THE STRANGLERS – HEAD For The HILLS, Ramsbottom – 17th September 2017

A long, long time ago in a galaxy not too far away – the all too familiar post-tour depressed fugue, that befalls most (if not all) Stranglophiles following the regular March outing – an inkling of light cracked through the space/time continuum via the pages of The Official Strangler website. In late April a concert date was announced for September and The Head For The Hills Festival had booked The Stranglers to headline the closing night – result!! At the bottom of the Ram, a festival had been taking place for a number of years, but this time they were going for some big guns to bring the curtain down on the show. It was just all too tempting – so with a quick flurry of organisational endeavour – flights, tickets and accommodation were all booked.

The over long run-up to this gig was interspersed with a number of other gigs announced, held and over before this one had even got the tickets posted out – an eventful few months in the life of the obsessed Strangler fan. A bit of a panic as the date quickly approached and no sign of the postman delivering the hard-copy (f**k this e-mail, print it at home rubbish) ticket(s) but a call to the box-office soon quelled any fears that tickets would be shortly in the mail. Due forth, and I was informed by Elaine the tickets had arrived – happy days. However, what a disappointment – the ‘hard copy’ tickets were an A4 page with the details printed – exactly as if you printed it off at home yourself. What a crock of sh*t!!

Anyway, as the weekend approached, the anticipation and excitement of another gig grew – plans were put in place – with the frequency of phone calls and social media interaction increasing exponentially as the countdown to lift-off approached. I had arranged to fly into Manchester the day before to make a long weekend of it all and spend a night in exotic planet Blackburn, before making the journey to Ramsbottom for the event itself. A relatively quiet and uneventful evening – enjoying the craic – before an early(ish) start and the relatively short car trip to this evening’s centre of the Strangler universe – a mini black hole in space, drawing into it’s gravitational pull, all and sundry black-clad voyagers. It’s attraction proving nigh on impossible to resist to the dedicated fans.

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Arriving early into Ramsbottom we had arranged to meet up with John, Tracy and Billy – but a mix-up in hotel locations and travel disruptions meant it was a while before we did actually rendez-vous with them. Too early to book into the hotel, we dandered into the quaint town centre and spent a while wandering around a tardis of an Antique Shop – more rooms at every turn – delighting in the various items on display and spending time rifling through the boxes and trays of records (unfortunately no GFTSC 7″ nor any solid centre double dippers to be found). We then ventured to Ramsbottom Cricket Club and ascertained you were able to leave and re-enter the venue – so swopping our tickets (or pieces of paper – still raging!!) for wristbands, we did a reccy of the stalls and entertainment on offer before heading back up to our accommodation. After a slight hold-up getting the rooms ready, we were soon settled in. Hanging out the window, taking in the view, who should I see climbing the steps to reception but fellow travellers in space and time – Pat and Dave. Shortly after whilst still hanging out the window, I’m greeted by Pat – now located right next door – doing the same. Eventually Billy arrives from his hotel – but J&T are still held up by traffic congestion – so we all move on up the town to The Rose and Crown pub. On the road (road!!? – mountain track would be a better description) we come across various other travellersinblack, who were also unable to detach themselves from the lure of this ripple in the Minkowski space – Phil, Mandy, Janet and a few other blackclad reprobates. We are seated in the beer garden – catching up on this summer’s journeys and the subsequent adventures – serenaded by the sound of bowling balls striking the jack, as the local pub team were playing behind us on the green. As usual the thirsty compatriots made short shift of the refreshments available.

We are soon joined by other cosmon(a)uts as Elaine, Sarah, Bill, Katina, Pidge, Mark, Diane and Alex arrive and eventually John and Tracy touchdown from their delayed flight path. As the drinks are downed and the various conversations – from Brucie’s funeral (“Good grave, good grave”) to Loyal Orders, Tenerife and beyond – a rumour spreads around those gathered that the band start time might be brought forward due to the festival curfew. We decide to re-locate to The Railway Bar just across the road from the venue. Fresh alcoholic beverages (and crisps) duly purchased, the crowd’s numbers are swelled with the entrances of Steve and Wendy, and Campbell and Drew. Campbell having met Jim Mac in their hotel, confirms the rumour that the band may be on earlier than originally planned. There is still enough time however for some more rocket fuel and for The Stockton Lads (already over limits) to serenade us with a cornucopia of punk tunes and dance moves extraordinaire. But with the overhanging threat of an early start, it is time to make our move into the cricket ground.

Once inside, the smells emanating from the various food stalls immediately had us salivating like Pavlov’s dogs and so we each make for our favourite source of gastronomic delight. We bump into Bernard (newly arrived from the footie) and are rejoined by Billy as we sate our grumpling stomachs. Fed and (refreshing our liquid supplies from the beer tent) watered, we move closer to the stage. A small-ish crowd for a festival but they are starting to congregate as we make our way down towards the front – a landing spot chosen by the ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought, acquired as a result of frequent repetition of that movement.

As the roadies finish off the preparations for the anticipated entrance of the band, an extra microphone stand is placed centrestage. A promoter delivers the organisers’ thanks and introduces a local poet who euologises about the festival in rhyme, before a ‘crackerjack’ ode to Manchester (in dedication to ‘The 22’ post bombing) before making his exit. With the countdown to blast off imminent, the lilting keyboards of Waltzinblack emanate from the stage and the four Meninblack appear. Otherworldly and as if in a time loop, tonight’s set is all too familiar – the usual festival fodder that has been played out all summer (and filtering back a number of years), however tonight’s operation was somewhat shorter than recent missions – coming in at an hour long.

Opening with the traveller’s saga ‘Toiler…’, the (by now) customary set of (definitive) hits – Grip, Nice’n’Sleazy, Relentless, et al – roll out, but are still received by the audience with cheers, chants, singing and deserved applause. Baz takes the mic for the obligatory crowd interaction – very witty cricket references about how the band were “stumped” and “hit us for six” when asked to play a cricket club, how they nearly “bailed” and how it had him in “creases”.. all straight of the “bat”!! As the hits bowled (sorry) out, it came time for this year’s set highlight – the metronomical drumming from Jim during ‘Bear Cage’ sets the pace – counter-pointed with an Animal-esque battering of (seemingly) every piece of percussive equipment available during the chorus. This song could become a very welcome staple to future set-lists for sometime yet.

(pic courtesy A Salem)                 (pic courtesy William Barr)

The now practically compulsary “Get on with it” routine puts a slight pause in proceedings, but we are soon back on track. A couple of minor technical difficulties in no way spoil the gig – which the band appear to be enjoying just as much as the crowd. There is plenty of joking going on between JJ and Baz and the good natured behaviour continues throughout the evening – JJ laughs with Baz and Dave, shaking his hand with what seemed like finger cramps after ‘Duchess’ – Baz acknowledges the cheers for JJ, who whilst graciously accepting the plaudits, is chastened by Baz stating “Mainly male voices I notice”. JJ steps stage front during the end to ‘Tank’ for the bass rumbling, bowel evacuating explosive punching of the Shuker prior to the G-string shredding intro to ‘Heroes’. Continuing the cricketing puns, Baz introduced Bob Willis and Mike Atherton to the curtain call of heroes..

Editor’s Note: Remember the last time our guitarist started talking about cricket!! EEK.

Bazz ended with a fitting euology to the dedicated fans who follow the band, adding “We’ll see you all in March”. March?? Better make that November, Warney!! And that was that – stage bows and selfie photos – over all too soon. A shorter than normal greatest hits set, but still not a disappointment and a smaller than usual Family gathering – not so much Star Wars convention, more a Blake’s Seven stall – but that goes to make such gatherings all the more memorable. Another great weekend spent with great company, great craic and great music. Post-mission debrief was split between two pubs – having missed the order to assemble in The Railway – a few of us ended up back at The Rose and Crown, where a parallel universe Henri Cluney (pub landlord) and his wife held us captive (along with some other elderly specimens) in a lock-in. Eventually, after photographic evidence, he let us make our escape with our livers intact and, in auto-pilot mode, we are transported back to our hotel.

So with Planet Strangler dying out after a summer solstice, the black hole’s gravitational pull finally ebbs enough for the intrepid space travellers to escape the orbital path of Ramsbottom and navigate to their home solar systems across the Universe – well, until the next adventure.

TO BE CONTINUED…….

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