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  • Writer's pictureJO'B

Hugh Cornwell, but no Primitives, Islington Assembly Hall, 25th January 2024

Updated: Mar 3

My friend Paul loves The Stranglers. Me? I liked some of their stuff, but I am no huge fan. I never saw the original line-up. I saw them fronted by Paul Roberts twice - once supporting Simple Minds in 1991 and a second time when they had a big hit with Big Thing Coming in 2004. Then in 2017, I went with Paul to see them fronted by Baz Warne. They are fine, but frankly their fans are the most flatulent I have ever experienced. Thank God you can't smoke at gigs or the risk of explosion is high to say the least...

I am here tonight because I know Paul will love it, but also because the support band is The Primitives. Their 1988 single Crash was amazing, I had debut album Lovely on CD - my friend Claire Rayner bought it for my 18th (and no, not that Claire Rayner). I was besotted with their singer Tracy Tracy, but never managed to see them first time round.

They have been active again since 2009 and some of their recent material is great, so tonight's double header was well worth a punt. I make sure I am there early and nag Paul all day to make sure he is there on time as well - it's the support band that will make it for me tonight.

But, but but.....disastrous news is delivered via X (aka Twitter) - The Primitives have cancelled as Tracy has lost her voice. But they are replaced by EXTC, an XTC tribute band featuring original drummer Terry Chambers. I am gutted, but pleased to see EXTC are added to the bill. I had planned to see them before but was foiled by Storm Eunice back in 2022 (see Me and the wind: Storm Eunice and not seeing EXTC - The Haymarket, Basingstoke, 18th February 2022).

We head in and grab a beer, ready for the opening act. EXTC have been reduced to a three piece since I last planned to see them. Their singer and rhythm guitarist has left, and their lead guitarist has taken over lead vocals.

The setlist is good, not exclusively songs that Terry drummed on, but also later classics like The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead. Terry looks amazing and is still a powerhouse power pop drummer and his guitarist and bass playing companions are competent musicians. But I can't get into it.

A lone guy is pogoing distractingly, he seems to think we all should be and keeps turning to the crowd to berate us for not joining him - he is irritating and needs to bugger off. The guitarist and bass player are talented but there is too much ‘rockist’ wanking guitar and heavy rock singing.

And that's what's wrong. It’s all a bit too matey rock, lacking the subtlety of the real thing. Once I decide that the guitarist looks like Masterchef's Greg Wallace with the unfortunate addition of a ridiculous braid under his beard, the gig is lost to me, Plus the bass player resembles a better dressed Roy Walker from 80s gameshow, Catchphrase.

All of that is probably unfair and I am grumpy but this is a glorified tribute band, no substitute for The Primitives. Bugger.

Hugh soon takes the stage with his bass player and drummer. He looks ridiculously well, like a svelte Bill Nighy, much younger than his 74 years. The set is ok, his solo stuff better than I expected. The Stranglers songs though are the standouts, but they lack the punch of his alma mater. Without the keyboards, they don't quite cut it.

The crowd lap it up, but it's a noticeably smaller bunch than The Stranglers command still, even without Hugh, Jet and David, the latter two original members now gone to join the heroes and Shakespearos in the next world. One man next to us air-drums throughout the set, which is distracting, amusing and irritating all at once. This is not my night.

I am in a bad mood, and am glad when Paul suggests we leave before the encore as he has early meetings. There are some highlights - Always The Sun and Skin Deep are great, and I enjoy Mr Leather, a song about Hugh meeting Lou Reed.

Sometimes the sum of the parts is greater than the individual members - Hugh's solo career has never achieved the status of his old band. I wonder if he regrets his choice? I won't be seeing him again, but I am glad he is enjoying himself and his shows. But if The Primitives play London, I will be there like a shot...

Stay safe, and if you enjoyed this, please subscribe (see link below), x


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