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, 31 October 2020

The Adventures Of Hersham Boys - Sham 69 Lose Their Mojo!


'The Adventures Of Hersham Boys' was Sham 69's third studio album released in September 1979 and whilst it went on to be the bands most successful album, peaking at Number 8 in the UK album chart it was pretty much panned by the music critics of the day. The album's Wikipedia entry includes a line from music journalist, David Hepworth' which summed up the critics view on Sham's 'new direction'!

"A tired, hollow effort struggling between weary attempts at rabble-rousing and blush-making pseudo-Springsteen 'street' songs that reek of desperation and contract fulfilling. As empty and self-satisfied a record as anything they supposedly set out to replace."

Record Mirror (22nd September 1979)

SHAM 69: 'The Adventures Of The Hersham Boys'
(Polydor Deluxe POLO 5025)

AN UNSATISFACTORY conclusion from Sham, but then it appears they've not really concluded so maybe it doesn't matter anyway and Pursey always was a confused mass of contradictions in the first place.

After being single handedly responsible for the unnecessary resurgence of the skinhead movement, Gentleman Jim decides he's really a cowboy.

But it's not a jail you need to break out of Jim, or even a borstal – just your own elaborately - woven paranoia, if a song like 'Voices' is anything to go by. Or the self-made martyrdom of ' Fly Dark
Angel', hideously howled with Dylanesque vocals.

'Cold Blue In The Night' rides a similar theme, insecurities thrust into the open for a heart-felt cry of
"Someone's gotta help me/ Sympathy defeats me/ can't help myself." The Yardbirds ‘You're A Better Man Than I' appropriately concludes the introspection of side one which also includes the corral - storming 'Money' and 'Joey's On The Street' (no ... relation, rat fans).

On side two self-identification extends to James Dean on 'Lost On Highway 46', but you're
ALIVE Jimmy, as well as being rich, famous, popular and accompanied by an excellent sidesman
in Dave Parsons. 

Like 'Hersham Boys', 'Questions And Answers' is already owned by all the fans, and its inclusion is
hardly compensated for by the free 12 inch single. This features awful and over-long versions of 'If The Kids Are United', sung throwaway-style and sounding more like 'Roadrunner', and a live'Borstal Breakout’.

The latter, fortunately, adopts the words "It 's never too late to breakout" and there I'm right behind you, Jimmy. Christ, after a few years in a factory I did myself. The older - but - wiser lyrical change is matched by a similar modification on the album's live 'What Have I Got' where the reply is "I've Got You!" You still have, Jim, and they've still got you if you keep it cool. I know it must be very 'ard, but won't you try?


Sounds (8th September 1979)

‘The Adventures Of Hersham Boys’
(Polydor Deluxe POLD 5025) ***

WHAT DID Sham mean to you? I don't really give a monkey's cos to me and a lot of my mates they were the business. Whereas the Clash and the Pistols were heroes put on a pedestal by history, legend and the media, Sham 69 were the ultimate people's band.

"You are us, you are Sham 69, and Sham 69 are you," Jimmy used to say. And the band would make a non-stop-pogo rowdy racket and he'd sing about real life. Everyday life and everyday people. About rip-offs and shitty jobs and nagging parents and enjoying yourself. Sham were REAL, and d'you remember how they blew the Clash off stage at that Rainbow gig in December ‘77 ...

The first album 'Tell Us TheTruth' really knocked me out, specially the live side which was pure unrefined Sham and, to me, the essence of Punk Rock. That came out in February last year. The follow-up 'That's Life' came out just eight months later and it was magnificent. A lot like the home scenes in Quadrophenia, the album was true to life, serious and humorous, featuring a terrific eye for detail, and still great rock 'n' roll music. Sham were actually one of the few punk bands to avoid the dreaded 'second album syndrome'.

Which is why after two brilliant albums less than adequately critically received I was busting a gut to get hold of this one. At last someone was gonna review Sham who understood them and, more importantly, believed in what they were about.

Like a kid at Christmas I rip open the envelope. Gulp. Cover's a bit suspect. A deluxe affair portraying the
band togged up in spaghetti western threads blasting away on six shooters at all-comers in what looks like Albie Maskell's barn. Hmm. Just Jim's cockney cowboy joke I hope ..

Side One opens with , 'Money', a rocky re-working of the number Parsons and Pursey wrote for
Quadrophenia, and it's a fine passionate Sham stomper with great anti-commercialism lyrics except why's the guitar lost in the mix?

Next number 'Fly Dark Angel' is awful, really embarrassing as Jim tries his Dylan impersonations over a sub-Basement Tapes nonsong. What the hell's going on? Sham are capable of doing slow numbers and
doing them well, 'Everyone's Right' for example, but this just makes me cringe.

’Joey's On The Street Again' is another goodie except Jimmy still don't sound like Jimmy and the song sounds muddy. Compare the production on this to 'That's Life’ or 'Win Or Lose' or anything on the last album'. Still it's a powerful number with a strong chorus and a nice bubbling bass hook. Kermit's 'Cold Blue In The Night' is like a breath of fresh air cos it sounds like Sham and Jim sounds normal  again, he ain't putting on any airs and graces. But listen to the diction on , 'You’re A Better Man Than Me’ (originally the b-side of The Yardbirds ‘Shapes Of Things’). This might work well on stage but on the album it smacks of ‘how do we fill up the 40 minutes’.

The other side confirms this. There's 'Hersham Boys' the mighty Top Ten smash, a re-working of 'Questions And Answers' and a great live version of 'What Have We Got' (words changed to 'I've
Got You' and sounding to me like the Glasgow Apollo gig and thus featuring Steve 'n’ Paul.

This leaves just two new numbers. Both are excellent songs but both are to different extents sodded up
by that anonymous organ and the messy mix. 'Lost On Highway 46' is a full frontal belter about Jimmy Dean featuring silly frilly Cockney Rebel like keyboards, while 'Voices' is a Status Quo-sy exercise for Jim to hit back at media critics over a steamy rock and roll workout.

Free with the album comes a 12 inch single including ten minute versions of 'Borstal Breakout' and 'If The Kids Are United' which are so awful Sham's worst enemies wouldn't have believed it possible from them. 'Breakout' starts great with the lyrics re-written to feature most of Sham's song titles but soon degenerates into some sort of horrible cross between ELP and Hawkwind. 'Kids' is even worse with Jim sounding literally deranged as he goes through a prolonged 'stream of consciousness' hippy rant. It's too embarrassing to listen to.

Forgetting this vinyl waste, the album itself is thinly stretched and over ambitious. It features only five good new songs (that's a quid a piece) and even they are marred by bad production and that infuriating organ. So why?

I reckon the reason for the intrusive organ and Jim's silly voice changes is that this is his bid for critical credibility. Sham have always been slagged by media tossers and this is their attempt at acceptance and
sophistication. Except it doesn’t work and the result falls between too many stools to satisfy anyone.

On another level the album has moved away from the street reality the band have always traded in to pure escapism. Compare the covers of this and the first album. Compare the subject matter. Fly dark what?

The reason for this is obvious - the monster that Sham audiences became. And I ain't about to blame
Jimmy for the rise of neo-nazism and I don't know the answer to it either. It's not his fault that the only people willing to talk to white working class youngsters were ultra-right nutters and he certainly did his best to counter the German Movement's arguments (just as he's always done his best to put something back in the industry unlike all his big-talk contemporaries). Suffice it to say that the kids killed the band in more ways than one.

Finally the album was recorded in France with a Pursey whose mind was committed to other things - 
in particular the ill-fated Cook and Jones liaison - and it definitely shows that his heart wasn't in it. It smacks of getting out of the contract quick.

As it is the Pistols collapsed. What happens to Pursey, Parsons, Cain and Treganna now I don't know. They could get back to the roots of punk protest, they could become the Slade of the eighties, or they could carry on this 'serious' rock band mishmash. I know which one I'd prefer.

Saying all this has hurt but it needed to be said because I love Sham 69. It would have been so easy to gloss over the errors and pretend they'd gone out with a bang but the slogan says tell us the truth, right? I hope you can accept that Jim. This is not a good Sham album. For me the goodbye was 'Hersham Boys' the single, and the Glasgow Apollo gig. This is a rip-off. A mistake. It reeks of money, marketing and desperation. It makes a mockery of everything Sham stood for.

I wouldn't buy it. Parsons and Pursey are capable of much, much more.


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