Aural Sculptors - The Stranglers Live 1976 to the Present
Welcome to Aural Sculptors, a blog aimed at bringing the music of The Stranglers to as wide an audience as possible. Whilst all of the various members of the band that have passed through the ranks since 1974 are accomplished studio musicians, it is on stage where the band have for me had their biggest impact.
As a collector of their live recordings for many years I want to share some of the better quality material with other fans. By selecting the higher quality recordings I hope to present The Stranglers in the best possible light for the benefit of those less familiar with their material than the hardcore fan.
Needless to say, this site will steer well clear of any officially released material. As well as live gigs, I will post demos, radio interviews and anything else that I feel may be of interest.
In addition, occasionally I will post material by other bands, related or otherwise, that mean a lot to me.
01. Thick As Thieves
02. Saturdays Kids
03. To Be Someone
04. Burning Sky
05. Going Underground
06. Mr. Clean
07. Private Hell
09. Little Boy Soldiers
10. But I’m Different Now
11. The Eton Rifles
12. Down In The Tube Station
13. The Modern World
14. A Bomb In Wardour Street
15. All Mod Cons
16. David Watts
02. Lively Arts
03. Wait For The Blackout
04. Summer Nights
05. Disco Man
06. I Just Can’t Be Happy Today
07. Plan 9 Channel 7
08. Melody Lee
09. Gun Fury
10. Fan Club
11. Noise Noise Noise
12. Limit Club
13. Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
14. Love Song
15. Neat Neat Neat
16. New Rose
17. Smash It Up Pt 1
18. Smash It Up Pt 2
19. Looking At You
21. Ballroom Blitz
Here's a new idea..... a band related article from some bygone copy of the UK music press followed by a contemporary recording..... let's see how it goes.
Captain Sensible looks forward to another five golden years
with family favourites The Damned.
We arrive in dingy damp Blackburn and met The Damned just as
they are being issued with writs for an unplayed gig earlier in the tour (for
which they weren’t to blame).
The writ-server leaves after being given a poisoned drink. A
message arrives from the local nick that a young girl who has attached herself
to the tour is, in fact, a runaway. The guitars have been left at the previous
night’s bash in Birmingham. It gets worse. Rat Scabies begins with his
‘There’s no such thing as an honest journalist. You’ve been
ordered here to do a hatchet job. Some other paper sent a boy to interview us. We did it in a pub. He got legless, went out
to the bog and came back all white saying he’d just puked up’.
I tell him he’s not being very positive.
‘But I am being
positive. I know you’ve been sent
here under orders to do a hatchet
This doesn’t help out rapport. I hadn’t met or written about
the band before and I came with an open mind and an interest in what they had
to say. Scabies’ insults only enforce the nasty rumours about him. I wonder why
I bothered to come.
Ordered to write? Nobody has ever ordered me to write. Do Nems order The Damned what to play? If Rat wants a hatchet job he goes the right
way about getting one but he should also remember that such wounds can be
It is not difficult to detect the other group members
finding his obnoxious attitude unnecessary and annoying.
The Scabies press paranoia spreads to the tour manager who
generally does his discreet best to ensure that we know we’re not welcome. The
next day we arrange to follow the luxury coach to Stoke and stop en route at a
suitable photo-location. It comes as no surprise when The Damned carrier speeds
away at 80 miles an hour and all the camera helping hours of daylight are
Over an afternoon breakfast I mention some new bands I have
seen. Rat confesses ignorance. ‘I never listen to new bands. I’ve become
everything I set out to destroy. I’m a boring old fart’.
Anyway, enough of all that. Backtrack to Blackburn and the
previous evening. A disappointing attendance but this fact more due to the
biting recession than unpopularity of the attraction. My last visual of The
Damned had been some 18 months previously when they appeared in the very hall
where I was employed as a porter.
At that time they were little short of being a punky
pantomime, a laughable caricature of their former selves. They only managed
five or six songs in an hour, each had a lengthy drum solo and ten minute
Sensible guitar break. The P.A. collapsed after a stage invasion and I spent
the next week clearing up the blood and debris.
Nowadays they’re a whole lot better. A full quota of tunes
drawn from their entire career and only one drum solo. Plus there is a light
show from the guy who normally beams and projects for Nik Turner and who was
hired by Mood Six.
The audience is extremely youthful, barely anyone looks over
sixteen. Consequently there are no cheers for the many-moons-old first album
material. The biggest reaction is for the opening chords of ‘Smash It Up’.
My favourite moment though, is the high powered polished
cruise through the MC5’s ‘Looking At You’. As ever the performance concludes
with Scabies at guitar, Sensible at drums and a fully anarchic rendition of
The new E.P. bodes well, generally acclaimed by the
cognoscenti to be the best Damned waxing for some time. My photographer
colleague hears a rough tape of potential tracks for the next album (don’t
mention the Chiswick ‘Best Of….’ Compilation, it’s somewhat unpopular). He
describes the embryonic sounds as ‘psychadelic’ but coming from him that can
What is certain, is that aside from the usual
Sensible/Scabies composing partnership, Paul Gray has about 20 songs penned and
standing by and even Vanian has scribbled a few.
For current live purposes the four are joined by the
keyboarding Tosh, formerly a member of Cardiff’s premier psychedelic (that
wicked word again) combo The Missing Men. The Damned ‘squeaky organ club’ –
membership qualification is a liking for sixties Nuggets and Pebbles sounds –
comprises Sensible, Vanian and Gray.
Scabies is non-plussed by the whole idea. Liking from the
sixties only a few Dave Davies b-sides and really early Nazz he says ‘I told
the world last year that everyone would soon be wearing Paisleys and grooving
to sixties sounds. I was right’.
Backstage, après set, a queue of signature and souvenir
hungry fans line the corridor outside the dressing room. The Captain signs
elaborate autographs (’Lady Di kills stags for fun’ is one example). While
writing he begins to tell me about the single he’s recorded with Crass. Anarchy
and autographs. I’m struck by the contradiction. The bereted guitar player is
full of them.
Like at breakfast when he asks Paul if he believes in murder
as he’s tucking into a chicken. Ten minutes later the captain sits chewing a
similarly slaughtered bird. He confides he’d like to be a vegetarian if only he
could find someone to cook the food for him.
In the crowded hotel bar I tell him I’ve dispensed with the
idea of doing an organised interview. Due to the rodent problems I’ll just
write up my impressions.
‘Fine’ he trustingly replies ‘just do what you want. Rat
just really hates journalists. I’ll do a
short interview on my own if you like’. We sneak into the lift and find a
Tell me more about the Crass record. ‘I saw all these
geezers with Crass on their backs and all these anarchy signs. So I made a
point of getting hold of one of their records and listening to it. I thought
the words were bloody good, excellent stuff, but I hated the music. I thought
it was turgid and moronic old dogshit. So I thought if I wrote the music and
they wrote the words together we could make a decent record’.
‘I find it really
hard to write lyrics, it’s not that I don’t have the ideas but I just can’t
string words together that well. I’m not a poet but I love writing melodies
it’s great fun and I thought writing some music with their lyrics would be the
‘That drummer geezer Penny Rimbaud wrote the words and I
sang it with Dolly Mixture doing back up vocals. That’s an unlikely combination
innit?’ Crass, The Damned and Dolly Mixture. It’s called ‘This is Your Captain
Speaking’. (He cringes) daft title really innit?’
‘The Dolly Mixtures are excellent people, they giggle a lot.
I produced their single (‘Been Teen’) and put a cello on it. She sat over this cello screaming with
laughter but I couldn’t see anything funny about it. She was just rattling out
a few notes but it was great. I love people who enjoy their work. I’d like to
produce more people but only those I like and respect. I wouldn’t do Siouxsie
Are you pleased with the new E.P.?
‘Yeah, we’re all really happy with it. It’s got something
that the ‘Black Album’ didn’t have. The ‘Black Album’ was too clinical, we were
trying to be too clever. With the new record we just had a real laugh doing it,
we weren’t trying to be serious.’.
How have The Damned changed in the last five years?
‘The roadcrew reckon we’ve changed but I don’t think so.
Mind you I sometimes which I hadn’t smashed up all those guitars. I had some
really nice ones. I detest incompetence. When people used to say I couldn’t
play it used to get up my nose because I knew I could. I try a bit harder now
although playing guitar is bloody easy’.
Everyone’s got this idea that punk was a movement. They seem
to think that a lot of groups got together and talked about how they were going
to change this and that. But none of the groups knew or liked each other. In
fact there was total rivalry.’
‘When people said we were a punk group I didn’t know what
they were talking about, I bet The Clash didn’t either’.
‘I knew I didn’t like what had gone on earlier. All the glam
rock shit with stack heels and 20 minute guitar solos. Almost all my
contemporaries have headed for the star thing, headed for it with open arms.
They wanted to be stars like David Bowie, they were all little David Bowie fans
weren’t they? Walking around in outrageous clothes’.
But hasn’t the star thing happened to The Damned. Like it or
‘Listen, I make no bones about the fact that I’m doing this
for the money but I never want anyone to think of me being a star. I find the
whole thing disgusting. I couldn’t
stomach it if someone thought that I was better than them. Some people do think
that though, to an extent, but you have to let them know’.
‘Like being asked for autographs. If you don’t sign you’re a
sod and if you do sign you are laying yourself open to the accusation that
you’re a jumped up, arrogant pop star’.
‘It’s a total shame really. In the first two years of punk
no one ever asked for an autograph. It was really good. It was people from the
audience up on the stage. They were the same except that they were raised up so
the people at the back could see them and they had guitars in their hands’.
‘This is the best job I’ve ever had and I’ve had a few. I
never want to be a gardener or work in an office for British Rail again. When
we split up it was because of the amount of hate between certain members of the
band. I spent nine months without a penny. I never want to go through that again. This
band will be around for a long time…… even with Rat in it’.
As a general rule I avoid tribute bands. I guess they have their place in the entertainment spectrum especially if the original act is no more. Over the years I have seen several tributes to The Jam and that’s okay…. much to my regret I never saw The Jam so the opportunity to hear their material live is limited. In the case of Straighten Out, they do their thing whilst the originators of that material are still out there playing those songs. I get that Straighten Out play an early set in the type of venues that The Stranglers outgrew by mid-1977 but I can’t say that I have made great efforts to see them (twice prior to tonight). The first time was at the Hope & Anchor, but that was more to see that iconic and very much Stranglers’ associated venue and the second time was at the Finchley Boys 40th Anniversary gig, again a Stranglers related one-off event.
So why you ask bother on this occasion. Well The Half Moon in Bishops Stortford is my old local (my son's christening party was held in the same room as well as Gunta's 30th birthday party). Even now, although I am on the other side of town it is still only a ten minute walk away from home.
On arrival, the band were somewhat bemused by the size of the stage. Whilst the venue does play host to rock bands, it is better suited for blues and folk gigs. The keyboards were an issue, so the stage set up needed to be different to what they were used to, but strangely enough, the compromise was to adopt a formation more akin to The Stranglers stage set up with drums and keyboards behind. Bass and guitar were relegated from the stage and were on the audience level in front of it.
The set that they play is deliberately focused on the earlier years up to and including 'La Folie' i.e. before the band challenged their fan base with acoustic guitars!
Rattus era; 9 tracks
Heroes era: 8 tracks
Black & White era: 4 tracks
The Raven era: 4 tracks
La Folie era: 3 tracks
I would estimate that the crowd numbered about 60 which is a comfortable size for this particular venue.
Straighten Out played the set below with competence and thankfully an accurate ear to the original versions, something that The Stranglers themselves lost sight of during the Paul Roberts incarnation of the band. Great too to hear some songs rarely taken on by The Stranglers themselves i.e. 'Choosey Susie', 'The Man They Love To Hate' and 'Everybody Loves You When You're Dead'. Of particular note was the run out to 'Down In The Sewer' that is of a duration in keeping with the album version, or previous live versions. In this there is general agreement, that whilst it was great to hear 'Sewer' back in the set this year, the end is curtailed too soon. Just a bit longer there lads if you don't mind.
Great to see some local friends and Steve Williams who roadie for the night.
The Ramones, an institution. For some it was witnessing the Pistols that proved to be a seismic event that changed lives. For others though it was the first hearing of 1976's Ramones album. It still saddens me that a band who brought some much pleasure to music fans the world over were so troubled, dysfunctional and divided in their relationships both within the band and without. If you have't seen it I thoroughly recommend 'End of the Century', it does not make for easy viewing but it tells the tale of the Ramones as it was, warts an' all.
By 1986 much water had flowed under the Ramones bridge, like many of the original punk bands that had survived for 10 years they had evolved into something of a conventional touring rock band, although I really liked the late Dee Dee albums, 'Animal Boy' from 1987 and 'Halfway to Sanity' from the following year.
Throughout their career, The Ramones rarely strayed into political territory with their songwriting, but one exception from this period stands out. 'My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)' appeared on the 'Animal Boy' album and it was an open criticism of the then US President Ronald Reagan, who on a visit to a cemetery in Bitburg laid a commemorative wreath before delivering a speech at a nearby airbase that paid tribute to the victims of nazism. The problem was that among the 2,000 graves of Wehrmacht soldiers 49 members of the Waffen-SS were interred.... the very people responsible for the atrocities to which Reagan referred in his subsequent speech. The gaff prone President further fanned the flames of condemnation when he said en route to Germany that those buried in Bitburg 'were victims, just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps.' Penned by Joey and Dee Dee, the song infuriated the staunchly Republican Johnny Ramone. They did play the song in the following years (although rarely) but surprisingly it doesn't appear in this contemporaneous set...... perhaps Johnny was still too angry!
01. Instead Of This
02. Strange Little Girl
03. Always The Sun
04. In The End
05. Don’t Bring Harry
06. Cruel Garden
07. Never To Look Back
08. I Hate You
09. Long Black Veil
10. In The End
11. English Towns
12. Midnight Summer Dream
01. Upminster Kid (Including Introduction By Kosmo Vinyl)
02. Wake Up And Make Love With Me
03. Clever Trevor
04. Sweet Gene Vincent
05. If I Was With A Woman
06. You're More Than Fair
07. Billericay Dickie
08. Plaistow Patricia
09. I Made Mary Cry
10. What A Waste
11. Blockheads (Including Band Introductions)
12. Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll
13. My Old Man
14. England's Glory
15. Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll (Reprise)
Ian Dury: Vocals
Mickey Gallagher: Keyboards
Davey Payne: Saxophone
Charlie Charles: Drums
Norman Watt-Roy: Bass
John Turnbull: Guitar
A few weeks ago an old college friend of mine contacted me to say that he was due to be in London (from Dublin) for the weekend of 26th April and were we free to meet up. Moreover, he enquired whether there were any gigs in town on the Saturday night. Well, by chance the Dome in Tufnell Park was hosting the Undercover Festival and the Saturday line up was looking very good indeed boasting Penetration, Chelsea and Sham 69!
My mate Stuart, Gunta and Mo met up in The Astronomer pub in Middlesex Street, Shoreditch. Son, Rudi, joined us and a few pints were sunk as Stuart and I regaled him with student accommodation horror stories, although having seen his digs in Colchester I reckon that he has a fair few of his own!
In the end Rudi departed for home and the remaining three headed for the venue. Once inside the adjacent pub the adults settled in to watch the remaining minutes of the Brighton game whilst the daughter opted to head inside, doubtless to ensure that she would be right at the front, but also to see Menace. Game over we entered the venue just as Penetration were taking to the stage.
Pauline and Robert of Penetration
(Photograph Mo Andrews)
It was great to see Penetration again in such an intimate setting. Penetration always stood out from the punk crowd and its great to see that they are playing new material..... 'Movement' not inertia! It was fitting that they opened with 'Nostalgia' which was duly dedicated to Pete Shelley. At the point in the set where they played their debut single 'Don't Dictate', I was momentarily distracted by the bar. Returning with a pint for Stuart, my ears pricked up to a change in the vocal on the chorus of 'Don't dictate, don't dictate, don't dictate, dictate to me!', that wasn't Pauline. Looking at the stage it was clear that Pauline had offered the mike to someone at the front and it was Mo no less belting out the lines! Point taken Mo, it would be futile if I tried too!
Mo disappeared downstairs to catch The Piranhas at this stage whilst the oldies stuck around for Chelsea. Gene October and James Stevenson gave the occasion a genuine '77 feel. Chelsea were great, but the trouble I had was that the stage was set up in such a way that the barrier was forward of the PA and so the sound where we were was awful, being limited to what was coming through the monitors. Great view, shit sound. Chelsea were well received and a great warm up for Sham.
Gene October of Chelsea
(Photograph Mo Andrews)
Sham 69 took to the stage at about 10pm, Pursey, Parsons and Treganna, three quarters of the classic line up! Pursey opened by shaking his tail feather at the audience dressed like a modern day Fagin!
'I Don't Wanna' excerpt.
The set that followed was just a joy. Opening with 'What Have We Got' a chorus/response number with the simplest of requirements. I think that the band tried out a couple of new songs, 'Tear Gas Eyes' and 'Bastille Cake' but other than that the set was a greatest hits affair that none could have a problem with. Relying heavily on the bands earliest days with 'Ulster Boy', 'I Don't Wanna', and 'George Davis is Innocent', the set was supplemented with all of the expected singles as well as a couple of favourite album tracks such as 'That's Life' as well as the B-Side 'No Entry'. At the end of the gig Mo bagged possibly the biggest set list that I have ever seen (printed on A3). Are Sham 69 the most short-sighted band on the circuit?! Thanks Jim, what a great night out!
Great quality radio broadcast from Paris 15 years ago today. This is great if you are a big fan of the 'Norfolk Coast' album since this set features no less than 8 of the 11 tracks that make up that particular album. Enjoy!
01. Norfolk Coast
02. Skin Deep
03. Big Thing Coming
05. I Don't Agree
06. All Day & All Of The Night
07. Always The Sun
08. Long Black Veil
09. Golden Brown
10. Tucker's Grave
12. Lost Control
01. Who Wants The World
02. I've Been Wild
04. Something Better Change
06. Walk on By
07. Five Minutes
08. Mine All Mine
09. No More Heroes
Front cover of 'Ghast Up' issue No. 2 of May-June 1977 indicating the 'Rattus' review inside. I may have posted this cover before, with a suggestion that in the drawing Dave has something of Tony Blackburn about him. Sorry!
I have just finished reading the above book entitled 'Friends of Mine Punk in Manchester 1976-1978' and I would highly recommend it to anyone with a passing interest in the history of British punk. If there is one thing synonymous with punk it is the emergence of the fanzine. Written in the bedrooms of fans of this new music who were on the spot in the provinces (it wasn't just London y'know!) when those bands now looked upon as punk first ambled on to a stage fanzines were bang on the nail. Proactive, rather than reactive, fanzine writers networked with bands, labels and record outlets in such away that they could receive singles, albums and demos to review and gain access to the bands themselves in order to conduct interviews with which to fill their pages. Generally bands were more than happy to oblige the amateur hacks of the fanzine world, it being entirely in keeping with the 'No More Heroes' ethic of the early punk scene. In terms of early reportage, the 'zines left the slow to react music weeklies standing when it came to the birth of one of the most important youth movements in our history.
'Ripped & Torn', '48 Thrills' and of course Mark P's 'Sniffin' Glue' are some of the publications of this type. However, there were many more and originals of these badly zeroxed collections of foolscap paper will set you back serious money. Why so, not only are they pieces of social history that are over 40 years old, they were not intended to last..... Mark P's request that copies of his fanzine be burned .... move on, didn't help.
And it is a fanzine that is the cornerstone of this here book. Written by Martin Ryan and Mick Middles 'Ghast Up' along with 'Shy Talk' documented the birth of the scene in punk's second city, Manchester. With a starting point of the first Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, Martin Ryan has put together a fantastic narrative that puts the fanzine writing into the right context. The issues of 'Ghast Up' (all three of 'em) are reproduced in an Appendix. The book is centered around the fanzine writers and the handful of bands that carried the scene, principally, Buzzcocks, The Drones, Slaughter & The Dogs and The Fall. Cameraman, Kevin Cummins and journalist, Paul Morley also feature heavily. Funnily, when Paul Morley later wrote regularly for NME, I would read his reviews of a gig or an album and come away none the wiser as to whether he liked it or not. 'Ghast Up features some of his earliest music journalism under the nom de plume, Modest Young. It seems his particular writing style was established very early on!
Often in writings about the birth of punk they reader can come away with the impression that all of the Heavy Metal bands, soul bands and covers bands that served up their varied styles of music in the pubs and clubs up and down the land were simply wiped off the entertainment map when punk launched its first salvos of gob in late '76. It wasn't so, at least in Manchester. 'Friends of Mine' describes the venues that would put on punk/new wave gigs on a particular night of the week only to stop after a few weeks or months as the backlash against punk drove booking policy changes that impacted on band's opportunities to play. A peruse of the thorough appendix that provides gig listings in Manchester and the surrounding areas between April 1976 and December 1978 indicate how for many of the bands that punk 'destroyed' it was business as usual in this period. 'Lovin' Awareness' at the Electric Circus tonight anyone?
Inevitably, the book places much focus on the Electric Circus on Collyhurst Street, probably the most famous UK 'punk venue' after London's 'Roxy'. In it's eleven month lifetime (thereby beating the Roxy's 100 days by some margin) the venue played host to Sex Pistols, The Stranglers, The Damned, The Clash and The Ramones, not to mention the first gig by Warsaw who at the time were someway away from the moodily magnificent Joy Division that would ultimately become. Some of the best footage of the scene was shot in the club, with Buzzcocks, Penetration and The Jam performing in front its ghastly decor!
As a contemporary snapshot of the early days of punk in one city it would be very hard to beat 'Friends of Mine'.