The Stranglers made an uproarious return to Guildford on Thursday (March 5) with a triumphant, hit-laden homecoming at G Live.
Some 40 years after founder members, Guilfordian drummer Jet Black and and singer Hugh Cornwell, met in the mid-70s, the band led hundreds of devotees on a career-spanning trip down memory lane at the venue in London Road.
Pounding renditions of the ubiquitous Golden Brown, with its skittish harpsichord swells, and sleazy stomper Peaches are obvious highlights, although No More Heroes was conspicuous by its absence.
It was back in 1974 that Black, real name John Duffy, and Cornwell formed The Guildford Stranglers, who were initially based out of The Jackpot, the off-licence run by the enterprising young Black.
The duo soon recruited bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel, a former Royal Grammar School pupil, who was joined by guitarist Hans Wärmling and keyboardist Dave Greenfield.
But after penning some of the band’s most immediately recognisable numbers, Cornwell later bowed out in 1990 and was replaced by Paul Roberts before Mackem Baz Warne took centre stage in 2006.
“Last time we were here, youse all said you couldn’t understand me, man!” drawls Warne in his thick Wearside drawl.
“Am I too northern for you?” he jests, shortly after the band walk on Waltzinblack, the opening track from The Stranglers’ 1981 album, The Gospel According to the Meninblack – best remembered as the theme music from eccentric TV chef Keith Floyd’s madcap cooking shows.
It’s almost exactly a year since the band last played G Live, but there are no signs of the band not being welcome back.
Every song is met with rapturous applause, every lyric belted out by a rag, tag and bobtail bunch of fans, many of whom have been with the band right from the very start.
After a high octane set by fellow 70s new wave punks The Rezillos, Warne and co rip into The Raven with its swirling synths, pulsing bassline and staccato guitar riff and also I’ve Been Wild, which despite being one of the band’s (relatively) newer numbers has a big, brash chorus befitting any Stranglers classic.
Deputising on drums, Jim MacAulay stands aside midway through the band’s set to allow sticksman Black to take the limelight, cue pandemonium as Black counts in Baroque Bordello, which sounds like some kind of demented fairground ride led by Greenfield’s synths.
Immediately, the lights go up around G Live, bathing the venue in a warm golden glow – everyone knows what’s coming, but the iconic harpsichord intro of Golden Brown is enough to make even the most hardened Stranglers fan’s hairs stand on end.
The song leaps and jolts between time signatures from phrase to phrase, an ode both to the tangled mind of a desperate heroin addiction and Cornwell’s fascination with a mysterious temptress. It’s long been heralded their greatest accomplishment, and with good reason.
Black remains on the drums for an equally well-received airing of Always The Sun, sparking another deafening sing-along to its soaring chorus, and also Genetix.
The run-in sees the band drop a squelching, grimy version of Peaches, propelled by Burnel’s burbling bass and Warne’s scabrous sneers, before the set is rounded out with Duchess, Lost Control, Curfew and finally Down in the Sewer.
With time in hand, there’s just room for an encore featuring Hanging Around – but there is no place in the set, oddly, for the anthemic No More Heroes, which elucidates a few murmurs of discontent from the masses.
It’s the only blot on an otherwise exultant homecoming for The Stranglers.
Originally published on Get Surrey, 06/03/15