WORDS BY JANET HARDING / IMAGES WARREN MILLAR
“Lights go out, a hush fills the venue…then ‘Waltzing Black’ is heard…the delicious sounds of Wurlitzer style organ, haunting yet quirky”
In my stomping ground and home town of Warrington something’s coming – a raucous, riotous, punk infused, rock infested, chaotic storm of music, creativity and nostalgia has been manifesting. Tonight it breaks (with what will turn out to be wild and reckless abandon) because tonight super group, the Stranglers, arrive in our town with one epic explosion, and not only that…they’re joined by no other than Ruts DC! It’s gonna be one hell of a show and one hell of a night. Two utterly legendary bands, musical royalty, both with reputations of live performing brilliance which precede them. Twice postponed, once due to the pandemic and once due to illness within the band, tonight’s show is another that’s been eagerly awaited…and goes on to be devoured wholly!! I was very young but I do remember, through faded visions of seventies wall paper, the sounds of both of these bands on a huge TV on Top of the Pops. I didn’t know it, I was a young child…but the sound of the suburbs was forming!
Parr Hall in Warrington is our venue tonight. Designed and built in 1895 by local architect, William Owen, it now has Grade 2 listed status. It really is a stunning building, true to its era of Victorian music hall grandeur. Think sumptuous red velvet and gold piping. At just over a thousand capacity it’s a decent size, you get a good crowd feel, but small enough to feel extra special. I’ve been to many events here, I like it a lot, it’s genuinely a great venue and there’s always a good atmosphere in here. Parr Hall has played host to a vast, star studded and impressive list of events, artists and genres. It’s also home to one of the very few remaining, unaltered, surviving, pipe organs in the UK that was built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll , the great French organ builder.
Upon entering the plush and exquisite foyer and box office area , there is already that gig buzz in the air, that feeling of building excitement. This genuinely feels like something big is coming…and when it does it’s gonna go off, it’s gonna hit hard – once that pin comes out of this musical grenade we WILL know about it!
Ruts DC (the Ruts)
John ‘Segs’ Jennings
I can honestly say, I’m looking forward to this band. Emerging from London in the late seventies, from the beating heart of the (then) punk revolution, the Ruts, later becoming Ruts DC (DC=da capo, the musical term for ‘from beginning),are a no nonsense, no holds barred, reggae infused, punk/ska/oi band, and when they play it’s known about. Coming from, and being an integral part of such a ground breaking, controversial and musical and culturally important movement, this band shake things up. It’s testament to their creativity, originality (let’s not forget, there was no punk until this) and sound that they’ve stood the test of time.
Forming in 1977 then releasing debut single ‘In a Rut’ in 1979, championed by Radio One and John Peel, the song has become an anthem of theirs. To the bouncing sounds of reggae, the three band members walk on stage, smiling and waving. Instruments picked up, it’s into the first song…and we are OFF! Bang, hairs stand on end, it’s loud, it’s banging. This is the real and original sound of early punk, and it’s something to behold. Aimed at shocking, it may have mellowed over the years as more genres evolved and things became more acceptable, but it still has that edge ..that power…that ‘hey you, listen to this then’.
It’s busy in here, people are pogoing, shouting back the lyrics …it feels alive, feels raw, of its time, it’s brilliant, still captures that feeling of a whole new sound, of ground breaking heights, I can only imagine how those early gigs must have been, but I feel this tonight gives real insight. It’s one of my favourite musical styles, this is pure bliss!
In keeping with the ska/oi theme the guys are wearing hats, two of which are trilbies – very ‘of the time’ styling, adding to the nostalgia. Tonight’s performance is stand out, so much passion. you can literally feel the energy going into this. An unapologetic sound, banging, pounding beats you can feel. Loud bass, fast tempo, an angry vibe running throughout. Heavy guitars and clever ricochet effects, feedback and screaming guitars are all here! It’s such reminiscent, nostalgia inducing feels, the unmistakably Cockney accent, talking, shouting, then singing, smooth, even vocals with a real clarity. Shouty and loud then singsong in the more reggae/ska themed songs, sometimes there s even the hint of mod coming through. Ruts DC are bloody good – if you’re a fan of that familiar thumping bass drum, that riotous early punk uprising sound, then this band is a must see and I’d urge you to do so.
During ‘Babylon’s Burning’ it goes through the roof… guitars on fire, that London sound, drum kits getting smashed! Explosive, original, spine tingling, punk rock bang but with just enough ska/reggae to soften the sound when needed, then statements of oi …the exaggerated drawn out words, then punctuations of oiiiii. The whole thing is utterly bewildering in a chaotic and ‘crave more’ sort of way. Ruts DC have, I can assure you, still got it. We may be decades on, but it sounds as exciting now as when new.
True legends of punk rock, pioneers of a movement, I take my trilby off to you, Ruts DC. You are to be celebrated. Bloody loved this set. You’ve earned your place in musical history. Thank you.
…In memory of Nick Tesco – the Members – ‘Sound of the suburbs’
The Stranglers – headliner
Baz Warne – guitar/lead vocal
Jean-Jacques Burnel – bass/lead vocal
Jim Macaulay – drums/backing vocals
Toby Hounsham – keys/backing vocal
So now for the decade-spanning, musically transcending, legendary, charismatic, creative, and talented band that can only be the Stranglers. Billed as being the ‘final and last ever tour’, this was to be something special and not to be missed. Then, after the sad loss of keyboardist Dave Greenfield after contracting Covid, it was decided to carry on performing live in tribute to Dave. It really is some tribute indeed.
In a 5 decade career, everyone knows a Stranglers tune or two, even if you’re not a fan I mean two words sum it up perfectly well…’Golden Brown ‘- enough said. But for a huge fan of punk and that early suburb sound like myself, this is out of this world! It’s now completely packed out in the house. After the performance from Ruts DC the excitement levels have gone up and are building. The heat, the pressure, the anticipation, it’s electric.
Lights go out, a hush fills the venue…then ‘Waltzing Black’ is heard…the delicious sounds of Wurlitzer style organ, haunting yet quirky, through dry ice, red lasers and lighting, the silhouettes of the band members arrive before us on stage. Launching into one hell of an intro – lengthy, vibrating, atmospheric and completely captivating, ‘Toiler on the Sea ‘is our opening number. WOW! These sounds, seeping toward us, wrapping around us, submerging us, encasing us in the musical genius of this legendary band! These guys play, I mean they really play. It’s crisp, it’s light, we’re all utterly glued to this. Crunching guitar lines, unmistakable punk beats, with mod feels, the instantly recognisable riffs, those complex extended guitar sections…the keyboard solos, it’s multi dimensional, then organ sounds give just a hint of 60s sound, a gentle nod toward rock n roll. The keys and synth – back in the revolution days of the punk movement, this caused criticism and back lash…punk doesn’t have synth and keys?? But then came new wave and electro. The Stranglers, being heavily involved in punk evolution, were at the very beginnings of yet more, newer, musical genres. A band with such adaptable creativity easily managed to traverse and sit well within the changing genres of all five decades of their career, managing to stay both current and relevant.
Vocals are loud and clear, with a slight gravel, the harmonies work brilliantly and with having two lead vocals it’s a great sound. Heat levels are soaring, mosh pit effect is spreading, this venue is jumping. The band members interact well with the crowd, joking and bantering. They’re very likeable. It’s a great crowd to be part of, the fans I spoke to were all hard core Strangler fans and had been to numerous live shows over decades. As the guys up the ante, playing through a more than impressive back catalogue…’Skin deep’…’Sleazy’…’Golden Brown’…a seemingly endless list, the stage effects compliment the sounds excellently: dry ice, lasers, fluorescent tubing flashing on and off on cue. During’ Golden Brown’ the stage is bathed in orange, yellow and golden lighting, a glittering shower of orbs traversing and rotating around the venue walls and across the stage. It’s a very uplifting experience, such a familiar, well known and loved anthem being performed live and a real crowd pleaser as you’d expect . Baz and Jean-Jacques, our front men, are constantly guitar swinging, high kicking, dancing and moving around stage through the entire set. The enthusiasm and energy is boundless, signalling to audience members and posing for videos and photographs,it’s performance at its best and very interactive. Again, true nostalgia feels, it’s like a comforting trip down memory lane, but with a wilder feel, a call to uprising…that punk energy. The fury has been brought, it’s wild, untamed, it’s loud and it’s banging…previous incarnations of this band fought with the Sex Pistols – let’s not forget! One earth shattering, chaotic feeling, punk rock bang of a show, with mod, electro, new wave and suburban sounds thrown in. Once slated by press for their ‘pub rock’ style…that raw energy is still present and feels amazing!
Ending with the same explosive bang they came in with, no hanging around, the guys exit stage, lights go out and the crowd erupts. Moments later our two front men are back, this time seated. It’s to be a stripped back acoustic. Truly breathtaking, this has a whole other feel, equally as good. Both voices, laid bare before us, are very special and more so with a very special song performance of “If you should see Dave “, an emotional rendition, very moving. A touching song written for Dave Greenfield – very honest performance, with heartfelt but witty lyrics and a huge keyboard solo…after the lyrics…this would be your solo. It’s a lovely tribute.
Back to full band for a final two songs (my God we have had a full and complete set) then this encore to boot! It’s back to the filth and the chaotic, raucous, early punk feel, then ending on an absolute high and banger of a tune with biggest crowd pleaser and anthem yet: ‘No more heroes’ …the grenade explodes…surging crowd, moshing, pogoing…it’s anarchic …drumsticks are hurled, shirts are ripped off and thrown into the swirling abyss that the moshpit has now become. I’m bruised, I’m aching…but my God I wouldn’t change it…it’s been epic !! Not one of us has stood still for one minute, a packed full of content, two hour set.
The Stranglers…you really put on a show! I’ve really felt tonight what that emerging energy of a huge musical movement must have felt like. If this feeling could only be bottled! It’s been an amazing, at times emotional, unforgettable experience. Thank you for the gig of a lifetime. The decision to carry on performing live is commendable. You can next see the Stranglers in August in Wolverhampton, then in September in Ireland…I highly recommend doing so. A more than fitting tribute to a well thought of and loved friend and talented musical legend and missed band member. I’d say you more than did him proud!
In memory of Dave Greenfield.
1/ Toiler of the Sea.
2/ Something better Change. 3/
5/ Skin Deep.
6/ This Song.
7/ Nice n Sleazy.
8/ Don’t bring Harry.
9/ Strange Little Girl.
10/ Always the Sun.
12/ Golden Brown.
13/ The Last Men on the Moon.
14/ (Get a) Grip (on Yourself).
16/ White Stallion.
17/ Nuclear Device (The Wizard of Aus).
19/ Walk on By.
20/ Straighten Out.
22/ Hanging on.
23/ The Lines.
24/ And if you should see Dave.
16/ Go Buddy Go.
17/ No More Heroes.
FOLLOW THE STRANGLERS
FOLLOW RUTS DC
Warren is a live music and festival photographer based in Cheshire and covers gigs/festivals mostly in the North West of England. He has been photographing live music for over 10 years and has covered major artists and festivals