It was perhaps fitting that such icons of the punk genre were chosen to kick off a series of gigs this summer at this iconic venue. The question on many people’s lips was whether they would still have the magic and power that epitomised their early performances and material or would they just be relics from the past?
That question was answered swiftly as they ripped into a breath-taking opening salvo of Toiler on the Sea and I’ve Been Wild that belied their longevity. It was all a bit much for one fan who, perhaps looking to reprise the late 1970s, threw a plastic bottle on stage that thankfully missed hitting anyone. The ill-judged decision received short shrift, not to mention a few choice words, from the excellent frontman Baz Warne which ensured if anyone else was contemplating an idiotic act, it was not acted upon. In deftly handling that incident – allied with his excellent musicianship, vocal delivery and stage presence – Warne proved that it was a wise choice to pick him to front the band nearly 20 years ago.
The band immediately got back to the business of providing a rollicking rock and roll set and launched into (Get a) Grip (On Yourself) from the 1977 debut album Rattus Norvegicus. They quickly served up the most famous track off that album; Peaches. Showcasing the signature and highly powerful and impressive sound of bassist, Jean-Jacques Burnel, the track provoked mass camera-phone filming rather than gob being launched into the air. Perhaps the grand setting for the gig instilled a sense of decorum. As Warne later remarked: “It’s been a long time since we played in a venue as beautiful as this…..if this was in Sunderland we would be laughing.”
Special mention must go to keyboardist Dave Greenfield, who with Burnel, is the only other founding member of the group on stage tonight. He may be 70 but he managed to play every one of those signature fast keyboard pieces that epitomise the band’s early songs without missing a note.
Midway through the set, the impressive trio of Skin Deep, Golden Brown and Always the Sun were unleashed in quick succession. While some may think it odd not to keep at least one of those big hits and firm fan favourites until the end of the set, it allowed the band the option of finishing on a high-octane note…….which is exactly what they did. The final three tracks of Hanging Around, Tank and No More Heroes brought a suitably punkish end to proceedings and proved this is a band that can go on for some time yet.
As they bid the rapturous audience farewell, standing tall like the majestic towers of Caerffili castle that was their backdrop, I’m sure I was not the only one wishing a speedy return to the south of Wales for The Stranglers.