Live Review | The Stranglers and Therapy? at the Ulster Hall
Words by Neil Trelford
Images by Marta Janiszewska
Having played a blinding support slot to Belfast heroes SLF last summer, The Stranglers return to their old stomping ground with a powerful headline show of their own.
This year marks forty years since they made their Ulster Hall bow after their planned November 1977 gig with the Radio Stars was cancelled by Belfast City Council at the last minute. No better way in celebrating 40 years for The Definitive Tour than with support from home-grown alternative rockers Therapy?
Front man Andy Cairns is a devout Stranglers fan and he leads Therapy into a blistering homecoming onslaught of hits, a truly rocking adoration for their hosts and fans alike.
Opening with their own take on Joy Division’s ‘Isolation’, they immediately display their raucous approach to welcoming the home crowd. Andy then dedicates the next song with sincerity to local legends George Best, Alex Hurricane Higgins, Getty (from The Outcasts) and also the late great Ken Dodd as they rumble into ‘Die Laughing’, a Top 30 UK Hit from their 1994 album Troublegum.
A new track ‘Callow’ cracks in with a mature edginess before they storm back into the 90s with the Top 20 hit ‘Stories, from the Infernal Love album; ‘Innocent X’ from their debut 1991 studio album Baby Teeth and the chilling ‘Turn’ from arguably their greatest album Troublegum.
The pop-punk ‘Tides’ from Disquiet is a welcome breath-catcher before the rasping screech of ‘Screamager’, another song dedicated this time to local artists that have graced this historic stage. The soaring guitars launch a faction of the crowd into a buoyant frenzy and it was that same energy that earned the band a Top 10 hit and appearance on Top Of The Pops back in 1993.
There’s no letting up of the infused punk energy as they commence the crescendo of the set with the seminal ‘Teethgrinder’ with its ever chilling Hammer House of Horror like overtones. It was their first Top 30 UK hit on A&M Records back in 1992 and the one that paved the way for their distinctive sound across global airwaves.
Flavours of new metal and old punk are mixed in the barrage of ‘Still Hurts’, the sing-a-long ‘Potato Junkie’ and ‘Knives’, a trio that shook this old auditorium to its rock ‘n’ roll rafters.
They blast out proudly to a worthy ovation with their 1994 anthem ‘Nowhere’ and that’s exactly where this buzzing crowd were going as they awaited their heroes, the magnificent ‘Men In Black’.
The original instigators of the UK punk scene triumphantly return this Belfast stage to the raptures of a forever young punk and new wave crowd.
Remnants of last year’s Custom House Square euphoric set are engulfed in a comprehensive 40 year rollercoaster ride of their eclectic musical styles and accomplished big hits.
They open with ‘Curfew’, the hero track from their 1978 Black And White album and the crowd are immediately in their ‘Grip’, aptly the second song of the evening.
‘15 Steps’ pulses a spaghetti western flavour from the 2012 studio album Giants and the non-album single ‘Bear Cage’ is a righteous stomp back into 1980 as current lead singer (and former Toy Dolls bassist) Baz Warne’s gritty vocals makes this a highlight of the evening.
The decades are interwoven again with a quintet of songs including ‘Nuclear Device’ and ‘Don’t Bring Harry’ from The Raven album with ‘Norfolk Coast’ and ‘Relentless’ sandwiching the first full-house sing-a-long of the set. One of the big summer hits of 1977 ‘Peaches’ is fist-pumped out by the nostalgic crowd.
The iconic, UK number 2 hit ‘Golden Brown’ was a re-invention after the so called death of punk by 1981 and tonight they render a version worthy of a number 1 hit. JJ Burnel’s almost stumbling bass gnaws deliver a turbulent silhouette to portray the struggles of which the song is founded on.
Another crowd soother ‘Always The Sun’ is merrily sung along with as camera-phones capture this modern history with smiles all around the auditorium.
Before delving deep into a rocky coarse version of the Dionne Warwick classic ‘Walk On By’, Baz takes time to thank Therapy? for their support through this recent tour. It’s a nice touch that is returned with hollering and applause from the appreciative Belfast gig-goers.
The Stranglers constant re-invention is epitomised in a recent song ‘Water’ before throwbacks to the early singles of ‘Something Better Change’ and ‘Duchess’.
Like waves on the Black Sea, the crowd are tossed and turned with an eclectic but synchronised mix of tracks from various albums. ‘Time Was Once On My Side’ and the sublimely sung ‘Freedom Is Insane’ by JJ from the 2012 Giants album to ‘Just Like Nothing On Earth’ really symbolising their image, dark and powerful! It being a feature track on their perfectly named 1981 album The Gospel According To The Meninblack.
A final quartet before the much anticipated encore belched out ‘Hanging Around’; ‘I Feel Like A Wog’; London Lady’ and ‘Tank’
As an impatient few moments passed, the band returned to the stage after a much deserved few moments breather for themselves.
The original b-side to Peaches, Go Buddy Go was hammered home with 1977 venom leading into a triumphant rally of their 1977 Top 10 Hit ‘No More Heroes’.
Tonight’s heroes took an appreciative bow to an almost flattering endorsement that no more heroes were needed The Stranglers hold that accolade – and on tonight’s performance that is Definitive.
Neil Trelford (Author of The Youth Club)