15th February 2014

Hugh Cornwell and Robert Williams recall the making of

Nosferatu to Gary Kent. A record that Hugh says made no money.

 

Vampire Diaries!

 

 

WINTER 1979: Bedtime. I’m under cover. Beyond the callous reality of a school night beneath candlewick covers. Lights off. Next door, parents a-kip.

 

Koss K-6 cans cup my ears with Nosferatu, this hero of horror, on full volume from the Fidelity music centre; coiled extension between at optimum stretch. One wrong move and the jack plug will certainly flick out of the socket, sending full-on power and Peelers whistling in the distance… I slip away into the darkness, warm grip on the coiled flex, absorbing this unnerving imaginary soundtrack to a vampire-themed movie. All the same, it shits me up.

 

Nosferatu is a one-off album collaboration between Strangler Hugh and Captain Beefheart’s drummer, Los Angeles-based percussionist Robert Williams. Inspiration comes from Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s haunting Dracula-based silent of 1922 – one of his finest, they say - and the most influential German film directors of the silent era. Murnau was at the pinnacle of the expressionist movement in 1920’s German cinema. Greatly influenced by Nietzsche, Shakespeare and Ibsen, Nosferatu is his adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Murnau died in Santa Barbara in 1931 following a car crash.

 

Hugh and Robert’s Nosferatu is a wonderful work. For Hugh, it is conceived post-Black And White. Cold, eccentric, doleful, haunting and melancholic... but always exciting. Drums are hard and almost metallic; bass is deep and throbbing; vocals are soporific and atonal (Hugh’s) although Robert sets the tone with the eponymous opener, strident, striding through a fog-lorn London on the run and into the shadows once more. The Stranglers sound is redolent. Although fear strikes through many teenage Stranglers ninjas at the time: the thought of Hugh becoming successful as a solo concern and leaving The Stranglers was unthinkable! JJ released his solo LP and toured with it in April, but now Hugh’s at it! Nosferatu is unleashed in November 1979, 35 minutes in length, it’s now almost 35 years on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hugh Cornwell & Robert Williams in Nosferatu

 

Side One: 1. Nosferatu; 2.Losers In A Lost Land; 3. White Room; 4. Irate Caterpillar; 5. Rhythmic Itch.Side Two: 1. Wired; 2. Big Bug; 3. Mothra; 4. Wrong Way Round; 5. Puppets.

 

Recorded in Los Angeles December 1978 - January 1979 and March & April 1979; and London April 1979.

 

Produced by Hugh Cornwell and Robert Williams. Engineered by Joe Chicarelli, Alan Winstanley and Steve Churchyard.

 

 

 

Special Strangled thanks to Robert Williams and Hugh Cornwell.

 

‘Burnel had just recorded Euroman, so

I thought, why not have a go?'

 

 

‘As far as the motivation to make the record goes, Nosferatu was pure whimsy.’ Hugh discloses. 'I mean Burnel had just recorded Euroman, so I thought, why not have a go? I was a huge Captain Beefheart fan, and I took the opportunity to see Robert play in San Francisco whilst I was there after a Stranglers tour. He played three nights at a place called the Trocadero I believe. I went one night with the Blondie mob who were also huge fans. I met Robert after one of the shows and we hung out together and decided to keep in touch. A short time later I had a break in The Stranglers schedule so I rang him just before Christmas 1978 and invited him to make a record with me. As Nosferatu had been a silent movie originally, I thought a good starting place would be to try to approximate a soundtrack for it.’

 

Robert: ‘Hugh then called from the UK asking me to collaborate. I asked about a band and he said it would be just us two. When I asked about the songs he said we’d make them up in the studio. So I booked some recording studios - the best studios in LA - and invited an old friend of mine, Joe Chiccarelli, fresh off recording Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage, as our recording engineer.’

 

Hugh flies out to LA and sessions begin on Boxing Day, 1978. But the recording process is somewhat laboured as studios are spread between Cherokee Studios, Sunset Sound Studios, Village Recorders and Davlin Studios. Drum kits take time to mike up. Plus, there’s the continual setting up and packing away. ‘…It’s the drum-kit I used in Captain Beefheart which I still own - a Ludwig maple finish with 2-24” bass drums, 13”, 14”, 16”, 18” toms and a vintage Rogers snare drum, currently disassembled and awaiting refinishing.’

 

Fleetwood Mac have an unexpected recording hiatus due to one of the band disappearing. So Lyndsay Buckingham helpfully offers Robert and Hugh Fleetwood Mac’s studio time. The pair dig in, working late nights - with a little help from their other friends, controlled and otherwise - through the graveyard shift and beyond. They rush back from the studio most nights at sunrise and fall asleep back at Robert’s place. For Hugh, recording Nosferatu is instrumental to a future sonic path; musically, this is where his spidery, almost Beefheart style of guitar playing is so evident. You’ve only got to listen to the next Stranglers album - The Raven - or Hugh’s Sons Of Shiva for that matter. Coincidentally, it’s the rare Dan Electro semi-acoustic bass that Hugh plays on The Raven track - Dead Loss Angeles – which he picks up in LA. Lyrically, Hugh’s creative force in this track is where he describes the superficial nature of the city, with a line in reference to Robert playing timpani.

‘It’s a tribute to Robert who, as a friend had shown sensitivity. Robert was just as isolated in LA as I was.’ Hugh recalls the writing and recording modes: ‘I had a cassette tape full of guitar ideas for songs and I took it with me to work on. As it was such short notice, we moved around from studio to studio every few days around Christmas and New Year and it took longer than necessary because we were moving around so much. We’d sleep during the day and work most of the night, picking a guitar idea from the cassette and then work it into a song which I then wrote the lyrics for. Each song started with a click track as a template, and we were starting more or less from scratch.’

 

Robert: ‘Hugh and I made the songs up in the studio usually starting with the drum track although we usually created a click track to keep everything in time and off we went making it up as we went along. Hugh did not have a demo before starting Nosferatu but he had a few little riffs on guitar for just a few songs that we both fleshed out. Then we would bring home cassettes from the sessions to study and come up with subsequent parts. We spent daylight hours sleeping and worked throughout the night, very much like vampires.’

 

Hugh: ‘Robert suggested inviting various guests in to play from the LA area, and he was in contact with Ian Underwood, Devo’s Mothersbaugh brothers and his guitarist friend Dave Walldroop who played on White Room. I was happy for Robert to organise the Mothersbaugh’s session for Rhythmic Itch and Robert and I prepared the backing track and they wrote the lyrics and added some bits. Robert wrote the track Nosferatu and recorded it in my absence.’

 

Robert: ‘Recording went on for a few weeks as I recall. We hired instruments and experimented with them. Like the calliope in Wrong Way Round and the waterphone for the intro to Irate Caterpillars. There was one night where the entire studio was filled with percussion instruments like tympanies, tubular bells, tamatoms, gongs, bongos, congas, and timbales, etc. Hugh suggested we do White Room and the arrangement was my idea. I invited Ian Underwood and David Waldroop to participate as well as Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh. Devo had moved from Ohio to LA. I had dinner with Bob and Mark and they were keen to contribute. They were big Beefheart fans. I knew Ian Underwood through my Zappa connections and Dave Walldroop was a mate of mine and an excellent guitarist. I remember that The Tubes’ Fee Waybill was supposed to be singing on Wrong Way Round originally but then Ian Dury became available and once Hugh’s management got me Ian’s number, Ian did it instead.’

 

The Nosferatu sessions then shift from LA to London in April 1979; Mothra is recorded at Eden Studios with Alan Winstanley and mixing begins at Air Studios with Steve Churchyard shortly after.

Hugh: ‘Ian Dury (that’s Duncan Poundcake to you and me…) did his fairground rant for Wrong Way Round while we were mixing. The Clash were also mixing at Air and we invited them in to sing backing vocals on Puppets but when we did it, only Mick was around. (Or Various People – crowd, shall we say…) and Puppets is about record company manipulation of artists.’

 

Sounds like The Clash (Remote Control) but also a tucked-in reference to Clash manager Johnny Green: ‘Greeny pays the bills, Greeny gets the pills… ’ What about the other tracks on Nosferatu?

 

Hugh: ‘Irate Caterpillar began as an instrumental originally but it’s about Fred Frith who I had seen in concert with Henry Cow. Big Bug was about Leon Trotsky’s war train. Nosferatu, by Robert, is self-explanatory. Losers In A Lost Land is about struggling actors. Wrong Way Round was about a girl built upside down. Rhythmic Itch was written by the Mothersbaughs. Wired is about being on Cocaine. Mothra we thought sounded like the machinations of a giant moth, so we named it in memory of a Japanese myth.’

 

I can’t help but wonder if there is an exclusive Nosferatu out-take… Perhaps there is..! Of course there is, but it’s hidden within these very pages! (- Ed.)

 

Meanwhile, an old NME clipping ahead of Nosferatu’s release talks of a track listed called Bacteria Cafeteria. A track which is mysteriously errant from the finished product and I am inquisitive. I ask Hugh, who suspects that this is the original title for a song that started off as an instrumental – ‘though not sure which – but could be Irate Caterpillar.

 

JJ’s Euroman Cometh scrapes into the UK Top 40 earlier that year and has since gone on to sell quite well, according to JJ. Whereas Nosferatu failed to make any impact on the album chart at the time, JJ is eager to point this out when the subject is broached! Hugh:

 

‘It was an extremely expensive record to make and has never made any money. The record company knew nothing of Nosferatu being made: UA had no idea I was making the record until they started getting the invoices sent to them from the studios, but they paid them all. The costs were so huge there was no possibility of me getting an advance, either from the record label or for the publishing as the deals I had in place with The Stranglers which covered solo works too. Robert did not have a publishing deal at all so he managed to get an advance out of Virgin in the UK.’

 

Robert: ‘His [Hugh’s] publicist then went on to announce the project as Hugh’s solo record. Is it a duo album or a solo album? Anyway, I listened to Nosferatu a few months ago and the sound and production still holds up to today’s standards.’

 

I can’t help play Nosferatu. But I wait till after dark. The Koss K-6’s and the Fidelity music centre are long distant memories, as is the coiled headphone extension, however warmly gripped. I stick the Nosferatu CD on and play. It still shits me up.

 

 

 

 

Joe Goes To Hollywood...

 

It is worth mentioning the young engineer responsible for those Nosferatu sessions in Los Angeles; Massachusetts-born Joe Chiccarelli starts out as a bassist in 1970’s Boston before turning to studio engineering and heading out west. A lucky break while at Hollywood’s Cherokee Studios comes when Frank Zappa’s engineer is delayed in London with visa problems. In an interview with HitQuarters, Chiccarelli says: ‘I was 20 years old working as an assistant engineer in a studio, and Frank booked in. His engineer couldn’t make the session and he took a chance on me. I’m so thankful ever since that day because he gave me a career.’

 

Subsequently, Chiccarelli is now an eight times Grammy recipient responsible for capturing the sounds of many of the best acts around. As a producer-mixer-engineer he has worked with an impressive array of artists including: Elton John, Beck, U2, Tori Amos, Oingo Boingo, Rufus Wainwright, Carole King, The Cult, Bon Jovi, The Bangles, Herb Alpert, Al Stewart, Jonathan Richman, Brian Wilson, Joan Baez, Counting Crows, Etta James, White Stripes, The Raconteurs and Jamie Cullum to name a few. Oh, and of course Hugh Cornwell and Robert Williams! Chiccarelli still uses Sunset Sound Studios these days while Cherokee closed in 2007 to become live-work units. In Beatles producer George Martin’s autobiography, Cherokee was named the best studio in America. Joe Chiccarelli is presently working on Morrissey’s album in France.

 

 

In a White Room… Chris Gabrin

 

 

 

 

 

Ice breaker single White Room is a cracking redo of the Cream track from 11 years before. The brilliant expressionist promo video is by Hugh’s pal, Chris Gabrin:

 

‘We filmed it at my studio in St. Pancras Way. I shared half the attic with a sculpture called Denis Masi and his studio was painted white - sculptors want light - while my studio was black because a photographer needs dark. We filmed it in the white room which had that unusual semi-circular window with the round windows each side. It was an old Victorian building owned by the Post Office. It’s long gone now, though. I moved out soon after: my lease was coming up, and I was always expecting it to get knocked down for redevelopment. A friend moved in and ended up staying there another four years. The video was done in the Nosferatu 1920’s style using German expressionist lighting. It was very visual, and with my photographic background, I came up with some new tricks. Do you remember that shot of the snails, with the shadows? I really wanted snails - and this was before the Internet and everything, don’t forget. We managed to find somewhere where we could get snails, so we picked up the phone and ordered them. It was someplace in Truro or something. Anyway, they sent them. By mail! We unpacked them - and surprisingly - they were all still alive.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul McGuire in… Nosferatu!

 

‘The pairing of Hugh Cornwell and Robert Williams was truly inspired musically, not to mention certainly the most black-eyebrowed duo. Just recently I picked up Nosferatu on CD - vinyl always needs a back-up - this evening Nosferatu comes alive during a long drive as the gorgeous blue LA skies turn to blackness.

 

The opening title track evokes a Transylvanian nightmare that Bram Stoker should be proud of. Robert’s frenetic double-bass drum-fuelled workout and Hugh's unmistakably weird guitar and vox mesh with sinister keyboard washes unlike anything off Dave Greenfield's dextrous hands, which is saying something. A furious, haunting track suggesting a cinematic chase - the title tune builds, peaks and fades like a runaway horse-drawn wagon.

 

Following on from the rapid die out is a much slower number, Losers In A Lost Land. Hugh Cornwell’s melancholy vocal is punctuated by his evocative six-string work as Robert Williams' restrained accompaniment frames his gurgling moog backdrop. An unexpected version of Cream's White Room is next, a monochromatic take stirred by Robert's powerful kettle drums. The - one of the greatest song titles ever - Irate Caterpillar with Hugh’s spoken word leads to Rhythmic Itch, a genius collaboration with Devo's Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh, the former's distinctive singing elevating the track next to Williams' bass marimbas and a driving fadeout propelled by Mark's Prophet synth.

 

Wired is twisted and asymmetrical, abetted by Mothers of Invention stalwart Ian Underwood whose talents at soprano sax and moog are on full display. Great stop and start finale. And who can forget the turkey-taloned EP sleeve? With many songs in pop and blues history about trains, Big Bug stands alone as the strangest. Inspired by Trotsky's infamous locomotive, the song is dominated by Williams’ multiple talents. Truly one of a kind. Mothra is based on fabled Japanese terror and is another bizarre, complex and ultimately fascinating piece of work. Carnival barker Ian Dury (Duncan Poundcake) winds up Wrong Way Round to places even The Stranglers never venture. Puppets closes the album, with jungle drug chants and more alchemic genius from Williams and Cornwell.

 

Nosferatu is not easily accessible. On first hearing I can’t fault its power and beauty, but it is clearly a strong piece of work by two acolytes of Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart, may he rest in piece. It is also extremely well produced and, to me, it is the best solo Stranglers work in league with JJ and Dave's Fire And Water. Tonight it sounds better with age and I hope someday Cornwell and Williams revisit it for a one-off live soundtrack to the classic German film that inspired it. In that respect it is also quite reminiscent of Lou Reed and John Cale's Songs For Drella, written and performed quickly in honour of recently deceased Andy Warhol (if you haven't heard it, A Dream alone is worth the price of admission, as powerful as anything either man has done together, apart or with The Velvet Underground).

 

It amazes me that Nosferatu was cut in 1979, sounding fresh and far more interesting than just about anything I hear elsewhere today. I may be stuck in my ways but there is simply no new music that compares to The Stranglers collective work. Those like me who were there from the first bars of Grip and beyond along with Hugh's magnificent body of solo work are indeed lucky.’

 

Big Strangled thanks also go to Chris Gabrin, David Fagence, Paul McGuire, and Adam Neil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The future is black: but was it really make-or-break for the Meninblack?
 
 

Change is in the air. The producer walks out and management want the band to call it a day.

Yet somehow The Stranglers create an album that to this day, is the one that fans hold

closest to their hearts. Gary Kent explores The Stranglers’ evolution from the rat to…

 

 

 

THE PADDED ENVELOPE sits on the doormat. It’s shaped by the tape I’m expecting. A product of The Raven sessions. It’s no demo, nor the less superior Raven Roughs. This is a supersonic cassette - clear as a crystalline – cool as fuck. Off the desk at Pathé-Marconi Studios is where the sound quality is, no hiss, at least not much. I send an email of thanks to the Strangled reader who sent it and tune into that fortnight in June 1979.

 

It gets me thinking. Wondering how Black And White’s follow-up begins. With a meeting - and a bombshell - from Albion Management. Dai Davies and Derek Savage look for a new direction:

 

‘They said, “It’s been a great 18 months, but now what?” Hugh recalls in Song By Song.

 

‘We didn’t understand what they meant, but it turned out they wanted us to split up. They said it would be counter-productive for us to carry on. You must remember by this point, the Pistols had split up, so the force behind punk had disintegrated and everything was moving into new styles. So Dai and Derek thought the best thing would be to split up and possibly reform down the line.

 

‘We were suspicious and dug our heels in and it started a period of distrust between us, from which we never recovered.'

 

Find me a new direction…

 

Rattus Norvegicus, No More Heroes, Black And White… In Britain’s post-punk haze, The Stranglers already emerge as true survivors; that triptych of top-selling LP’s plus a stream of hit singles seal their standing in not just the charts, but hearts and minds of kids like me. But The Stranglers are still the band literati and cognoscenti mysteriously omit from history books and TV docs. Surely a travesty considering they must be somewhere on the radar of British popular culture?

 

Of course, the ritual goading and provocation of music hacks never helps them much and two years of press pejoratives start to stick: misogynists, bullies, too aggressive, too old… So in the summer-autumn of ’79 there’s a surprising buzz upon the release of The Raven, the fourth album of The Stranglers. Duchess is the pop single that August proving they’re still a chart force despite a twelvemonth hiatus. Nonetheless I get pilloried by the diminutive hippy in a bean hat called Pete perched behind the counter of Small Wonder Records. Maybe commerciality has usurped punk? The Stranglers will never be Crass old bean.

 

It’s in the bag! In the third week of September, I proudly walk out from Stratford’s WH Smiths with my 3D cover of The Raven along with 19,999 others across the length and breadth of Britain who help the LP land at No. 4. It’s a new direction: The Stranglers swap rat for raven. Hugh explains the significance to Melody Maker at the time:

‘We like symbols and for us the raven is much more symbolic of what we are now than what we were a year or two ago. At that time, we were really in the sewer. The raven is more like an element of going ahead in one direction. It's a guiding navigation for a ship - and it’s also very European’.

 

The Raven album is certainly a sonic, yet progressive departure from their early barrage. If you are like me - initiated in punk’s year zero with Jean-Jacques Burnel’s barracuda bass, Dave Greenfield’s lysergic organ, Hugh Cornwell’s snarling bite and Jet Black’s no-nonsense drums - then you might have been just as disorientated and fascinated on first play. Few clues exist before, with Rattus and Heroes tripped out psyche-punk and spikey Black And White’s unforgiving forebode. The Raven is grandly epic (could Toiler On The Sea have been a secret portent?) and psyche punk trades for timbre, fluency and something that alludes until now. That coolness. Pub gig edge and metered menace is now unfettered poise. Intricate musical passages weave and mesh. Lyrics are wordy, and smart: laid out like a foreign affairs journal, claustrophobic parochial is worldly and creative. A world away from the previous. Coincidentally, it’s two years to the day from No More Heroes. And Black and White is now widescreen Panavision.

 

That dazzling 3D cover - made of three shots of the Viking’s favoured landseer – is a treasure, and expensive. Those not as swift or lucky as me settle for a lesser 2D portrait, and in view of JJ’s Red Cow retribution at journo Jon Savage (he slates No More Heroes and says the cover art is ‘chintzy, chocolate box’…) sauvage adjectives aimed at The Raven are muted. Gothic font, Men-in-Black, and a Viking longship – the very same one Jet visited on a school trip back in the Dark Ages – all round up the Nordic tone. The opening brace of tracks - Longships and The Raven - jangle and boom, oars and rollocks à go go, a segueway… or cross-fade... I forensically explore the cover of the first Stranglers studio album to feature The Stranglers logo on the front.

 

Dead Loss Angeles, Ice, Baroque Bordello… a multitude of themes exist within reportage: American ostentation, Japanese seppuku (chop-suicide, says Hugh), a brothel. Nuclear Device, Shah Shah A Go Go, Don’t Bring Harry… The Shah, Nostradamus, Heroin. Meninblack, Genetix… UFOs, a lesson in biology. Quatranes, seppuku, gerrymandering… the verb ‘to secede’… La Brea Pits – a mammoth of a discovery - Meninblack, Gregor Mendel… exciting, enthralling, alluring, keeping me off the streets as I reach over bedclothes for the Encyclopaedia Britannica (it was the OED when I bought Peaches) to explore what the fuck they were on about. Or quite simply, just ‘on’.

 

There’s even a mental track – Meninblack - palimpsest to Two Sunspots. It’s also the track that sparks a major division in the studio. Sounding like the Laughing Gnome and Pinky & Perky (my first record!), lead vocals are squashed through a harmoniser with the effect of singing on helium with your balls in a vice. It comes by accident when Two Sunspots 2” tape is played at the wrong speed.

 

Musical inspiration isn’t far: Fools Rush Out ascribes to band-management friction; Social Secs alludes to the BBC Rock Goes To College walk-off at Guildford University where they declare they ‘won’t play to elitist audiences.’ However, in a matter of weeks, Hugh will be recording his first solo LP with ex-Captain Beefheart percussionist Robert Williams. The band’s affairs are now handled by Ian Grant who forms Modern Management from an upstairs flat in Covent Garden’s downbeat James Street. By now TW Studios, the highly successful subterranean recording hub and home to engineer Alan Winstanley, is facing closure. The band shift to Eden in Chiswick - Alan and Martin engineer and produce – but the latest songs are not impressing everyone:

‘I detected that they were running out of steam a bit in the writing department.’ Martin remembers sucking on a Camel cigarette. ‘All the original songs they’d written as street people, they’d run out of. Now they were writing songs as pop stars and it wasn’t the same’.

 

Before Social Secs gets the reverse treatment, a Euroman bass line is detected. ‘Do The European or Social Secs? I can’t remember which came first…’ offers JJ, but it has to be said two or three half-songs do not measure up to a magnum opus in anyone’s book. The band need an album, but first they need a single. It’s while mixing takes place on hat mooted single, Two Sunspots, things come to head between producer and artist: the Ampeg 2” tape is on the wrong way round on the Studer when Martin arrives. They vari-speed it slower and add toms. They lose the bass, they lose the vocals… and then they lose the producer. As drum loops echo round the room, Martin spots the writing is on the wall:

 

‘I went out the door. I’d just had enough of The Stranglers. They were losing it.’

 

The Stranglers were losing it…

 

Two Sunspots mix is neither finished nor released. With Alan’s assistance, it is now (another) reversed track now called Meninblack, an omen to a darker, more sinister trajectory for The Stranglers. As odd as it is, it’s remarkable for its distinctiveness. Jet’s UFO reading at Bearshanks in between writing tracks for Black And White make their way into song; Human flesh is porky meat hee hee heeeeeeeeeeeeee… go JJ’s high-pitch harmonised vocals. Dave’s new Wasp synth covers the bass line, augmented with ethereal synthesizer washes. The drums are mixed to sound like no other track they’ve done before as Hugh picks out Spaghetti Western-style on his Telecaster. The band are engulfed in the mysteries surrounding the Men-in-black, extraterrestrial visitations and alien abductions.  But as the winning Rushent-Winstanley partnership hangs in the balance, Martin is due to hop on a flight to France to record the rest of the album.  At the eleventh hour, there’s a hitch:

‘The thought of being in Paris with Jean Jacques for three months or whatever it was gonna be, just didn’t appeal. Plus, I was starting to get into electronic music at that point in time – I was talking to Visage, I was talking to Joy Division – and doing another Stranglers album when I didn’t have any new ideas and I didn’t feel I had anything to contribute… I suddenly got up one morning and said I didn’t want to do this record. They’ve got Alan. Alan knows everything they’ve ever done. I phoned Ian Grant and said I’m not doing it, I don’t think I should be doing this album. I’ve made the decision. He said they’re gonna be really fucked off. I went: yeah, but I’m telling you, Ian - I said - it’s the best thing. He said: now you’ve put it that way, you’re right. But they’re still gonna be fucked off. I went: okay. But it was the right thing to do. I really felt I didn’t have anything to contribute. And if I’d done The Raven, It would have sounded rubbish.’

 

 

 

 

All journalists are pigs…

 

The start of 1979 sees the band embark on a wildly successful Japanese tour but here, the effects of hack-baiting come home. Proof lies in my dusty archives, where tension is apparent in Sounds; in the Mishima article, February 10th, freelance snapper Jill Furmanovsky has to leave the room following a heated JJ-exchange which explains the absence of any photographs from the day. Then it’s time staffer Dave McCullough who learns life’s pecking order, and JJ is there to educate:

 

‘I want you to know that I think all journalists are pigs. You are a pig.’

 

To quote JJ. The rest of the article is peppered with aide-memoirs from the Black Belt how the band endured ‘two years of being constantly slagged off by the press’. Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me… Calculated wind-up? Tongue-in-cheek? Post-irony? You bet, but what a read. But there is a lot of truth in what JJ says considering the mindless actions of pigeon-fancying hipsters, The Clash, who rifle around on rooftops blasting innocent birds of grey and duly exalted by the hacks. Add the Sex Pistols too if you like. Press darlings, The Stranglers were not. Over to Jet who’s rehearsing in the West Country:

 

‘Well there were one or two [journalists] who took us for what we were - a band trying to make a career in music – and we gave them due respect. But a lot of people came along to talk to us with a massive chip on their shoulder because of preconceived notions about what we were - influenced very often by other sectors of the industry.’

 

Jackie magazine certainly had no hatchet in hand: in the January 6th issue, Dave’s secret talent is exposed as painting! That’s painting - and decorating. How sweet? Another sympathetic publication is relative newcomer, Record Mirror. Music writer Barry Cain is a close ally of the band back then:

 

‘I remember going on that Japanese tour with the band. The fans loved JJ’s look. It was around then that Frank Warren, the boxing promoter contacted me - Frank grew up in the same flats as me and he was putting on unlicensed boxing matches at Finsbury Park – and he knew I was into The Stranglers. He got in touch to find out if JJ would box at one of these matches down at the Rainbow. So I took JJ down to meet Frank at Vic Andretti’s, the ex-world champion boxer who had this flash burger bar down the bottom of Hackney Road, the Shoreditch end. We all had lunch there together and talked about this match. Frank had it all lined up, and JJ was interested, but it didn’t happen. Interestingly enough, Frank was promoting Lenny MacLean (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) for the fights. I often wonder if JJ was to have fought him. That would have been some match.’

 

 

Having flown straight with perfection – well, via Moscow for refuelling – Tokyo customs dismantle Dave’s organs. Major headaches for soundman Sheds Jackson, but the tour itself is an unmitigated success. The crowd are hungry for this New Wave, especially being the first to play there. JJ’s iconic image (and love of all things oriental) is embraced, and female attention is rife. Barry is there to capture it:

 

‘They don’t think of us as idols,’ says Jean Jacques in the back of a cab on the way to a hotel where another gang of honeydew peaches are waiting to pounce. ‘They are really into what the band say. They understand.’ To back this up, JJ produces female fan mail thrust into his hand at various points of his journey, all anxious to identify with his admiration of the writer Yukio Mishima…‘to provide a few enlightening anecdotes on the subject of his disembowelled, decapitated felo de se.’

 

Then at the Osaka hotel, JJ spoils for a fight with leathery band Judas Priest who play the same night. ‘The evening culminates in manager Ian Grant insulting a concrete-arsed groupie, with tour manager Tom playing a tray toon and Ian banging nails in the ceiling.'

 

‘It’s amazing,’ says Jet the following day on the Bullet Train. ‘Girls are everywhere.’ In Tokyo, they wear surgical masks to help detain the spread of Jap flu. A static, polite crowd awaits the first of three nights and backstage at Korakeun Hall, JJ tells Jet and Dave: ‘you two keep playing while Hugh and I jump into the audience and start wrenching up chairs. If that doesn’t get them up, nothing will.’ They did. And they did. Result – the most immaculate Stranglers show this side of the Nashville.’

 

The Stranglers, Japanese TV, February ‘79:

Death & Night & Blood HERE and Hanging Around HERE

 

‘Live X Cert – it wasn’t my decision…’

 

The Stranglers may be stars in the Land of the Rising Sun, but not so in the Land of Oz where controversy reigns throughout their stop over. A prime-time ten-minute telly slot is arranged by Festival Records, but the anchor man opts to taunt the band. He asks what they think of drugs. ‘They’re great!’ is the correct answer and the one given, but media outcry ensues. ABC’s Countdown show decline The Stranglers for the following night’s show. And when shenanigans erupt onstage, officials are quick to ask the band to leave Queensland and Australia.

 

Back in Britain, it’s a Stranglers famine. Years have passed (well, six months) since the Walk On By, Tank and Old Codger EP – a marvellous sleaze of a track that should have impressed my jazz-fan Uncle Billy but doesn’t. And now Live (X Cert) falls short upon its release at the end of February.

‘It’s an inferior product, don’t buy it…’ says JJ in the press; ‘End of an era…’ adds Hugh, speaking through United Artists, although not specifying this LP or the band continuum.

 

I take nothing for granted anymore, just in case they split. Live (X Cert) is flat, lacking live resonance and resolution. As the bands debut live output, Hugh’s inter-song quips are revealing: ‘Did someone say wanker?’ stalling the start of Dead Ringer is high drama, but ‘can you all stop spitting please?’ is crowbarred from elsewhere in the gig, and sounds like it.

 

Mixer Martin confirms the truth three decades on:

‘The whole thing was a bodge.’ He says, fist on table. ‘I hated the thing. Write this down: ‘Martin Rushent hates X-Certs and should never have been released. It wasn’t my decision. And lurking somewhere in the vaults are much better live recordings of The Stranglers… a very early Red Cow gig… I don’t know where the fuck it is… Maybe EMI has them?’

 

 

 

 

 

Live (X Cert)

Side 1: Grip, Dagenham Dave, Burning Up Time, Dead Ringer, Hanging Around, I Feel Like A Wog.
Side 2: Straighten Out, Curfew, Do You Wanna? Death And Night And Blood, 5 Minutes, Go Buddy Go.

Released 23.02.79
UK chart peak: No. 7
Chart period: 10 weeks
 

 

With publicist Alan Edwards’ assistance, the band return like wizards from Oz. JJ’s Euroman Cometh LP is out - produced and engineered by Messrs Rushent and Winstanley – all before the Meninblack track and The Raven I add - and there’s a brief, under-attended UK tour of Euroman. By now, the band have aired Genetix and Dead Loss Angeles live, but not in the UK. But behind the scenes, the two Stranglers front men are conceiving solo albums. The days of living in each others pockets are long gone and not to return, as are the memories of laying down albums in a matter of days. They once strummed in their Surrey back garden. Black And White had the isolation of being written in a remote, snowy, run-down Northamptonshire farmhouse in winter, so where could the band convene to this time? Tour manager Tom comes to the rescue JJ recalls:

‘Well we all went to Italy for a week. Tracey’s dad (Tom) knew a lady in Umbertide, Perugia who had a mountain top house and we were invited to stay there for a week. Dave and I drove in Dave's Jag and Jet and Hugh flew down to Florence where we picked them up and continued to Umbertide.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Song by Song, Hugh says much of the album was written in Italy, although contrastingly, JJ states otherwise:

‘We just wrote one song there which turned out to be Baroque Bordello.’

 

The Mediterranean must an inspiration; north of Umbertide lies Ravenna, popularised in Wilde’s ‘Ravenna’ where there are ‘cawing rooks’. Poe penned ‘The Raven’, taking inspiration from the talking raven in Dickens’ ‘Barnaby Rudge’. The Raven is a keen contributor to the arts it seems, but oddly enough, Dickens’ raven was called Grip. Nevermore, to quote the bird, strange. Especially considering the two Stranglers releases whose sales are believed to be have been subject to clerical errors; debut single Grip reaches No.44 in ’77 despite being left off the charts for a week and replaced with Everybody’s Talkin’ ‘Bout Love by Silver Convention; in 1979, initial sales of The Raven are wrongly accredited to Regatta de Blanc by The Police - an album which had yet to be released. Fly straight with… chart anomalies, a gaffe that keeps The Stranglers at No. 4.

 

‘The idea of The Raven comes from JJ, who was very firm on the idea of having an album named as such.’ Hugh says. ‘Because it was a black bird and we were the Men in Black.’ Coincidentally, The Kinks were The Ravens in a previous incarnation. JJ recalls his inspiration:

‘I came up with the song and the title, as well as the concept. Being a fan of history and mythology, I thought that the symbolism of the raven was strong. Odin, king of the Norse gods, had two ravens, one on each shoulder. I think they were called Huginn and Muninn - they would inform him of what was happening in the world. I thought that this was appropriate considering the subjects on the album took us further from our home shores than previously. This was in great part due to our increasing touring abroad and specifically our experiences in Australia.’

 

June 14th sees the band recording in Paris recording for the first time abroad. The Rolling Stones are in the same complex: they will be gathering moss a year on when The Stranglers return to record tracks for their next LP. Alan Winstanley is in the chair. I play the tape stamped EMI- Pathé France. Overdubs are yet to be done. Mixing too. That will be done back in Blighty. As Longships fades, The Raven kicks off 4/4 drums in solo. Ice is vastly different with a harder Sprechgesang vocal. Whether or not it’s a guide vocal, it’s quite Euroman in its delivery. Nuclear Device simply blasts in with a full band vocal harmony on verse one instead of leading up to it in the second verse; Duchess comes across as another guide vocal track, with the highly polished mix errant. Naturally, the tracks dome in London are absent. But suddenly there’s a mystery track! Just keys and vocals, this is 8x10s. The comedic vocal comes courtesy of a pinched nose as you would expect Pete ‘n’ Dud to sing ‘Goodbyeee…’ only this track bows to the tune of the Robin Hood theme. Sonically, the piano synth resembles Dave’s rig, although vamping is more in the style of Les Dawson. Out take? Or piss take? For mixer Steve Churchyard, 8x10s fails to ring any bells. Manager Ian Grant can’t shed any light on it either – ‘I was there in Paris for most of the sessions but I don’t know anything about it.’ Maybe JJ has the answer?

 

‘No. I don’t know. The only track I remember recording in Paris for a laugh was the cocktail version of Nubiles.’

 

Who knows? It just might well be The Stranglers…

 

 

 

 

Side 1: Duchess
Side 2: Fools Rush Out

Released 10.08.79
UK chart peak: No. 14
Chart period: 9 weeks

 

 

Bully boys pretending to be Vikings…

 

Steve Churchyard mixes Duchess at Air Studios Oxford Street in the first week of August. JJ Karate kicks either side of his head. Alan Winstanley is on to his next project and Steve will be The Stranglers studio stalwart from now on. Plus Nosferatu which has yet to be released. August 10th sees the coming of Duchess - the first Stranglers single in over a year – surely a suicidal singles hiatus for any other band back then? Eighth single, seventh hit Duchess attains a very respectful No. 14 in the UK charts. This startling achievement is due largely to having an extremely ardent fanbase, as well as being a highly polished commercial-sounding song. While unmistakably Stranglers, it is vibrant and punchy and even Smash Hits serves up some backhanded complements:

‘Can’t suss this one out at all. Hugh Cornwell actually sings. Yeah, a bit shaky maybe, but it’s proper singing. And the song’s quite nice. But it’s also repetitive and lacks any real substance. The B-side, which is more like The Stranglers we all know and hate, is equally insubstantial.’

 

 

Duchess, Top of the Pops, 30.08.79 HERE

 

 S-Hits publish the Duchess lyrics the week after, more creatively than accurate. A month on, they’re reviewing The Raven. Red Starr awards 6½ out of 10:

‘Side one sees the bully boys pretending to be Vikings (tee hee) and visiting the world being unpleasant (ho hum) about everyone else. Good, punchy riffs and songs, however, with fine contributions from Cornwell and the underrated Greenfield. Side two, though, is distinctly ropey with tedious self-indulgence creeping back in. But overall, their best since Rattus. Best tracks, The Raven and Duchess.’

 

Music rag Sounds gives a handful of stars despite the reviewer being at the sharp end of JJ’s porcine Weltanschauung earlier in the year; ‘All journalists are pigs.’ But back in Martin Rushent’s local, there’s a different take:

‘It’s Jean Jacques bass sound. They never got it again. That’s what I don’t understand. Alan Winstanley sat beside me through three albums and knew how to get Jean Jacques’ bass sound. He knew the technique of how it had to be done… I can’t remember how I did it… there was a formula how to get Jean Jacques’ bass to sound like that on record. And yet on The Raven, he failed. He forgot it, yet he knew what had to be done.’

 

Hugh reveals what makes a good producer in NME after releasing The Raven:

‘We’re never going to use one again. They are just shitty little parasites. All they’re good for is telling jokes. And we know better jokes than any of ’em…’

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Bring Harry…

 

Fly straight with perfection, find me a new direction… and against some odds, The Raven turns out a masterpiece. My album is slightly bent from the packed eastbound train. My heart is slightly racing from the station to the front door. Inside my room, I’m overwhelmed with Black And White’s startling follow-up. I just hope when I take my trusty Raven to the posh girl with the gorgeous legs who studies music at the Royal College, and lift her stylus onto my vinyl for the first time, and the crackle becomes Strangloid cacophony, I hope she feels a fraction of what I feel. Yes, I know she’s into the classical guitar, the viola, John Williams, Julian Bream, classical fusionists Sky and finger-picking blues rockers Dire Straits… But that Sunday afternoon, I am The Raven - the Sultan of Swing - and the Deer Hunter… all rolled into one.

 

The Rodneys queue up, my Duchess is baptised. The Stranglers trade power for poise, sonically - swap rat for raven, symbolically – speed for Coke, pharmaceutically. Heroin too. Flying with enough perfection to get themselves out of a hole, they find their new direction. The Raven Tour in the autumn-winter of 1979 proves to be an unadulterated success and the future is looking good. There’s even talk in the air of conquering India the following year to be the first Western band to perform there. Hugh is doubly excited as he’s on the verge of seeing his dark cinematic collaboration with Robert Williams come to fruition. On the penultimate date of The Stranglers tour, he leaves Cardiff for the capital in a hire-car driven by promoter Paul Loasby. It’s 3am, November 1st, when they hit Hammersmith Broadway. There’s a police stop-check.

 

A search through Hugh’s belongings reveals a near chemistry set; one and a half wraps of cocaine; ninety milligrams of heroin; half an ounce of dope; resin; and some grass wrapped in tissue paper. Five charges of drug possession (two packets of magic mushrooms are ignored) and a prison sentence looms for Hugh. India is cancelled. Somewhat fittingly, this honour goes to The Police - the band, that is - those peroxide-blond purveyors of white reggae who stalled The Stranglers from the No. 1 spot in the UK album chart in September.

 

Like a bad omen, the Meninblack period looms just around the corner; and The Stranglers are about to slip into the blackest period ever.

 

 

Don’t Bring Harry, Top of the Pops, 06.12.79 HERE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many thanks to JJ Burnel, Jet Black, Barry Cain,
Martin Rushent, Les Neil & the Duchess.
Very special thanks to Jeff Curnock.
JJ/MR/BC images © Gary Kent.
Follow the Meninblack’s journey through 80-1
in the Second Coming Issue of The Burning Up Times

 

 

 

 

The Raven

Side 1: Longships, The Raven,

Dead Loss Angeles, Ice, Baroque Bordello
Side 2: Shah Shah A Go Go, Don’t Bring Harry, Duchess, Meninblack, Genetix

Released: 21.09.79
UK chart peak: No. 4
Chart period: 8 weeks

 

 

Side 1: Nuclear Device
Side 2: Yellowcake UF6

Released 05.10.79
UK chart peak: No. 36
Chart period: 4 weeks

 

 

Side 1: Don’t Bring Harry
Wired
Side 2: Crabs
In The Shadows

Released 09.11.79
UK chart peak: No.42
Chart period: 3 weeks



 

The Raven: still flying straight with perfection... 30 years on.

Monday 21st September 2009

 

 

 

    Gary Kent looks back on

    a ravenous soundtrack…

 

AT THE START of the school summer holidays of 1979, I make sure the poor denizens of east London become acquainted with The first Stranglers live LP, the faintly flawed Live (X-Cert) and the fairly leftfield Euroman Cometh by JJ Burnel. Both albums blast alternatively out of my bedroom louvre windows. Black And White – as amazing as it is, treading bravely in music where no band dare – is last year’s model, and as Leytonstone’s Number One Stranglers fan, I want more please! Meanwhile, a multicoloured myriad of New Wave classic 45’s help plug the hiatus: you can’t help but indulge in three-minute pop heroics, such as Milk And Alcohol, King Rocker, Oliver’s Army, Into The Valley, Sound Of The Suburbs, My Sharona, Babylon’s Burning, Hersham Boys and Masquerade (Gangsters too) set the (two-) tone, alongside Up The Junction, Pop Muzik and even Girl’s Talk. New Wave took many guises.

 

Meanwhile bands I grew up with implode all around my ears: Sex Pistols expire in America the year before after one album; The Clash are sonically stifled for their second, thanks to American producer Sandy Pearlman who compresses the life out of the band; and Fulham Fallout’s finest, The Lurkers, lose it with long hair, hats and no songs for their follow-up opus; and talking of violent gigs, Sham 69 split due to err, violence at gigs. With the forthcoming Ska phenomenon – and The Jam’s nuclear explosion on the charts - about to go ballistic, I can’t help wondering if The Stranglers will weather the storm. Is there enough room for Meninblack? Suddenly, in August, there’s a heart-stopping jolt in the jukebox: the first Stranglers single for over a year is out, and how. Duchess royally goes where the band have not been for a while - on Top Of The Pops and in the singles chart - arrogantly boasting pop sensibility through unshaven grins and gritted teeth. There really are Reasons To Be Cheerful this summer. My band are back. Now, where’s my album?

 

But first, The Stranglers play Wembley in mid-August. My pocket money is at an all-time nadir - so I stay in like a sad biff – my biggest regret in the world of Stranglers. Promotion includes a radio interview fresh in the memory of fan Gary Bridge:

 

‘Just before The Stranglers played Wembley with The Who, DJ Tommy Vance interviewed the band. Both The Raven and Genetix were aired for the first time on radio. Jet and Hugh were in the studio. Tommy asked them: ‘How are you guys gonna approach this gig?’ To which Hugh replied: ‘Through the back entrance.’ There was lots of laughter.’

 

Typical Hugh. Back at school, it’s a new form, and even more boring than the year previous. By lunchtime – on one very special Friday – a handful of us spotty teenagers make our escape. Two stops eastbound on the Central Line and we’re at Stratford Shopping Mall. Our milieu is a branch of WH Smith where our 3D copies of The Stranglers’ fourth studio album await. The Raven is out and the eagle has landed!

 

What other band would/could write

a song with Gerrymander

in the lyrics?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back on the Tube, we truant students compare our newly acquired birds in hand. Inside, I devour layer upon layer of prose as my eyes dart like a flibbertigibbet from gravestone to gravestone from song to song. Although that may have been attributable to the wonky tracks between stations. But there it is, the wordsmithery is really reportage: Viking mythology, Middle Eastern Tyranny, English aristocracy, Australian skullduggery, Japanese ritual suicide, American synthesis, space visitations, illegal pharmaceuticals, genetic experimentation, Gregor Mendel’s peas, the Karma Sutra and the prophesies of Nostradamus.

 

 

 

What brought these wondrous titles and extraordinary topics? Was it the tap-tap-tap of the credit card on the mixing consul? These smart seeds are nothing to be sniffed as mercurially impress Biology Professor Martin with my awareness of one Austrian geneticist, thanks in turn to Hugh’s degree in Biochemistry. And what other band would/could write a song with Gerrymander in the lyrics? And how many would/could/dare release it as a single I ask?

 

‘What’s a Gerrymander, Jet?’ I pose as soon as I start work on Strangled Magazine at New Hibernia House the following year. Following up with: ‘What’s the La Brea Pit?’ And so on. Intelligence and eloquence comes with each considered response, after all, Jet and Co. are incredibly sharp. Maybe too sharp for us impressionable sixteen-year old kids. I mean, you never need an encyclopaedia next to your turntable when you play Smash It Up and I Just Can’t Be Happy Today. Nor Tommy Gun, English Civil War or I Fought The Law. Nor David Watts, Strange Town and When You’re Young… It was just like when I first deciphered the word clitoris in Peaches... and flick the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary to discover its meaning. I’m still none the wiser. Fly straight… over my head?

 

September 21st is the big day and excitement is crippling, getting it home and playing it over and over, marveling at the change in pace, admiring their quiet menace. No other band sounds like The Raven. Early references to The Doors are firmly slammed in the visages of the critics. The punk influence on the bands pub rock gene pool is traded for near proggishness, (Genetix, intro to Ice), with a slice of irony (Duchess, Nuclear Device), plus a splash of clever lyrics, (Dead Loss Angeles, Nuclear Device, Baroque Bordello), and a chunk of ice-cool instrumentation (Longships, intros to Ice, Baroque Bordello, Shah Shah A Go Go and Genetix plus of course the eponymous track). Despite The Raven uniqueness, it is The Stranglers’ album that most fans hold the most closest to their hearts three decades on.

 

Opener Longships raises the bar, by first of all launching the LP in instrumental form, but secondly having the crispest, jangliest guitar sound we’ve ever witnessed so far. You can feel the salt spray sting your cheeks and smell the old rotten oars rocking in the rowlocks as the guitar line falls between spider-like and surf-like, and other clichés. And then of course, there’s the Burnel bass twang – the twang’s the thang – according to yesteryear’s headline. And it’s back. It’s busy, less boomy, more trebly, and of course I already know by track one that I shall be learning each and every bass note on the entire album within the next few months. Raven bass lessons are free… for the price of a pint! I’m besotted with Burnel’s bass and whispered vocals on The Raven, Don’t Bring Harry and Ice - or Just Won’t Do if I believe Sounds’ review – and head over heels with Hugh’s cool atonal crooning elsewhere. I’m drawn to Jet’s tight-sounding imaginative drumming. I’m smitten with melody as all the instruments entwine, spliced together with Greenfield’s gorgeously good synthesizations. These villains are my heroes once again like they’ve never been away. The vibes are fantastic, and against what you think, the band step up a gear. By the closing track, Genetix, I’m spent. I’m usually on my bedroom’s drum kit for this: two comfy cushions for toms, a quilted bedspread for the snare and a pair of bent silver-grey knitting needles (don’t tell Mum!) so I can fill in for Jet when he retires. You have to think ahead, don’t you? Even in 1979.

 

Fast forward thirty years to now, and the titular track is the stand-out. Returning to the live set for the non-existent 4240 Greatest Hits compo, any gig that contains The Raven is going to be special now that JJ is singing, following Paul Roberts’ 2006 exit. Shah Shah A Go Go is both lyrically smart and unique sounding, especially in the end run up instrumental where Dave’s keyboards surpass all previous noodlings. It’s an extremely close second. Oddball Meninblack is, strangely enough, third. I love the sound, the groove, and also the Eventide Harmonizer on the vocals. I also love backward tracks, like Nuclear Device’s flip, Yellowcake UF6. Then there’s Hugh’s alliteration in Dead Loss Angeles, alongside hallmark Hammond vamps, plus not one but two bass guitars – JJ’s Fender P and Hugh’s Hofner – making it a unique track on a unique album: I can only think of The Cure’s 1981 single Primary with binary basses.

 

I’m amazed The Stranglers came up with the goods so well. But I’ve since seen Hugh talking in a TV interview from the mid-90’s saying that he listens back to Stranglers songs and hears four musicians performing separately playing different songs at the same time - as the audio features Duchess - two-and-a-half minutes dedicated to Hugh’s Chelsea girl squeeze. It’s seven hits in eight singles and a worthy achievement after such a lengthy gap in releases. I can’t forget the excitement in my belly hearing it on the radio: so cleverly pop, almost European-sounding. but tongue-in-cheek, nevertheless. Hugh’s voice in Fools Rush Out too, as well as the lyrics. This cool b-side, according to Hugh’s Song By Song, tells of management hassles bubbling behind the scenes at the time.

 

 

1979 is make or break for The Stranglers. No change there. In February, they spread their wings across America and Japan (and air Dead Loss Angeles and Genetix) and then onto Australia amid controversy on Aus TV. In the UK Live (X-Cert) is out – an amalgam from the record-breaking of Roundhouse gigs of November 1977 and the Battersea Park alfresco stripperthon in September 1978 - where I lose my gig virginity at fifteen. The mix is stripped down without frills (or frillies if you were there!). With Hugh saying they won’t be performing these songs again; ‘it’s the end of an era…’ and JJ bemoaning the flat mix, suggesting fans don’t buy it, producer Martin Rushent vocalises his take on Live (X-Cert) when I meet him at his Berkshire base in 2007:

 

‘It was a bad idea, a management idea. The demand for The Stranglers at that time was huge. Best thing since sliced bread. They said we’ll do three nights at the Roundhouse. What they should have done is one night at a massive venue and brought ‘em all in. Can you imagine keep playing at the same venue – it’s like work. So I was asked to record it live, and the band was pissed off, everybody was pissed off. Crap vocals, the recording was shit, everyone was in a bad mood, the band didn’t wanna do it, I didn’t wanna do it, it wasn’t my idea. I did the best I could. The whole thing was a bodge, I hated the thing. Write this down: ‘Martin Rushent hates X-Certs and should never have been released. It wasn’t my decision.’ But lurking somewhere in the vaults are much better live recordings of The Stranglers but I don’t know where they are. Maybe EMI have them? I know there’s a very early live recording of them at the Red Cow – I don’t know where the fuck that is.’

 

An EP featuring four of the live excerpts is subsequently shelved, as is new track Two Sunspots where Martin walks out after three LP’s. It’s June when the band head for Italy where the father of JJ’s girlfriend’s has a house they can work in. The band travel separately: JJ and Dave go by car whereas Hugh and Jet let the train take the strain. In a Notting Hill diner in 2005, Hugh recalls the train stopping at every station throughout the night, and compares the writing of Black And White to The Raven:

 

‘Swapping snow-filled Northamptonshire for sun-drenched Tuscany?! After Black And White - and it had been a disaster - we’d have been even more nervous going abroad. But because it had worked for Black And White, we knew we could try it again. The house we were renting in Italy overlooked a pond with loads of frogs in. At night, all these frogs croaked all night, and it was amazing. At night we used to sit outside with a glass of wine and a joint and listen to the frogs. It was an amazing cacophony of noise coming from this pond, all these frogs mating away in the warm evenings.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jean Jacques throws karate kicks at me…

 

New songs flow like Orvietto on the veranda - Little Choirboys becomes Duchess – and the band start recording them at Pathé-Marconi Studios in Boulogne-Billancourt, southwest of Paris. With TW Studios recently closed, this is the first time the band record away from home turf.

 

Alan Winstanley produces the tracks and remixing continues in London at Air’s old Oxford Street Studios. Due to an overrun in Paris, Alan is booked elsewhere. At Hugh’s suggestion, Steve Churchyard is drafted in to replace Alan. Steve also succeeds Martin during Nosferatu and becomes The Stranglers producer for the next few albums. In a Transatlantic phone interview for the second Burning Up Times, the soft-spoken producer has fond memories of the bands antics:

 

“I was halfway through mixing when suddenly the door bursts opens and the band all file into the control room. They’ve all got sunglasses on – and dressed in choirboy outfits - white cassocks, the lot! They’d just finished filming the Duchess video. So I’m sitting there mixing, when the next thing I know, Jean Jacques is throwing these great karate kicks all around me, missing my head by a whisker. What did I do? I make sure I don’t move – I kept my head down! Otherwise I would have lost my head!”

 

The Raven mix is less ‘in your face’ as Rattus, Heroes and Black And White. Maybe the mix is following the new direction but there is a distinct lack of boom to JJ’s bass end. Martin Rushent on the post- Black And White bass sound:

 

‘They never got it again. That’s what I don’t understand. Alan Winstanley sat beside me through three albums and knew how to get Jean Jacques’ bass sound. He knew the technique of how it had to be done… how I did it. There was a formula how to get Jean Jacques bass to sound like that on record. And yet on The Raven, he failed, he forgot it, yet he knew what had to be done.’

 

Hugh’s picks a church in Savernake Road, Hampstead for the Duchess shoot, and gets his photographer pal Chris Gabrin is the snapper:

 

‘I remember how difficult it was finding the place and drove round and round trying to find it,’ Chris remembers, ’The photo came first - they wanted a photo session at first - but I think they liked the shot enough to choose the same location for the video. I wasn’t involved for the Duchess video, but I did direct the Nuclear Device video. We did it out in Portugal. The band previously cancelled a gig out there, and they arranged to return to do another. I mean, the band would turn up with a huge lighting rig, and the promoter would show them to a solitary 13 amp socket! Anyway, because they were so ruthlessly true to their fans, they booked this other gig – and there was some spare time. So we went and filmed the Nuclear Device video down there. But because the gig had a big fireworks display, I wanted fireworks for the video. Bloody huge fireworks. So we got this dodgy-looking firework guy who had scars all over his face to drive down with these explosives over from England on his truck!’

 

 

 

The Raven spawns three singles and gets them on Top Of The Pops from Duchess in August until December’s Don’t Bring Harry EP. Nuclear Device is their first singles flop but Duchess gets the first video ban by the BBC, no doubt assisted by JJ’s antics with fellow TOTP act Child: it is deemed blasphemous due to its ecclesiastic setting. Rumour says the decision came from ‘in the shadows’. Meanwhile Auntie Beeb sails unadulterated with religious flagship Songs Of Praise.

 

 

The Raven is a substantial piece of work, marking The Stranglers IV trajectory from pub gigs, speed and LSD to Cocaine-fuelled brilliance. This ravenous collection of songs forms the ideal link between the claustrophobia of the previous and the experimentalism of the future. It might be worth considering Toiler On The Sea with Hallow To Our Men and Four Horsemen when we marvel at The Raven’s fluent instrumentation and melody, especially on tracks like The Raven, Baroque Bordello and Don’t Bring Harry. Band quirkiness came in the form of the Korg Vocoder on Baroque Bordello and Genetix first trialed by on Euroman Cometh earlier in the year and later used on Aural Sculpture’s North Winds; the Eventide Harmoniser is also premiered, distorting Meninblack vocals just like in Waltzinblack. The Raven’s oddity and melody continues to maintain the bands public status and expand margins to not only form their finest and most fluent moment in vinyl, but to forge the framework to The Gospel According To The Meninblack… and a new drug called Heroin.

 

 

Nuclear Device promo HERE

Social Secs/Nuclear Device demo HERE

Nuclear Device/Genetix radio sesh HERE

The Raven live in 2008 HERE

 

 

 

 

What The Raven Means To Me:
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fly straight...

 

Mark Tall

 

‘The Raven was a mature direction - no frenzy, no anger - just intelligent, observant and musically challenging. Dave’s Oberheim sound surpassed the Hammond organ. Hugh’s intricate, weaving, spindly guitar lines moved away from fuzzy chords. Jet’s drumming became more complex and Burnel’s bass top was toned down. Each instrument danced and meshed to create tracks like Genetix, Baroque Bordello and Ice. Many of the songs feature strong instrumentals that transform into a separate song in an instant – like Shah Shah A Go Go, and The Raven - 5 minutes and 12 seconds of perfection. Lyrics of bleak romanticism, keyboard and guitar interplay, the driving bass and the final minute of ethereal swirling synthesizer magic of the raven’s flight is just breathtaking. A Stranglers' masterpiece. As a 16 year old, I marveled at this new maturity and I felt as if I was coming of age too. This cosmopolitan collection of songs made me think bigger - away from the Cornish countryside – perhaps to embrace new lands, cultures and ideas. Nowadays I live in Los Angeles - not Dead Loss Angeles – but one teeming with complexities and cultural riches and The Stranglers played a small part in bringing me here.’

 

with perfection...

 

Dominic Pilgrim

 

‘My first experience of The Raven was at university. I had arrived with a working knowledge of No More Heroes, Rattus and Live X-Cert. One cool guy there had the Stranglers IV US compilation (vinyl of course). It started with The Raven itself, then Baroque Bordello, Duchess, Nuclear Device and Meninblack. I was blown away by what I heard, but it was some weeks before I discovered that a whole album of this lunacy existed. I didn’t have a turntable in my room, so I bought the cassette from the local record store. I still have it. I listened to it on my spray-painted matt black ghetto blaster through a crappy pair of headphones one lonely night, and by the end of Genetix I was close to tears. This music can make you trip. When I went home to Finchley, a mate who was studying music at Dartington College in Devon asked me if I’d heard of a song called Baroque Bordello. I replied: “Fuck, yeah. Why?” He sipped his beer and said; “Cos my room mate is writing a thesis on it.” The album is that good.

 

Find me...

 

Steve Howard

 

‘The opening lines of the title track say it all. ‘Fly straight with perfection, find me a new direction’. The Raven casts aside the former punk tag while exploring new areas both musically and lyrically. Remarkably, many of the album’s songs have no true chorus to speak of and yet the album is choc full of melodies and hooks. The sound of a band at the peak of their powers. Catchy three-minute pop songs (Duchess), totally off the wall-ness (Meninblack), something sinister wrapped in a beautiful melody (Don’t Bring Harry) and going for the jugular (Nuclear Device).’

 

A new direction...

 

Donald MacKay

 

‘And here’s the new single from The Stranglers…’

 

It’s daytime Radio One – and The Stranglers’ first new track of the year- and what a wait it’s been. I should be jumping for joy but my excitement is accompanied by frustration, as I can hardly hear the damn thing. I’m straining my ear at the end of a production line packing seasonal frozen raspberries, away from home. The fuzzy medium wave signal over the Tannoy struggles to penetrate the incessant din of refrigeration and packing machinery, supplemented by the sweary banter of my workmates.

 

After my ‘shut the fuck up I need to hear this…’ I can soon detect a surprising change in the sound of the band. Duchess has a less raucous, warmer, melodic and poppier sound than before. The singing is more conventional, less shouty – real singing! The bass is lower in the mix and less trebly. It gets well promoted on Radio One, so I hear it several times in it’s first week. Although catchy, it takes a few listens to fully accept the new sound. I like it, though it makes me wonder if the upcoming album will be too poppy for my liking. It charted fairly well considering the BBC decided that viewing the hilarious video would not be good for us, and banned it.

 

Back home in time to buy The Raven on release day although no 3-D sleeve for me. My town has no chart return shop so I get the normal LP with the cover I prefer… predominantly black, distinctive, intriguingly well shot photo on the back to boot. Inner sleeve lyrics with fantastic graphics and symbols that keep me interested for hours as I ingest the new work, over and over. The album ads in the music papers are clever, as they show different songs and graphics throughout the paper though the Meninblack track throws me for a while, it’s oddball but musical enough to merit continued investigation. Standout track is The Raven: a wondrous, inventive, multi-faceted piece of music. I love it. Longships is an epic prologue and the whole album brims with ideas, full of intricate interplay without going over the top. In every case, the instrumentation serves the song; it’s never showy or overblown. The sound has moved away from any lingering punk connotations to a sophisticated, groundbreaking approach. With no strong producer to impose his views, the band are free to experiment with their already considerable studio experience, and come up with a truly unique set of songs; a complete work. Dave has evidently got some new toys, which he uses to produce some weird and magical sounds and textures. The bass is restrained but the lines are brilliant. Guitar work is inventive as never before, and the voices are used as instruments themselves and Jet’s drumming is clever and sometimes astounding, like in Genetix. All in all, musical perfection.

 

After the monochrome claustrophobia of Black and White, The Raven themes are in Technicolor, exploring new horizons with an outward looking world view. New thoughts and new sounds. Travel has broadened their minds, although the commentary is often scathing. An outsider’s view of cultures and regimes: the artificiality of LA, dictatorship in Queensland, revolutionary forces in Iran, Norse invaders, Samurai rituals. We also have stories about the lure of women and heroin, genetic engineering and an introduction to our favourite aliens.

 

For me, The Raven is The Stranglers finest hour. I never tire of hearing it, and often pick out new parts that I’ve never noticed before. It is so varied that it can never bore. Ironically, this album lost the band a lot of fans, those who preferred to keep their idea of the band as punks, and thus they no longer fitted with this narrow minded view of music. It is amazing how important image is in the music industry, so the band said: Stuff you, we have no image now, we wear black.

 

Crucially, however, the band also picked up a lot of new fans with their new, more sophisticated approach. It is precisely this reinvention that always kept me interested in The Stranglers. Most bands begin to repeat themselves after a couple of albums, which I find really dull and move on. The Stranglers kept changing and kept things fresh and interesting. I remember talking to a long hair from a record shop who said at the time, ‘The Stranglers are passé.’ He hadn’t heard The Raven. Chatting with a punk pal I described their music as innovative and he laughed. After I played him The Raven, he changed his mind. Here’s to my favourite album of all time: The Raven. Incidentally, I now have eight different releases of this album, plus the T-shirt, poster, mug, sticker and mobile. So yes, I’m pretty sure I like it!

 

 

The Stranglers, Wembley Stadium, 18.08.79
StubsInBlack was there…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Stranglers, Wembley

18/08/79

 

Nuclear Device

Genetix

The Raven
Dead Loss Angeles
Baroque Bordello
Tank
Threatened
Shah Shah A Go Go
Ice
Down In The Sewer
Bring On The Nubiles
Duchess

 

 

Strangled magazine’s editor Tony Moon already predicts the rise of Mod in the issue I got at my first gig – JJ’s Euroband at Ilford – and this fourteen year old finds himself on a three hour train journey to Wembley Stadium with his Mod mates from the arse-end of Kent (no reference to this web editor!) here for The Who – and me, for The Stranglers.


It’s a hot summer’s day when we arrive: other acts include Nils Lofgren, famed for playing guitar bouncing on a trampoline and unknown Aussie rockers AC/DC who are so loud, they blow the speakers. Third-on-the-bill The Stranglers take the stage at seven as the taped intro of Meninblack fills the hall. As a young UFOlogist I’d just read an article on MiBs a couple of weeks earlier - shades of parallel development between The Stranglers and me – something that continues to this very day. It’s the first day of the footie season and we’re here at Wembley – and Hugh cannot resist a footie quip:

 

‘Any Brighton fans here? Well - you lost 4-0. Any Australians here?’

 

In reference to AC/DC perhaps? Or the ferocious opening number Nuclear Device?! Seguing into the sci-fi sounding Genetix, Dave’s vocals are eerie. I just wish he’d sing more, especially as I’ve never seen Peasant live. Next up is the bright and breezy, whimsical forthcoming album title track, The Raven. JJ alludes to this track in Strangled when he says the next Stranglers animal is heavily connected to the Vikings and imbued their spirit of exploration and adventure. (The track still haunts and inspires me to today which is why I have a full Raven tattoo on my right arm.) Also, it says the other two tracks are aired in Japan. So now it’s three songs into my inaugural MiB gig and three singers! What an introduction! Now it’s another newie - Dead Loss Angeles – and once again it appears in Strangled. But seeing both Hugh and JJ play bass guitars on this track is mind blowing.

 

Now I’m really looking forward to The Raven LP out in six weeks time as everything so far is simply awesome. Then – another new track - Baroque Bordello – whose picturesque decay fills the stadium with lilting guitar and melodic keyboards soaring into every corner and crevice. Tank breaks the run of new songs and it’s a vicious rendition that takes a scattergun to the crowd and hammers mercilessly to surrender. The urban decay of Threatened with darkness to come in the political musings of Hugh’s Iranian history lesson - Shah Shah A Go Go - which in turn melts into Ice - a song that changes my life forever. I get the book that inspires the song straight afterwards, influencing the way I live my life ever now. At the time, I mistake ‘hagakure with perfume’ for ‘the cat was wearing perfume’! Down In The Sewer - my all time favourite Stranglers track – with Hugh shouting; ‘YOU CAN SEE THE WHITES OF THEIR EYES - ABOUT 80,000 OF 'EM!’ It twists and turns almost classically with epic neo-Wagnerian keyboards. (This song is sorely missed by fans of late, although Hugh does wonders in the absence of keys.) Suddenly fighting breaks out in the terraces – JJ catches sight of it – and points out to Hugh, who sends out a warning:

 

‘If you want some bother on the terraces - go to a football match.’ With a mock walky-talky in his hand, he adds: ‘Right - the police have told me it’s all over on the radio so…’ Hugh continues in an accent attuned to a German SS officer accent: ‘BRING ON ZE NUBILES!!!’

 

Dave's takes control with his keyboards as the band fire on all cylinders for a frenzied, bitchy rendition of Nubiles. New single; ‘About My Ol’ Dutch…’ is Duchess, and familiar to the crowd who welcome it warmly. Hugh points to Wembley’s scoreboard displaying next song as Hanging Around. A cheer goes up – and the band play Toiler! Ebbing and flowing round the tide of humanity, drowning in their sheer artistry and all round brilliance. They blow The Who away on two counts: firstly by the firework explosion that is so loud, locals complain and ban the headliners from a similar pyrotechnics display. And secondly, by a triumphant show of The Stranglers in full flow – airing virtually the entirety of their forthcoming fourth LP.

 

The night ends with The Raven logo lit up to the sound the bird calling in the night. Rave reviews ensue... ACDC’s Bon Scott dies… Nils Lofgren joins Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band (spruce spring clean?)… I get a Raven tattood on my upper arm… while The Stranglers are in their thirty-fourth year with 16 studio albums ender their belt… Baroque Bordello is underrated, so I agree with JJ. It’s also underperformed! Pete Townshend must resent The Stranglers, as he disses them thereafter – but The Who just couldn’t measure up on the day. 1-0 to the underdogs! You could also say - The Stranglers take on the favourites to walk away with the honours. Personally – as my first Stranglers gig - it was an eventful and inspiring initiation into the world of The Stranglers that day at Wembley. Thank you, lads.

 

PS. I understand Hanging Around was originally in the Wembley set.

 

Strangled thanks Steve Churchyard, Chris Gabrin, Neil Horgan, Steve Howard, Donald MacKay, Dominic Pilgrim, Martin Rushent, Stubsinblack, Mark Tall & the X-File. Apologies to anyone we have omitted.

 

 

 

The Stranglers’ 1984 and 1986 demos uploaded

 

Acceptable in the 80’s!

 

 

When The Stranglers hit the mid-80’s, did the Meninblack also hit a midlife crisis? Clearly the music proliferating around them jarred: the Aural Sculpture Manifesto free with 7th album Feline became testament to that: ‘the musicians of our time are harlots and charlatans…’ Big words - but could The Stranglers come up with the goods?

 

Working on a follow-up, the band demoed Skin Deep; this came about in the classic Stranglers way, originating with JJ’s bass and melody and Hugh’s lyrics, the soft R&B flavoured Punch & Judy, Hugh’s Head On The Line (an anti-drug song) – plus In One Door, Hitman (written about a photographer), Shakin’ Like A Leaf and The Beast. The Hitman demo contains some pretty soulless gated noises off the drum machine while Skin Deep was always the brightest and strongest of the seven tracks. CBS Records MD Muff Winwood suggested they use Paul Young’s producer Laurie Latham (Steve Churchyard was in the throes of moving to the US) who listened to the demo and agreed he could do something with Skin Deep. This song triggered the recording at ICP Studios in Brussels during 1984 (working on keyboards first with Dave) where it was agreed that Laurie should continue work on the bands eighth album thereafter.

 

Released as a single, Skin Deep got to number 15 in the UK chart. In November, the Aural Sculpture album reached 14 – and contained some fine moments - but what happened to the other demo tracksOnly ? Punch & Judy survived the passage to LP, while the rest - In One Door, Hitman and Head On The Line – became b-sides; JJ unhappy about the way The Beast turned out was recycled as an instrumental for his 2nd solo album; Shakin’ Like A Leaf disappeared all together, ending up on 9th album Dreamtime, released in 1986.

 

Somewhere between the 1984 demos and the ICP sessions, the band came up some punchy new tunes. Who can argue the songsmithery of No Mercy, Uptown, Souls, Let Me Down Easy, Spain, Northwinds, Laughing, Mad Hatter and sheer cool of Ice Queen, written about Hugh’s American fiancée? The Stranglers had pulled one out of the bag – but Laurie added not just backing vocalists and brass players, but sheen and studio sparkle, turning demos into diamonds. Unfortunately, Dreamtime wasn’t going to happen in quite the same way…

Having demoed Mayan Skies, Nice In Nice, Always The Sun, Ghost Train and You, The Stranglers were booked in with Laurie once again during 1986. By now, the band worked in two halves: Hugh would record songs at his West Country home while JJ and Dave worked from JJ’s bungalow in Cambridgeshire. There had also been a defining moment in the Hugh-JJ relationship which must have affected the band: during the Aural Sculpture European tour, JJ had a spat with Hugh in Rome; ‘I put Hugh through a wall… I shouldn’t have done that… I left chocolates and flowers outside his door to say sorry.’ For Hugh, it showed a side to JJ that he didn’t like. Was this the beginning of the end? Technology hadn’t helped the pair to work together in preliminary stages of songs as it was all too easy to switch on the ubiquitous ‘80’s synth, the Yamaha DX-7 and a drum machine. Songs ended up being sent to each other by post – a far cry from those Chiddingfold summer afternoons sitting in the garden, jamming on acoustic guitars.

 

The demo of Always The Sun is sonically, the most alien compared to the finished product. Hugh has since conceded the band weren’t ready to return to the studio as the material wasn’t strong enough. One strong song rejected early was One In A Million, a beautiful piece of melody Hugh released as a solo single on Portrait Records the previous September.

 

Now reconvened with Laurie in Brussels once more, the sessions became problematic: an entire week was spent recording You, an ambitious, lacklustre track that never made any album. Laurie believed the songs were half-baked, with demos that were sketchy and with little pre-production. He suggested the band regroup when they have better material as he felt he was being left to turn these tracks into songs. Meanwhile, songs were penned in the studio, increasing the studio expense sheet. Studio trickery altered the demos into shapelier models, and at one point, the snare used for the sessions was an amalgam of samples taken from Bowie’s Let’s Dance and Otis Redding’s Dock Of The Bay. Things came to a head during Always The Sun during it’s commercial metamorphosis when Jet told Laurie they’d had enough of working on the ‘Laurie Latham album.’ It didn’t take long before rumours began filtering through to the music press that CBS were unimpressed with their fruits - and ordered some serious re-workings. Another story laid the blame on lost tapes causing the delay.

 

Several months of Always The Sun continued, but the band were now back in Blighty, minus their producer. Replacement Mike Kemp was based at Spaceward Studio close to JJ and Dave, where the Dreamtime sessions continued in earnest: Was It You?, You’ll Always Reap What You Sow and the eponymous track helped bring up the rear in the song department, along with the sprawling Too Precious. Chart-wise, Nice In Nice was a return to singles form in the same way as Skin Deep two years prior, but only reached a disappointing number 30 in September. Newly improved Always The Sun also stalled at 30, despite massive media exposure and the brace of cool promo videos. Was there no justice in this world? Or was the world simply running out of patience for The Stranglers? Big In America followed, but failed to dent the Top 40 singles despite Paul McCartney’s thumbs up on Saturday morning kids telly. A re-jigging of 1984 demo, Shakin’ Like A Leaf followed as another 45, but suffered the same fate. The Dreamtime album peaked at number 16, spending just six weeks in the charts, and for the four horsemen, the apocalypse was on the horizon. They rode the eighties ‘style over content’ ethos and stayed together as a unit – but for how long? Answers on a postcard…

 

 

‘84 demos HERE

‘86 demos HERE

 

 

 

The Stranglers 1974 demos unearthed…

 

Some Charlie for you!

 

 

A very different Guildford Four where creating some incendiary noises back in 1974. The earliest songs from The Stranglers’ set – Charlie Boy, I Know It, Make You Mine and Chinatown - were committed to ferrous oxide that very year, forming their first demos ever. Thanks to a recent discovery in an attic by one of our readers, we dusted it down and made them available to you... All you have to do is find them – enjoy!                                                                           HERE

 

 

The Stranglers cut demos with Ian Gomm.

Gary Kent tracks him down.

 

Gomm with the wind

 

LONDON’S GIG CARTEL OF 1975 was slowly but surely being infiltrated by The Stranglers. This came about after signing up with Albion Management’s Dai Davies and Derek Savage in a deal lubed by Hugh Cornwell’s cunning cartoon campaign aimed at the duo’s Putney office. With sticky headline slots at the Nashville Rooms, Red Cow and Hope & Anchor by night - writing and rehearsing by day - a nascent Stranglers honed the tunes that would later become their first two hit LP’s, spawning three Top 10 forty-fives, including the chart smash, Peaches.

 

With a demo already under their belts, (Wasted, Strange Little Girl and My Young Dreams recorded in 1974 with Alan Winstanley at TW Studios), the all-important recording contract remained elusive. Punk was to prove the catalyst for The Stranglers success, but yet to ignite. Meanwhile, they struggled amid the existing middle-of-the-road mould set by fellow pub- rockers on the live circuit. Early in 1976, they packed their gear into drummer Jet Black’s ice cream van and set off for a recording studio in the wilderness - mid-Wales to be precise - in the verdant valleys of Welshpool. Here lay Foel’s Studio which partly set up by Ian Gomm - erstwhile guitarist of Brinsley Schwarz – a band whom music hacks first tag ‘pub-rock’.

 

The Burning Up Times was keen to test Ian’s Stranglers recall: first time we called, he was on his way out to a piano-tuning – and a second occasion he was outside, up a ladder on a very breezy autumnal day painting the conservatory of his Welsh abode. Hence the dubious strapline – which also happens to be Ian’s 1979 solo LP in the States.

 

“Gomm with the wind is a good title - or Going, Going, Gomm!” Quips a chipper Ian during our third time lucky later that day. “…Or even Gomm but not forgotten!” The Burning Up Times certainly hadn’t forgotten him.

 

Chiswick-born Ian spent much of his youth in bands – right through his five year electronic engineering apprenticeship at EMI Records at Hayes. “The Beatles paid our wages.” In 1970 he quit the day job after answering a Melody Maker classified to join Brinsley Schwarz: the following year, New Musical Express brand him ‘best rhythm guitarist’. In 1973 the Brinsleys open up the very first Old Grey Whistle Test - on bass, future Rockpiler Nick Lowe – and turn down a Top Of The Pops appearance when they’re not permitted to play live. After a dozen LP’s and a staggering 21 singles over their five-year span with United Artists Records. Manager Dave Robinson exits to form Stiff Records and future Stranglers manager Dai Davies takes over. Following a decision to relocate Stateside, (UA reject the plan in favour of more UK vinyl), a final albums-worth of material is unreleased. The band break up in 1975: two members join Graham Parker’s Rumour, while Ian is left bandless and jobless. Ian:

 

“Dave Anderson used to help out Brinsley Schwarz. He played bass in Hawkwind – Lemmy’s predecessor. He’d gone into partnership with Lord Roote’s son to buy this old farmhouse - back when you could pick up a farm and a cowshed for three and a half grand. It needed wiring and finishing off. Of course, wiring up a studio was what EMI trained me to do, so I knew how to do it. Even in the band I brought along my toolbox to fix the Hammond C3 before gigs. I was at a loose end and so I was the man for the job.”

 

Taking his family with him, Ian embarked on the transformation into a fully functional recording studio. He also learned how to engineer and produce. Now all he needed was a band to test out the workings. The phone goes. It’s Dai.

 

Ice cream men cometh…

 

“He said he’d got this band called The Stranglers, and they wanted to do some demos. He said he’d send them down, and so The Stranglers became our first paying clients – not that they paid! That’s why they drove 250 miles up to get there – because it was free! But the funny thing was when they arrived - don’t forget we’re in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by hills and sheep and the road from the village runs down the side of the valley and drops down quite steeply. I look up and there’s this ice cream van coming. I thought someone can’t be selling ice creams here, surely. I didn’t know it was The Stranglers until they parked up and bundled out the back of the van. Jet was driving. I said: ‘what’s this all about? Have you borrowed it?’

 

‘No,’ he said, “it’s my van!’

 

I didn’t believe him at first - until he put the bloody jingle on! And that sounded really weird in the middle of nowhere. It was very loud!”

 

Ian harnessed the sound of a band in their transitory stage between punchy pub-rock and punk. The four songs – three of which ended up on their first two LP’s – included the Top 10 hit that broke the band:

 

“Peaches, Bitching - the one about the sewer - yes, Down In The Seweeeer - and a song with JJ singing: ‘tell me why - tell me why…’ in this upper class accent, Tomorrow Was, which didn’t fit in at all. But the rest - especially Down In The Sewer – I thought, fucking hell!

 

Foel’s demo of Sewer is shorter than the final vinyl version: the song ends on a full stop as the last bit, Rat’s Rally, has yet to be penned. As far as nailing the tunes, Ian faced a dilemma:

 

“I didn’t know what to do with the band to be honest. So I recorded them live so the songs turned out pretty rough-sounding. I do remember the band as being very green - embryonic, shall we say. When bands record for the first time, wearing headphones can throw them. In Brinsley Schwarz we did a lot of recording and Dave Edmunds produced us, so I learned a few things along the way. But I hadn’t seen The Stranglers play before. Even so the songs we did turned out quite close to how they ended up on vinyl later. Very close – and this was early 1976, spring I’d guess. It definitely wasn’t winter, because the ice cream van wouldn’t have made the steep driveway.”

 

“They’d have probably hit me later on –

or JJ would have done!”

 

Ian adopted a strange technique to drop-in and drop-out:

 

“They wanted to capture what they were doing, and they had rehearsed these songs to death and so they were engrained in their heads. They didn’t want to change them much in the studio. So I recorded them as they were with vocals afterwards. During one song, Hugh had a guitar overdub to do. I suggested he didn’t play during the solo section, but he just couldn’t do it. He kept playing in the bit he wasn’t supposed to. How we got round it was I literally stood there next to him in the studio and stopped him. I grabbed his wrist to pull his hand off the strings so he couldn’t play. Then I let go off it for the part he was supposed to come in. That shows you how embryonic they were – they’d have probably hit me later on - or JJ would have done!”

 

Foel’s studio set-up incorporated an old mixing desk that used to belong to the BBC, a second hand MCI 16-track tape recorder – and a Philips 2-track tape recorder to master – that owner Dave ‘Hoover’ Anderson acquired from Small Faces’ Steve Marriott’s and Ronnie Lane’s old home studio in Moreton, Essex. Coincidentally, Ronnie moved to a cottage just a short distance from Foel. Thirty-three years on, the studio is still going strong, and proud of their current analogue set-up: a check on their website shows they still have the MCI, and ‘the only Trident B-series desk in Europe’ – a model similar to the old one at TW?

 

“Maybe,” says Ian. “I recorded solo stuff at TW as well. That was a bloody good studio - round the back of a launderette - but it was very atmospheric. Martin Rushent produced with Alan Winstanley. They were great. I don’t know if it was the same for The Stranglers, but when I did my stuff there, Alan engineered and Martin produced. I became friends with Martin – our kids became friends – in fact, my eldest daughter had her first kiss from Martin’s son. They’re still in touch today. Anyway, you know what Martin’s like at selling himself and telling you how brilliant he is! But during one of the early days recording at TW he said to me: ‘hey - listen to what Alan’s just done,’ and it was Amii Stewart’s ‘Knock On Wood’. It was only No. 1 in the States – done at TW - behind a launderette!”

 

Ian recalls his own rocking days with fondness, having supported the likes of Paul McCartney’s Wings for two UK tours and Dire Straits in the States, as well as performing on the opening night at London’s Hard Rock Café. He recorded Alexis Korner and Peter Hammill, but his Brinsley days were never too far away: Dai Davies and Derek Savage signed him to Albion - “Savage and Ravage we called ‘em.” Single ‘Hold On’ reached No. 12 in the US while old bandmate Nick Lowe had a Top 10 hit with ‘Cruel To Be Kind’ – until then, an unreleased Gome/Lowe collaboration. Dave Edmunds also reworked Ian’s ‘It’s Been So Long’ in 1981, and Ian has had songs covered by Phil Everly and Glen Campbell.

 

While still quietly involved in music (he is currently writing acoustic tracks) Ian tells us he is compiling film footage from both his Brinsley and solo days for future release. We rave about last night’s Later With,,, Jools Holland featuring Glen Campbell but diss the host; ‘I’d like to slam that boogie-woogie piano lid on Jool’s hands!’ Admitting to liking the Kaiser Chiefs, Ian dismisses much of what he hears on the airwaves – bar one track:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Jet photo © Gary Coward-Williams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

Foel’s rush out

 

Dave Anderson still owns the studio.
Gary Kent catches him on a rare night

off from touring with his band.

 

“Yes I remember them arriving in an ice cream van every morning. We’d hear them coming across the moor playing the Tonibell jingle to the sheep. The paint was still wet on the walls when they arrived. I think they came to do a one or two songs, but ended up doing some extra tracks and I remember thinking wow - they are really quite good. Peaches was obviously a hit - it had a great sound - a catchy song with slightly naughty lyrics, really good. I thought Tomorrow Was The Hereafter was a really great song too, absolutely brilliant. I quite a bit of time downstairs with Hugh going through guitar bits and he was unsure of himself and the band. After the recording they wanted to use our backline for gigs because they liked the sound so much. They used to belong to the Brinsleys and I bought them when they split up - all Fender heads (amplifiers) and Allen cabinets which we customised ourselves to make them more durable –with this great sound. Paul McCartney liked them too - and we built some for him for the Wings tour. Anyway, The Stranglers had a gig at the Red Cow in London, so I ran the gear down there – but only 20 people turned up. I think they had a residency and the next time they had 200 there. It went on like that and soon there must have been bordering on 2,000 one night. The whole thing was building up really quickly and it wasn’t long before the whole of Hammersmith roundabout was besieged with punks. The thing that freaked me out was the spitting at gigs - and getting back the equipment that we’d painstakingly laboured over all covered in gob! And they did have a punky sound. Their energy was more punk than anything else I guess. It all happened very quickly and it felt very special. One minute they were borrowing gear - the next - in the charts. I think we were a little disappointed they didn’t come back and do the album at Foel’s –we’d already captured the essence of their sound and given the time to do things properly I think we would have made a better album with a little polishing off. I really like what they did all throughout their career and they became a great pop band too. I couldn’t believe it when Hugh left.”

 

Dave ‘Hoover’ Anderson is touring with The Groundhogs on the Classic Legends of Rock tour culminating at Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 2nd November.

 


 

 

“My helper working on the conservatory today heard ‘Cruel To Be Kind’ on the radio. ‘Hey – that’s one of yours, isn’t it? He said. It was: I love that sound of the cash register!”

 

The song helped singer Nick Lowe become one of the most sought after producers. It was before a Brinsley gig in Liverpool, when a young student approached Nick to help him out:

 

“Nick got delayed in the bar. So we started the gig minus our bass player! Nick ended up producing this guy called Declan McManus – and I happened to be in Stiff Records’ office in Alexander Street the day they renamed him Elvis Costello.”

 

Coincidences are a-plenty: not only was Ian signed to Albion, he recorded for UA and once laid down a track called ‘Black And White’ at TW with Martin Rushent and Alan Winstanley: he also rehearsed at Bearshanks Lodge in 1978:

 

“It was owned by Ruan O’Lochlainn who played for fellow pub-rockers Bees Make Honey. We did two tours of Ireland together. Ruan liked his drink. In Dublin, he got on the wrong side of the stage to get to his spot – and with his solo coming up, he ended up walking straight past, right to the other side. He went offstage, hit something and fell over. I think he broke a bone in something that night.”

 

The Stranglers suffered highs and lows following the Albion fallout. At the same time, Ian remains unsurprised at the bands’ longevity:

 

“I heard a funny thing where they made more money from their Greatest Hits album than when the songs themselves were hits back in the day. Strange... I think a lot of people got ripped off years ago, and there was a time when they almost packed it all in. If you have success right away like they did - and you don’t know what the game is - and you get ripped off, very few get the chance for a second bite of the cherry. I liked them a lot - they were different, even though there was a hint of Doors in there. It must have been an influence. But they were raw and exciting, and that’s what I liked about them. I met JJ a few times afterwards. Once, at the Hope & Anchor - UA held a launch party for my first solo LP in 1978 – and JJ turned up. There was some aggro… trouble… and he was asked to leave!”

 

Ian Gomm site HERE

Ian Gomm MySpace HERE

Ian Gomm on Swedish TV in 1982 HERE

Brinsley Schwarz on OGWT in 1973 HERE

Brinsley Schwarz MySpace HERE

Dave Anderson’s MySpace HERE

Huge thanks to Ian Gomm for supplying us with his Stranglers demo.       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Stranglers help out at a carnival.

Graeme Mullan celebrates the event.

 Golden Crown 

 

 Artwork - Steve Beaumont ©

 

I remember reading in Strangled magazine back in 1982 (Vol. 2; No. 12) how Hugh Cornwell was coerced (with a little help from Jet Black) into making an appearance at a West Country Carnival – to crown the newly-judged Malmesbury Carnival Queen. Not only Hugh turned up – but so did the whole band – as local press clippings of the day portray.

 

But first - an eye-witness account from Gloucestershire resident and Stranglers fan, Simon Kent, who recalls the day twenty six years on.

 

 

Meninblack mania comes to Malmesbury!

 

‘Imagine reading your local paper and seeing the lead singer-guitarist of your favourite band is about to be making an appearance in a week's time at a school just five minutes down the road from where you live?! Best go along, this sixteen year-old Stranglers fan thinks!

 

The event was to crown the Carnival Queen, and so - after what felt like the longest week ever - my brother and I arrive at Malmesbury School – and it was surely one of the strangest events in the band's career.

 

It’s afternoon - and we’re early. Outside there’s a healthy-sized crowd of youngsters waiting for their first glimpse of the Meninblack. Inside the Assembly Hall itself - it’s already half-full. We both get seats with a good view and sit patiently among the parents and kids. And not yet a Stranglers T-shirt in sight - except mine of course. By 7pm it’s full. At 7.30, Hugh takes the stage dressed in black, alongside the local Mayor and Lisa McCullough - the girl about to be crowned Carnival Queen. Hugh says a few words into the mic and then gently places the crown on top of her head. He looks rather bemused standing in front of the strangest audience he’s had to address in his 'punk' career. With the official crowning done - Jet, Dave and JJ join Hugh onstage for some photos with the Mayor and Lisa – now minus her crown – because it is worn by JJ. As the press cameras flash, I regret not bringing my camera. Grrrrrrr!

 

The band exit the school stage and make their way outside to be mobbed by literally hundreds of people, mainly youngsters, all wanting autographs. I saw a couple more Stranglers T-shirts as the crowd shout for JJ: it was like Beatlemania! But hardly anyone is going over to Jet or Dave - so I take my opportunity – and go over to get their autographs. I end up having a quick chat with both of them about forthcoming band activities. Regrettably, I miss out on JJ and Hugh’s monikers, as they are still being mobbed even after half an hour!

 

Eventually, the band - minus JJ – jump in a black Cadillac – the very same car used by Hugh and Jet in the BBC West TV documentary they made on the colour black. Minders usher them inside and they drive off to the nearby Bell Hotel where they apparently take some more photographs and eat and drink… Unfortunately, us Joe Publics are not allowed in – and so it was home for me and my brother after a very enjoyable - but nonetheless surreal - evening in the company of the Meninblack.'

 

Malmesbury Carnival Times, August 1982

 

A Strangler in town - Strangler Hugh Cornwell is helping the Malmesbury Carnival off to a flying start. Will the others come too?? As we go to press, we understand there is a good chance that the other three Stranglers will come along with Hugh on Friday August 27th.

 

A member of a rock band with a record in the Top 10 at this very moment is coming along to crown the Malmesbury Carnival Queen on Friday August 27th at 7.30pm. Hugh Cornwell, lead vocalist with The Stranglers, whose latest record 'Strange Little Girl' is heading for No. 1 if there is any justice in this world, will be joining the stage party on Friday to do his bit to get this year's Carnival off to a really good start. Both Hugh and fellow Strangler Jet Black have houses in the West Country, liking to retreat to this part of the world to recover from hectic tour schedules or gruelling recording sessions. The Stranglers are in fact rehearsing numbers for their next album at the moment and are calling a temporary halt to allow Hugh out on good behaviour so that he can come to Malmesbury. Less than a week after our Crowning Ceremony, Hugh and the other 'Meninblack' will be off to Brussels to start the recording process.

 

Western Daily Express, 28th August 1982

 

Stranglers' lead singer Hugh Cornwell crowned 16 year-old Lisa McCullough the Carnival Queen of Malmesbury. Hugh, who lives near Bath, admitted he felt nervous before the ceremony. "I've opened and closed pubs and railway lines before, but I've never crowned a carnival queen."

 

All three other members of The Stranglers - JJ Burnel, Jet Black and Dave Greenfield - turned up to support him. Lisa, of Great Somerford, near Malmesbury, only entered after a joke with her mother. "I was surprised to be chosen, but very please", she said. Later Lisa toured the town centre in an open carriage before being guest of honour at a Civic Centre dance.

 

Wilts & Gloucestershire Standard,

3rd September 1982

 

Sixteen-year-old Lisa McCullough was crowned last Friday as Malmesbury Carnival Queen. Lisa, a student of Somerford Cottage, was presented with her crown and cape by Hugh Cornwell, lead singer with the top rock band The Stranglers. The ceremony, which started 10 days of carnival festivities in the town, was held in a packed hall at Corn Gaston's School. Youngsters queued for the star's autograph and were also delighted to see two other members of the band - JJ Burnel and Jet Black. After the ceremony, the queen and her attendants rode on a float to the town centre accompanied by Hullarington Majorette Troupe. A barbeque was held at Cross Hayes and a Country & Western hoedown at the Civic Centre with music by Dollars and Dimes.

 

Standard Times & Echo, 3rd September 1982

 

The people of Malmesbury were warned anything could happen with The Stranglers in town for the crowning of their Carnival Queen - but they didn't expect them to steal the crowning glory!

 

 

Golden Crown… A very big thank you to both Graeme and Simon for taking us back to ’82… and work imminent on Feline – the bands seventh studio album – yet still high in the UK singles charts with their fifth Top 10 single, Strange Little Girl - band schedules and more songs to write fails to deter The Stranglers from attending a local event in celebration of… a European Female. (Ouch!) Here’s a reminder of The Stranglers circa 1982.

 

The Stranglers – European Female – click HERE

The Stranglers – Strange Little Girl – click HERE

The Stranglers – Golden Brown – click HERE

 

 

 

 

Spiked 1978 Black And White exclusives - not in The Burning Up Times…

 

 

 

 

All quiet on the Xmas Front?

 

It was there in black and white: “We really believe in this album,” insists Cornwell.

“It’s the best thing The Stranglers have ever done.”

Gary Kent muses the album that almost was.

 

 

I

T’S TEN DAYS TILL CHRISTMAS. Just look at the faces of the oncoming commuters - cloaked in gloom, choked with work, filled with doom. Enemy attempts to jam my pathway are futile as I make sure the endless City bound stampede scuff into my strategically placed shoulder-height Adidas sports bag. They think I’m going the wrong way. I am - home. I escape towards the light and leave a peppered trail of ‘tut-tuts’ in the drab underpass. Fuck ‘em. Unphased, I unclench a sweaty fist of pennies for Ray the paper man in return for the New Musical Express. Folding John Lydon’s face in two, I head back to an empty house and a turntable.

 

I love bunking off from school. What fifteen year old doesn’t? Back home, heating on, both bars. Bag under bed, hi-fi whacked up, blaring out, loud as I like. Doing what I want. The darkest side of Black And White spins at thirty-three and a third revs as I peel off my regulation white Henry Taylor shirt and blue Renvoize tie. I mess up my hair and suddenly I’m JJ once more. The cream anaglypta walls ignite with the warmth of the Battersea gig, with chemistry rekindled as soon as ‘Curfew’ comes on. I’ve got withdrawals… When’s the next tour? When’s the next single? When’s the next album..?

 

I spread out the NME and examine with forensic detail anything faintly Stranglers and filter out everything prog-rock, Bob Dylan and Boney M. Such conscientious study time wouldn’t have gone amiss in double Physics, Maths, double English, History, Chemistry and R.I. had I bothered to stay beyond registration. “The Cure are to play in the capital, so too are The Clash… Peter Gabriel wants to play with Tom Robinson... Queen want to play on Centre Court... Quo want to play the UK... Kenny Jones wants to play with The Who…” But what’s this on page 15? I blink. I’m blurry-eyed. I blink again. It’s still there. The Stranglers new album… and controversy… Eastern Front??? Black And White’s successor… but is it true what they say?

 

 

“We really believe in this album,” insists Cornwell. “We honestly believe that it’s the best thing The Stranglers have ever done.… the LP has just been completed and The Stranglers want United Artists to release it as soon as is humanly possibly, and above all in time for Christmas… UA have informed Stranglers’ manager Ian Grant that ‘in our expert opinion as a major record company it is not feasible, viable or desirable to release this LP at this particular point in time if we are going to be able to maximise the ongoing commercial of the property concerned.”

 

My heart races as I absorb the prose, eyes darting manically between mysterious new song titles: “The track playing is Jean Jacques Burnel’s impassioned ‘Fuck My Old Boots’: “Whip some skull on me, you reactionary old dumper,” howls Burnel over wiry, vicious bass lines and Dave Greenfield’s manically-spiralling organ phrases. Coming straight in via a jarring segue from Cornwell’s startling interpretation of Bacharach and David’s ‘Alfie’, it is one of the most brutally effective moments in the band’s recorded history. So which tracks are actually the contentious ones? Is it ‘MiG’, Burnel’s gut-wrenching warnings of Soviet military intentions in Eastern Europe? Or ‘Two Balls Are Better Than One (Any Day)’, a piece calculated to infuriate any self-respecting male feminist? Or is it the admittedly controversial ‘Only Faggots Hate The Sight Of Blood’?”

 

“It certainly isn’t any of these tracks,” retorts Cornwell. “UA loved those. They said they were the purest expression of our art we’d ever bloody recorded. No, the real reason is that Jean Jacques is going to beat the living stools out of those miserable liberal bastards when he gets back from his karate course what they don’t realise we’ve got to get this album out in the next ten days. There are two Christmas tracks on it which will be obsolescent by the Spring – which is when they want to put the thing out.”

 

How’s Burnel doing on his course, we enquired, parenthetically.

 

“Oh, alright. Except he was a bit under the weather last time I spoke to him,” admits Cornwell. “He was apparently about to bite the head off a live chicken – it was part of his Pink Belt exam – when it bit him first. Just below the eye.”

 

“The Christmas tracks in question were both over on the second side of ‘Eastern Front’, so we played them next. ‘No More Santa’ draws arresting parallels between the assassination of Salvador Allende and the Nativity. “Let My Reindeer Be My Weapon And My Statement” is the motif of ‘Jingle Balls’, an eerie chant accompanied only by an effects tape of exploding Japanese carrier planes – transformed Moroder-fashion, into an attractive light disco beat.”

 

“It’s our only compromise with disco so far,” admits a shame-faced Cornwell. “…It’s a really good album – far better than boring, monotonous, simplistic load of half-baked sexist crap we released last time.”

 

I grab the page and lie back, fired up and incredulous. I was taken in by it. Weren’t you?

 

SO, EASTERN FRONT was a fake and the article, a spoof. Why? Was it to ‘top-up’ The Stranglers controversy-o-meter? Don’t forget what a mischievous and provocative band they were: earlier that year, they fought Greater London Council to play Battersea, and then brought on a troop of strippers onstage to outrage the status quo; at the recording of BBC TV’s Rock Goes To College, they stormed off following a row over ticket allocations; they enraged Stateside record company moguls who planned an amalgam LP of Rattus and Heroes by telegramming a typical ‘hands across the ocean’ goodwill caption, reading: “Get fucked, love, The Stranglers.”

 

Bogus it was. It may not be quite on par with the hoax of the Loch Ness Monster, the Hitler Diaries, or the Shroud of Turin. Nor was it so much the Great Elmyra, more Banksy perhaps? Incidentally, it was the Great Elmyra who took his own life two years ago almost to the day. But this cunning piss-take allowed The Stranglers to revel once more in some outrage and rebellion without even lifting a finger. It smacks of a publicist or journalist, especially since, several clued-up references sit neatly within the text. Cited are: Walk On By’s famous song writing pair, Bacharach and David; a Stranglers cover version in the shape of ‘Alfie’, however dubious-sounding; and familiar record company friction all pointing to recurrent themes of the band. Even the titular ‘Eastern Front’ is swiped from Black And White’s ‘Sweden (All Quiet On The Eastern Front)’ – itself once mooted for a single release. Not forgetting the ‘weapon and my statement’ line from Death And Night And Blood; manager Ian Grant; and last but not least, the Finchley Boys… It’s someone who knows The Stranglers. Furthermore, JJ had returned from Japan where he studied for his Black Belt, followed by an early December weekend session at Eden to lay down new tune Two Sunspots – yet another single never to see the light of day. So, like all good falsehoods, it was actually based on fact.

 

Compounding all this, NME the week previous published this: “The Stranglers, who have been keeping a low profile since their bust-up with students after walking out of a gig at Guildford Surrey University, have announced major plans for the first half of the year – including two albums, a new single, overseas tours and British dates. The latest single – recorded last weekend, and co-produced by Martin Rushent and the band themselves – is a brand new song, not taken from any previous album, and is set for late January release.

 

In truth, The Stranglers required more than a phoney festive half-page - they needed to pull a trick out of Santa’s sack: momentum had waned in the light of punk and new wave’s demise, bands were splitting and the knives were out for The Stranglers. A single was the cure. Instead, the Two Sunspots session became the catalyst for producer Rushent’s exit: he disliked the changing direction of the band as they worked on the b-side, ‘Meninblack’. The proposed late January single idea was ditched, leaving a void in vinyl offerings: it was to be a half-year hiatus from August’s ‘Walk On By’ until February 1979’s ‘Live (X-Cert)’. Live albums were such a rare commodity in the late 70’s, and so the mix of the capital’s Roundhouse and Battersea gigs should have got the juices going. Instead, many fans thought it was rushed and scrappy. Hugh referred to the album as “the end of an era,” which it was in a way, but it just sounded ominous. JJ told fans not to buy it, adding “it’s an inferior product,” while plans to release a live single, or maybe an EP were scuppered.

 

Even the most ardent fan began to question whether a wheel had come off The Stranglers’ wagon, especially with the news of solo projects from the two front men. But when Duchess came out that August, suddenly the world seemed a better place. I bounced up to the counter at Small Wonder Records where I still clearly envisage the look of distain on hippie Pete Stennet’s face when I asked for Duchess.

 

“You don’t want that, do you? It’s shit.”
“Can you play it?”
“Why? It’s shit.”
 

Actually Pete, The Stranglers pulled it off more like! Advertised as their first single in over a year, and thanks to a newer commercial sound, it made No. 14 in the UK charts and Top of the Pops. The shelved Two Sunspots failed to make The Raven, instead finding it’s way onto the next album, whereas ‘Meninblack’ left a trail to a future black hole. Perhaps it was no coincidence to now discover a double-page spread on disco-producer Giorgio Moroder and his Bavarian studio complex just a few pages on from the Eastern Front hoax? Fake author M.A. Choman must have been inspired, but what came first - the art or the article? A Serge Clerc ‘google’ links to Eiffel Tower gaffer-tape JJ victim Phil Manoeuvre. Perhaps he was the author?

 

Still no nearer the truth, an email arrives from Belinda, a Stranglers fan and authority on Clerc’s work. She verifies the authenticity of the sleeve design: “The drawing is definitely by Serge Clerc. He is very well known for his drawings of 1980's pop artists like Blondie, Comateens and Joe Jackson. Both Serge Clerc and Yves Chaland have made imaginary records and comic albums which created quite some confusion amongst collectors.”

 

Oh, really?!

 

 

 

 

Is it a dog?

 

Stuart Bolton gets to the bottom

of Hugh’s top.

 

 

HUGH’S STRIKING T-SHIRT DESIGN - what’s that all about? Last worn in the late 70s, most famously at 1978’s Black And White-era photo-shoot. More recently it appeared on the front cover to Hugh’s book, ‘Song By Song’.

 

But it was his ‘A Multitude of Sins’ where he referred to it directly; “I started to find great images to put onto T-shirts …. one of a wolf bearing its fangs with some bloodhound missiles in the background.”

 

Hugh may appear a little unacquainted with its origin, but I can reveal the precise source of the canine image. It’s taken from a picture by Norwich artist Colin Self, titled ‘Guard Dog on a Missile Base, No.1.’

 

Self came to prominence with the Pop Art scene of the 1960s. He is now recognised as an important and innovative artist from the decade of supposed free love. He first attended Norwich School of Art and then Slade School of Fine Art where David Hockney and Peter Blake first came in contact with his work before becoming collectors. Self’s engagement with the threat of nuclear war gave his work a political edge that made it stand out from the Pop Art mainstream. At the time Norfolk would have apparently been one of the prime targets for a nuclear attack (don’t ask me why!), and this resonates in Self’s art. In fact, he was one of only a few British artists to look at the horrors of the Cold War and the nuclear threat. “It turned my guts and floored me, destroyed my sensibility and understanding of the world,” he explained. Another defining image, ‘Nuclear Victim’ is on permanent display at the Imperial War Museum.

 

‘Guard Dog…’ was drawn in 1965, and purchased by the Tate in 1974. Its monochrome design was a fittingly stark image for the album’s Black And White period, particularly given some of the LP’s content, particularly on the Black side: opening track ‘Curfew’ paints a horrific picture of the Cold War becoming reality, while closing number ‘Enough Time’ meddles in the fall-out of a nuclear war. So, Stranglerphiles - the next time you pick up ‘Song By Song’ - or spot another picture of Hugh in this T-shirt – or indeed, dig out Black And White… spare a thought for the originator of the canine design… and show some ‘Self’ respect!

 

ROUND: Burning Up Times geometric collage featuring the shirt.

BOUND: Hugh on the front cover of Song By Song.

HOUND: Colin Self’s Guard Dog.

 

Not read it? Issue One, The Burning Up Times HERE

 

 

 

BLOW JOB!

How Walk On By and a cult 60’s film took Gary Kent

 to a park in southeast London

 

T

HE STRANGLERS knew a delicious slice of 60’s music when they heard it: they did their own mind-blowing version of the Dionne Warwick classic Walk On By – and it’s still a hit in the present day live sets of both The Stranglers and Hugh.

Originally part of the Guildford Stranglers pre-fame repertoire of the mid-70s, The Stranglers finally laid down Bacharach and David’s bittersweet symphony during the Black And White sessions at TW Studios in March 1978. Following on from Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, Walk On By became the bands seventh 7” single, reaching a creditable 21 in the UK charts that August -  quite an achievement considering three months before, 75,000 copies were given away gratis with the album!

 

Unsurprisingly, the much-lamented and foremost DJ of the day John Peel was the first to spin it one night in May, giving us a tantalising prequel of to the groundbreaking  third album. And what a night it was! From the other side of London, this 15-year old boy secretly tuned in under candlewick bedcovers, where Walk On By brimmed with  Dave’s fantasticly wicked keyboard wizardry: he almost made the Hammond talk - in tongues, naturally. Each arpeggio run transmitted icy shivers up my backbone, and in just under six and a half minutes, I was utterly and thoroughly hypnotised, mesmerised…. blown away.  My mind was awash with the riffing fluency, not to mention Hugh’s scratchy Telecaster ripping through the track like a buzz saw through balsa.  Throbbing and pulsatile throughout, JJ’s pernicious Precision chivvied and chased Jet’s freeform, no frills, drum filling.  It was an unforgettable experience.

 

Walk On By was their calling card, their hallmark signature noise of the bestest band in the land.  But the cheek of it all - mauling up an old rave from the grave, right on the crest of the post New Wave nuance: it was light years ahead of Whitney’s favourite aunt’s hit of 1964. The way Hugh mangles the vocal track, his atonal, laconic timbre never sounded this threatening, menacing, and nonchalantly splenetic – and this was a fucking love song! Brooding yet ballsy, Hugh’s acidic vocal quirk is glued down with Dave’s anodyne backing harmonies. But just before the gorgeous instrumental passages kick off, Hugh suddenly lands his leading line on the vocal track:    

“…Just going for a stroll in the trees.”

 

I often wondered why Hugh sung that – it wasn’t in the original. But here it is, right before the lysergic solos swallow him up.  It’s only now I think I might know. On the day it was decided on an accompanying promotional video, film buff Hugh was the one who jumped at the chance make it, and where it all starts to unfold. In 2005, Hugh told me: “I based it on the film Blow Up, which is one of my favourite pieces of cinema... It’s very eerie.”

 

Hugh’s photographer friend Chris Gabrin helped direct it using low budget Super-8. “He took our very first photo on a record sleeve – Get A Grip... For the Walk On By video we used the exact same location they used for Blow Up – a park in southeast London.” For the shoot they got a Dionne Warwick lookalike to accompany larger-than-life jazzman George Melly for the walk through the trees of Maryon Park in Charlton in 1978 -  and for the record sleeve:  “That’s because we couldn’t get the real Dionne Warwick!”  Meanwhile, mouth-organist and Southend jail-bird Lew Lewis leaps around serenading the couple. Melly and Lewis also appear on the jazzy tongue in cheek B-side, Old Codger.

 

Reminiscent of McCartney zooming off to Paris on his own to shoot Fool On The Hill,  I wonder how Hugh gained almost full cinematic rein – in the light of the band’s Four Musketeers democracy within. They evenly split song writing credits into four, irrespective of who writes the songs.  But the year before, JJ posed for John Pasche for the front cover of No More Heroes – on his own on top of Trotsky’s tomb. The band rejected it and a red wreath was chosen in its place.

 

 

B

LOW UP was shot in London by Italian film maker Michelangelo Antonioni in 1966. In the world of cinema, where the use of the words ‘cult movie’ can sometimes be overused, Blow Up really does deserve its mantle. When Mike Myers needed a photographer for his Austin Powers pastiche, he borrowed an ample piece of Blow Up’s main character, Thomas.  Antonioni selected the youthful and handsome David Hemmings for Thomas, a successful and thoroughly arrogant fashion photographer, in ‘Swinging 60’s London’.

 

Antonioni dabbles with our minds, messes with our perception – much in the way our poor affluent photographer Thomas finds himself transported. One afternoon, away from snapping at future Twiggys and Shrimps, he ends up with his trusty Nikon in the obscure, secluded Maryon Park. It is here he spots Jane, played by the elegant Vanessa Redgrave, who appears to be trying to playfully lure her elderly beau towards the trees… a stroll in the trees…  Thomas innocently captures the couple on film from the glade until Jane sees him and suddenly her mood changes. She runs up to confront Thomas and demands the roll, accusing our voyeuristic snapper of invading her privacy.

 

He refuses, and smells a faint hint of rodent. Later on, Jane tracks him down at his trendy West London studio, where Thomas fobs her off with a different film. She leaves satisfied - and Thomas is intrigued by both her and her motive. So he starts to develop the real film from the park, and exposes something sinister in the process.

 

In a quest for answers, Thomas blows up each scene, frame by frame and hangs them up. Sleuth-like, he magnifies each dot until he his gruesome find is confirmed. Thomas returns to the park that night, where he is left with more questions than answers.  He returns to the studio to discover it has been ransacked. The film has gone, and so too, have all the blow-ups. Antonioni’s striking imagery combines the existential and abstract, and reality becomes blurred by the surreal purpleness.  Many questions are posed, namely - do we really only see what we want to see? And is it really true the camera never lies?

Antonioni also hints at a lower end subculture among the upper classes. He is at odds to dodge the fashionable ‘Swinging London’ zeitgeist characterised in the media.  In the outside scenes where Thomas drives through Central London, archetypical red London buses are carefully dodged.  So too are red telephone boxes, pillar boxes and Big Ben, and as if the optical illusion isn’t playful enough on the eyes, Antonioni jazzes up the cinematographic visual tone: he has both sides of a High Street shopping parade painted in bright red. 

 

Ali Catterall and Simon Wells, authors of ‘Your Face Here’, suggest the reddened Pride & Clarke shop fronts to have once existed in Woolwich Road, prior to the redevelopment of the through road. Admittedly it points to a likely location, considering Charlton Football Club’s 1966 cup success, with their Valley Ground literally overlooking Maryon Park, and whose home kit happens to be red: the owners might have been willing participants to the makeover. Contrastingly, on John and Brian Tunstill’s website ‘Reel Streets’ the location is revealed to be Stockwell Road, in Stockwell, just a few miles off. Evidence shows the 1966 red grinning through today’s flaking masonry paint. 

 

But it’s beyond the black wrought-iron gates that the profound, oblique intrigue harbours – as I was about to discover for myself.  As Thomas steps along the Tarmac pathway blackened by Antonioni’s set handymen, we are faced with the possibility of suffering from deceptive perception. Paths painted blacker? Grass painted greener? Trees painted browner? Shops painted red, and the overlooking backyards whitewashed – Antonioni must have had a colourful time in London in 1966! Having so far researched from the confines of my computer, I feel drawn to Maryon Park.  I had to go there to see for myself…

 

 

I

t’s an icy morning, over the Woolwich Ferry and along Woolwich Road when I spot the daunting tree tops poking at the clear blue sky over Charlton’s frosty rooftops.  Up the dead-end and through the gates, the path climbs a little, before Maryon Park suddenly opens up, invitingly.

 

The well-kept secret garden reveals a brace of tennis courts in the centre of a huge flat lawn that reaches out to the woody periphery and rose beds. The courts are quiet today, like they were when the rag-ball student mime artists perform their surreal game of tennis minus balls and rackets in the closing cuts of Blow Up.  Taking a left up the steep steps leads me to Cox’s Mount, the flattened out, grassy plateau where Thomas makes his dark discovery. Little has changed since sorely missed Hemmings hopped over the fence to secretly click-click-click at the odd couple. The once whitewashed backs of houses lie hidden behind overgrown trees over to my right, and to my immediate left, One Canada Square dominates the City skyline.  It’s tranquil, yet the chilly ether is charged with a profound melancholic calm. The rustling leaves overhead and the muffled traffic below never quite match the motions of the trees swaying above or the busy road I’ve just driven along below.  It’s as if the sound has been turned down, muted. Or at least, that’s my cognizance. Deception is rife.

 

Upon my descent a geological clue lies to Maryon Park’s ancient pre-existence as a chalk gravel pit, long since filled in and levelled out. Before that? A Roman settlement.  A shiver comes crawling up my spine like the night I heard Walk On By through the ether in the dead of night -  when I’m told the place has it’s own ghost.  I also sense my privacy has been silently and sneakily invaded… like I was being studiously watched the whole time by Thomas, and his Nikon. 

Suddenly a forthcoming and astute park keeper points me to a place on the wall where a commemorative plaque once sat. “Vandals...” he said, “they kept spoiling it so we took it down. It was in our hut but I haven’t seen it for a while. We often get people here because of the film... What  was that film called again?”

 

When I told Hugh during a Burning Up Times interview I had been there, he was intrigued. He also added it was a shame the Walk On By video was never shown, “apart from once at the ICA, that is.” I momentarily relay the deceptive nature of the trees in the park, and mention the one thing missing from The Stranglers coolest promotional video – The Stranglers: “Oh - they’re in it,” Hugh adds with tongue in cheek. “But only as cardboard cut-outs.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since the 60s - Ali Catterall and Simon Wells (4th Estate) ISBN 0-00-714554-3 2002

Reel Streets: British Feature Film Locations: www.reelstreets.com/blow_up.htm

The Walk On By video can be found here: www.stranglenet.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

JJ Burnel in France

The Bare, Naked Truth!!!

 

On the eve of launching PDF issue one - I called JJB on his moby to clarify the 5 Minutes French ad-libs for the final piece, and left him a message. He duly got back to me that afternoon to spill the beans, but then I had an idea to ask him some really cheesy questions. In fact they were so aux fromages, Dom, nearly went and bought some Jacobs Cream Crackers to go with them! Needless to say, my work suffered the mighty  editing sword. It was outed. So I stuck them on here for you...

 

10 things you need to know about JJ Burnel while

he rips up the autoroutes in the south of France.

Out the way of get!

 

  1. What’s in your pockets right now?

Actually, nothing. I don’t have any pockets… I’m completely naked. I’ve been skinny–dipping in a pool so I’m standing here dripping wet! I’m on my holidays. After all the summer festivals, it’s holiday-time.

  1. What’s the last thing you bought?

A cup of coffee for 2 ½ Euros. Before that? Petrol.

  1. What’s your favourite tipple?

Wine.

  1. What’s your favourite meal?

The first one I have with my mother when I return. Usually simple Normandy fare: soup de Poisson with stuffed tomatoes with minced beef, pork and veal, a big green salad with vinaigrette and a nice bottle of rose.

  1. What’s the last book you read?

The Famous Five from my mother’s library, and The Unfettered Mind by Thakuan Soho.

  1. What’s the last CD you played?

Manu Ciao when I was in Nantes.

  1. What’s your favourite place?

Inside a juicy ******! Ha! Don’t put that! Put on the seat of my motorcycle.

  1. What’s your favourite motorcycle?

Triumph RS Sport, which is what I’ve got.

  1. What’s your favourite Stranglers song?

I usually say the one we’re working on… but the one I think is very underrated is Baroque Bordello.

  1. What’s the ringtone on your mobile?

Something by Tchaikovsky, think. The other phone has gone now. What was that ringtone?

 

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