IS anybody feeling faint or lightheaded because we had three stretcher cases the other night… just keep an eye on the person next to you,’ quipped Hugh Cornwell a few songs into his second set of the evening - the half of the show featuring classics from punk legends The Stranglers.
‘OK, so are you ready for death by Stranglers?’ he added, launching into Peaches, growling and snarling like he did when the song was a top ten hit back in 1977.
As ever dressed entirely in black, down to his scuffed Reebok hightop trainers, Cornwell may be one year off his 70th birthday but the man once described as punk’s ‘Dark Lord’ shows no signs of acting his age.
The dark curls may be thinner but he’s still as sinewy and menacing as when he was the frontman of the most successful punk band to cross over to the mainstream. He may be old enough to have a bus pass and state pension but he still looks as tough and uncompromising as when his contemporaries were Joe Strummer and Johnny Rotten.
The former Bristol University biochemistry graduate left The Stranglers 28 years ago and although they have continued without him, he has carved out a successful solo career, with his latest album, Monster, just out.
The first set of this long evening at the Fleece was formed entirely from his solo back catalogue, stretching back to Getting Involved (from his 1988 debut solo album Wolf) through to more recent material like stand-out tracks Stuck in Daily Mail Land and Black Hair Black Eyes Black Suit.
His solo material is certainly not to be dismissed and new songs from Monster were warmly received, especially Pure Evel and Bilko.
As the clock struck 10pm, Cornwell and his band returned after a short break to a stage now bathed in red light.
They barely stopped to draw breath as they threw themselves into back-to-back Stranglers favourites, kicking off with 1978’s Nice ’n’ Sleazy and Goodbye Toulouse from Rattus Norvegicus, the band’s seminal debut album from 1977.
Backed by a bassist and drummer – despite being in a four-piece with The Stranglers, Cornwell has always said his favourite bands were trios – the only thing lacking was the essential keyboard on Golden Brown, the band’s biggest hit, and it seemed ironic their best-known song was the only dud of the night.
The 1986 single Always The Sun generated the biggest crowd singalong of the evening - surprising for a song that only reached number 30 in the charts - and the hits kept on coming thick and fast as Duchess was quickly followed by No More Heroes and Strange Little Girl.
And just when most fans (predominantly men in their 50s and 60s who were clearly Stranglers fans the first time around) might have been looking at their watches to check if they’d missed the last bus home, Cornwell and his band threw in a blistering version of Hanging Around that resulted in dozens of middle-aged men thrashing around in the mosh pit as if it was 1977 all over again.
It topped off a night of pure punk nostalgia from the original man in black.
Hugh Cornwell on stage atThe Fleece Bristol