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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday 29 July 2021
Wednesday 28 July 2021
Like the 'Go For It Again' reunion of the last line up of Stiff Little Fingers in December 1987, the announcement that the classic line-up of Buzzcocks (Shelley, Diggle, Garvey and Maher) would be 'Telling Friends' on tour in the UK in December 1989 was like a gift out of the blue for a 20 year old punk desperately trying to catch up as best he could. In truth, perhaps the announcement was not so much out of the blue. As I seem to recall, some months prior, Steve Diggle's band 'Flag Of Convenience' (FOC) mysteriously appended 'Buzzcocks' to their gig ads in the music press, becoming 'Buzzcocks FOC'. At this point the rumour grapevine started to vibrate.
I was at this particular gig and it certainly did not disappoint, the bands talent shone though despite the passage of eight years apart. The same can be said of the line-up's performance at 2012's 'Front To Back' gigs where punk's Fab Four stole the show, despite an even greater gap of 20 plus years!
I have just finished reading this gem of a book. Compiled from taped interviews conducted with Pete Shelley by his friend Louise Shelley (no relation) about ten years ago, this book forms a delightful and very comprehensive account of Buzzcocks in their first incarnation... straight from the memory banks of the man in the centre of that particular punk storm.
It is the clarity of Pete's recollection of nearly every aspect of band life from touring to recording back to touring that is extraordinary. Dates, events, people, it's all there in place. I have no idea if whether he was one for keeping diaries and such, but the detail of his recall will undoubtedly offer much, even to the band's most ardent fans. Ask a Strangler about events that occurred 40 plus years ago and the chances are the memories will be vague in many instances and it is not as if it was the drugs that make the difference. Buzzcocks too gained a reputation for excessive chemical abuse at the point where they were living the life of rock 'n' roll excess to the fullest extent.
Each track that the band recorded is discussed within these pages. These discussions about song construction and the technical tricks that the band employed to such great effect in the pre-digital age has given me an even greater respect for those songs that already mean the world to me and have been a staple in my life for 35 years or so.
I have heard them referred to as Manchester's Fab Four and it is easy to understand why. Their brand of pop is every bit as vital as that produced by that other Fab Four over Liverpool way. The quality of the writing and musicianship is wholly comparable, but as Pete Shelley explains, punk gave them the freedom to turn the familiar themes of The Beatles material on its head. For example, whereas The Beatles rejoiced in the confident certainty that yes, 'She Loves You', Pete and the boys lamented youthful insecurity and the paranoia of rejection with 'You Say You Don't Love Me'. The Beatles comparison can also be extended to the all important band/producer/engineer relationship. First there was John, Paul, Ringo and George and George, then along came Pete, John, Steve, Steve and Martin. Martin Rushent being in terms of studio innovation to Buzzcocks what George Martin was to The Beatles.
Everyone knows that Pete's brand of love song rarely has that 'happy ever after' vibe running through the lyrics! Reading through this track by track breakdown (no pun intended) you could become quite disillusioned and cynical towards the human condition yourself, but listen to those songs, so bright and sharp, from 'Breakdown' to 'Are Everything' and you must forgive the man completely!
As well as the band's peerless lyricism and musicality, it was the visual element of the band and the attention that they lavished on it that made them stand out amongst the punk throng as effectively as they did. If not so much a contributor to their success it did wonders for their appeal.
Apparently, when asked to comment upon Buzzcocks sartorial look, Joe Strummer declared 'Orphans!' And there is probably some harsh justification in that, but whilst they eschewed the 'Heavy Manners' stencilling favoured by Joe's boys, Buzzcocks' approach to their 'brand' style was far more coordinated and largely down to the artistic talents of Malcolm Garrett. Garrett was a graphic design student at Manchester Polytechnic between 1975 and 1978, a classic case of 'being in the right place at the right time'! In collaboration with Malcolm, the band were able to control the visual impact of Buzzcocks across the board. The creative freedoms afforded to the band by United Artists's Andrew Lauder and his team must be mentioned at this point and all credit to their belief in their artistes. Stage wear, record sleeves and music press ads were all paid meticulous attention and the overall canon of work in this respect is just stunning. From the Mondrian inspired shirts to the geometric typesetting of the singles sleeves.... it all worked and it screams 'Buzzcocks!!' (probably in a rather camp, Northern voice). It was punk, not in the narrow sense of the music alone, but from the perspective of a different way of thinking.... the way of thinking that has reverberated across four subsequent decades in the form of art, writing, film-making, fashion and yes, music.
Even when the band were cracking under the pressures of fame and the drudgery of life on the road with drink and drugs in constant supply, the quality of Buzzcocks product never waivered. The music changed for sure, bright, quick fire pop being replaced by darker, introspective material that reflected those late career pressures that the band were experiencing, not to mention the acid intake.
Thanks Pete (and Louise) for bringing to Buzzcocks fans such a valuable tome to add to the punk bookshelves!
Sunday 25 July 2021
So here we have a great quality radio broadcast from the band's appearance in Reykjavic on the European leg of the Suite XVI tour. The only downside to this recording is that the hosting DJ insists on talking aplenty throughout the set... a little understood but not uncommon blight upon many European radio broadcasts. Any idea why they do it that way? Answers on a postcard.https://we.tl/t-ZWBaOIKRLe
Saturday 24 July 2021
Another 2005 vintage gig, this time from The Damned. Listening to this again the other day I was surprised by a mystery track in the set…. a song called ‘Magic Potion’. Looking back over the collection it became apparent that this cover appeared in the band’s set for a while. An obscure British psychedelic rock band by the name of ‘The Open Mind’ released the original in August 1969. They weren’t overly prolific releasing one album under the name. I have always found that The Damned have long had the knack of dredging up obscure and not so obscure songs to cover that suit them so well, from White Rabbit to Eloise.
Wednesday 21 July 2021
Killing Joke to play a ‘secret’ gig in a 200 capacity Camden boozer. It doesn’t get much better than that. I am happy to report that Jaz looked terrifying in his white face pain as he lead the band through and incredible career spanning set. I recall standing around a table next to Gaye Black (Advert). ‘Peaches’ came onto the jukebox and she said to ne ‘Oh they're playing your song’ looking at my ‘Down In The Sewer’ T-shirt. What a gig!
Tuesday 20 July 2021
When Coventry won the honour of being 2021’s ‘City of Culture’ the one thought at the forefront of my mind was how was 2 Tone going to be represented in the forthcoming celebrations? Whilst not wanting to down play Coventry’s other attractions and achievements (naked Mercian royals, voyeurs, jet engines and cars aplenty, for me the greatest gift that this city gave to the world was 2 Tone. And it was indeed a global gift. Whilst the label and the associated scene burned with great intensity it was short lived. Nevertheless, the legacy of 2 Tone has endured. The music of that initial crop of bands that were signed to the label inspired a new generation of musicians across the Atlantic to produce similar music in the punk/ska mold that was the brainchild of Jerry Dammers some 40 years ago!
Forget the fools who declare that music should be free of politics. Political issues have found a home in music and verse for hundreds of years. Just think of the prevalence of the protest song within the folk tradition. In recent years Live Aid raised millions for famine relief where governments had failed, Artists Against Apartheid (again with the critical involvement of a General Dammers) were instrumental (no pun intended) in bringing about the release of Nelson Mandela, David Hasselhof did his thing atop of the Berlin wall in the moments before it fell. Each of these examples, with the possible exception of the last are testament to the potency of the combined influence of music and politics.
Gunta and I travelled to Coventry to meet friends for food and football in Fargo village. Prior to meeting we did the cathedrals and such, but the cultural focus of the day was a planned visit to the ‘2 Tone Lives & Legacies’ exhibition at the Herbert Gallery and Museum. I think that this is the most comprehensive and in depth gathering of 2 Tone thought and memorabilia collected under one roof to date. Much of the stuff was already familiar to me, the posters and the iconic photos by Chalkie Davies taken at the Canal Basin that features on the first two Specials’ albums.
What was new and exciting were the contributions from Jerry’s own collection that documented the earliest days of the Coventry Automatics/The Specials. Perhaps MrDammers is something of a hoarder, if that is so, that is the fan’s gain. The exhibition contains some remarkable items from his archives such as a sheet of paper on which he experimented with different ideas for the band’s logo. Another sheet of doodles tested out possible images for the band. Such exhibits give the viewer an insight in to how meticulously Dammers plotted out his vision to dominate the British music charts with the 2 Tone roster of bands.
The other highlight of the exhibition is the work of John ‘Teflon’ Sims, one time in-house graphic designer at Chrysalis and hey collaborator with Jerry Dammers when it came to realizing the look of 2 Tone. It was John who took Jerry’s idea and created ‘Walt Jabsco’, the most famous rude boy of them all and the labels iconic logo. It was Walt and the chequerboard design that spread like a monochrome virus that infected school exercise books, school bags and badges on blazers across the country between 1979 and 1981. Whilst the finished artworks are stark and stunning, I do prefer the cut and paste mock ups that John has loaned to the museum. Such methods were the tools available to the graphic designer in the pre-digital age. These items are every bit as beautiful as the finished pieces that went on to become gig posters and record sleeves. Last seen at a pop-up exhibition hosted by John in Margate, after a Specials date there in 2011, these works-in-progress are my favourites. I badgered him then that these images that break down the creative process should be in an ‘Art of 2 Tone’ book…..my 2 Tone related bookshelf needs it!Pretty please Teflon!