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

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Angelic Upstarts Sounds Interview 1st April 1978

Probably one of the first national press interviews with the Upstarts from UK music weekly 'Sounds' from almost exactly 41 years ago!

Who Killed Liddle?" On stage a tall young man wearing a police hat, white shirt, trousers and jackboots is down on his hands and knees. Necks crane to see what's happening.

"Who killed Liddle?" He is eyeball to eyeball with a pig's head which sits there obscene and inert
apart from the slight scum of blood oozing out on to the boards. 

"Police killed Liddle Towers'" 

And the Angelic Upstarts erupt.

'Questions are unanswered/Policemen scared to talk/ Perhaps they're hiding something/Will our message get across/ Please tell me why I did he die/ Tell me now/Tell me how. '
The Liddle Towers case has gradually got under the skin of North-East People, particularly those who see his death as an extreme example of what can and does happen to them.

Probably you know the background: more than two years ago on leaving a club in Chester-Ie-Street, Co. Durham, Mr Towers was arrested by a group of policemen for being drunk and disorderly and at some stage, either then or in the cells, suffered injuries from which he later died; the inquest jury brought in the staggering verdict of 'justifiable homicide' which seemingly rendered any minor felon liable to summary execution; since then the Home Secretary has repeatedly refused to clarify the affair by means of a public enquiry.

The Upstarts are not exploiting that situation. Rather they recognise it, know its realities deep in their bones. As Decca Wade their drummer puts it, they have all lived for 20 years and never even made it to the bottom rung of the ladder yet. He, Mensi and Mond, the guitarist, grew up together on the Brockley Whinns estate, South Shields (bassist Steve is a 'wetback' from across the Tyne in north Shields). It's hard.

Talking with them at length when they played South Shields Bolingbroke Hall and the Whitley Bay Rex Hotel kept on making me think about our Rock-Racism features (Sounds, last week). In an area with few coloured people th Upstarts and their generation have been weaned on social deprivation and poverty. Change the colour of their skins and you'd call it a ghetto. Which just proves that colour is irrelevant and racism an evil deception and deflection from the issues that matter in improving the lot of all peoples.

'To seek out an identity /You alienate society' ('Upstarts'). 

Decca: Steve's posh y'naa but where we come from they've got mudguards on the Hoover. They  built a youth club on the estate. Why, aa wouldn't say it's a dive but Jacques Cousteau is the bouncer."

The blues say 'Bin down since I began to crawl.' Born punks like the Upstarts have been hitting back since they could lift a hand in protest. Not winning though. Not yet. So they've always been in trouble.

Memories of their gang's failures as delinquents crease them up with mirth now - the thought of all that posing as hard men and 'pros' which some of their mates still do as they strut down the corridor to the cells yet again.

Mensi: "We've got 43 car thefts and 96 traffic offences between us (guffaws)."

Decca: "Dee ye remember those lads that tried to break into Martin's Bank by braying in the front door with a brick (chuckles)?" .

Mensi: "And when ye got done for nicking that big copper boiler ... it weighs a ton and they got 20 dole wallahs together to roll it along to where they can cut it up. Dead inconspicuous like. The polliss find Decca and a couple of other lads with saws and ask who helped them shift it. 'Naybody' they say. 'Ye must be bloody bionic,' say the cops (collapses in a heap)."

Decca: "Aye. Aa threw Domestos over the vicar once, y'naa."

Gullible Soundsman: "Good Grief!"

Decca: "They done me for bleach of the priest (groans)."

The average reaction in these grim urban settings is to let the bastards grind you down. Pulped people feel no pain. So far the Upstarts have not yielded though the band is probably the first constructive outlet they've found.

Where frustration ruled they begged or borrowed motorbikes and crazy-rode them over the pit heaps. Two fingers to the shapeless, shifting enemy they all detested - authority.

They hated school but when they got out what else was on offer?

Mensi: "They stuck a youth club down on the estate and then thought they' d solved our problems forever more. But who runs it? A polliss. He waint let people in with safety pins in their clothes."

Decca put in a good word for the man because he'd helped him paint a couple of P A columns of  doubtful origin for the club .

'So you're the youth leader / You're the man in charge of this place / You're the leader / You're  the one with double face I Try to stop them breakin windows / Keep the kids off the street / It don't matter how you do it / You're the sort that lands on your feet' - ('Youth Leader') 

It's almost surprising that since they left school at 16 on the whole the Upstarts haven't been 'dole
wallahs'. They all went into heavy industry. Decca served his time as a 'burner' in the shipyards and Mond is still there as an electrician ("I've got to. There's £8 a week to pay in fines for my motoring offences.").

Mensi was an apprentice down Westee pit for three years before quitting because he couldn't stand the shift work and the wet conditions any more (the coal face is a mile or so out under the North Sea - "I saw three men dead in my time down there"). Steve still works as a builder's labourer an mentions casually that he owns two cars ("I'm rough, but they're rougher than me, that's why they take the piss." Mensi: "The singer rolled on his back and groaned 'Every band's got its Glen Matlock to    bear.' ").

I think they should write the first(?) punk work songs. But for the moment other subjects are more
immediate because when they formed the band they gave a focus to the opposition they had been
aware of all their lives.

Mensi and Mond, inspired by the Buzzcocks' 'Spiral Scratch' EP, founded the Upstarts last summer. Their first gig was arranged for the Civic Hall in neighbouring Jarrow. At the first whisper of 'punk' a councillor objected but was overruled.

However, the worst fears were realized when the audience, people who shared the Upstarts’ frustrations surely, threw everything I sight at the band as if they were the enemy. Roadie Skin Brown was hit on the head by a table and had seven stitches in the cut. The bass player and drummer quit on the spot.

Mensi wrote this:

‘Everywhere you go it always seems the same / Small town small minds never seem to change / Quick to condem you / Always out of hand / Stranger in a strange world / Stranger in their land’ (‘Small Town Small Minds’)

‘They rebuilt the band but it didn’t get any easier. When they hired the Bolingbroke Hall the residents of the street got up a petition against it which, again to their credit, the council turned down.

Mensi was attacked in the street by an old woman outraged by his Swastika armband: “She set about me with her umbrella. Ah tried to tell her it didn’t mean anything, we only do it to annoy people but she wouldn't listen. So ah ran away. Never moved so fast."

On the other hand a leader of the local branch of the National Front was seen down at the police station, complaining about the Upstarts abusing them: 'Facism kills' is scrawled across the front of Mensi's shirt and on their backdrop there's a 'Smash The Front' .

To me that is one way they should clean up their act. The confusion is not only provocative but damaging. The fact is they oppose the Front and it's too delicate an issue for ambiguity, whether artistic or sheer bloodyminded. While defining their opposition they also need to let their potential supporters know exactly where they stand.

Their chaotic 'progress' continued through to another near riot at the Londonderry pub in Sunderland. Mond: "They loved the way we played but they took it on themselves to beat us up afterwards. "

This is about where a remarkable character called Keith Bell came into their lives. He is 32, shortish but built like Gibraltar, and describes himself as 'gangster (retired)' . The boys dragged him along to see the Damned and the Dead Boys and he was startled to find that punk was his music. He agreed to look after the Upstarts until someone suitable who knew the biz came along and he's been doing a formidable job of it ever since.

Keith is acknowledged as one of the hardest men in Shields. The first time I met him he produced a police handbill with pictures of the areas 'heavies' and guided me round it. "He was mine .. . that one I bit his thumb off in a fight . . . and that's me.”

Obviously he can be the baddest of bad news. His reputation alone preserves order at the Upstarts gigs now but it would be ridiculous for me to swathe his activities in the blanket glow of romantic
admiration for the outlaw. Yet he also has a sort of honesty and openness that commands respect
aside from his physical presence.

I have a feeling that he sees himself a dozen years ago in lads like Mensi. Not that he's approaching the job in the spirit of a priest or a social worker – his main ethical principle he sums up as "beating the system" and he means to see that the Upstarts do that by the only route available to them, music (and record deals, fame and fortune are a kind of victory on its own terms over a system designed to forever crush those at the bottom of the pyramid, even though it's for a few individuals and the structure is unchanged). 

Mensi says that he has been stopped in his car eight times in two months and ordered to present hispapers at the cop shop. The sum total of offences was one faulty rear light: "They had a party at the police club that night. The lad who got me was promoted to sergeant."

Then they played at the Talk Of The Town (Shields that is), Mensi got a bit carried away and flashed his butt at a heckler. They seemed to go down well but a couple of days later they heard that the club owners had been warned about a possible prosecution which could cost them their licence if a similar act were presented again .

‘I just can 't take much more of this oppression/ I'm goin of my head and it's causin a depression/ Why can 't I go out for a walk/ Why can 't \i sit down and have a talk/ They 're asking me how and they're asking me why / Have you ever seen grown men cry ?' - ('Police Oppression ')

Mensi wanted to know what was going on, asked for an interview with the chief, Superintendent Leach, and got it. Mensi reckoned "He was a kind enough bloke" and their conversation had its entertaining side. The Supt. Was curious about how the Upstarts came by their police hats. He also mentioned that in the small hours earlier that week while proceeding in a homeward direction he had to brake violently to avoid an object lying on a zebra crossing which, on closer examination, proved to be a somewhat festering pig's head. The Supt. had a shrewd idea of how it got there.

But the serious business was that Supt. Leach had a report from two of his officers about possible
breaches of the laws against obscenity and incitement to violence (specifically through 'Liddle Towers', 'Police Oppression' and the kicking suffered by the pig, the symbolism of which was not lost on them). Mensi understood that the venues would be prosecuted rather than the band but basically took it that they were being warned off.

I checked with the Supt. who did indeed seem an affable sort and he was shocked at the suggestion.

"I explained the law to them," he said. All the difference in the world eh? "I pointed out that the act they performed could be offensive to public decency or that it could be taken to incite people to
violence against a member of the police. "

He said the bum-baring was his main concern though that was a one-off gesture of irritation by Mensi. He held that "Everyone is entitled to their own opinions", including on the Liddle Towers
case, but agreed that the possible incitement prosecution could be taken as a form of artistic censorship. He said it was the courts not him who decided on guilt but he agreed it would be his
whether or not to prosecute.

Supt. Leach was amiable to Mensi and amiable to me. A polite family man. I’m sure he believed he
hadn't been so rude as to 'warn off' the Upstarts yet how else can it be taken? If a theatre was leant on like this there would be hell to pay - after all that's Art, middle-class, grant-aided. But perhaps instinct has sussed where the more flesh and- blood threat comes from.

Of course the Upstarts will not yield. At current gigs the pig is likely to get the treatment with an axe borrowed from a gent called Mad Willie. But it's dubious whether any more promoters in Shields will risk having them.

As if that weren't enough to cope with, Decca had been thrown out of his home by his mother: "Aa've got nay money because someone shopped me to the dole about the band. But get no money from the band either! Anyway she was fed up and she came for me with a poker. My doctor' advised me never to get hit with a poker so aa left."

Keith offered him a bed for the night and grouched about how they were always spoiling his evenings coming round with their problems. They joked about him being the all time unlikeliest mother-figure.

Then Decca said what it all meant to him: "Aa'm five foot six sitting here and Aa'm six foot tall when Aa get on stage. The best time to play is when Aa'm mad."

Some days after I'd finished writing this feature and wondered whether I'd ended up glorifying what I detest - violence - I got a phone call from Mensi. He said they had been due to play at the Lees Club, Sunderland, that night but that at 5.30 that morning the licencee had been woken by police and given much the same warning-off/explanation of the law received earlier by the proprietors of the Talk Of The Town, South Shields.

The gig was cancelled and other Sunderland clubs have become suddenly chary of the Upstarts. The Lees Club management have refused to comment. Likewise the Northumbria police as to whether this incident did occur, and whether the Upstarts are being systematically banned from all licenced premises in the area.

Meanwhile the Upstarts booked themselves another gig at the 'dry' Bolingborke Hall. And they cut their single, 'Police Oppression/Who Killed Liddle Towers', at a local studio - 500 copies ordered
because that's all they can afford.

1 comment:

  1. My pics! You should credit me.

    rik walton