Well, here we are at the end of 2017, and I’m happy to say I managed to post a TBT every week of the year. I didn’t miss a single week, and I wasn’t late for one either, so I’m pretty pleased with that achievement. You may have noticed that I’ve not repeated a band either, which was another goal / challenge I set myself. I hope you’ve enjoyed the variety.
For the final track of the year I chose The Alarm, for a number of reasons. Foremost among those reasons though is my experience when I met them. This song was bursting into the charts and I was due to see them play in Edinburgh one night. I’d arrived in Edinburgh earlier in the day and was in HMV on Princes Street.
I had a number of records in my hand, including the 12″ single of 68 Guns, when these four short(ish) guys with big hair walked past. Imagine my surprise when I realised it was the band. I bought the records and caught up with them, and they were only too happy to stop for a chat and to sign the cover. I’ve still got it, over 33 years later.
Scroll forward a few hours, and I was at the gig, a couple of rows from the front (I liked being that close, even back then). I was amazed when at some point during the show, one of the band noticed me and they all came over and said hello!
Around a year later, I went to see them again in Edinburgh, in a different venue, and they did the same: came over and said hello when they spotted me loitering near the front. What a great way to make your fans feel special!
Since those heady days, I’ve seen Dave Sharp (guitarist) playing in a blues band, and Mike Peters (lead singer) fronting Big Country in Oxford and also with a different line up of The Alarm supporting The Stranglers in Cambridge. Add to that, Steve Grantley (the drummer for SLF) also played with The Alarm for a while and it’s no wonder I have such affection for them.
All that said, I hope you enjoy the song, and that you all have a very happy and prosperous New Year.
Back in March I posted about how long it takes to recover from being at the front at a punk gig. I’m thinking now that maybe it was a one off, and here’s why.
Last weekend, the same band – Stiff Little Fingers – played a homecoming gig in Belfast, Northern Ireland as part of their 40th Anniversary celebrations. The venue was outdoors, in Custom House Square, and the capacity was around 5000. When tickets went on sale, over 3000 were snapped up in the first 48 hours – I got two, one for me and one for my friend S – and all 5000 were sold out long before the event. Dee came for the weekend but had decided that she didn’t want to join us at the gig.
The support acts were not too shabby: Belfast’s very own The Outcasts, Ruts DC (best known for Babylon’s Burning) and The Stranglers, who had their 40th Anniversary a couple of years back. I hadn’t seen the first two before, so I was looking forward to hearing them: I wasn’t disappointed.
S and I met up around lunchtime and took in some of the sights (pubs) in Belfast. It seemed like everyone in the city was wearing a tshirt or something related to one of the four bands, and the atmosphere was brilliant. We moved to the pub nearest the venue a couple of hours before the gates were due to open and joined the throng of cheerful fans.
For the last couple of years Jake Burns, SLF’s lead singer and only ever present in the band, has worn a black shirt with white polka dots when gigging. Someone on the SLF forum on Facebook thought it might be fun if fans turned up wearing something similar. Eventually it was decided that we’d all meet up near the gig venue an hour before gates opened for a polka dot photo. There were 50 – 60 people in polka dot shirts (S and myself included) who congregated at The Big Fish (officially called The Salmon of Knowledge) on the banks of the river Lagan, and everyone was in a happy and excitable mood.
Once photos had been taken, people either went back to the pub or, as S and I did, started queuing to get in to the venue. Once we got in, we headed straight for the merchandise stall and each bought a tshirt which had been specially produced for the gig: as it turns out, they were sold out very early on, such was the demand (more are being printed now, for a limited time only).
We then turned the corner and saw that there were hardly any people in ahead of us, so managed to secure a spot against the barrier at the very front, right in the middle of the stage. This was a prime position and we were very surprised to have captured it.
As the various bands came and went, the venue filled up and the press from behind grew stronger and stronger – but we didn’t lose our spot. Cue SLF, and the place went wild: there was a general frenzy of singing, pogoing, chanting – everyone totally blessed out on the music and the fact that we were there, in Belfast, where it all began for our favourite band. What could be better? What could ever top that?
From a music perspective, possibly nothing. But, the whole experience was enhanced by a couple of things. First off, at the end of the gig, I managed to get a hold of Jake’s set list, which is now framed and on my wall. Second, it turns out that the Ruts were staying at our hotel, and I managed to grab a few words with their bassist and got a couple of photos with him. Third, I found the exact spot – not far from the hotel as it happens – where the photo for SLF’s latest album, No Going Back, was taken: I of course had to get a photo of me taken there. And fourth, we found Hope Street, which is the title of a song and album by SLF.
At the end of the gig, the crowd dispersed, still on a high and in very good humour. Since then, my Facebook feed has been full of praise for the city of Belfast, for the welcome the fans received, and plaudits for how good the gig was. Just imagine that: a punk gig with 5000 people and no trouble, no fighting, no bad temperedness. Everyone was just glad to be there.
I described in my article in March how I’d been battered and bruised by being in the second row at the gig at the Barras, so how do you think I fared being in the front row at a gig that had more than double the attendance? I was absolutely fine. Other than temporary deafness which went after a day or so – and which would have happened even if I was further back – I had no ill effects. My legs were fine, elbows weren’t damaged and there were no bumps or bruises to speak of.
So, this begs the question – when I next go to an SLF gig, will be at the front again? You bet!
Last weekend Dee and I were in Belfast for Stiff Little Fingers‘ (SLF) homecoming gig on their 40th Anniversary tour. They had a great supporting cast of The Stranglers, The Outcasts and this week’s TBT selection, Ruts DC.
The original Ruts were also around during the punk days, and probably best known for Babylon’s Burning. Their lead singer died of an overdose, and their guitarist died about 10 years ago. Now a 3 piece band, with the original bassist (Segs Jennings) and drummer (Dave Ruffy), their set had some of their old classics and some newer numbers which sounded great. The DC in their name is from the musical notation Da Coda, or “go back to the beginning”.
I had the pleasure of seeing Jennings and Ruffy last year when they did an acoustic tour as part of Dead Men Walking, along with Jake Burns from SLF and Kirk Brandon from Theatre of Hate. That was a very intimate gig: Saturday’s was the opposite!
The gig was sold out, with over 5000 tickets for an outdoor event. The weather gods looked kindly on us, and the gig gods were even kinder. I spent the whole gig in the front row, right in the middle: I was in seventh heaven. And to cap it all off, Ruts DC were staying in my hotel and I had the pleasure of meeting Segs the next morning.
On the Dead Men Walking tour, they talked about this song, It was based on a real night out that they were at, along with Jake from SLF and others, where a serious fight broke out and all the various factions got involved. The song itself is very textured, and tells the story really well. I hope you enjoy it!
One of the tunes I use when warming up prior to rehearsal or practice is this one. Only the intro, but it gets the fingers and hands moving well I think. The sound is unmistakably The Stranglers, and is a really dirty, grungy tone which I love. I’ve written before about how much I like JJ Burnel’s playing, and this is one of the classic examples that illustrate why. The first few notes are enough to give me goosebumps. I hope you enjoy it too!
OK, so last week I wrote about having an earworm which was all about The Stranglers and JJ Burnel’s basslines in particular. The only way I could stop it was by playing a lot of their songs and booking tickets to see them next month. Tonight I’ve just started several earworms off at once.
I went to see The Blockheads at their first gig this year. It’s fair to say it was an intimate venue, and I was by no means the oldest person in the audience! Three words to explain the earworms which I know are coming: Norman Watt-Roy. Much as I love SLF and Ali McMordie’s playing, and JJ Burnel’s basslines for The Stranglers, I’m left in total awe of Norman’s energy, fretwork, speed and accuracy. As you can see from today’s image, I struggled to get a picture where his hands weren’t a blur! I do wonder sometimes whether he regrets having written such complicated and beautiful riffs in his youth.
If you’ve not heard much of The Blockheads (with or without Ian Dury), I can recommend starting off with Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick (which has been on my Bucket List of basslines to play and I can’t even get close), Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, What a Waste and Reasons to be Cheerful. Those and others are going to be rolling round in my head for quite a while I think!
As a band they obviously love what they do, and there’s a lot of interaction between the various members. There were a couple of hiccups but they dealt with them really well, laughing and joking with each other while continuing to knock out brilliant (and very familiar) tunes. As Dee said, it’s a bit surreal watching people you’d heard in your teens or even younger, some 30 or more years later, but they were brilliant!
Ever had an ear worm? Not the invertebrate kind, but the piece of music that just goes round in your head and you can’t get rid of it? I’ve had one for the past couple of days, or rather, I’ve had a selection, all from The Stranglers.
While listening to a couple of tracks with Dee the other day, I apparently became very animated and passionate about the music. Maybe it’s because I insisted on playing (Get A) Grip (On Yourself) pretty loud, or because I was singing along to it, but I think what clinched it was the fact that I really love the following lines:
Stranger from another planet, welcome to our hole
Just strap on your guitar, and we’ll play some rock and roll
It’s hard to believe that any beings would travel the vast distances across space and time to visit us (sorry, but my logical, rational mind takes over sometimes), and a) they would have a guitar where they were from and b) they’d know how to play it! But if you suspend that belief for a bit isn’t it a wonderful thought? Music makes the world go round, all cultures have it, so why not extra terrestrials too?
As well as the lyrics, I think The Stranglers have been as successful and are as good because their keyboard sound is so very distinctive and leading edge. I’d go as far as to say that Dave Greenfield (the keyboard player) was one of the first experimental synthesiser players, pushing the boundaries with weird sounds and effects (just listen to Waltzinblack for example).
In tandem with the revolutionary keyboard sound and riffs, JJ Burnel’s bass playing is majestic. He has a gritty, dirty, full sound that is just awesome, and on the likes of Walk on By and Mercury Rising it just sets my hairs on end. I’ve tried a number of times to recreate the sound, but without the same bass, valve amps etc it’s practically impossible. Here’s JJ in action, the image has been copied from shukerguitars.co.uk.
Anyhow, if you want to give yourself earworms that’ll stick for days, check out the tracks named above, rejoice in the lyrics, and figure out some suitable songs to play for when that guitar weilding alien arrives!