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 30 August 2020

JJ Burnel and Dave Greenfield on European Female (The Guardian 2nd March 2020)


Here's an interesting piece that appeared in UK's Guardian newspaper back in march before all this madness reared it's ugly head. In it Jean-Jacques talks of his European heritage and the story behind the creation of 'European Female', one of the band's last major hit singles and Dave recalls the recording of it.

I love the idea that 'Feline' was intended to bring together and blend the musical styles of both Northern and Southern Europe. Certainly, the touring schedule promoting the album in Europe was punishing with 50 plus dates across the continent (including the UK) throughout 1983.

The tour gave rise to some of the finest live recordings from the band. At that time a pivotal point in the set was the coupling of 'Midnight Summer Dream' and 'European Female' a feature that returned for the 2013 tour but was not pulled off with the panache of the 1983 version. Listening to 'MSD' on the '83 evokes in my mind grand European cathedrals but then again I could just be being a poetic old fool. There is no doubt however that 'Feline' has a very European feel to it, as indeed the band intended it to be.

Jean-Jacques Burnel, singer-songwriter, bass

"I was once described in France as “the most English Frenchman and the most French Englishman”. I was born in London to French parents, which was a source of much angst when I was growing up, because I wanted to be English. When I went to a posh grammar school in Guildford, I called myself John because I wanted to fit in. So on the pictures of me in the rugby team I was John Burnel.

I was in the cadets but becoming an officer in the British Army wasn’t open to me, which was another reminder of me being French. English boys’ mums didn’t kiss me at the school gates. I had quite a few punch-ups at school. When I went to college in Huddersfield, a bloke I shared a house with confronted me because my mum sent me a letter addressed to “Jean-Jacques”. He turned out to be the local National Front organiser. I started to think a lot about identity. I guess a lot of immigrants feel the same thing. I started to embrace my Frenchness and the European project early on. My solo album Euroman Cometh, in 1979, was about the ideal of a united Europe and the recognition that more binds us than separates us.

The Stranglers’ Feline album was an attempt to marry the northern element of Europe – represented by synthesisers and electronic drums – with the southern element of Spanish and acoustic guitars. We had songs about Paris and Rome. The concept of Feline was that Europe wasn’t a bulldozer, but was slowly, stealthily taking control.

European Female (In Celebration Of) was an attempt to address my identity and in a way it was my European version of Californian Girls by the Beach Boys. I was going out with a Parisian ballerina, Anna, at the time, so I projected my idea of Europe on to a person. She had green eyes, like in the song. When the French speak, they pout – it’s the way we form words – so “when she speaks, her lips are kissing”. It was a passionate, very destructive relationship, but for three years “she had me in her spell”, which was the idea behind putting us in cages in the video. The line, “We’ll be together for a thousand years” is using the cliche of the thousand year Reich, but in a love song.

I came in with the bass and lyrics and Hugh [Cornwell] added the guitar and harmony on the chorus. If he says I sing it like Marlene Dietrich, I’ll take that. It needed a certain type of delivery. You couldn’t shout or scream it."

Dave Greenfield, keyboards

"We recorded it in Brussels, but that wasn’t anything to do with the concept of the song. At the time, you used to save tax by recording overseas, so we recorded a few albums over there. We all had apartments near the studio. Not the height of luxury, but it was a nice working environment. Our girlfriends – mine then is my wife now – were often in the studio. There’s a good chance that Anna, the European Female, was watching while we were recording it.

The song was produced by Steve Churchyard and mixed by Tony Visconti. We’d generally get ideas in the rehearsal room and then work them out there, long before recording. For European Female, I just came up with something on my old synthesiser to go with the band’s bits. The best ideas come pretty quickly. With Golden Brown, for example, I was working on a song called Second Coming with Jet [Black, drummer] but came up with something that didn’t fit, but that unused part eventually became Golden Brown. The keyboard melody for European Female is mostly spontaneous, or very close to it. It’s just two chords, with arpeggios over them. It’s pretty simple, but it fits.

It was our third Top 10 of 1982 following Golden Brown and Strange Little Girl, but it was one of the Top of the Pops appearances where we behaved ourselves. The Musician’s Union guy used to make you rerecord all the tracks [to then mime to on the show], so we’d distract him and use the original. There was a lot of hanging around, so to try and make things more entertaining for ourselves we do things like play the wrong instruments or mime very badly. I once pretended to play with gloves on the end of sticks. We did a TV show in Germany where Jet spent the entire song sawing up a bass drum."

Friday 28 August 2020

Anarcho Punk in 500 pieces


I have to admit that over the last 35 years or so I have been partial to a bit of anarcho punk. Crass, Conflict, Rudimentary Peni and Subhumans.... whilst not an anarchist, the words as well as the actions of these bands has been a big influence on my life since my mid teens. 

Little did I suspect that an appreciation of these bands and their undoubtedly iconic sleeve artwork would find expression in the form of jigsaw puzzles!

And yet, I have to admit (your shit... AYS remember them?) I am quite partial to the calming influence of a large jigsaw and they have been very popular in our house during the COVID situation.

If you like the therapeutic benefits of fitting long sought after pieces together, but like something a bit more edgy (edgy jigsaws!) than puppies, kittens and other chocolate box scenes, take a look here:

P.S. I am not on a commission!

Ramones Top of The Pops UK TV 29th June 1995


Joey Ramone in the Top of the Pops Studio
(Broadcast 29th June 1995)

Da Brudders back in the UK in the Summer of 1995 promoting the final 'Adios Amigos' album. This appearance as I recall was something of a rarity for the show as very few bands had ever been afforded the opportunity to play two songs on the same show. The Beatles did it once, plus one other.... and The Ramones did it with this back to back performance/mime to 'I Don't Wanna Grow Up' and 'Cretin Family'.

Some criticize the band as being one dimensional and perhaps that could be leveled at them towards the end, although personally I thought that their mid career early '80's efforts were the problem rather than what came later. The fact is that the band were iconic and love 'em or hate 'em they inspired just as many young people in the UK to form a band as the Pistols did. 

If you haven't seen it I would recommend that you watch 'The End of the Century' documentary on the band. On the strength of that it is a wonder that they managed to achieve anything let alone some of punk's finest moments!

Johnny and CJ Ramone in the Top of the Pops Studio
(Broadcast 29th June 1995)

01. I Don't Wanna Grow Up
02. Cretin Family

CJ Ramone in the Top of the Pops Studio
(Broadcast 29th June 1995)

Hugh Cornwell Islington Academy London 13th April 2005


One for the birthday boy. Happy Birthday to our own Hugh Cornwell.

01. No More Heroes
02. Snapper
03. Bring On The Nubiles
04. Do Right Bayou
05. Tramp
06. Story Of Harry Power
07. Duchess
08. Henry Moore
09. Hanging Around
10. Black Hair Black Eyes Black Suit
11. Nuclear Device
12. Miss Teezyweazy

01. I Feel Like A Wog
02. Nice 'N' Sleazy
03. First Bus To Babylon
04. Spain
05. Torture Garden
06. Dead Loss Angeles
07. Cadiz
08. Shakin' Like A Leaf
09. Beauty On The Beach
10. Peaches
11. Land Of A 1000 Kisses

Saturday 22 August 2020

The Damned Top Rank Reading 22nd November 1981


I looked for a recording of the band at Manchester University on 21st November 1981, the night that Record Mirror caught up with the band but in vain. Instead here's the band in action the following night in Reading. The contrast between the inbetween song chaos and the bands ever more sophisticated songs has always struck me as being quite amusing! Thanks to Barry Hutchinson for the gig.

WAV (from MP3 for burning purposes):

01. Lively Arts
02. Wait For The Blackout
03. Disco Man
04. I Just Can’t Be Happy Today
05. Plan 9 Channel 7
06. The Limit Club
07. Fan Club (Cuts)
08. Fan Club (Continued)
09. Stage Banter
10. Noise Noise Noise
11. Love Song (Cuts)
12. Love Song (Continued) 
13. Neat Neat Neat
14. Drum Solo
15. New Rose
16. Smash It Up (Parts 1 & 2)
17. Citadel (Cuts)
18. Looking At You (Cuts)
19. Looking At You (Continued)

The Damned Interview (Record Mirror 12th December 1981)

Record Mirror conducted an interview with The Damned part way through (after their Manchester University show on the 21st November 1981) an extensive UK tour to promote the newly released Friday 13th EP. 

In the interview the band discuss their musical direction and psychedelia as well as talk about tinnitus, anarchy and autographs and a dislike of fame. In my opinion the Friday 13th EP is a perfect piece of vinyl serving as a great stepping stone from 'The Black Album' to 'Strawberries'. This was The Damned at their creative peak a couple of years before the slump. It was released on Friday 13th November 1981 as part of a one-off record deal with NEMS. Opening with 'Disco Man' then as now a staple in the live set, there follows 'The Limit Club' the band's heartfelt tribute to Malcolm Owen of the Ruts, who had succumbed to his heroin addition back in the summer of the previous year. On the flip side is the upbeat 'Billy Bad Breaks' and 'Citadel' a Jagger and Richards composition that suited them very well indeed. Inclusion of 'Citadel', a track that appeared on the Rolling Stones' 1967 album 'Their Satanic Majesties Request' is indicative of the confidence existing within The Damned at that time. To cover a song by one of the premier dinosaur band's that were in punk's cross-hairs five years earlier was rather a bold move. But as they are at great pains to say in the interview, “We’re not doing what they want us to do. We’re doing what we want to do.”

Insults without injury

It’s been nearly five years since the DAMNED first blitzkreiged the nation with ‘New Rose’. WINSTON SMITH travels first class with 1977’s premier survivors.

Squeezed into the shoebox sized dressing room backstage at Manchester University, are The Damned.

Rat Scabies (drums), Captain Sensible (guitar), Paul Gray (bass), Roman (keyboards for the tour) and Dave Vanian (vocals) majestically ghoulish as ever, sit pondering over the set and tuning up. Local fans stroll in. The band know them all by name. One lad starts strumming Damned numbers on the Captain’s guitar. He’s only heard the new record once, but he knows it already. The Captain assists, while another fan has his technique for playing the intro to ‘Happy….’ Improved on by Paul Gray.

This must be the positive punk effect.

The Damned are currently on an exhausting 23-date tour of Britain which leaves them a meagre two day break. Their Tony Mansfield (of New Muzik fame) produced ‘Friday 13th EP’ has recently been released by new label NEMS, and on December 20th, they headline the Christmas On Earth punk festival in Leeds.

The current show draws from the first, third and fourth albums, with nothing taken from ‘Music For Pleasure’. Watching The Damned tonight, it becomes perfectly clear just how much they have developed over their five year career, how much more than just a punk group they have now become, The audience, as usual, go absolutely nuts.

After two encores, during which audience over-enthusiasm sees a lighting rig come dangerously close to toppling over, the lights are switched on, and the shattered, sopping wet crowd file out, contented and invigorated.

Backstage afterwards, Rat Scabies isn’t happy about that lighting rig. “Never again am I going to do a student gig!” The rest agree. “So what did you think of the lights?” asks Rat with genuine interest.

The lights, which I’d seen earlier, are an interesting new addition to the band’s stage show. They involve groovy, colourful shapes and patterns, projected onto the screen or wall behind them. My rather pathetic reply to Rat’s question , to the effect that I thought the lights were pretty psychedelic, was greeted with howls of derisive laughter.

“Wrong word” says the phantom, with an evil leer.

A stream of adjectives describing the lights, follows swiftly.





I should have realised it was my imagination…. that The Damned go their own way regardless. Lights, concept albums – even slow songs are all part of them.

“The whole essence of the punk thing was to do whatever you want to do and fuck everyone else!” says Paul Gray. “We’re not doing what they want us to do. We’re doing what we want to do.”

Out of the university and onto the tour coach. And a very nice coach it is too. There’s a video, a small bar, and thankfully, a toilet. It seems that in the end, the extra cost for a few luxuries pays off. I for one was certainly grateful for it later on.

As we make our way to the hotel, the gig momentarily forgotten, the group start to worry about their hearing. The Captain’s ears are already damaged.

“The first thing that goes,” he says boisterously “is the top end, and then some of the middle, and then you start hearing just humming noises. When I’m in the studio, I have to tell the engineer ‘Don’t take no notice of me when I say put more treble on everything.’”

Have you ever thought of wearing earplugs like Ted Nugent does?

“Does he wear earplugs?.... Why does he play so loud if he has to wear earplugs? The berk!” Quite.

But enough, what about psychedelia? There is definitely, a distinct psychedelic flavour to some of The Damned’s music. Yet Rat seems surprised.

“I wouldn’t say psychedelic, I’d say that what we’re leaning towards musically now, is something that’s surprising. Something that’s a bit off the wall. We’re trying to do something that’s new.”

The Captain chips in: “Do you know where that comes from, all that stuff? It comes from four people’s minds, you know. We don’t do it consciously.”

Captain Sensible puts his feet up on the table in from of me. “The great thing about this band is we don’t follow trends. Although we get the punks to our gigs, and we enjoy their company, we don’t pander to their tastes.” Rat agrees. “That audience tonight, would have been happy if we just played the first album.”

With real passion in his voice, the Captain continues: “As far as people who are coming through, what we really would like is blacks, whites, skinheads, punks, hippies, morons…. And brain surgeons. Let ‘em all come!”And Rat: “You’d be surprised at the cross-section that do like us. You said earlier that there weren’t many punks at the gig compared to a London crowd. But even the London audience is getting like that now, getting more of a cross-section.”

But you can imagine The Damned appealing more to the straight ‘rock fan’ now?

“I like bleedin’ everyone!” replies the Capt. “Let ‘em all come, anyone!”Rat: “We’ve even got fans in the police. There were a couple at the hotel last night, and a couple in Camden too!”

Sensible: “There ain’t enough blacks coming to see us! I don’t know why, but there ain’t enough.” Rat and I argue that a lot might be scared of by the possibility of racial violence.

“Any of my audience who would lay one finger on a black man needs a kick in the gobhole!” Rat’s not so sure, “But you’re just resorting to the same things,” he says. The Captain is very worked up. “No I’m not! Let everybody come!”

Rat: “For me, The Damned are really doing a better social service than The Clash have ever done, in so much as we’re realistically bringing cross-sections together. It’s such an event being at a Damned gig, that there’s no time to worry who’s standing next to you. It takes that away.” While Sensible adds “Violence is disgraceful!”

With those familiar tell-tale signs of fast approaching nausea well established in my churning stomach, I listen rather quietly, as the talk turns to anarchy.

Captain Sensible: You get these kiddies coming up to you with ‘Anarchy’ tattooed on their arm right?And then they come up and ask for your autograph. So how much anarchy is there in asking for an autograph? Silly isn’t it?

“But there was a time, when we first started, when no-one would ever say: ‘Oh, give us your jacket, give us your whatever.’ You know? People are missing the point.”

Rat: “Nobody would treat you like stars at one time. Now all I do is spend my time signing autographs. The point is, I would always make a point of going in bars, and I would always talk to the people who came to see us. You ought to try writing your name fifty or sixty times a night. I don’t want to be a star.”

The Captain continues: “The Exploited, Damned, Chron-Gen. We’re all stars now, but it’s not what it should be about. Punk was supposed to be a thing where everyone’s the same right? We’re the same as the audience, and if they don’t like us they won’t come to see us.”

And Rat adds: “Now it’s just like George Orwell. ‘Everybody’s equal, but the group are more equal than the rest.’ But the point is, if you don’t sign they think you’re a sod, and if you do sign… I always tell people I don’t like signing autographs, but what do you do? Upset the people that love you?”

“Anarchy and autographs. Is that what they want? You can’t have the two things! Don’t you agree?” says the Captain. On the point of no return, I meekly suggests that surely it depends on what they mean by anarchy. Surely punk anarchy is just a look. A non-violent revolt against society by your very appearance. Being ‘anarchy’.

Sensible replies: “Well it shouldn’t be, it can’t be. Anarchy’s anarchy!” Rat: “Anarchy is an ‘A’ in a circle that looks good.” It’s a wind-up in more ways than one. It works.

As I stumbled down the coach, two thoughts crossed my mind. The first was how contrary to the popular belief, The Damned are the friendliest bunch you could ever wish to meet. The other thought was how impressive it was to find a band as successful and talented as The Damned.

Tuesday 18 August 2020

Celia and the Mutations - Priceless additions to the 1977 Canon of Works?


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.


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..”

Sunday 9 August 2020

'Wonderland' A Dutch Punk Documentary (Featuring The Stranglers, Blondie and Sex Pistols)


So here, to close this look back on the bands infamous Dutch odyssey with the Amesterdam Hell's Angels Society, if the documentary that featured two tracks recorded on the 28th November 1977. The band are featured backstage where JJ finds a rapid solution to the problem of a misplaced dressing room key.

Blondie at The Paradiso appear and also featured are the Pistols with three tracks from their gig in Venlo.

01. No More Heroes (The Stranglers)
02. Something Better Change (The Stranglers)
03. Detroit 442 (Blondie)
04. Love At The Pier (Blondie)
05. E.M.I. (Sex Pistols)
06. Pretty Vacant (Sex Pistols)
07. Anarchy in the UK (Sex Pistols)

The Paradiso Amsterdam 27th November 1977


So here is the gig from 27th November, the first of two consecutive nights in the deconsecrated Church that was and remains to this day, The Paradiso. Maybe it was something to do with the drugs but Amsterdam did seem to have some draw (no pun intended) for the band, since they played the club only three months previously on 2nd September. 

Opening 'Ugly' Hugh bellows to the audience 'Now you're all making history tonight, you're all on Candid Camera'', a reference to the fact that Dutch TV cameras were there filming the gig for inclusion in the documentary that became 'Wonderland'.

Interestingly, in 'Ugly' after delivery of the'fucking wealthy' line JJ adds in another line. Initially I thought that this could be a rebuke to the heavy handed Hell's Angel that had just launched a stage invader back into the crowd as per Barry Cain's gig review. However, whilst I cannot make out the whole line, there does seem to be a genetics reference which would make sense in the context of the previous line of the lyric. And thinking about it the review would and the incident would have been from the gig on 28th as the band had already partied hard at the clubhouse the night before according to Hugh.

There is a 15 track version of the gig that features a complete 'Something Better Change', 'London Lady', 'Peaches' and 'Grip', but this version has been remastered by Dom P (thanks as always!) from a low generation cassette.

01. No More Heroes
02. Ugly
03. Bring On The Nubile
04. Sometimes
05. Dead Ringer
06. Dagenham Dave
07. Hanging Around
08. 5 Minutes
09. Burning Up Time
10. I Feel Like A Wog
11. Straighten Out
12. Something Better Change (cuts at the intro)

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. 


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.


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?”


“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.


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…


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!

The Dome Brighton 16th March 2012

The band in Brighton back in 2012.