can check out some photos and see our feature on the now legendary Paul Fox benefit show at the Islington Academy back in 2007 here. The gig was sadly one of Paul's last ever live appearances with the band and featured some impressive special guests including Henry Rollins, The Damned, TV Smith, UK Subs, Misty In Roots and many more. Leigh Heggarty writes a humorous Blog about his exploits as a touring musician called "Leigh's Mad World of Guitars" and its well worth checking out.

Leigh Heggarty of Ruts DC - Photographed at Guildford G-Live by Derek D'Souza
Thanks to Derek D’Souza for the excellent photographs, you can check out more of Derek’s portfolio at his blinkandyoumissit web-site. Derek spoke to us about his new book on The Jam, "In Echoed Steps: The Jam and a Vision of The Albion" in our latest Retrosonic Podcast. You can listen to or download the episode below or subscribe for free on iTunes or Mixcloud. You can read more about the band’s Guildford connections in Malcolm Wyatt’s interview with JJ in his superb Write Wyatt Blog here and check out more photos of the gig at the Retro Man Blog Facebook page here. For our feature on The Stranglers "Black And White" at Brixton Academy and Reading Hexagon last year please check the Retro Man Blog archive here.