Jet Black once described the bands now long association with the 'colour' black as 'a non-image that became an image'. In addition to a wardrobe overhaul, the band took on the alter ego of 'The Meninblack'. So, what the hell was it all about?
Throughout 1981, the band had successfully toured their commercially unsuccessful masterpiece 'The Gospel According to the Meninblack', by which point they were deeply immersed in the idea of alien visitation. But to the best of my knowledge, the seeds for 'The Gospel' were sown long before, some three years in fact as the band were laying down 'BlackAnd White' at Bearshanks in the Northamptonshire countryside. Tasters to the bands new darker direction, preceding 'The Gospel' came in the form of 'Meninblack' from the Raven and the 'Who Wants the World?' single.
It was upon the release of 'The Gospel' album, that the full extent of the Meninblack (MIB) obsession became truely apparent. Personally, I love this album, but I can understand that to many fans, still reeling from the change that 'The Raven' brought with it, 'The Gospel' must have been a step too far!
Music Press Promo Ad for 'The Gospel'
As I have said, for me at least, it is a masterpiece. Framed within a UFO visitation itself (the sound of landing and take-off start and close the album), it is dark, brooding and very claustrophobic. Some heavy substances were involved in the making of the album and that comes through! In fact, there has been talk that the ill-fortune experienced by the band in this period was in some way connected with their interest in this particular area of the paranormal.
The band at this time (or shortly after) had a very good relationship with BBC West who broadcast a local arts magazine programme called 'RPM' (the link includes a short piece on the band's November 1981 gig at 'The Granary' in Bristol). Out of this relationship came a short documentary film (written by Hugh and Jet), now commonly referred to as 'The Black Documentary'. In short, although you can see it for yourself, the film was an investigation of the scientific and psychological nature of what we understand to be black. It was an unusual topic which covered aspects of physics, but more interestingly looked at the ways in which black has been utilised over the centuries by the authoritarian bodies of church and state as a tool by which to exercise control.
Undoubtedly, the perception of black is very mixed in the human psyche, since it is seen to find representation across the entire morality spectrum. From
Honestly, it was the only picture I could find!
Oswald Mosley and the BUF
...... and the Ugly
Not to be forgotten in this film are The Men In Black (whoever or whatever they may be). For the purposes of the documentary, Hugh and Jet took on the identity of two such MIBs.
Stills from The Black Documentary
'RPM', BBC West 1982
There cannot be many readers of these pages who cannot claim any familiarity with the MIB phenomenon.
Enshrined in UFO lore since sightings in the immediate post war period, the theory goes that following an encounter, witnesses have been called upon by authority figures with the aim of silencing them and supressing attempts to bring sighting reports to a wider audience. It is said that these stern authority figures present identification linking them with security bodies, but on subsequent follow up, details of the individuals or in some cases the organisations that they claim to represent cannot be corroborated. Moreover, it has also been a consistent characteristic within reports of such visits, that the 'agents' display peculiarities in terms of their mannerisms and speech. In addition, their clothing and the cars they arrive in seem to be vintage and out of keeping with the fashions of the day (as portrayed in the photos of Hugh and Jet).
The jury is out on the MIB. Personally, I like the notion that such reports represent a modern take on the reports of visitations by demons and even the Devil himself, that were a feature of the horrific European witch trials of the 17th century. Such paranoia reached the US shores shortly after in devout Christian communities, most notably Salem.
Whatever the truth about the nature of MIBs, speaking as a Stranglers fan, they have served me and the band admirably over the past 30 years or so and for that I raise a glass to them.... but don't tell anyone....OR ELSE!
OK then, here's the film.
MIB fuether reading:
The Men in Black Enigma
Exploring The Myth of The Men In Black
Men in Black (MIB)