Here is '10' era interview that rather surprised me. Meeting the band in Paris the late NME writer Steven Wells is very complimentary about the band and seemingly really rates the feel of the then new single '96 Tears'. I better knew Steven Wells as Seething Wells, who along with Attila The Stockbroker, was one of the early ranting verse poets in the early 1980's. As this 'alternative' poetry scene was in the main very left leaning politically, I was expecting him to give The Stranglers a far harder time in terms of the historic references that labelled the band as misogynistic and violent.... but there was none of that. Perhaps it was all down to Burnel's death stare maintained throughout the encounter!
New Musical Express 24th February 1990.
Whoooooo! The Stranglers! Read any and every interview with these SCUM over the last decade and a half and it starts like this.
Aaaaaargh! The Stranglers! Oh dear! They hate journalists! They tied one of us to the Eiffel Tower (true, with gaffa tape but not very high up)! If I ask the wrong question they might get Jean Jacques Burnel to do his karate on me! Oh no!
"What a load of bollocks!" I snort, tossing the Xeroxed sheaf of whinging cowardice into a litter bin on the fashionable but discreet Rue De Charles De Gaulle. Ain't not no way I was going to let a bunch of poncy musicians (hawk! Spit!) frighten ME! I walk into the lobby of the plush Parisian hotel. A lean, puppy faced youth in black leathers slouches at the receptionist's counter. "This is Steven Wells from the NME… " murmurs the press officer respectfully. Jean 'Jack' Burnel raises one perfectly trained eyebrow and then speaks to his mates in French. "Paf! Le cochon a la music press Anglais avec le visage du chien!" (or something like that). His mates all put their hands over their mouths and giggle gallically.
Then he flexes like whip-cord. He grips my hand and stares me in the eye.
Five seconds later he is still gripping my hand.
Ten seconds later and he is still gripping my hand. Oh no.
I try to pull my hand away and he pulls me closer.
He has a strange, chilling look in his eyes. Does he see me or does he see Sharon Tate? Am I shaking hands with a Dobermann pinscher? The slightest thing can make them go insane and attack - says RSPCA Inspector John Storey. Nice doggy! Trust! Has he been suddenly paralysed by a stroke or is he really going to kill me?
He smiles politely. He says: "Er, WHAT music paper did you say you were from?"
And then he smiles some more.
And suddenly I realise why every interview with The Stranglers starts the same way.
SNIFF MY TITS YOU SEXIST BASTARD!
A harpist gently trills in the background. Indian tea in bone china cups is served by nice young men in silly costumes. This is so civilised. I am having a discussion with Hugh Cornwell about the new Stranglers album and despite the fact that JJ Burnel is studying me from across the table-contemplating the exact angle of impact necessary for his booted foot to remove my head from my shoulders (probably)-I am struck by the sheer incongruity of it all.
I mean these are The STRANGLERS! Surely by now they should have me chained to a rusty pipe in some stinking Paris cellar while they play a blow torch over my testicles and LAUGH!
I ask THE question that EVERYBODY wants to ask The Stranglers- the question that cuts to the very heart of their existence as a musical cypher struggling to retain the marriage of macho and mood music on the very borders of post modernist urbanity.
What's Keith Floyd really like? (For those readers who are so unhip that they ought to be reading another music magazine - Mr Floyd is the punk Fanny Craddock. In the poncy world of cookery show presenters he is a pissed rottweiler in an Andrew Dice Clay jacket driving a souped-up King Tiger battle-tank through a yapping pack of pink poodles. And his theme tune, naturally enough, is The Stranglers' classic 'Peaches ) So what is he really like, Hugh?
"Well you'd have to meet him. He's, ah, affable, vain, uh, very, very sincere and a warm-hearted person who loves attention. Sounds rather like you. The producer of the programme is a BIG Stranglers fan…”
Do you hang out with Keith?
"Occasionally, but he's a very busy man and he lives right down in Devon so it's a pretty long trek."
Are you a good cook? "
“I cook, yeah, not bad…”
Are the band very domesticated these days?
"Well, uh, what does domesticated mean?"
Are you house trained yet?
"House trained? Uh, yeah …”
Do you shit in the tray?
"I think it's quite safe to let any of The Stranglers into your house without any fear of them wetting the carpet huh huh!”
In 1974 The Stranglers bombed around London in a converted ice cream van stealing other people's gigs and acting hard.
"We were the hardest," claims JJ later. "Nobody was harder than us. It seemed to matter at the time. It got stupid though, it got to the stage where I couldn't walk down the street. I knew it was time to get out of London when I walked down a market street and three traders tried to pick a fight with me one after the other ... "
And the harp goes plink plink and the tea goes sip sip and the most violent sound around us is the servile and slippered tread of the hotel staff nimbly mincing on thick and luscious carpet, serving tea to the stinking English rock aristos and dreaming fondly of guillotines...
UNLEASH THE GREY MUZZLED PIT BULLS!
When punk rock caught up with The Stranglers they decided to become the rudest and the most controversial as well as the hardest- and woe betide any little safety-pinned purist hack who said they were "too old". Their high-pitched whining bass and squealing organ was condemned by the deaf-with-shit-for-brains as a "second rate Doors homage". Bollocks! Bollocks a million times says I! 'Go Buddy Go!' was the anthem for those of us who KNEW that punk rock was really about taking a sulphate and Tetleys cocktail and running screaming around a student New Wave disco. The Stranglers were macho and smelly and obnoxious - masters of the F-You! school of rock n roll naughtiness at a time when Axl Rose was still a Bees Gees fan. So why, apart for Jean, are they being so nice? Are they out to ruin this article or what?
Alright, so drummer Jet Black- massively impressive in his leather Jacket, black ladies' tights and no trousers, did try to pick a fight with an old lady at the airport who kept on bashing him in the back with her trolley because he'd nicked her place in the queue, but overall The Stranglers are such horribly PLEASANT people. I mean I'm sat here with Hugh and he's so nice and middle class, middle English and mild mannered- the perfect English Gentleman- and I'm thinking, is this really the udder-sniffing slimeball who wrote the hairy foreskinned wank-anthem 'Peaches' ?!
Hugh sighs ever so slightly whilst he ever so gently removes a stray tea leaf from his of ever so genteel Darjeeling and places it ever so neatly places it ever so neatly on an ever so spotless white napkin.
"You are the victim of image," he says in a voice that could charm the knickers off an Etonian third former or the life-savings out of a Coldstream Guards widow. Then he pauses. Has he been too dismissive? Got to see the other chap's point of view, what?
"Well, I must admit that when I play a gig I do have this certain other thing that takes me over. I have done things when in that state that l have been very ashamed of…”
Hmmmm, like what exactly?
"Well! I won't go into that! (AAAAAAAAAARGH). But on occasions I have shown very little respect for the people who have paid good money to see us and l am very, very ashamed of myself for that."
This change that comes over you- is it demonic possession?
"It could be, I've never thought about that. . ."
Are you the vessel of Ragay the Music Demon?
"I could well be ..."
IS THAT A RABID ALSATIAN IN YOUR POCKET OR HAVE YOU GOT AH ERECTION?
They didn’t keep it up, 'Black And White’ (their best album) lacked the ferocity and scrappy dumbness of the classic 'Rattus Norvegicus' and they've become more studied and gentle ever since- wooing mums and dads with cheekily sweet and sombre chart incursions.
There is a two second organ screech at the beginning of the new single- a cover of? And The Mysterions' garage-punk classic '96 Tears'. The drums and the bass kick in and stay rock solid throughout (what, no nimble bass lines Swells?- Ed). Cornwell's deadpan and cynically bland vocals lend the already nasty lyrics a stunning gravity. It's a single which plays perfectly to The Stranglers' strengths.
There have been four brilliant pop singles released so far this year. The first is Sinead O'Connor's sublimely off-key 'Nothing Compares 2 U’. The second is Queen B's total trash out 'Red Top Hot Shot Beep Beep Beep'. The third is Faith No More's metal-rap 'Epic'.
The fourth is '96 Tears'. It's the best thing The Stranglers have recorded since they put 'Go Buddy Go' on the flip of 'Peaches'. No, it's better than that. It's the only original 'punk' band still going bringing 15 years of experience to bear on "getting back to basics". At their best The Stranglers sounded like The Doors with brain damage and better drugs. That's what they sound like here. Only more so.
The rest of the album's not bad but… Hugh, in the song 'Man Of The Earth’, “sonnet” is rhymed "base your life upon it”, that was your idea was it?
"That's right, yeah”
Did it come in a flash of inspiration?
"Yeah, I suppose so. I didn't read it anywhere. They do rhyme though don't they? Good! Hee hee hee!"
'96 Tears' is a very cynical and bitter song. ls that why you've chosen to cover it?
"Nah. It's got a lot of humour in it, hasn't it? It's very double entendre- ‘I'll be on top when the sun comes up’ that's very double entendre. I love double entendre and I think it's very clever that."
Um, you've lost me here. Are we talking some sort of sexual innuendo?
"Of course, yeah! When the line comes up 'I'm going to be on top with you looking up' - I mean how else… what is… how else can you, er, interpret that?"
Depends what sort of mind you have really.
"Well if you have a good healthy mind like I have…"
Would you not agree that you tend to write songs that are not exactly full of sunshine, joy and optimism?
“Oh! We' re very optimistic people. You're with us-we're not manic depressives are we? There are a lot of things in the world that could depress you if you let them. If you look at it with humour then it helps you bear... it helps you bear thinking about it.
I look up. JJ still has his eyes locked on my throat.
NEAPOLITAN MASTIFFS AND CARTESIAN DUALISM-A SHORT ESSAY
I sidle up to JJ. Fancy doing a short interview? I point to my tape recorder.
"Nah!" he says "There's no point, we got off on the wrong foot."
We got off on the wrong foot! You got off on the wrong foot you mean! But he's not persuaded.
At dinner I am sat next to organist Dave Greenfield. Dave is a shy bloke who looks like Max Miller.
Do the people in your village know you're a Strangler?
"Um, some of them do, in some of the pubs.."
The rest of our conversation is just as interesting and exciting. "He's a really difficult guy to talk to" I later remark to a friend of the band.
"Not if you come from the planet Venus he's not." says the friend.
Drummer Jet Black (45) is a big breezy sort of bloke with a beard and he is easily my fave Strangler. I am also fascinated by the fact that he is wearing ladies' tights.
"I got fed up with everyone doing this baggy stuff. It's like the way I was doing blond hair and everyone started doing that so I thought- shit! I've got to look tight! So I went out and bought some ladies' tights…"
Kind of the principal boy look. I can't imagine you with blond hair.
"Ooh, yeah, 16 years ago…"
Were you a sex symbol?
"Nah! Perhaps some of the band were but I certainly never was."
What do you think of Stock, Aitken and Waterman?
"If everybody in Britain had the same foresight and ingenuity and energy as SAW we wouldn't have the economic crisis that we've got now. Probably."
Have you got enough money to retire if you wanted to?
"Gor, you've got to be joking! If I had enough money to retire I don't think we'd be doing this!"
Where's it all gone then? Did you blow it all on a whirlwind of drugs?
"Nah, such is life. You must know that this is a very expensive thing to keep doing."
Are you a sexist git? Were you ever a lout, a hooligan, a yob who would gouge an old lady's eyes out with a spanner for thruppence?
"Well ... there was certainly elements of truth in that image but truth is always stranger than fiction and there was a lot more fiction in it than truth. I mean, we had our moments but most of the outrage was more a figment of the imagination of journalists. We certainly had our moments though!"
Did you believe your own hype?
"At times I think we did. I mean all that stuff about racing across the Queensland border chased by secret police in helicopters firing at us was all made up by some journalist but we never denied it because it was fun. But I DID put a table through a plate glass window once - I was drunk and was really frustrated having spent three days in Spain and everything was closed. That left me with this thug image for life.
Actually I don't mind being seen as a thug because actually it has its finer moments.
Back in my hotel room I try to unwind by watching a sub-titled movie called Bigfoot. Bigfoot is the abominable snowman of the American rockies. I was ready for bestial carnage, for heads ripped from gunk-spurting torsos, little children torn limb from limb and eaten in full gory Technicolour. It turns out though that Bigfoot is actually a quite nice vegetarian and as cute as heck. His bark is considerably more offensive than his bite.
In this interview in the 24th February issue The Stranglers reflect on 15 years in the business from within the confines of the 'Top Of The Pops' studio in London.
As reported in the pages of the 15th August 1981 issue of Record Mirror, Hugh Cornwell and Hazel O'Conner were spotted among the guests of a Chrysalis hosted party at the Sanctuary in London's Covent Garden to mark the launch of Debbie Harry's first solo LP. Take a look, that's quite some guest list!
OK so you have had my opinion for what it is worth, but what did the professional music critics make of the album.
Surprisingly, New Musical Express did not pan it and neither did Sounds. However, the most damning review could be found in the pages of the teen publication Smash Hits who one would have been expected expected to be more receptive of the pop sensibilities of The Stranglers in 1990.
Sounds February 1990
The album was preceded by the release of a new single, a cover of ? and the Mysterions 1966 garage classic '96 Tears'. Why this particular track I do not know. It may have been a idea that had been bounced around as part of The Purple Helmets' game plan discussions. Alternatively, it may just have been the case that many elements of the original song fell in quite nicely with the band's own musical modus operandi, the song being underpinned by psychedelic keys, bread and butter stuff for Dave Greenfield. Whist far from the sleazy sexual connotations of 'Peaches', the line 'And when the sun comes up, I'll be on top' may have carried a certain saucy postcard appeal for the band too.
In my opinion, the release of yet another cover to herald the album was a poor choice. The last new Stranglers material was 'Shakin' Like A Leaf', that had been released three years earlier in February 1987. This had been followed by the Kinks cover 'All Day And All Of The Night', followed by a reworking of '(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)' as 'Grip '89'. Perhaps this was an indication that all was not rosy in The Stranglers' camp.
Please feel free to share your own thoughts on Hugh's Last Stand.
In May 1981, Crass members Steve Ignorant and Penny Rimbaud gave a rare (for them) interview for Tommy Vance's 'Rock On' radio show. Here they discuss the Crass in general and the ideas of their then new album 'Penis Envy'.
On this last post on the anarcho theme I will leave the closing words to them.
Over to Steve and Penny....
Music is a powerful medium with the capability of inspiring, provoking, challenging and changing the way that the people who engage with it.
Art is a powerful medium with the capability of inspiring, provoking, challenging and changing the way that the people who engage with it.
Combine the two and the result is more than just the sum of the two parts. The package is whole, a full blown assault on the aural and visual senses.
Some bands are lucky enough to have an artist within their circle who become unofficial, or even official members of the band, such is the importance of their particular contribution to the band's work. The Pistols had Jamie Reid, Buzzcocks had Malcolm Garrett and Linder, Dead Kennedy's had Winston Smith and Crass had Dave King and Gee Vaucher.
Whether these artists turned their hands to the design of logos, record sleeves or stage sets, in each case there work became inextricably linked to 'their' band.
Crass were a very visual band from the all black military stage wear to the printed banners that adorned every venue at which they played, all visual statements of the band's philosophy. The Crass serpent logo is arguably the most iconic band logos of all time, although I grant you that the Rolling Stones tongue is up there as well. Designed by Dave King, the intricate monochrome design is jam packed with meaning. The body of a serpent, or to be more specific, Ouroboros, a two headed creature of Egyptian origin that consumes itself. The fertility based symbolism of the ancient image was redefined to represent the symbols of power around which the serpent was coiled as well as a part of. The Christian cross, the swastika and the elements of the Union Jack, all symbols of immense power. Ultimately, the image of the serpent consuming itself is a representation of these powers destroying themselves.... a scenario that was high up on the Christmas list that was sent out annually from Dial House, Essex.
The circle is almost complete, since it was with Aberdare that this series of posts kicked off. For those who don't like the anarcho scene, hold on we are nearly there.
The Crass flame burned very brightly, but it quickly burnt itself out! As Steve Ignorant was at pains to explain in his excellent autobiography 'The Rest Is Propaganda', when every gig is a benefit for one worthy cause or another touring comforts are one of the first things to go. Life on the road was a spartan and uncomfortable business. When not playing live there was the mail bag to be dealt with. The members of Crass answered all correspondence personally be it a simple request for a badge or information on dates or in-depth discussions on the band's political viewpoints. Increasingly members of the band became worn down by the pressures of just being Crass. Throw into that mix some serious interest from our Secret Services and the business of being in a band with your mates does tend to lose its sheen!
Fittingly their final gig was a Miner's Benefit in the South wales town of Aberdare, where they played with Annie Anxiety and Flux of Pink Indians.
Artwork: https://we.tl/t-sC8KfafE1701. Big A Little A
This was a local gig for me but it was the eve of my 21st birthday and there was to be a family celebration meal to mark this milestone. This was fine, even though it pained both Gunta and I to know that the band were on stage not 30 miles away. Our next fix was to be at Brixton on 21st.
This is a great mixing desk recording from the '10' Tour. Enjoy.
CRASS have been uncovered as the perpetrators of a bogus tape of a telephone 'conversation' between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
The tape was originally circulated last summer before the General Election and was claimed to be a recording of a crossed line between the two leaders. Needless to say it is not complimentary to either statesperson.
During the course of the 'conversation' Thatcher replies to Reagan's question about the Belgrano by saying: "Argentina was the invader. Force had to be used now, punishing them as quickly as possible.
And later in a discussion about nuclear strategy Reagan says: "If there is any conflict we shall fire missiles at our allies to see to it that the Soviet Union stays within its borders."
Most newspapers recognised the tape as a fake but the Sunday Times attributed it to KGB propaganda a couple of weeks ago and last Sunday's Observer took considerable delight in tracking the tape back to Crass' HQ in Essex.
Invoking the spirit of one of Reagan's predecessors, George Washington, they explained that the tape had been put together from TV and radio broadcasts overdubbed by telephone noises.
They justified their actions by saying: "We wanted to precipitate a debate on the Falklands and nuclear weapons to damage Mrs Thatcher's position in the election. We also did it because of the appalling way Tam Dalyll (almost the only MP to raise any awkward questions over the Falklands affair) was treated over the Belgrano debate in the House Of Commons.
"We believe that although the tape is a hoax what is said in it is in effect true. We were amused and amazed that the tape had been attributed to the KGB."
In the summer of Royal Wedding madness (Charles and Diana, for the younger readers) Crass decided to have a bit of fun, after all fairly tale romance pervaded the very air of Albion in the summer of '81, a charming Prince, a demure princess to be.... what could possibly go wrong?
CRASS MAKE BID FOR NEW ROMANTIC CREDIBILITY SCOOP!: Proving that even recluses have a sense of humour (however devious), Epping Foresters Crass hatched a scheme whereby, just for a laugh, they should approach several romance magazines in the IPC empire to see whether any of them would be interested in putting out a flexi disc called 'Marriage', featuring the talents of young ' American ' songstress Joy de Vivre (sic).
The story goes that Loving magazine, having a bridal issue coming up, took up the offer and placed an ad in the May 30 issue, with Crass partially disguised as C.R .A .S.S. The ad (see above) featured the label of the flexidisc and a blurb written by Loving.
The magazine, not surprisingly, failed to notice the clues to their identity - Creative Recording And Sound Services (CRASS) , and 'A Penny Zenvy production' .
They approved of the song - sung by Joy in an American accent - and originally wanted to include one disc free with every issue, but CRASS told Loving to wait till orders came in, then they'd supply further discs.
Several hundred orders had been received when the Daily Star rang Loving to inform them that Crass were behind the whole shebang. How the pioneering Star found out is a mythtery .... Loving then rang
LOVING: "Is this flexidisc to be released on an album? "
LOVING: "Are you anything to do with Crass? "
CRASS: " Yes! "
LOVING: "Is the name of the album what I think it is? ('Penis Envy') "
CRASS: "Yes I'm afraid it is!"
Loving groans in horror.
The rogue track is indeed from the forthcoming Crass elpee 'Penis Envy' . Quite why Loving mag approved of the song is unclear – perhaps the tongue-in-creek attack on marriage failed to register. But it's in keeping with the rest of the album, a more feminist statement than previous Crass attacks, with Joy and Eve Libertine providing all the vocals.
They've avoided a major disaster, but Loving are still worried that Crass, who are in control of sending out the flexis to their readers, might choose to despatch Crass propaganda with them. The band deny this and claim only to be sending out the discs - for which they paid for pressing and printing of labels ...
Jaws contacted the Editor of Loving magazine, who had this to say about the sorry affair: "We took the disc from Southern Studios in good faith . As far as we're concerned, the words of the of the song are not acceptable to our readers, but we were misled. We consider this sharp practice. It was a pathetic joke. We feel sorry for them if this is the only way that they can get publicity.”
Loving will not be taking legal action. Crass obviously had a good laugh.
So, OK it took a little more than a week but I conclude in the next 24 hours something of an anarcho run of posts with some stuff on the main event.... CRASS. Love hem or loathe then in the wider scope of the punk movement they proved to be every bit as critical as the Pistols or The Clah.
Forgive me an indulgence. The Subhumans are by far my favourite band that carried an association with anarcho-scene. Somewhat out on a limb down in Wiltshire here was a band that approached the music with an element of humour that was never particularly apparent with some of the other bands.
Led by the irrepressible vocalist Dick Lucas, The Subhumans were given their first proper crack at recording with releases of Flux of Pink Indians' label 'Spiderleg' which resulted in two brilliant E.P.s, 'Demolition War' and 'Reasons for Existence' and the debut album 'The Day The Country Died', one of the finest albums of that punk genre.
The band never conformed to the spiky topped fashion that many of the other bands (and fans alike) adopted. Ultimately this worked to their advantage as image never tied them down to a particular style. If there is one thing to say about The Subhumans it is that they were very musically competent to the extent that their 1984 album 'From The Cradle to the Grave' feature the title track which at 16 minutes 53 seconds took up the whole of the second side of the album..... this was dangerous turf.... this was prog turf.