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.


Saturday, 8 August 2020

God, Guns 'n' Girls - The Stranglers Return to Amsterdam in November 1977

 

I have recently been reading Barry Cain's second book on his time working for and with the music press. In this respect it could be argued that from the perspective of a fan of all things punk and New Wave he is quite possibly the luckiest man on the planet. For this I hate him, but that is only the jealousy talking! The book, entitled '57 Varieties of Talk Soup' is a continuation of his adventures in music journalism from 1978 to 1989. His earlier adventures are captured in the equally absorbing ''77 Sulphate Strip'. Needless to say, both titles are highly recommended.


Throughout the 1970's and early 1980's Barry was one of a rare breed of music writer in that he did not cross swords with a band who were well known to be journo-intolerant. Modern bands are probably issued with an inhaler to deal with such things now. To the best of my knowledge, Mr Cain was never abducted, gaffa taped to well-known Gallic landmarks, abandoned in the Iberian wilderness or plain punched out by one or other of those belligerent Meninblack! His presence at the unveiling at the PRS plaque at the Star Inn in Guildford in January 2019 must mean that he has a better measure of The Stranglers than most of the writers who were required to review /interview them way back when.

This position of mutual respect meant that Barry Cain was able to witness the phenomenal rise of the band a very close and personal quarters. 

Reading the book prompted me to revisit a piece that he wrote for the a December 1977 issue of Record Mirror, a first hand account of the band's return to the infamous Paradiso Club in Amsterdam in November 1977 that renewed their acquaintance with the Amsterdam Hell's Angel Society.

As you will see from the piece, it is of its time, Barry refers to the the 'birds' in a manner that calls to mind Inspector Jack Harper exhorting Stan Butler to pick up a couple of birds to drive up to the cemetery gates for a bit of nookie in a bygone episode of 'On The Buses'. Burnel's amazement at the competency of a black motorcycle racer would be very unlikely to pass muster in a 2020 music publication (were such a thing still to exist these days!), but as I have tried to explain to my children on many occasions in the last two years or so, that was the way that it was in the '70's!

Regardless of the contemporary style of the reporting, for Barry Cain and Alan Edwards, the clubhouse encounter sounded absolutely terrifying!

I don't think that it was much later than this November encounter in Amsterdam that the band finally felt it prudent to distance themselves from the Hell's Angels (an organisation that they had previously defended by virtue of a similar outsider status). 

Thanks Barry Cain for a first hand account of one of the band's landmark gigs (up there with the Rainbow's, Nashville's, Nice's and Battersea). It seems that they did take on board your comments about making the transition from club sized gigs to the big time, major venues. With the exception of the 1978 'secret' pub gigs (necessitated by the ongoing G.L.C. ban of the band performing in the capital), The Paradiso was one of the last club gigs that the band performed for many years.

So here it is in the raw..... a less than average night out with The Stranglers and the Amsterdam Chapter of the Hell's Angels.

Angels with dirty faces


Barry Cain goes to church to see The Stranglers and ends up seeing porno movies and the machine gun toting, government approved, Hell’s Angels. Pictures Allan Ballard.

Pass me the aphrodisiac, honey, we’re in Amsterdam.

And all the cutie canal streets and all the clapperboard clubs and all the demonic deck hands of this cold Indonesian restaurant night lead to The Paradiso.

Now The Paradiso is Amsterdam’s premier hole. Like, imagine The Roundhouse only DIRTIER – a huge filter tip after the cigarette has gone, the death brown fusing of nicotine, tar, spit all the way through. That’s The Paradiso.

Then you look up way above the stage. Stained glass windows the only clue that this was once a church. Yeah s’right, a church. Now there’s a dope bar where the font used to be, kids snort in the shadow of the alter and The Stranglers replace Christ.

Hey, is that a tear on the multi-colour cheek of Mary up there?

“Christ he told his mother, Christ he told her not to bother.”

There’s a thousand punters inside, another thousand outside and a Dutch TV film unit celluloiding the lot. The Stranglers – high-rise exponents of the kinda devout decadence inherent in pre-war Berlin.

They always remind me of a scene in ‘The Thief of Baghdad’ when a wealthy Indian merchant fell in love with a life-size mechanical doll with eight arms. He paid a fortune for it and then indulged in some Eastern delight. The doll had huge fingernails and it proceeded to dig then into his back as he held it. Slowly and sex-sadistically at first, then harder until the blood seeped out and he died. Think about it. 

Unclean


There’s something very unclean about The Stranglers. I always feel like taking a shower after seeing them. 

Their phenomenal success among the pre-pubes baffles me. They have no obvious attraction for that particular strata as far as I can see. What 13 year-old has ever heard of Trotsky?

They ain’t too glamorous. Their clothes are straight out of a Black Sabbath queue of fans. They don’t exactly come on like teenies. “What did you do in the war, daddy?” the far-out, bombed-out, bleached-out (I’ll refrain from saying ‘cop-out’ cause I don’t think that’s entirely correct) fall out that is The Stranglers somehow get across to them. Like dirty old men offering sweets to little girls. 

Same applied to this spaced-out Dutch-capped Paradiso audience. They ain’t got the faintest idea about what the band are going on about but they cheer every familiar chord. 

The show is their usual sex act taking the boots off. One new song, ‘Five Minutes’, indicates a variation but the tried and trusted format is the same. Why change success? That’s what the proles seem to want, so give it to ‘em good. 

Fact is I enjoy their shows, their records, their pose. It may be real cool to slag them for writing anti-feminist songs (though I thought that most songs professing to be ‘love’ songs were anyway. Writers from Porter to Lennon have regarded women as merely love objects, gossamer fantasies in men’s minds) or for making dough but their desirability rating is high in my estimation. I’m down to ten a day now.

They bring out the prurience in people – and that can’t be all bad. 

Now we get to the meat of the story. Half way through ‘Ugly’ just before the “It’s only the children of the f_____ wealthy that tend to be good looking” bit a kid jumps on stage and dances.

A security guard casually strolls on and hurls the kid off stage. Nothing out of the ordinary you might say. 

But the guard was a Hell’s Angel, built like a prefab and the stage happens to be eight foot of the ground. Burnel stops playing and tells the Angel to cool it. But that’s all he can do. The Angel politely and begrudgingly nods. The first taste of what’s going to happen on this acerbic Amsterdam evening.

Soccer


The band finish the number and the rest of the show runs relatively smoothly with only the slightest hint of Angel cakewalking sidestage.

The Dutch Angels have muscled their way into The Stranglers camp. Whenever they play Holland the Angels are there offering friendly advice and bicep service. The band like them, there’s no doubting that. But it wouldn’t much matter if they didn’t.

See the Hell’s Angels of Amsterdam are different from their counterparts in Britain, America or Timbucktoo. They’re government approved!

No kiddin’. The Dutch Government allocated a £150,000 grant to enable the Amsterdam Hell’s Angels Society, as it’s officially known, to set up shop.

With that money, the Society built an Angel complex on the city outskirts. It includes a large clubhouse complete with disco and bar, sleeping quarters, a garage to house their 1000cc steeds and a makeshift shooting range.

And, wait for it, each of the Society’s 25 members receives an annual grant of £2,000.

Altogether now. WHY? Fear appears to be the prime motivation for such an insane policy. It seems the government are afraid of this happy band of men and the money is merely a ruse to keep them quiet. A do-it-yourself-nazi-jacketed protection racket. It’s on the government maaan!

Backstage after the show The Stranglers enjoy a spot of quiet relaxation with their new found buddies. I get some long, ludicrous, electric-drill-in-the-kneecaps stare from one of the Angels as I walk into the dressing room. “He’s all right” says Hugh. His timing was just right. The Indonesian meal I had stuffed down earlier was ready to make an unscheduled appearance on the floor.

“They took us back to their clubhouse after we played last night,” he continues “I stayed until six this morning. They gave us anything we wanted. They treated us like kings.”

Hugh is clearly loving every Evel Knievel moment of it. Dave sits nearby cuddling his missus. Jet surveys. Jean has vanished. “He’s gone to pick up his motorbike. We’re going back to the club again tonight.” Says Hugh.

Oh great.

It was somewhere between the b in club and the a in again when the loudest banger you’ve ever heard went off at my feet. A group of three bearded (ain’t they all) Angels chuckle in the corner. “You come with us ya?”

Whores


“Er, well if it’s all the same to you I’ll go in the van with the band.”

The last time The Stranglers played here the boize took them along to a pleasant little bar slap bang in the middle of the red light district. Their birds are whores who pop up in between groveling clients for a sociable drink.

But this time it's da bizness. The Angel Club. The building is well away from residents’ areas. One of the government’s stipulations I guess. But there is a prison, a rather tall luxury block (well you know what these permissive countries are like about crime) under construction nearby.

“They’ll never finish that prison,” a visiting Brighton Angel casually informs me as we drive past. “The communists don’t want it so they keep bombing the place every now and then.”

There’s also another reason why the building won’t be completed for sometime. In the back garden of the club is a large mounted machine gun. When an Angel fancies some fun he strolls out back, loads up the gun and sends hails of bullets through the prison windows. Cute huh.

Inside it’s tastefully lit, that’s probably cos most of the bulbs have been smashed maybe. Hugh plays pool with a guy affectionately referred to as ‘Loser’. His face has been eaten away by the acid shower he got in a bundle.

Halfway through the game the barman starts showing home movies. Well, they can’t be that bad if they make those cosy family films. Why look, isn’t that this very same club? And isn’t that the pool table that Hugh’s on. How sweet.

Oh look, there’s a a….. er…. gulp naked lady. Giggles at the bar. “Look that’s me hahahahaha.” And sure enough it is. He’s holding a milk bottle which he rams roughly into the bird.

“She was a German girl who wanted to be shown round,” whispers Loser in my ear. They certainly showed her everything. 

Then there’s film of two Kraut Angels who got stroppy. They’re dragged back to the club, searched at sten gunpoint and their weapons confiscated. Big Al the President of the Society tells them to get outta town and they plod mournfully offscreen.

Or howabout the guy with the ginger beard in the cowboy hat acting the fool in the film. Loser says he’s in a lunatic asylum. When the lights come on after the show there’s that same guy drinking beer at the bar.

Get the picture?

A few fancy revs and in comes Jean on his Triumph bike along with an Angel on his multi-million pound Harley Davidson. Jean’s mascara is smudged but he still retains his cucumber cool.

Why the stunt? Little Bob Hart from The Sun is doing a feature on The Stranglers/Motorbikes/Hell’s Angels/Dross and his photographer has set up a contrived but nevertheless effective happy snap.

The Angels indulge in a spot of frantic posing. Stranglers posing comes natural anyway and the shot has more than a passing similarity to one of those Barry Sheene victory scenes after a world championship race.

After the session Hart drags Jean into a room for an interview, Hugh continues playing pool, Jet continues drinking and Dave continues to cuddle his missus.

This guy in a balaclava comes wandering over to where publicist Alan Edwards and me sit. “Good yah. It is .22 calibre. Powerful for such a little gun yah.” “Oh yah yah” says Alan visibly quaking. Balaclava Billy or whatever wanders off. “Bet it wasn’t loaded” says Alan. The photographer walks in. “Here they’re all shooting bottles off walls with revolvers out the back…..”

I ask Big Al if they have problems with the police. “The police? Hahahaha. They never come here. They’re too scared.” 

What about licences for their shooters . “Hahahah.” He gives me his card “Amsterdam Society of Hell’s Angels. President Big Al. Vice President Stanley.”

As we leave the Angels shake our hands and tell us we’re welcome at any time. With every shake I keep thinking a knife’s gonna go in my back. That ice cream soft entry comblike parting of the flesh, the rose red spill, the midnight walk thump thump of the heart, the dirty steel caressing the bone before breaking it, the cool call of death.

Slaughtered


I got to thinking about newspaper headlines ‘Pop group and friends slaughtered by Hell’s Angels’. Of only the good die young sentiments. Of bright future epitaphs, of me mum and dad, me bird…

SLAP.

A hand hits me on the back. “Goodnight. Safe journey.” Phew.

In the van, Jean gives me his spiel about how he’s got this coloured motorbike prodigy. “He’s gonna be a world champion. He’s great, and he’s BLACK man!” He goes on to discuss the Triumph motorcycle factory and how cooperatives don’t work and a whole host of other such riveting subjects at Peter O’Sullivan breakneck vocal speed.

“See you later.”

So I’m left to think about the night. And you know what I think? I think the Angels are nice guys in their way, but their way ain’t my way. The government pay them to keep schtum and out of the limelight. The Stranglers, unintentionally, have brought them out of automaton abeyance.

They ain’t thugs but they ain’t exactly pussycats either. A few people have mentioned unpleasant scenes they witnessed on the band’s last British tour involving some of the Angels.

Remember Altamont? Maybe that sounds a little drastic but it’s not just the Angels you gotta worry about. It’s the ordinary punters reaction as well.

While The Stranglers keep insisting on playing smaller venues there’s always the danger of violence. Playing a place the size of The Paradiso ain’t fair on the fans or the band. Christ they could pack out the Empire Pool two nights in a row now, maybe even three.

Slapdash security just ain’t good enough anymore. Nice gesture sure but something better change quick.

Whatever happened to….. The Finchley Boys?

The gig will follow tomorrow.

Goodnight all!

News Extra!

Late last night I sent a link to this piece to Barry Cain and I'm happy to say that he replied today having enjoyed rereading this adventure of almost 43 years ago!

'Hi Barry, I did get the 57 varieties' book. You really are the luckiest man in music journalism. I cannot believe that it was down to you to paint Hugh's willy.... will these rock stars do nothing for themselves! I have a blog site based on The Stranglers (that seems to be acceptable to the band... JJ has yet to beat me up, he just contents himself with kicking me in the shins whenever we meet!) and given that I had not until this point uploaded the Paradiso gig of November '77 I thought that I would tie it in with your piece on that infamous gig. Here's the link to the piece that I wrote. It must have been fucking terrifying! Do you have any more recollections... did an account ever get printed in The Sun?' 

In reply:

'Wow! Thanks so much for that, Adrian. So glad you enjoyed the book. And yes, I do consider myself a very lucky man to see all those bands in their heyday. It was certainly the most exciting time of my life. I do believe the Amsterdam piece did make it into The Sun - ‘birds’ and all! It was pretty terrifying - but not as terrifying as painting Hugh’s knob!
And again, many thanks for your article - I thoroughly enjoyed it. Keep well mate and enjoy the sunshine.'

I am sure this is familiar to all but this was Barry's artwork on a Hugh-shaped canvas, executed in an Icelandic hotel room.

I cannot believe that I once had this on my living room wall!


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