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

Sunday 25 September 2022

The Boiler by Rhoda Dakar and The Special AKA - A 2 Tone Masterpiece


Once again out living area is shared with a mass of vinyl with no means of making itself heard! I knew what I had to do.... simple really, invest once again in a turntable and reignite that old passion for vinyl. Reissues do not tempt me but some of the new old material that sees the light of day does peak my interest. This was the case for a 2021 Record Store Day release of two Jerry Dammers home demos, 'Ghost Town' and 'Theme From The Boiler'. 

This got me thinking about the final early 1982 release of 'The Boiler' (which was backed by the 'Theme From The Boiler', the instrumental version). In many ways much has happened in terms of sexual attitudes in the intervening 40 years. Were it ever to be shown again we might laugh at the arse-slapping antics of the Benny Hill show but not in the way we perhaps used to, rather in a 'how on earth was that allowed to be broadcast. In a similar vein, I recall a few years back showing our son Rudi a compilation of old '70's ads as a means of demonstrating how far we have come in equality terms. In one memorable ad, a secretary looked on glumly as her male boss went about his business paying no heed to her. The following day after discovering a brand of breath freshener the boss was overcome with a passionate desire for his transformed secretary to the extent that he picked her up in a fire-man's carry and whisked her out of the room to what ends? Who knows a spot of dictation perhaps?

At the extreme of sexual violence there is then as now rape and not surprisingly not many artists of the day were brave enough to tackle such a taboo subject. Step forward Jerry Dammers and Rhoda Dakar. Rhoda was vocalist with Specials 2-Tone label mates The Bodysnatchers. The London based all female outfit were short lived, and whilst some of the musicians went on to form the Belle Stars, Rhoda kind of became an honorary Special, recording with them on the 'More Specials' album and performing with the band live throughout 1981.

I did not realise until I started to delve deeper in to the evolution of this remarkable song that it was originally a Bodysnatchers' song. It could have been their first single but Chrysalis and the band went with 'Let's Do Rock Steady', a song with at least more commercial potential than 'The Boiler'. With the early demise of the Bodysnatchers, the song effectively left the stage with them and things may have stayed that way without the involvement of Jerry Dammers, fresh out of the rubble of The Specials break up. It was under these circumstances that this little known 2-Tone original was given a second lease of life.

With the release of 'More Specials' the band dramatically veered away from the ska/Blue Beat sound that underpinned the original 2-Tone sound. Different musical styles and elements, dare I say it, of 'easy listening' came into play, brought to the fore principally by Jerry's end of the pier organ flourishes. For the reworking of 'The Boiler' the keyboard track was re-written as what could have been a score for a 1960's film-noir. The keys perfectly follow the narrative of an evening that started with high hopes but ended in an horrible act of violence. The upbeat, although rather sinister music, driven by the organ, descends as the song progresses into a cacophony of intense sound as the narrator succumbs to a brutal rape.

The single was released in January 1982 and became embroiled in the type of censorship row not witnessed since the Sex Pistols 'outraged' a Jubilee-happy population back in 1977. 

I will pause here and let contemporary interviews with Rhoda and the music press take up the story. But before I do here's what the fuss was all about. In a rare (the only I think) appearance of the song on TV thanks to the 'Oxford Road Show' Rhoda performs 'The Boiler'

'The Boiler'
Rhoda Dakar and The Special AKA
Oxford Road Show 1982

New Musical Express 23rd January 1982

The reality of rape that they’re trying to ban.

Adrian Thrills talks to Rhoda Dakar about her uncannily timed single ‘The Boiler’.

During a week in which a Crown Court judge decided that the teenage victim of convicted rapist John Allen was “guilty of a great deal of contributory negligence” in hitch-hiking alone at night, a record that stands as a harrowing tirade against violence to women has effectively been banned from the airwaves of Britain.

The record id Rhoda Dakar’s terror-stricken monologue ‘The Boiler’ on 2-Tone. Produced by Jerry Dammers and played by the Special AKA, the remnants of the post-split Specials, Rhoda’s vivid account of a rape is currently being ignored by radio programme controllers.

Radio One last week slipped the disc into their two late evening slots – John Peel and Richard Skinner – but have now dropped from all of their playlists, while one play from DJ Peter Young on London’s Capital Radio last Saturday led to listeners jamming the switchboard and a somewhat sensationalist story in the Sunday People.

A Radio One spokesman denied on Tuesday that the record had been banned, though the BBC have not played it since last weekend.

“It was played twice last week on Peel and Skinner and discussed on Saturday’s Rock On show as a review record. It hasn’t been banned, but it is unlikely that it will get future plays unless it comes up in some other context, another review or discussion show.”

But Chrysalis Records, 2-Tone distributors, maintain that this constitutes a ban – a claim refuted by the BBC.

“It isn’t a case of the BBC ignoring the record,” continues the Radio One man. “It has been played as a review record. But the general feeling is that it is unsuitable for normal radio play. The final decision is still up to the producer of each individual show, but it is unlikely that they will decide to play it.

The song itself is not a new one, dating back to Rhoda’s days as the lead singer in the all-femail 2-Tone septet The Bodysnatchers, most of whom evolved into the Belle Stars at the start of last year. It was originally intended as a Bodysnatchers’ single or album track, a plan which failed to materialize when the band split after only two singles, although it was documented in a John Peel session in 1980.

Rhoda herself is realistically pessimistic as to the single’s commercial potential. She’s grateful to finally have the chance to release it.

“I don’t really expect it to be a hit, but I hope that people will get to hear it. I never expected it to get any airplay, so any play that it does get is going to be a bonus really. It wasn’t released to be a massive hit. It was done ‘cos it’s a good song worth recording.”

Was it written deliberately to shock?

“I didn’t think of it that way when I was writing it. It just came from a jam we were doing during rehearsals. I started ad-libbing and it just came out, but its not from any personal experience thank goodness. Then again, I think that it did come as a shock to a lot of the people who went along to the early Bodysnatcher gigs.”

The single’s release could hardly have been more uncannily timed, coming the week before Judge Bertrand Richard’s ludicrous courtroom leniency and the subsequent outcry.

“It just leaves you speechless when you hear things like that,” says Rhoda, “but seems to sum up the reaction of a lot of people to the crime of rapists. It certainly isn’t treated with the seriousness it should be, not in this country anyway. In America, for example, it is taken a lot more seriously, maybe because it’s more of a problem out there.

“In Britain, rape is something you don’t talk about, even if it happens to you. The attitude of a lot of people is that girls on their own are just asking for it by the way they dress or the fact that they are walking around late at night… we are almost conditioned to think that if a girl gets raped, then it’s her own fault, which is ridiculous.”

“A woman walking around late at night is somehow regarded as inviting some sort of approach. They just assume that you’re looking for a bloke. It’s the same stupid attitude.”

Jerry Dammers’ ingenious treatment of the song and the eerie keyboard motif that hovers ominously in the background as the record builds to a chilling crescendo have totally transformed it from the version that used to highlight Bodysnatchers’ sets, and Rhoda is quick to acknowledge the talents of theman they call The General.

“It is totally different from the way we used to do it in The Bodysnatchers. I don’t profess to know much about music itself, so I listened to a lot of the advice Jerry gave me. The arrangement is now totally different – Jerry seemed to be thinking of something along the lines of a really spooky Hitchcock movie soundtrack.”

Rhoda has been playing live with The Specials immediately before the summer split and appeared on those two superb Top Of The Pops versions of ‘Ghost Town’ when the single was number one. But she maintains that she was very much the outsider when it came to the end of the band.

“I wasn’t really in on that very much. I was basically just a holidaymaker, doing a few gigs with a band that I really liked. I never really tried to be part of the band, ‘cos I knew that I wasn’t.

“In a way, from being involved with them, I could see that the split was coming – but when it arrived, it still came as a surprise. Not so much because the gravy train had come to a halt…. Just because it was the end of a brilliant band.”

Rhoda’s future involvement with The Special AKA is not yet certain, as the nebulous unit of Dammers, drummer Brad, bassman Horace and guitarist, John Shipley, once a Swinging Cat, are still in the process of finding their feet. What seems most probable is that The Special AKA will function as a production company, rather than a fixed band, with various vocalists and instrumentalists guesting regularly on an array of projects – a single with Rico has already been recorded and a follow-up to ‘The Boiler’ entitled ‘Female Chauvanist Pig’ has been written and a demo made.

“I don’t know whether there is going to be any sort of permanent set up. I see Brad and Jerry from time to time, but there hasn’t been any talk of a fixed group. There is some studio time booked soon, so I suppose whoever turns up is going to be part of The Special AKA!

“To be honest, I couldn’t really tell you what’s going to happen ‘cos I don’t really know…”

Record Mirror made 'The Boiler' one of their singles of the week in its week of release. They also made reference to the scandalous Crown Court judgement in the John Allen case.

Record Mirror 16th January 1982

The storm broke quickly with stories of retail bands appearing on page 3 of the following weeks edition which also featured an interview with Rhoda.

Record Mirror 23rd January 1982

2-Tone's follow up to'Ghost Town' is equally timely and a good deal more controversial. The Single is ‘The Boiler' and its subject is rape. As a result, it's been banned by the BBC. MARK COOPER meets up with RHODA, ex -Bodysnatcher, and listens to her side of the story.

'Come outside, there's a lovely moon out there .. .' (Mike Sarne)

The first sound is the bass drum. At first it's just a beat and then it begins to growl and grow louder - as if in pursuit. The 'steady beat' of the dance song turns into a nightmare while the circus organ  turns eerie and the cornet whistles down the wind.

Lulled by the conventional voice of the London 'dolly bird' you think you ' are safe until you realise you're in it, pop turns to shock and this is no longer seduction but rape, not sex but violence. This is Rhoda's 'The Boiler', the scariest Single since 'Watching The Detectives' and a good deal more topical to boot. 

Rhoda Dakar used to Sing with The Bodysnatchers, 2-Tone's all-women group. Although that group had something of a frivolous reputation, Rhoda's own interests were never escapist:

"That band contained all kinds of different viewpoints from outright feminist way on in."

'The Boiler' was the first original song that The Bodysnatchers ever performed: " I wrote the words in the tube going to Camden Town for rehearsal. The group could never agree to put it out as a single. Some of them felt it was too hardline and wouldn't help us commercially."

Eventually, these differing attitudes in The Bodysnatchers' caused them to split. Rhoda continued to perform the song with the Specials: "One of the reasons I believe this song will survive is that it's been performed over two hundred times. It's been written about and it's got a reputation. It always shocked people. Sometimes they'd just be quiet or sometimes they'd laugh, kind of hysterically."

"Jerry (Dammers) has always wanted to record the song. He wanted it to be The Bodysnatchers' first single. Now he's changed the music. The Bodysnatchers' already had music which they put the words to while Jerry wrote this music specially.

"We just kept the piano riff which was stolen from somewhere anyway. Jerry's music sounds like a soundtrack from a film." Rhoda will perform the song again, if and when The Special AKA play live.

Rhoda's rap has suffered for its topicality and for being explicit. Like Dury's 'Spasticus Autisticus', an inspired dance tune for the disabled (with all ironies intended), 'The Boiler' is being stifled. Meanwhile Bucks Fizz are Number One and their make-believe view of the sexes is played day in and day out until you too might believe that life is all smiles and knowing winks. Now listen to 'Make Believe' and 'The Boiler' and you tell me which is obscene' and which is healthier and then tell me why 'The Boiler' is being silenced.

The BBC's new method of killing a single is more effective than the outright ban. They probably got a few tips from the Polish government. Rhoda explains it to me in a record company office, her voice quiet but calm and only occasionally revealing the London twang that is 'The Boiler's’ everyday voice.

"The BBC don't make outright bans anymore because the last time they did that, it was 'God Save The Queen' which went to Number One. They will play it in connection with 'relevant discussion' on the grounds that if you're discussing something that people consider offensive to begin with, they needn't listen. They believe that if the record just comes up in normal air time it'll surprise and offend.

"Thankfully, Chrysalis haven't withdrawn the record - unlike Polydor with 'Spasticus' with which the record company were in collusion with the BBC. Polydor withdrew the single and, naturally, it sank without trace. Apart from the Pistols, all the records that have been banned have disappeared. After the Pistols, they no longer give the record the notoriety of banning it. They just don't play it.'

And so the voice of sanity and the voice of women is silenced. Instead we are offered a diet of make believe or the pornographic fantasies of heavy metal; clever lads like Phil Lynott describing himself as a 'Killer On The Loose', while the Ripper is murdering women. Women who supposedly want it. Who is obscene, the rapist or the victim? You tell me.

Rhoda doesn't condemn the male pin-up mentality or the male sex, though well she might: "All men aren't pro-rape. A lot of men find it just as horrific as I do. Just because you're into Page Three doesn't mean you’re pro-rape. That's quite a jump. There are plenty of men who're quite happy to look at pictures of women's tits who wouldn't go out and rape somebody."

But Rhoda is quick to point out that rape is not sexy or sexual, although it is an act of force directed against a person's sex. A woman's sex.

"Rape as I understand it is an act of force and violence, not a sexual act. A man tries to impose his will on a woman by force. If it's a sexual act, why do old women get raped? Rape is a way of asserting superiority.

"It’s more the attitude of the policeman, the husband, the boyfriend, that is supported by the Page Three way of looking at women, an attitude that blames the victim, that says that if you go round looking like that: 'What do you expect?'" 

"The woman in 'The Boiler' calls herself a boiler, she believes herself to be a boiler. And the consequence in the song, indirect no doubt, is that she's raped. Is this another way of blaming the victim? Ask Rhoda.

"Women are often their own worst enemies. Perhaps it's a divide and rule policy by this mythical male (whoever he is) who rules the world. You begin to accept the ideas that are forced upon you." The woman in the song is always a boiler in her own eyes and always helpless. Are women that helpless?

"When it comes to rape, a man is always going to be stronger than me which annoys me no end. Unless I can run a two-minute mile, if a bloke's got hold of me, there really isn't that much that I can do. If you get frozen with fear, you’re trapped and once a bloke has hit you a couple of times, what can you do, you can't get up. It's not like the TV fights that go on for half an hour."

'The Boiler' takes place not on the TV but in the realm of the kitchen-sink, where the dance hall has turned to the alleyway, the mascara has run, and the smell of the perfume has turned to the smell of piss. Here we are, back in the ghost town.

Rhoda and the boiler are obviously not one and the same. Rhoda played in the all-woman 2-Tone band, The Bodysnatchers. Although it was at a rehearsal that she heard the word ‘boiler’ (from a roadie), she says that that band escaped many of the worst consequences of being women in the male world of rock: "Most of the bands we played with were 2-Tone bands and they were all 'cool' . Once we started playing with normal groups we started to encounter the strange attitudes like: 'Do they really need a soundcheck, they 're only girls, etc'."

Where did the character of the boiler come from then? "I suppose the character is how I see a 'typical ' girl. She's may be how I could have been. A lot of women seem to see themselves in terms of the blokes they know and are or aren't going out with. You're only as important as your bloke. Most of the women I went to school with are married, only about three of them aren't.' And I went to a so called 'good' school, a grammar school."

Rhoda isn't blaming women or men but rather an attitude, a male attitude with which women often collude. " 'The Boiler' isn't addressed to a particular sex (not as if there's about five of them anyway) but to people. It was written and recorded for its own sake and written about an attitude, to women and to rape, an attitude that comes as much from women as it does from men, unfortunately. 

"You'll find women who have high executive positions and yet not tell her boyfriends' mates that she works. She doesn't like them to know that she's more successful than he (I don 't suppose he's too keen either).

"At work such women have authority yet all too often they'll leave the men to make all the decisions at home. Feminism has got us the jobs, but it hasn't changed our homes and private lives enough yet."

The next song she’s working on is called 'Female Chauvinist Pig'. She'll explain it: "Female chauvinism supports male chauvinism. A lot of women like to manipulate men, twist them round their little fingers as the saying goes while at the other extreme you have the Sun's idea of a feminist, the woman with a crop and, dungarees who claims that men are a mutation of women and are separatists. The song attacks both extremes. I’m more anti-sexist than definitely feminist.

"I don't know who this superwoman I believe in is but she's not this manipulative woman nor this separatist woman. I wouldn’t presume to say separatism is wrong or anything. It's just not for me."

Rhoda's voice is a sane voice, a calm voice that's not afraid of uncertainty and yet has reached some definite conclusions. Why is it that 'The Boiler' is unheard when pop-pap porno like Bucks Fizz fills the airwaves?

"This conspiracy is all around us everywhere. We're supposedly to think like Bucks Fizz. So much so that it's 'The Boiler' that uncovers the secrets of the underside of pap and lays them bare. If they don't want you to hear it, are you going to obey? Better scream than simper.


I'll leave the last word if I may to Nicky Summers, bass player of The Bodysnatchers and musician on the reworked version of 'The Boiler'. Here she discusses the song on her blog back in December 2017:

"Bodysnatchers songs came about with the music first . We would generally collaborate and  jam on pieces of music or someone would have a few chords, bass line , or keyboard line . Rhoda would then be inspired by our musical output and put the  lyrics to it. She would listen to us play in rehearsals and write while we played.

The Boiler - we used to jam around a 1960's sounding keyboard riff and gradually this piece of music grew . I remember coming out of Gaz Mayall's club , Gaz’ Rockin’  Blues,  one night and asking Rhoda to put lyrics to it. She came along to the next rehearsal and improvised over the music an experience of a rape.

The song title was called this because the manager of the Nips , a guy called Howard used to refer to women as ‘Boilers’  ..I think we were being ironic when we called the song that .

The audience reaction …generally stunned silence ..they didn’t used to even clap hardly after we played it , but they were always definitely transfixed by the song .

Jerry Dammers did a different treatment of the song and I re-wrote the bass line when we recorded it with Rhoda and the Special AKA .

I like both versions of the song , The Bodysnatchers version was more of a 60’s r and b thrash. It was powerful to play live , it is a challenging song for any audience , I think more powerful live than Dammer’s version which is manicured with production . 

The song itself had to be written, played and recorded  . I am glad and proud to have been part of it ."

No comments:

Post a Comment