JJ and Hugh
'Rock Goes To College' Soundcheck
11th October 1978
What better time to introduce the remastered version of the infamous and incendiary gig that was to form part of the BBC's 'Rock Goes To College' series. A couple of day's ago the 'Surrey Advertiser' which serves the Guildford area, home of the University, published online a series of photographs, previously unseen, of the soundcheck prior to the gig that evening.
The photographs show the band in a seemingly relaxed mood, especially JJ who in one shot is engaged in conversation with a BBC sound man. There is no indication that the gig would turn into a confrontation between the band and the students/Student Union and sully in a big time the relationship between the band and the powerful BBC.
The calm before the storm.
I think that the band these days would freely admit that this episode did not represent their best career move. In that bygone analogue era, before YouTube, Netflicks and the like, television was king, but there was not much of it... just 3 channels in 1978. What music programming there was was key to commercial success. And the biggest key was held by the BBC's 'Top of the Pops'. Never mind the phoniness of it all (mimed vocals, plastic cymbals etc.), being watched my millions of record hungry teenagers every week, the programme was a surefire gateway to success.... 'A Stock Market' for your Hi-Fi' as The Rezillos once said. The Stranglers however has already fallen foul of the producers of after an incident in another group's dressing room involving the bass player!
A contemporary music press response to the Guildford incident was reported the following week in the 'Jaws' gossip section of 'Sounds'.
The Stranglers continued their lemming-like rush towards commercial oblivion last week when they walked out of the telerecording of the Beeb’s ‘Rock Goes To College’ at Surrey University in Guildford after just 15 minutes of their show.
Hugh Cornwell and Jean Jacques Burnel spent the greater part of their brief set berating their student audience as ‘elitist’ in language that can be best described as ‘street credible’. When the audience took umbrage to this tirade of abuse the band stormed offstage. Jet Black pausing just long enough to perform a mini-tribute to Keith Moon on his drum kit.
The students union has condemned the band and notified the college rock circuit of the dangers of hiring these academic deviationists.
The Beeb for its part abandoned the show and closed yet another television door on the band. There’s now scarcely a slot open for the boys on the box as they’ve already blotted their copy book (not to mention their dressing room) on ‘Top of the Pops’. Any producer must now consider them as a ‘high risk investment’ as far as programming is concerned.
So where does that leave the new wave band that can outsell virtually all its contemporaries in the record shops but can’t or won’t get through to a mass audience and can’t even lure its own fans in sufficient quantities to judge from the low turn-out at their Battersea bash?
Hell bent on self-destruction, that’s where. Not only are the band shouting at their audiences, they’re also bickering with their management. Cornwell and Burnel are working on solo albums (Burnel’s already finished his) and optimism about the band’s future is pretty hard to find around their camp at the moment.
Burnel’s reported as saying of their Guildford escapade: ‘I suppose it’s commercial suicide’. Suicide is le mot juste. Just a few weeks ago Burnel was saying gleefully that nobody was big enough to break up The Stranglers. He’s right, they can do it themselves'.
Of course history tells us that the band's capacity for self harm was some way off it's peak back in October 1978. In the 2 years that followed, a stretch for Hugh in Pentonville, a very real possibility of a career busting prison term in Nice, management problems and an escalating association with 'Class A' substances brought the band to the brink of implosion. Forget theories of the malevolent influence of The Men In Black, the forces causing these problems were much closer to home in the form of the band members themselves.
But what was bad for the band was ultimately good for the fan as in early 1978 The Stranglers left the primal roar of 'Rattus' and 'Heroes' behind as they began to charter darker, colder waters, both as a band and as solo artists. Take a look at the discography and I defy you to acknowledge that the period of 1978 to 1980 was the creative zenith of the band...... so in that respect, lets hear it for aggro, drugs and chokey!
Here then is the Rat Zone remaster of that Guilford gig in its short, but magnificent, entirety.