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.

Your comments and/or contributions are most welcome. Please email me at adrianandrews1@sky.com.


Friday, 8 November 2019

999 Interview conducted at The Swan in Fulham London on 20th November 1993




Personnel:

N: Nick Cash
P: Pablo LaBritain
AB: Arturo Bassick
E: Ed Case
A: Adrian Andrews
G: Gunta Andrews
O: Owen Carne

A: Since forming on Late ’76, the line-up has been fairly stable except for a period in 1978 when Ed Case stood in for you. What happened?
N: Show ‘em Pablo.
P: I had an accident coming back from Sweden. This bone was very badly smashed, the elbow was up here somewhere. Taken to hospital, they set it and trapped the nerve in the set….. I was paralysed for a year. Came back, next gig was at the Waterloo pub.
A: Wellington.
P: Yeah. Anyway, that’s what happened, it’s one of those things, a trapped nerve. At one time they (the band) thought I wasn’t coming back.
A: Yeah, ‘cos I read this thing again about paralysis.
P: Well it was to an extent.
A:  Does it still have any affect now?
P: What playing?
A: Yeah.
N: Do you get any pain Pablo?
P: No, not pain. It’s a bit weak, it’s week. With paralysis all your muscles, but I had electrical treatment for that. It’s alright now though.
N: That’s the only reason he wasn’t in it though.
A: Ed Case did some of the tracks on ‘The Biggest Prize in Sort’ didn’t he?
N: Yeah, that’s right. I can’t remember which ones he did. I don’t think even he could!
A: Some of the people that read ‘Strangled’ aren’t gonna know who 999 are, some will some won’t, but….
N: Quite a lot of them will.
A: Yeah sure. For some though, the first encounter with 999 would be from footage Vienna (that was included as an extra on the S.I.S. released ‘Battersea Power’ video), that sees you legging it around the airport.  How did  that come about?
N: Well what happened was that we were playing a gig in Vienna with The Stranglers, one of those classical auditoriums. Anyway, there was something wrong with the electricity and the manager of The Stranglers said that we couldn’t play because there wasn’t enough power for the lights and the PA. But, we said that we wanted to play because we’re advertised to play and there’s a few people who wanna come and see us. But they said you can’t play, so we said we won’t use any lights and a very small part of the PA….. we can’t possibly blow it up! They said, you can’t play, end of story, So when the concert finished I felt very upset because some people had come to see us, yeah, a lot more people had come to see The Stranglers, but a few people had come to see us. So, out in the foyer, as the people were coming out, I decided to play to people. I just had a small amplifier and I played and got a very good reception from it y’know and they filmed it and it was on TV and the TV Company were very interested in this phenomenon, which is more like playing a punk rock gig than a normal concert, do you know what I mean? And so I decided to do it all over Austria, y’know.  I just felt like doing it, it had such a good result and it’s a good way of promoting a record.

I used to have big drinking contests with Hugh Cornwell and one night we had a drink and he said ‘Are you gonna do it tomorrow?’ I said ‘Yeah, I’m gonna do it at the airport’ an’ all this sort of thing and I went out and did it at the airport. We used to go up to the police. Has it got police in it somewhere?
O: Yeah.
N: I’ve never seen it, is it good? Anyway, people would interview Jean and Hugh y’know and they’d say ‘Well, what do you think of this thing and they’d say it’s fantastic, we love it, great, because they didn’t mind what you did, they were alright. We got on with them very well really, but the roadies, they really hated it that we were being upstarts about the whole thing. They wanted to beat me up, but I think that Jean Jacques said they mustn’t!
A: The Finchley’s were out there weren’t they?
O: Dennis (Marks) was there.
N: He was alright, Dennis, it was a few of the other roadcrew that were hired hands, ‘cos The Finchley Boys understood it all. We all used to drink in the bar with them afterwards.
A: Whilst on the subject of the The Finchley Boys, Readers of ‘Strangled’ will be familiar with their story and a meeting of minds in the Torrington pub in November 1976. 999 had the Southall Crew, what was their story?
N; It just sort of happened the same way I suppose. Well, they came from there, Southall, there were a lot of them from there. There’s a couple here tonight y’know. There’s one called Colin Coles. You can mention his name and another one who’s coming tonight called Billy Bollocks, they all had names!
A: What was the strength of the Southall Crew?
N: It was very strong y’know. Well it used to fill up the Nashville Rooms. People used to come from Bristol and say (affects Bristolian accent) ‘Oh, I come from the Southall Crew!’.
A: You had a lot of trouble to start with when it came to Radio 1 as far as airplay was concerned, particularly with the singles ‘Nasty Nasty’ and ‘Homicide’.
N: Mmm, that’s right.
A: What effect do you thing that had, firstly in the short term and then in the long term to the fortunes of the band?
N: Well, it was pretty disastrous for us because we got ‘Top of the Pops’ right , and they said, the BBC, that you’ve got to send up the lyrics. They looked at them and said there’s no way you’re gonna appear on TV. They sort of read about us, we were in The Sun and all that sort of thing y’know…. Accused us of all sorts of things we didn’t do and they just went ‘Shock! Horror! Punk Rock! Too Violent!’ . But it was all anti-violence. I turned round to the BBC and said ‘Look, last night you showed ‘Homicide in the Bronx’ with Kojak and people are getting shot in that…. It’s ridiculous’. But they wouldn’t listen to me. All of the Establishment became terrified of what this music was doing to people and all the rest of it, y’know. So you got banned and people wouldn’t speak to you when you went to do a radio interview! It went Top 40 (Homicide), but without the ban it could’ve passed over into the mainstream.
A: The thing about ‘Homicide’ is that it is the band’s anthem. Had it got onto ‘Top of the Pops’, which at that time was such a powerful vehicle, then 999 could have stepped into….
N: It was still a big hit for us though and a big hit around the world, an underground hit. I mean, I even went to play over in Denmark last year and there was like a load of other bands, Die Toten Hosen, Nirvana, David Byrne of Talking Heads and I went out there in front of 250,000 people and played ‘Homicide’ and it went down really well, they knew it!
A: For 999, art has always been important, the whole visual thing, from the artwork to the stage.
N: It’s that thing of theatre, when the music’s good and the people are right, then you act in a certain way or I can act in a certain way and it comes out in the expressions an’ that.
A: The first album, ‘999’, had its launch in an art gallery (as did The Stranglers’ ‘Aural Sculpture’ six years later).
N: That’s right.
A: And the whole art aspect of the band was very well received.
N: Yeah, that’s right, we did an exhibition. The record company said to us ‘We’ll hand over loads of money to launch the album and we’ll have a big party, go to a posh restaurant, invite some journalists and get drunk on Bollinger’. But we said ‘No, no! let’s put on an exhibition, let’s get a few people down here, people from bands,,, Knox was there, Deborah Harry, Chris Stein, Paul Simenon and a couple of fans did some paintings that were put up and it was like saying here’s another aspect to the musicianship, as musicians up to that point had always been people with expensive cars, who took drugs and flew around in jets. We were rebelling against all of that as were The Stranglers.
A: As far as I’m concerned, the raffle ticket logo is one of the most striking images of the time and on the early sleeves, the clothing and shoes were a far cry from what your contemporaries were wearing.
N: Well, y’see, I always dressed quite well. Before 999 I was in a band called ‘Kilburn and The Highroads’…. We used to go down to Malcolm McLaren’s shop, ‘Let It Rock’, before it became ‘Sex’ and we used to order our suits from down there, long before the Sex Pistols came onto the scene and we used to tell him what we liked. He had great access, Malcolm, to all sorts of things and clothing from Jamaica and shoes from Italy and stuff like that, so we used to be able to go down there with record company advances and get what we wanted y’see. Ian Dury was making up boxer’s silk dressing gowns and things, so we had a great wardrobe in that band. Everyone had a different taste, in fact I saw some photographs of it the other day and it was like fantastic, the clothes were just fantastic  and we used to get people like Glen Matlock and Johnny Rotten at our gigs and they used to like what was going on. Y’know we had an artschool background, Ian Dury and myself.


A: Did you study under Ian Dury?
N: He used to teach me, he was my tutor. So I’d always been into that clothes thing. In the Kilburns what we really tried to do was to marry a hard jazz with Eddie Cochran. We wanted something really rough, wild and English. In a way I think, y’know, that stuff was more of a forerunner of punk than anything else.
A: You weren’t on ‘Handsome’ though were you?
N: I was on that yeah.
A: We’re you in the cover photo?
N: Yeah I was on that, I play on that. I play on ‘New Boots and Panties’ as well.
A: Really? As Keith Lucas?
N: That’s right. I don’t mind talking about it now. What happened was, I used to mind because I fell out badly with Ian and I don’t really have anything to do with him now y’know, but that’s a different story. But the thing about it was that at the time we’d built up quite a following with Kilburn & The Highroads, having done a lot of gigs and I felt that it was wrong to go out as Keith Lucas ex- Kilburn & The Highroads, and pull in people that way. So I changed my name to Nick Cash and we went out as 999 as something completely new so that people wouldn’t dome from the Kilburn & The Highroads gigs for us to get a start. I said ‘OK, I’m making  a clean break, this is what I  am doing , fuck that, that’s over’, it’s a way of getting out of that and it also meant that Guy, Pablo and Jon at the time wouldn’t have to hang on to my coat-tails, y’know, to be associated with that has-been who’s trying to do it all over again. It was a good noble thing to do I think.
A: Continuing on the Kilburn’s theme, to my mind 999 have always been an R’n’B band, a souped up R’n’B band rather than a punk band, what do you think?
N: Mmm…
Unknown: Surprise!
(Enter Ed Case)
N: We were just talking about you actually.
E: Oh! Fucking hell I’ll leave!
N: Where’s you wife?
E: At home in the warm.
N: The last time I saw you, I wet down to see ‘Buddy’ didn’t I? And then you wenyt on a great big holiday.
E: A week in Cornwall!
N: Was that all it was? I feel good about this guy really, he was a right bloody you he was. He used to smash everything up, didn’t yer!
E: Yeah, a few more and I’ll be on my way tonight!
AB: I saw both you (Ed) and Pablo play at the Marquee.
A: That was playing alternate nights wan’t it?
AB: Yeah, a week at the Marquee .
A: Having prized out of you that you were in Kilburn & The Highroads, that takes me back to my point that basically 999 have their roots in R&B. Would you agree?
N: No! (laughter). Arthur says we’re R’n’B.
AB: There’s a lot of tinges of R’n’B, but that’s more in the bass lines.
A: It’s fucking R’nB!
N: Is that a bad thing or what. I mean….
AB: We suffered on the plantation, that’s what it was eh Nick?
(Arturo makes a move to leave)
N: Stay there Arthur.
AB: Why?
A: ‘Cos you’ve got the bottle of wine (laughs)
N: No, ‘cos you know about R’n’B….. I don’t.
AB: So says blind, one-eyed, homesick Nick Cash! (laughs)
A: Talking about R’n’B, that brings me onto the whole pub scene. You’re here in The Swan now, which is the closest you’ve had recently to a regular London venue. Now how does it feel to play pubs again after playing places like the Marquee and The Astoria?
N: Awful, ‘cos at bigger venues you get much more to drink and more food (laughs), more audience and er, more money, but you’ve got to come back to these places because there’s nowhere else to play.
A: You mean you don’t like playing pubs?
N: I don’t mind it.
A: I mean personally.
N: I’ll play anywhere, you know just get on with it,
AB: Nick starts singing when the fridge door opens (gales of laughter). That’s right Nick, you don’t care where you play, you’ll always give your best won’t ya!
N: I’ll always’s give my best, yeah! They’ve enticed me down here tonight with a few sausage rolls!
A: I like seeing 999 here because you don’t need a second mortgage to buy a pint.
N: Yeah, that’s true.
AB: The Marquee’s a shit venue! Anyway, all bands start in a pub, The Clash started in a pub. The journalistic notion of ‘They’re a pub band, they’re going nowhere’ is crap!
N: Adrian, I started in a pub, Pub Rock is alright. No, it’s good if you can go back tp playing pubs. I mean the thing about us Adrian, is that we say we’re sort of like blues people or something like that and we can go out and still enjoy the music. In pubs it’s just not so much of a hype really, it just means something to a lot of people.
AB: There’s no hype no Nick, none at all.
N: It’s just by word of mouth. If Arthur goes down to a gig and gives out a few flyers, more people come.
AB: There’s not many gigs to promote now.
A: You used to play the Marquee, now venues have a big problem haven’t they. Why, is that the pay to play thing?
N: Yes, that’s very much a problem.
AB: Places like the Marquee have a ridiculous thing where the first £500-£600 goes to the club before you’re percentage starts. And you can have 300-400 people at the Marquee and walk out with no money y’know. Whereas, we can play somewhere like here, you get a PA for £70 and 100% of the door. That’s why we play here and people like it because it’s pub prices.
N: Don’t say that otherwise all musicians will be down here!
AB: We just want enough money to fuel our kebab habits!
A: I saw Chelsea play at the Marquee earlier this year and Gene October was talking about the PA costs and the club’s cut and so on.
AB: He was ranting that there were not enough Swedish boys on his rider!
G: Can we print that!?
N: He said that as a Lurker.
AB: He don’t care, we always have a little joke about it. We left him on the boat, when we came back from Cologne a couple of months ago, with no passport, no jacket ‘cos he didn’t come down to the van when we had to get off the boat and we knew that he was poking the purser’s porthole. So we left him where he  was!
G: At the recent gig at Fontwell Racecourse your introduction to ‘(There is no glory in) Mary’s Story you said that it was a tribute to a friend. Can you tell us some more?
N: There was a girl we used to know and she was a punk type person. Her name wasn’t really Mary, we had to change it in case her family heard the song, and she lived on the streets of London and she died out there, y’know what I mean, it was a very hard sort of thing. She did a lot of drugs and stuff and we just decided to write a song to her. We always try to write songs that mean something to us and y’know. Like that homeless thing, we did another song about that called ‘Inside Out’ and we wrote that some many, many years ago and that was taking a look at homelessness then – when did that album come out ’83 or something?
A: No, ’79.
N: Was it ’79? Well we were looking at the problem then.
O: And now Phil Collins is doing it 14 years later.
N: Yeah!
A: You’ve had great difficulties getting a contract I know and for somebody with a back-catalogue such as 999’s why have you had that problem?
N: Well, my sister is an advertising executive and she went to EMI the other day and there was one of our CDs on the table and she just happened to be closing this big deal and she said to the guy ‘Hey I know those guys’, he said ‘Oh, yeah, how?’. She said ‘That’s my brother actually, any chance of doing a new album for them?’. He replied  ‘No, no we’ll stick to the back-catalogue, we can sell loads of those because all these 40 year olds are swapping their vinyl collections for CD, so we’ll put that out on CD…. We wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole now!’.  She said, ‘Why not, they’re really good and they are still playing a lot of places, maybe if you stuck some money into some good music that’s gonna last longer than what’s currently in vogue …… y’know have you ever thought of sticking with something! Muddy Waters is still on your books and 99 pull audiences of the same size in the States.’
A; That’s some good support!
N: I saw Muddy waters in New York not long before he died and I recognized this thing, something in the music, music that lasts. As I watched his performance, I thought yeah, we do a bit of that and whereas we were talking about the fashion thing, important as it is and I would never deny that, its still what’s in the music that counts. Now we’ve made this new album (‘You Us It’) and you can speak to our fans who like the early stuff and they say there’s something of the first album there and I think that’s because we’ve been out, played all these gigs and spoken to loads of kids and we’ve lived these experiences and that is our life. We know there’s no bullshit being told to our management company or anything else and we made this record totally on our own without anyone coming down to the studio and saying try to make it like this or like that …. And that’s why it turned out so good.
A: The CD release of 999’s last studio album, ‘Face to Face’  in 1985, which unlike ‘The Early Stuff’ CD is no reflection of 999’s live set or anything must have seemed like a kick in the teeth bearing in mind the reluctance of EMI to entertain the idea of a new contract.
N: Honestly Adrian, you get those things, those are cheap shots. Now I don’t mind bits and pieces being re-released here and there because in that way 999’s music gets to be heard by more people and our audience grows.
A: A deal has now come through from Anagram.
N: Anagram, which is Cherry Red, yeah.
A: Is this for one album or can we expect a more steady output from now on?
N: It’s for one album, which is usually the case, unless you’re Phil Collins. But I’m already working on the next one.
A: So you see this as a long term thing?
N: Oh yeah.
A: The album is a big departure, it’s a bloody fast album and it’s far more in tune with your live performance that anything else. As you said earlier, it’s more like a follow up to ‘999’ or ‘Separates’ than your more recent studio output. ‘13th Floor Madness’, I dunno what you think about that album, but I have to be in a certain mood to listen to that album.
N: Yeah, well it wasn’t a very good album was it! It was after…. We were forced into doing it by the record company and we got a bit dissipated. You see, Guy’s a very good guitarist and musician and he can play that sort of soul stuff. Songs like ‘Book of Love’ were really quite good songs and they showed that influence but many classic mistakes were made, like girl backing singers, mistakes you make on an arsehole album.
A: So it’s not something that your particularly proud of?
N: Not proud of it now I listen to it.
A: How about ‘Face to Face’ (1985)?
N: Well, it was a very sad time for us as we had just left Albion, we tried to make an album on our own and the bloke managing us, it didn’t work out with him. So we went down to the studio and tried to make an album. But I put that album on for the first time in ages the other day and then put the new album on next to it and it’s much better, better atmosphere, better in all respects. The end of the road with Jon Watson, that’s what ‘Face to Face’ was. He did that album with his mate in a certain way and it didn’t work out because 999 was more of a collective thing with us just going mad together and making mad sounds. Now we’ve been back on the road for a few years which has enabled us to come up with an album which is similar in quality to the first album.
A: Was that by design?
N: No, it just came out that way as it should happen with music and now we’re playing some of the songs live and they’re standing up well with older songs like ‘Homicide’.
A: On the new album still…
N: Yeah
A: ‘Signed Dangerous of Hollywood’ asks us to ‘Remember Sharon’ that’s Sharon Tate I take it.
N: I think so, it’s one of Guy’s songs. You see we’ve played in Hollywood a lot so we’ve got a right to sing about it. That’s a song about how stupid and violent the whole place is really.
A: One of the most worrying songs on the album as far as I am concerned is ‘Bye Bye England’, all about the gradual Americanisation of this country.
N: It’s all very tongue in cheek that one.
A: As a song it very much emphasizes the Englishness of the band. Now, having established that you have a big audience in the States and Continental Europe, you’re not gonna clear off are you?
N: No! What happened Adrian was that when punk started you used to get people saying ‘You’ve gone to America! You’re selling out’. The Clash said they’d never go to America, as an English phenomena you’ve gotta stay here. So we went to our fans and said well, they’ve offered us a tour of America and they said ‘Bloody hell, go!’ so we went. And we’d go again if we could and we will. When we went there, what we found that there were a lot of young kids who came to see us, knew the music and who felt the same as we did. We used to look at the clothes they used to wear and we used to speak to them about the problems they had and said Hey! Look its really great to come to America and swap ideas and feel the same and understand that people are as frustrated in this country as they are in our country, but people can change things and look forward to better things. There is hope in young people you know. Here its been smashed down again, but when you’ve got freedom of movement and freedom of ideas and a cultural thing at a young level, its’s good to go there. I mean you’re in a band, what are you supposed to do, say something down a microphone or go out and play your music that the kids get off on then decide they wanna go for it and do something similar. And we went everywhere, y’know, Yugoslavia, all sorts of places that bands never go to and we’ve played and we’ve always gone on stage thinking ‘Thank God these people are here’.
G: Have you ever played Russia?
N: No, we were offered to do Russia and we were gonna do it and then the tanks went in. But we’ll do anywhere, we wanna play the whole world. I mean, hopefully, we’re gonna go to Japan this year for the first time and we really wanna do it ‘cos when we get to these places we always seem to connect with the right people who know what they’re coming to see and have a great time.
A: America’s been a very good thing for you but it turned a bit sour in 1980 with the whole ‘Slam’ thing. What was the story there?
N: Yeah, we got accused of inciting people to murder, Adrian (laughs).
G: You!


N: Yeah, me personally by the LA Times, because the kids came down to our concert and they used to slam dance and jump off the stage and stuff. Here they used to pogo and that’s what they used to do over there, but I never saw anyone badly hurt. To all the people we played to, I think that a couple of people got a few loose teeth , no more. But specifically, they said that two of the kids who were at the concert went out three weeks after we were there and stabbed a chauffer and stole his money on Sunset Strip ad as they were 999 fans it came back on us. Anyway, back here it got onto the front page of The Sun, ‘999 Slam War’ and ‘Punks Murder on Streets’, so The Sun decided to do an interview with us and we did it in Soho Square and all this is true and they said you’re really violent and people will kill in your name and we replied, we just play music, come down and see us and you decide. They said, well can’t you be sick for us or go and beat up that old lady over there. The Sun will make the news and invent the story around it to sell their paper. I wrote to the LA Times and told them that we were anti-violence and anti-racist and they had no right to censor us because this is what the kids want. In fact, 999 were slagged off for everything and yet we played some concerts over there and raised money because we saw how bad things were in downtown LA and donated money, not a massive amount bearing in mind that we were just a poor English band, but enough to open gymnasiums during the long school holidays, so that the kids could go down there and listen to a bit of music and do some sport and that went unnoticed. But, the Mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley, heard about this small English band who did this and he declared a ‘999 Day’, seriously, and we’re now members of the City of LA and there’s a plaque on my wall to that effect.



G: You mention that 999 have an anti-racist stance, do you think that you yourselves and other bands should get together and make some kind of stand. We’ve noticed increasing numbers of neo-nazis turning up to see punk bands and causing trouble .
N: Controlling your audience is sometimes a difficult thing, but we always stop playing if we see a fight, he culprits and say ‘We’re here for the music!’ To which everyone says ‘Yeah!!’ making them look like arseholes! Also we would have those people thrown out. Luckily, the technique of singling out trouble makers for verbal abuse to make them feel small has always worked for us and since the music is anti-violence and anti-racist our gigs don’t get used as platforms for these people. Generally, we have a great empathy with our audiences where ever we go and trouble isn’t an issue.

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