Who is Celia indeed?
This weekend past, myself, Gunta, Jacquie and Owen Carne were due to be in France to see The Stranglers on a festival date. Of course that did not happen but we still planned to go abroad. However, at the 11th hour we made the call to abandon France. It was a good call. Our arrival in Caen on Thursday would have been just one to two hours prior to the announcement that France had been added to the 'need to quarantine' list. We had a lucky escape!
We did however travel extensively across the South coast from Hampshire into Cornwall. In these long hours of driving the subject of Celia Gollin came up. And being in a bit in a '77 groove at moment I thought that I would take another look into what was known about this mysterious lady and her extraordinary relationship with The Stranglers.
Clearly the efforts that United Artists went to to protect the identity of Celia's backing band, The Mutations, were limited by design. That comes as no surprise as in terms of units sold, The Stranglers in late '77 were leaving all of their punk/new wave contemporaries in the shade.
The circumstances behind the union of Celia Gollin and The Stranglers are as confused and contradictory as the singer herself.
Of her musical past only snippets are known. Just before the Mutations, she and Brian Eno were credited as the vocalists on Gavin Bryars’ “1, 2, 1-2-3-4” from Ensemble Pieces, a 1975 release on Eno’s Obscure label.
The work with The Mutations/Stranglers followed.
The prevailing theory is that Celia was discovered in what could have been a nightclub or a restaurant singing torch songs accompanied by the former Kilburn & The Highroads keyboard player Rod Melvin. It was then manager Dai Davies who 'discovered' her and made this most unlikely of collaborations possible.
Other accounts, seemingly from Dai himself, place Celia as a one time make up artist for the band:
'She was a make up artist who had done the band’s make up for one of the albums. The Mutations idea wasn’t as successful as we hoped, but we did a new Mutations which consisted of Terry Williams the drummer from Man, Wilko Johnson and Jean-Jacques [Burnel].'
Allegedly there was interest to get Celia, a beguiling lady in many ways onto the UA books, but was the case that simple? Were The Stranglers/UA management playing with the ideas that labelled the band as sexists and misogynists.
Celia and the Mutations first offering, a cover of Tommy James and the Shondells' classic 'Mony Money', is fabulous! Fuck off Billy Idol, your cover comes nowhere close! Mix Celia's clipped English vocal delivery with Burnel's hooligan backing vocals and you have something special! In my opinion the best cover the band recorded bar 'Walk On By'.
The B-side featured a gender reversal on the early Stranglers' track 'Mean to Me' that they revisited the following year and committed it to vinyl the following year as part of the free EP that was released with early copies of 'Black & White'.
Record Mirror had the following to say in their singles review section of their 9th July 1977 issue.
CELIA AND THE MUTATIONS: 'Mony Mony' (UA UP 36262)
Shall I let you into a secret? Celia is really a man. Yes, it's true, she may not look like a man, and she may not sound like a man, at 45 rpm anyway, but turn the speed down to 33 rpm and - see what I mean?
As to which man it is, I'm not saying, but the b-side was written by Black/Burnel/Cornwell/Greenfield. Is it getting clearer? It's a good joke - but I doubt whether it is funny enough to to get it into the higher echelons of the charts.
Sounds' man Chas de Whalley wrote a piece trying to fill in some of the gaps but with little success.
A gap of six months followed before the second and last single by Celia and the Mutations was released. 'You Better Believe Me' featured only one Mutation in the form of Jean Jacques Burnel... perhaps he was more interested in 'working' with Ms Gollin than the other three? Who Knows?
The writing credits for this one went to Celia, JJ Wilco Johnson and Man's drummer Terry Williams a.k.a. 'The Fabulous Mutations'.
The Celia and the Mutations project seemed to derail after a six month attempt on the UK charts.
Once again Record Mirror had this to say in their 12th November issue:
CELIA AND THE MUTATIONS: 'You Better Believe Me' (UA UP 36318)
OK, OK, I believe it, Celia really does exist.I don't think that this is up to the standard of 'Mony Mony' - it somehow doesn't have the same charm. Maybe she's trying too hard. 'Mony Mony' didn't make the charts, So I can't really see this one getting there either.
A later attempt by a Record Mirror hack as reported in their 3rd December issue did nothing to shed any further light on the enigma that was Celia Gollin.
And with that I will leave the last word on the case to JJ:
On The Stranglers Ratter blogspot, bassist JJ Burnel recalls the song “Mean to Me” as being “A basic bit of rock and roll because we were just a rock and roll band originally. We had no pretentions, and it’s an unpretentious rock and roll song with misogynistic lyrics from Hugh. We did a version with Celia Gollin. Dai Davies came up with the idea us working with Celia and to lend our kudos and musicianship to this girl he was trying to push. He wanted me to write songs with her, one of which featured Wilko (Johnson) too..”