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

Friday, 1 November 2019

999 Interview New Musical Express 23rd September 1978

Call me dumb if you wish, but this interview typifies the type journalism that the NME reveled in.... some kind of literary gymnastics that invariably left the reader wondering what exactly the point of it all was. Reading this through it seems that writer, John Hamblett, thought they were..... alright, but I have to say I have never enjoyed this type of interview in which the band are seemingly playing second fiddle to the journalist and his interpretation of what it all means. Let the band speak for themselves. Very little of what is included in this piece emanates from the band themselves and that has always struck me as being a wasted opportunity.

The dust has settled on that particular phase, and it's quite cold now. Sooner than almost anybody expected, the realisation that everything worth saying had been said dawned on the youth who were doing all the talking. A rejuvenated sense of chic, a new fashion-consciousness - it’s hardly the legacy some hoped to bequeath. Or others inherit.

Initially it was imperative to formulate and present an easily assimilated and as united a front as possible. Lest things became a little too diverse and complex to comfortably keep the lid on. The scare was on. Press and publicists, either through wilful ignorance or well-intentioned error, renewed their lease on the most accessible get-out clause. The soft option was, as ever, to categorise an open door that let the light out, a loop-hole to wear as a halo. So what if the concept was dangerously broad, the sainted saviours still end up with shit on their shoes.

The bands who suffered the most were bands who had the bare faced cheek to be deceptive. The bands who at first sight appeared to slot nicely into the coalition, but on closer inspection confounded the general principle. Which meant the works could get seriously gummed up. Which could've made things needlessly difficult. Which meant evasive action had to be taken. A sharp, no nonsense put down. Expose the bounders for the sham and underhand masquerade they must surely be. Alternatively, ignore them completely and hope everybody else does likewise.

A text book case it would seem are 999, a band who came to the surface more or less via the eye of the storm early '77. A cursory surface inspection by the professional observer would reveal four young men, conforming fairly rigidly to the current vogue, though perhaps artfully more

conservative. While not taking things to the irksome plastic and cosmetic extreme of their more head-line conscious colleagues, 999 are close enough to the contemporary norm for them to be dropped into the ready made tick tacky box, which is always easier to get in than out.

"What I say and the way I dress / it's got nothing to do with the need to impress. / I've got an appetite to hold on tight. / Thinking aloud it may hurt. / I'm on the alert.”

"Titanic (My Over) Reaction"

No, the image is easy meat. The shit doesn't really hit the fan until you try to tie the image to the music. The music, after all, is just not up to what the visuals would suggest. Not different enough to prompt any aspiring champion (on the look-out for a cause) to breathlessly herald the clammy-handed ascension of the fourth generation.

Shallow, imperceptive criticism is, without doubt, a greater danger to a young band's morale than bum instruments, a hostile audience, loser management deals, religion, stale beer, bad gear, the clap, right-wing extremists , cash flow problems, crowded café’s Idi Amin. The Sun and the return of capital punishment – a fact 999’s Nick Cash accepts philosophically.

“Punk, new wave, power pop, we’ve been called all of those. Which in a way is a good thing – we don’t want to be easy to classify.”

Shrewd and friendly simultaneously rather than by turn, Nick Cash is a very careful and in control person. I’m here to do a job, and this he knows.

If situations were more than the sum of their parts, this confrontation could have easily degenerated into a sour-edged stand-off. However, as I said, he’s a very in control person, and besides, he's not about to make any mistakes at this stage in the game. With four singles and a relatively successful debut album behind them, and the all important follow-up ready to launch, now is no time to juke the entire operation.

With a quaint old world charm it seems now, that almost belongs to another world, I remember my predecessors would recount with reverence the 'dues' that some John Doe rock star had paid. The paying of dues. Karmic consequence. It used to be a very popular qualification, a convenient back line of defence for self-conscious nouveau stars who were not yet elevated to a position where the slings and arrows couldn't reach. You know the line: "Hey man I've got a right. I've suffered for chrissake. I've paid my dues.”

For what it's worth in 1978 Nick Cash has paid his dues. In and out of bands since he was 15, he almost struck pay-dirt despite himself, playing guitar in Kilburn And The High Roads. A desire to concentrate more fully on a song writing partnership he'd been cultivating with former school friend and fellow guitar player Guy Days, coupled with a feeling of general dissatisfaction at the way things appeared to be heading in the Kilburns, gave him reason enough to leave.

Then, like a two chord riff that won't go away, and which must sound depressingly familiar to hundreds of would-be song-writers came:

1. Hawk your precious songs round the record companies. Offensively polite. Life on the receiving end. Frustration at the inevitably ineffectual strokes you knew you were in no position to pull anyway. Professional disinterest backed up with meaningless apologies.

2. Form your own band. Because that's the only way to get things out in the open.

Thus in the grand old tradition 999 came .into being. Ironically the songs in which no record company was .interested in 1975/76 - including United Artists, with whom 999 are now signed - made up the bulk of the material on their pilot album, completed during the winter of '77. At first 999 were Nick Cash and Guy Days (a handsome young man in the classical fashion. Relatively quiet. Not aggressively silent, just confident in Cash's ability to handle the situation). Both were guitar players on the lookout for a rhythm section.

Enter Pablo Labritain, a drummer. Perhaps the most overtly dedicated member of the band, Pablo is as active in the physical side of band promotion as Cash is with the verbal/aesthetic. He's happy to do the leg work, eager to please, body and soul in the here and now.

Enter too Jon Watson – tailormade made to fit every adjective to describe the manifestation of the bass player’s psyche. Unmistakably of the genre.

Taking full advantage of the unimpeachable 'safe ground' that hindsight offers up is not a stunt used exclusively by rock journalists. All paid watch-dogs indulge enthusiastically. When the heat's on the wise ones sit in the shade and watch and take notes as the young and the wild lick at the candy in the gutter. The wise one’s end up with the icing, cake and the mixing bowl. Most recently the wise ones have broken cover to tell us all exactly why the fuse didn't burn all the way to the motherlode this time. And why certain groups actually did manage to survive the maelstrom if not with flying colours, all of them, then at least with brains (and bank balances) intact.

The qualities they talk of are projected vision. Tenacity. Musical talent - most people now find themselves able to admit that after all it is (batting eye-lids and nervous giggle) still quite important. A sales pitch. A marketable vision of the Modern. Most of the stock answers could be applied to 999, with varying degrees of accuracy.

999 music is well structured urban rock. Inner-city obviously. Its root sources are diverse enough to make the listening process interesting, but not so opposed as to render it directionless pulp. It's rhythmic rather than textural. Its modernisms are adapted only where they can be used constructively. The first album, in presentation at least, conformed to the prevalent musical ethos. The songs were all short and mostly fast. It was not, though, as radical – musically or lyrically - as was expected from young men with short hair cuts highrise backgrounds to match. Mainly it was just catchy - this at a time when commercial potential was a commodity most bands were loath to admit to having any of.

(Record companies, of course, never let the prime objective slip from them. Obscure is fine boys, radical is simply marvy, just so long as it sells. That's all we ask.)

"Our aim has always been to become as good as we possibly can at what we do. Which is not to say musical competence is the most important factor; you can watch a group of musicians on stage, and they might be brilliant, but if the spark's not there ... nothing. That spark has to be there to cause the reaction, and the reaction is the important thing to us. That feeling when you're listening to a band and you know there's something inside you trying to get out . You've got to get up and dance. I mean, there are some records you just can't listen to sitting down. That's what we want”.

"As long as you can play well enough to put your ideas into practice, that's all you need. “ Realising the importance of the vital chemistry is fundamental . The desperate struggle to produce next year's thing should not be allowed to obscure that fact, as unfortunately it sometimes does with bands trying sooooo hard to drag the future backwards, to merge now with when, creating in the process nothing more than electronic slums. It’s the musical equivalent of an architectural folly, only minus the aesthetic commitment.

"Our new album ('Separates') is definitely a progression from the first, rather than a departure," says Cash.

"But that's not to say I know how far we've come. One, two, maybe even three steps forward, I don't know.

I listened to the album a couple of times at their publicist's office, obviously too brief an encounter on which to base any constructive criticism. However, a couple of points did stand out:

a) The band have taken matters into their own hands and become a little more adventurous. Apparently feeling safe enough at home base to explore futher afield, they've adopted a left wing approach to what is basically a conservative song structure. Stretching out rather than taking off.

b) The songs are still catchy, Investigative commercialism. (One point Nick Cash was most anxious that I make was that the band are currently negotiating with United Artists in the hope that they will be able to release a free single with a limited number of albums).

More by instinct than any real and deep concern I bring up politics. A lot of bands, after all, made good mileage out of creating for themselves the image of concerned young revolutionaries. Tower block existence. Spray paint prophets stumbling through decay. Christmas cracker sloganeering. Okay fellers take five, bring on the social conscience machine. Hell, some of it seemed fairly convincing. Didn't it?

" Politics? We're not apolitical band. We don't preach anything. It's like we've got to think carefully about what we do. For instance, we're not prepared to play Rock Against Racism gigs, because they're just being turned into propaganda events for the Socialist Workers' Party. Which is not to say we have anything against the SWP - we just don't want to be manipulated like that.

"We're perfectly willing to play direct benefit gigs. We want to do that. We've just played three straight nights at the Nashville in aid of one parent families. Somebody put a rumour about that we pocketed the cheque for that. I want you to say that it's a lie. We've got a letter of thanks here, thanking us for the money we donated.

"The hell with new wave politics; the conversations I've had with the participants have convinced me that most are too dumb to comprehend even the cardinal principles of the persuasions they claim to uphold. Either that or they're unbelievably naive.

Prudence and shrewd foresight on the part of the band, aided no doubt by the oppressive lust of the press to bleat out the brittle sensationalisms of the kindergarten radicals, made certain that 999 didn't find themselves beached when the righteous - inevitable hammer came down. After all, 999 aren't the best band in the world, and there isn't much chance of them becoming next year's thing - not until next year anyway - but they are survivors. And they survive for all the right reasons. Primarily because they don't forsake all in an attempt to appear praeter-modern. What's inside comes to the surface through natural process. Plus of course, they've got Nick Cash on top of things to make sure nobody ends up with egg on their face when the man with the camera eventually comes around.

Plug and ad for the One Parent Family benefit gigs
New Musical Express 29th July 1978

Tour ad (New Musical Express 23rd September 1978)

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