34 years ago today saw the band play in London under their own name for the first time in many months. The bands struggle to get gigs as the furore over punk and especially The Stranglers spread across the nation and critically in to Town Halls and Council offices since the officials these buildings housed had a controlling hand over who was allowed to play in their towns and cities. In London, the Tory lead Greater London Council took up vehemently against the band (more details are to be found here).
But sense prevailed and permission was obtained for an afternoon in a South London park.
To mark the occasion here is the full gig from the day (thanks go to Dom P!)
03. London Lady
04. Go Buddy Go
06. Hanging Around
07. Bring On The Nubiles
08. Something Better Change
09. No More Heroes
11. Do You Wanna?
12. Death & Night & Blood
13. Nice 'N' Sleazy
14. Toiler On The Sea
15. Five Minutes
Reaction to the gig was, perhaps unsurprisingly, mixed. Here's two contemporary reviews that appeared in the following week's music press.
‘Barefoot In The Park’ (aka ‘Bare Knockers In The Park’)
Sounds 23rd September 1978
Stranglers/Peter Gabriel/Skids/Spizz Oil/The Edge
Who says festivals have to be soul destroying affairs? Perhaps I’ve been reading the papers too much… or was The Stranglers’ Battersea Park event really a very well organised gig? Being a suspicious chap by nature I chose not to make the pilgrimage to Blackbushe earlier this year, neither did I bike it on up to spend a miserable weekend tramping around like a three legged goat at Reading.
The reports I read dubiously noted lines of people stretching painfully for miles outside toilet and refreshment stands, not to mention the poor quality of music said people were forced to put up with.
So was this the truly pathetic lot of the avid festival goer, I asked myself? If so the Battersea Park Open Air Festival must have been a rather unique occasion.
A five minute stroll across pastures green beneath the hot and sunny blue sky and I’m through the entrance. In the distance I harken to the rapturous applause of an audience already well into the spirit of the afternoon following a reportedly encouraging set from The Edge who, sadly, I missed thanks to a faulty alarm clock.
A quick shifty on my part around the police patrolled area of greenery reveals that not only are there several clean and instantly accessible toilet facilities but – lo and behold – no problems in obtaining a drink and a hamburger or two. By the time Spizz Oil take to the stage the message is read and understood; there I was kitted out in my army fatigues, ready and willing to fight my way through the madding crowds en route to the Gents, only to discover that I was wasting my time. Dammit, this looked like it was going to be fun.
And fun it was too. Spizz Oil looked more than a little out of their depth perched up there in front of so many people. Even so they turned in an interesting enough set and were probably pleased enough with the reception they got.
Next on were The Skids who again didn’t really look at home on this big stage, but hell they worked plenty hard and earned themselves a lot of new fans via their uncompromising attitude. No way were they going to let the heckling hordes of impatient Stranglers fans get under their skin.
And then there was Peter Gabriel. Oh yeah, for me definitely the highlight of a splendid afternoon was our Peter. His band, decked out in regulation work shirts and overalls, sounded fresh and alive and very vital.
Moving swiftly through selections from his two solo albums I was greatly impressed with Gabriel’s theatrical cavorting. Looking like some hybrid of Terence Stamp crossed with Spider-Man, he athletically hopped around, covering every inch of the stage.
On one number, possibly ‘White Shadow’ (24 hours on I forget such details) there came a moment of totally hysterical madness where Gabriel was lost, still singing, in the crowd while the bass player played drums and the drummer, bass.
And too quickly Gabriel gave us ‘Solsbury Hill’, which reached epic proportions with a hefty sections of the crowd singing along with him, then a dynamic ‘Modern Love’, followed by a quick wave and – end of show. A great show from the man and his band, despite the dodgy sound.
For months now the word has been that the GLC have been pulling strings in order to make life very difficult for The Stranglers in London, not to mention their fans living in the city. A no gig situation has frustrated the band and fans alike for far too long. However, as this event proved, ultimately (in the band’s own words) the GLC is ‘pointless and powerless’.
With that thought in mind, The Stranglers played a lengthy set comprised of all their hit 45s plus a selection of numbers from the ‘Black And White’ set.
Personally I don’t think that they played all that brilliantly, but they did do well enough to send the majority of kids present home with smiles on their faces.
Definite highlight was Nice ‘N’ Sleazy where we got treated to a whole parade of nubile shedding clothes the way snakes shed skins. Sexist? No , it was luverly mate. Ask Hugh Fielder.
The climax came when they encored with ‘Five Minutes’ and ‘Tank’. Smoke bombs exploded into great thick black clouds and people were still bopping while I was reading the classified results.
Who says festivals have to be soul destroying affairs? Not me, not The Stranglers, not Peter Gabriel that’s for sure.
‘Stranglers Play It Small ‘N’ Orderly'
New Musical Express 23rd September 1978
Battersea Park, London
The Stranglers’ much publicised battle with The Greater London Council came to an eventual compromise in Saturday’s garden party, at which a surprisingly small and orderly audience was to be found pegged out on the tarmac sunning themselves in the Costa Brava climate.
The four-quid entrance fee would have seemed justifiable if The Edge hadn’t been the only contenders out of five support acts to show any semblance of talent, drive and real imagination.
First on, with the midday shift, they featured two ex-Damned members – Lu on guitar, and drummer Jon Moss – and together with Glyn Halvardsson, bass, and Gavin Povey on keyboards, sounded a little like a Jam/Stranglers fusion. The Jam’s chopped chords and drone vocal harmonies, with the keyboards and live wire bass building up a far more expansive sound.
Between ‘The Edge Theme’ and ‘The End’, they packed in a string of adventurous songs of various changing rhythms, and all with instrumental sections in which Lu’s fragmented solos merged into the keyboard fills to great effect. All of it was eminently live music, especially ‘Winning Streak’, a number about greyhound racing that bears uncanny resemblance to Little Feat’s ‘Day At The Dog Races’. They showed that they at least could take the routine out of jamming, and play music that can actually take off.
A couple of loons called Spizz Oil followed, and played a few numbers so disastrous that, had they sacrificed the novelty of their one guitar/one vocal line-up for an entire band, their plastic crash helmets might well have been indispensable.
‘Better than Sonny and Cher any day’, claimed DJ Pete Drummond. That much I’ll go along with.
Next up were Scottish four-piece The Skids, who weren’t helped by their love of ham fisted rhythm changes and a bass/drum backing that carried none of the real weight they needed to get across.
Peter Gabriel’s talents as a performer/entertainer, or even songwriter, I still fail to recognise. He and his band, most of whom looked like Mafia hit-men, clambered up a ladder onto the stage in their day-glo road worker jackets, and launched into a set of little consistency and, apart from the more melodic ‘Flotsam And Jetsam’ and ‘Solsbury Hill’, even less musical strength.
It all diffused in too many directions, and was grievously damaged by his eighth-rate punk version of ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’.
As crowd reaction could only be swayed by his sorties out front with a radio mike, it couldn’t be called an event by any standards.
The stage was cleared for Johnny Rubbish, who risked body and soul, and his stringless guitar for a rendition of his McCartney-based anthem ‘Mud On My Tyre’. I don’t rate him as much as a comedian, but as a decoy to draw the flak from can-wielding cropheads, Rubbish could well become a permanent festival fixture.
After having to ditch their plans for dropping in with jet-packs strapped, The Stranglers decided instead to hire a Sherman tank to add a little weight to the proceedings, which made a few noises in Gabriel’s set and then sat around looking sadly redundant.
The feared foursome have always struck me as a band who can only give back as good as they’re getting, and without an audience actually imposing on them they had to work amazingly hard for a reaction.
If nothing else, their long-running fight for a London venue has added to the mystique of seeing them perform, a mystique that, judging from this far from massive turn-out, they seem to have slightly overrated. Not only was the volume distractingly low but their instrumental approach was so systematic as to preclude any variation of pace. They just stayed cranked up to a safe cruising speed, without accelerating to a climax.
In fact the nearest thing to a climax for the macho-men up-front was the ‘Nice ‘n’ Sleazy’ strip show, during which five sun-stroked nubiles tried for that ‘all-over tan’ with the aid of some slave-driving berks with whips. Another indication that the band’s sense of proportion seems to be on a downward slope.
It was a strange set – a lot of it great, a lot of it disappointing. ‘Peaches’ and ‘Hanging Around’ are still strong runners from the early days, and of the ‘Black And White’ collection, ‘Death And Night And Blood (Yukio)’ and ‘Toiler On The Sea’ with Cornwell and Burnel belting out the vocals with the same unnerving attack, carried them over patches of discordant blitz like ‘Do You Wanna’.
Seeing that the stage was stacked with brick wall back drops, and crawling with graffiti, I don’t doubt that The Stranglers would agree that they’re better suited to conditions of urban grime than sunny afternoons in Battersea Park.
(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)
16th September 1978