The Stranglers/The Godfathers: UEA Norwich, Monday 25th March
Peter Coyne has had a great tour he tells us, but he’s not having a good night tonight. Despite his opening rally of ‘let’s do it!’ the Norwich massive haven’t responded well, much to his chagrin. Twenty-five minutes in he tells us we’re a ‘tough fucking crowd’.
To be fair it’s a blameless situation. While the locals can be forgiven for a lack of energy, coming in stone cold sober from sub-zero temperatures on a dismal Monday night, the band on stage are working their arses off to produce the kind of full-on feral garage punk that ought to be taking the roof off anywhere, anytime.
Despite their name The Godfathers exude a nuanced air of menace which is more Reggie Kray than Vito Corleone, deploying a Jimmy Pursey-meets-the Stooges combination of emphatically accented raw-throated vocals over a hard beat and penetrating guitar licks, the latter veering between guttural R&B and psychedelic rock with flashes of surf twang. A combination like that, and the songs to go with it, can’t but win out in the end.
‘I Can’t Sleep Tonight’, the first number from new release ‘Jukebox Fury’ is dedicated to the brothers Ramone for stylistic reasons that are soon made clear, and starts to work the thaw; while the long-lease they took out on Lennon’s ‘Cold Turkey’ thirty years back turns out to still be paying dividends.
By the time they serve up their old Syd Presley classic ‘Hup Two Three’ and climax with a rousing ‘Birth School Work Death’ there’s no doubt they’ve rammed their point home.
If nothing else they’ve warmed the crowd well for The Men in Black. After nearly forty years in the game The Stranglers have so many hits under their belt that they could comfortably turn out year after year as a straightforward nostalgia act, no questions asked. It’s to their credit then that they produce a set mixing the familiar with the unfamiliar; the latter including both new material such as ‘Mercury Rising’ and half-forgotten back catalogue entries.
Of these some are pleasingly appropriate, particularly ‘Norfolk Beach’, and others less so (‘Nubiles’? Please! Did Jimmy Saville die in vain?). Such is the band’s level of confidence and slick professionalism though even the casual punters who have come for a sing-a-long show no impatience with the mix.
The reception is warm from the off, and if ‘Toiler on the Sea’ and ‘Goodbye Toulouse’ would hardly have topped the popular poll the opening bars of ‘Grip’ set the hall alight for the first time. It seems almost cruel to say it, but Baz Warne has occupied centre stage with the band for so long that Hugh Cornwall seems little more than a distant memory. On the other hand the unexplained absence of septuagenarian drummer Jet Black is disturbing, and when he makes an impact substitution as a breathy ‘European Female’ drifts to a close the welcome is tinged with some degree of relief.
He sticks around for the rest of the party which features everything we came for: a creepily dramatic ‘Nice and Sleazy’, full-on blasts of ‘Something Better Change’ and ‘Straighten Out’ and, inevitably, a ‘No More Heroes’ to wave us off back into the stubborn and unwelcome late-winter weather.