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

Saturday 4 April 2020

Master-Minding The Militant Roadshow - RAR On The Road New Musical Express 31st March 1979

Clockwise from the top: The audience at West Runton Pavilion (20th March 1979), Irate Kate (RAR Offices), The Ruts, Red Saunders and Syd Shelton, Misty in Roots.

With just one more working day to go -until the kick-off of Rock Against Racism's most ambitious venture to date the 90-odd band, month-long Militant Entertainment tour - RAR's cramped North London headquarters is on red alert.

Bouncy RAR staffer Irate Kate (who's nothing of the sort) is putting the finishing touches to booking hotels for all concerned – no mean task when you consider she has had to arrange accommodation for several hundred people in a bewildering variety of 40-strong entourages.

The four-bands-a-night line-up is completely changed every fourth night, and no two line-ups are the
same, as a different local band is brought in each night to augment each block of three bands.

"There have been some difficulties booking 40 people into one hotel. If a hotel objects to having us, they object 'cause it's a bunch of pop groups," she says with characteristic good nature.

'''We don't say RAR are coming to beat up the NF in your town," she adds, smiling.

The thought of Kate beating up anybody is difficult to imagine. She's a friendly, wholesome looking 19-year-old who's "supposed to be doing my A-levels". Instead she's the mainstay of the RAR office. Until October she ran the office on her own, but a growth in RAR's activities has meant that two others have given up their day-time jobs to not only hold the RAR fort to make sure that the 100 or so letters RAR receive a day are answered, eventually, and that the worldwide orders for RAR badges, T-shirts, stickers and posters are dealt with as promptly as possible.

RAR receive mail from lands as varied as Japan and Scandinavia. Of late there's been a marked upsurge in communiques from America which RAR put down to The Clash's recent tour.

And that's only half the work-load, for RAR's primary function, other than to rid the isle of rancid racism, is to put on gigs. Since their inception nigh on three years ago they have staged over
800 gigs, but the current tour, involving the kind of logistics that would give even an experienced
promoter a headache, is by far the most significant project.

"A tour like this will put us on the map," opines John Dennis, who along with Wayne is the other full-time RAR office worker. He adds matter-of-factly : " This is just the start of RAR in rock terms."

A former adventure playground leader, Dennis is the only one of the crew wedged into RAR's office this Thursday afternoon who comes close to fulfilling any preconceived notions people may have about RAR being "a bunch of earnest politicos".

Tall and thin, with striking angular features, he has the air of a consumptive romantic poet.

Neither he nor his two colleagues are remotely punky. There isn't a leather jacket between them, let
alone a pair of bondage strides. Of late this trio have been working a 13 hour day seven days a week to ensure that all goes off according to plan on the tour.

Also present is RAR initiator Red Saunders - a garrulous gent of Falstaffian girth, a trifle 'paranoid' and fond of using left wing slogans - and three 'temporary helpers'. There are two girls, one who types out copy for the latest edition of Temporary Hoarding, read aloud by Red, and Jane (I think) whose job it is to enter mail order sales of RAR 'product' (badges, posters, T-shirts) into an accounts book.

There is also Alan, a disarmingly callow-looking member of Her Majesty's Armed Forces who's set for his first-ever tour of Northern Ireland. He deals with the out-going mail.

In the last five months sales of RAR 'product' have amounted to £7,300.

"The sales go up and down," Jane tells me. "Obviously they increase after a carnival, but the maximum is about £6-700 a week."

To get any more accurate picture of the finances is impossible without further investigation into the organisation's out-goings. Certainly the rent of the office is not high - £5 a week – and neither is the amount spent on staff wages.

Until three weeks ago Kate, John and Wayne were paid a pittance, but this was increased three-fold to a figure in the region of what the ambulance drivers were being paid before their strike.

Red's contribution to the RAR effort is entirely voluntary, although temporary helpers are paid expenses. 'We want to avoid the martyr syndrome," explains Kate. At present they have a solicitor engaged in doing the work which is necessary for RAR to become an official tax company.

The bulk of the organisation's income comes from the sale of their fortunately ubiquitous badge. Little money is made from gigs.

"What money we do make," says Kate, "is always used to finance the next gig."

Right now they have around £1000 in their bank account which is kept at the Co-op, as much for geographical convenience as for reasons of ideology.

This, as Red is eager to point out, doesn't just sit there. And RAR are hoping to save up enough money to buy permanent premises. They've got their eyes on a building in Finsbury Park which they hope could double as a dispatch office and as a record shop. Kate, perhaps a little naively, also sees it as a place where fans could hang out before going to the Rainbow.

RAR have occupied their current office for the past two months. Since their inception they've worked from a variety of locations in the metropolis, starting out at Red's photographic studio.

The Militant Entertainment tour is, to put it mildly, a strain on the RAR finances. So much so that Kate's father magnanimously agreed to stand as guarantor for a £750 overdraft. Similarly other monies have been borrowed from friends and supporters.

No donations to any political parties are made from RAR's funds, the money instead going to keep the wheels turning and to further the cause.

"It doesn't all get put in a bag and put on the 8.15 to Prague," says Red caustically.

One other source of income that in Red's words is "something of a red herring" is the question of RAR membership. For a £1 it is possible to actually join for life and RAR estimate that 3,500 supporters have done just that.

Apart from life membership one gets a 'free' badge and reduced admission to RAR gigs. But, they point out, most 'kids' can't afford to layout a quid on life membership, and instead just purchase a badge or a sticker.

This question of membership is being raised at RAR's July conference . It seems that one can belong to the organisation without forking out the necessary green one, as is illustrated by the fact that Leeds RAR has some 500 members each of whom is entitled to badges etc and admission to gigs at concession rates.

One other feature of the organisation that needs to be dealt with is Temporary Hoarding. Apparently this isn't produced from the North London base. All contributors, who include John Dennis, work for it for free, and one potential source of revenue RAR refuse to milk on political grounds is selling advertising space to record companies.

They are currently trying to find a major distributor for Hoarding, but so far have found that all the major publishers they've approached have refused to touch it because they're afraid it would attract too many libels. Penguin Books are, however, interested in publishing a Temporpry Hoarding book and a deal is currently being negotiated.

An atmosphere of thriving chaos reigns this Thursday afternoon in the RAR office. The clutter is such that it's almost impossible to walk unimpeded around the four jammed-together desks that occupy most of the space. Lord only knows how Jane's three-month old baby manages to sleep through the cacophony of work. As Red opines: "You have to have an incredible sense of humour to work for us."

FIVE days later and Militant Entertainment has reached its third stop, a tiny village on the Norfolk coast called West Runton - a generous spit from the better-known seaside resort of Cromer, renowned for its crab .

The gig is The Pavilion, a prefabricated building whose one concession to rock culture is a dire sub-Roger Dean mural behind the stage. Despite its seeming unsuitability for rock and roll these days the West Runton Pavilion is Norfolk's leading rock venue. And a glance at the upcoming attractions proves that whoever runs the place knows his business.

With Cambridge and Leicester under their belts respectively RAR are in fairly good spirits, though tired and in John Dennis's case (he is in charge of finance) a little harrassed. The only casualty so far is Wayne's black eye.

Wayne had intervened to –restore the peace after one of RAR's security men became overzealous outside Leicester Poly the previous night (Monday), only to be mistaken for a bouncer himself which
in some thug's eyes was enough justification to take a smack at him.

On the road RAR have an eight-man, sorry, person team, and throughout the tour are relying extensively on the local RAR groups.

"We're fortunate in that we only have to deal with the bureauocracy, says Wayne referring to the London office's role in the shindig. It does seem, however, that HQ has taken all the major decisions regarding the tour.

Given that the priority was to play towns where the National Front plans to stand a candidate at the imminent General Election, the local RAR groups suggested potential venues and dates, as well as selecting which local band should play, after which Wayne did a personal reconnaissance of all the venues to confirm their suitability.

Though each 'official' has a definite role to play in the tour (Red Saunders for instance, is the tour's Master Of Ceremonies, a role which he clearly relishes)  no-one ultimately in charge of the operation.

"We're a collective," emphasised Saunders. And obviously in the best spirit of collectivisation no-one shirks at doing a stint on the RAR stall; The Gang Of Four's maverick drummer was even helping out.

As for the choice of bands, this, says Kate, was "deeply debated" by the committee, Wayne and John actually dealing with the bookings. Despite the excellence of the bill there does seem to be an absence of 'name' acts.

Says John : "We wanted to get away from the bands we knew could draw."

Wayne echoes his colleague : " We've deliberately gone for smaller bands. It's very much in the RAR tradition. We were among the first to book Generation X, Tom Robinson and Stiff Little Fingers. We started out booking those bands." And John again : " We're there to support new bands and they're there to support us."

Nevertheless, attempts to contact some 'name' acts like Public Image Limited, The Clash, and X Ray Spex - and even John Cooper Clarke - with a view to playing the tour proved difficult. RAR were particularly miffed at  The Members' attitude towards doing Militant Entertainment since they had, after all, given The Members their first London gig .

RAR, though, are inclined to blame those who surround these bands, rather than the individual musicians themselves. They do say that getting in touch with Joe Strummer isn't as easy as it was; The Clash apparently couldn't do the tour because of their difficulties with Bernard Rhodes. Kate, for one, would have liked Ian Dury on the tour.

Perhaps I'm being over-jaundiced, but it does seem in at least some cases that bands only play RAR gigs because there's something in it for them. On the other hand there is RAR's attitude, a somewhat egotistical one at that goes along the lines of " It's not The Clash playing such and such a place, it's RAR playing . .. "

John Dennis brings up the fact that Elton John said in last year's marathon NME interview that he would like to do an RAR gig . "It's like him too," he says with an utter lack of conviction. He explains that he prefers to book punk and reggae bands because that's how RAR started and it's these acts which RAR feel a lot in common with.

"We've grown with new wave," he says.

Surely Elton playing a gig would do more for the movement than, say, Misty or whoever in terms of publicity alone. Or is RAR afraid at having some of the thunder stolen from them? Perhaps I'm being
churlish ...

How about  the claims of inefficency that have been made by some bands playing RAR gigs?  "We're an organisation of rock fans who're doing it ourselves. When you look at the rock scene there aren't many organisations trying to help consumers," says John. "So there are going to be mistakes."

" It's true we're not efficient," says another of the collective. "And we're proud of it."

Originally the idea was for the bands to play for expenses only, but this was scotched in favour of splitting the profit four ways – 25 per cent to each of the three 'headlining bands' (the billing alternates so that each of the three bands gets to top the bill) and 25 per cent to RAR - where and when money was made on the gate.

I forgot to ask what, if anything the local group gets out of it, other than exposure.

No-one in the RAR set-up expects the tour to make money; to break even is all they're hoping for.

"If we were to look at it economically we wouldn't have looked at it at all: ' explains John. One sop for the band is that where-ever possible the entourage will stay at decent hotels. "We can't shit on the bands in both ways," is how Wayne puts it. "If they're not going to get any money then the least we can do is to give them a hotel room with a bathroom."

Last night the entourage, and it included everyone, stayed in the comfort of Leicester's Post House Hotel.

This far into the tour it's impossible to see how things are going to work out financially, but with money made at Cambridge and lost at Leicester things are working out pretty much as expected.

"The bigger gigs, like Leeds should subsidise the smaller ones like Newport," says Wayne. And no-one is expecting to make money in the wilds of Norfolk on a Tuesday night.

To cut costs universities and polytechnics are letting RAR have the use of their halls entirely free. Star Hire, the PA company, have agreed to work for 30 per cent less than their usual fee. Consequently they're working with a crew of three instead of their normal six-man operation.

''I'm so tired I can hardly talk straight," one of them told me. "Four bands playing in four hours is a very tight schedule. It's like a first night every night."

Star Hire work a great deal with reggae acts, and have received several threatening calls-from people claiming to represent the NF. Moreover a Mightly Sparrow gig at the Rainbow in December, where Star Hire were working, had to be called off after a bomb hoax believed to be the work of the NF.

With so small a crew the RAR team is doubling as roadies. To add further to the collective effort, two Eastern Counties bus drivers have agreed to drive two double-decker busloads of fans the 20 miles or so from Norwich for free. Shame their employees couldn't be as generous. The Norwich branch of RAR have had to hire the buses at £90 apiece.

Brace yourself North Norfolk, London punks are decending (or a couple of 'em at least)

On the final night of the Gang Of Four, Misty, The Ruts line-up, The Ruts are topping. Second on, Gang Of Four (local outfit The-Pain Killers opened - unfortunately I missed them) are given the kind of reception usually reserved for the closing act. The Pavilion is far from full, but the audience seem more than willing to make up in energy for the lack of numbers.

Halfway through the evening RAR are convinced they stand to lose at least £200 on the night, but despite this and the prospect of a six-hour drive back to London their spirits rise - Red's aided by more than the odd beer - as the music culminates in a truely devastating performance from The Ruts.

More than one record company A&R man was spotted the previous night at Leicester and A&R
person/producer MuffWinwood is sniffing out tonight's action. If he isn't impressed by The Ruts then his ears should be removed just as soon as he can fix up an appointment.

Malcolm Owen and Paul Fox
West Runton Pavilion 20th March 1979

Following hard (and I mean HARD) on the heels of the too sanguine Misty (no malice intended, but if this is what ganja does for you, forget it). The Ruts start the way they go on – with enough energy to fuel the entire Concorde fleet.

They slip with awesome ease from what can perhaps be best described as psychedelic punk (shades of Hendrix) to the kind of reggae that ought to have Misty wincing into their Rasta nosh. As the Gang of Four are about to tie the knot with EMI or CBS, The Ruts are apparently about to sign with Virgin: Mark thee, The Ruts will be enormous.

Malcom slays Segs! Red Saunders looks on amused
West Runton Pavilion 20th March 1979

Actually Misty just about aquitted themselves in the all-bands-together encore. Jamming on a reggae chant of 'Rock Against Racism', they lead what seems like half the entire audience through a genuinely moving number, so full of good vibes I'm surprised that John and Yoko didn’t materialise in a bag singing the 'Give Peace A Chance' refrain'.

"Peace and Love", intoned one of Misty's singers. What with Red Saunders giving the audience and it must be said nearly falling on his butt in the process...... one of those "The only way this is possible is because of you the people out there" raps, I was reminded of similar so-called 'hippy' beanos.

All the more a shame then, that one lout had to disgrace himself on his way out of the building by
assaulting the kid selling the Socialist Worker's Party's Rebel mag.

Evidently the message hadn't got through to everyone.

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