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

Friday 30 December 2022

Johnny Moped Club Casbah Blackpool 4th August 2022

Here's one more from last summer's Rebellion Festival. Recorded at Club Casbah on 4th August. Thanks to Peter for sharing this one! Johnny Moped were one of the proto-punk bands of the British scene. Like Doctor Feelgood Moped laid down some of the key elements of what became the '77 London punk scene. Unlike Doctor Feelgood they brought a sense of chaos to proceedings! Hailing from Croydon Johnny's friendship with the Burns' brothers gave rise to Johnny Moped a band that started the process of ripping up the rock 'n' roll rule book that The Damned would continue to do a year or so later, when they took the musical chaos theory on to the next level.

In addition to the Captain, a young Chrissie Hynde also passed through the band's ranks, one of many relationships she had with the early London based punk bands whilst enroute to forming her own band, The Pretenders.

Johnny Moped's contribution to the rock 'n' roll canon is I think rather well summed up by this quote from the 'Great Indie Discography'...

‘Moronic punk ‘n’ roll fusing future Chiswick label-mates Motörhead with the manic humour of John Otway’

You can't say fairer than that!



Thursday 29 December 2022

Liverpool Royal Court 10th June 1995


This one is fulfilling a request and thanks to Malcolm769 for the original upload. This sees the band poll into Liverpool's Royal Court Theatre on the 'About Time' tour in the summer of 1995.



01. (Get A) Grip (On Yourself)
02. Golden Boy
03. Bring On The Nubiles
04. Money
05. Nice'N'Sleazy
06. Face
07. Golden Brown
08. Paradise Row
09. Laughing At The Rain
10. Straighten Out
11. Still Life
12. Lies And Deception
13. Goodbye Toulouse
14. Sinister
15. 5 Minutes
16. Something Better Change
17. Duchess
18. Nuclear Device
19. Go Buddy Go
20. All Day And All Of The Night
21. English Towns
22. Choosey Susie
23. No More Heroes

Fun Boy Three Mayfair Suite Newcastle 23rd March 1983


There are not so many recordings of Fun Boy Three gigs in circulation, just a handful really and this is one of the better ones from the promotional tour for the second album 'Waiting' in Newcastle. Thanks to the original Dime uploader elegymart. Further details on the recording can be found in the info file in the download folder.



01.  Introduction
02.  Faith, Hope And Charity 
03.  The Pressure Of Life (Takes The Weight Off The Body) 
04.  The Telephone Always Rings 
05.  The Farmyard Connection 
06.  Best Of Luck Mate 
07.  Going Home 
08.  The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum
09.  Things We Do 
10.  Alone 
11.  Well Fancy That! 
12.  Summertime 
13.  Our Lips Are Sealed 
14.  The Tunnel Of Love 
15.  We're Having All The Fun 
16.  Gangsters 
17.  It Ain't What You Do 
18.  Murder She Said 
19.  The More I See (The Less I Believe) 
20.  You're Wondering Now 

Wednesday 28 December 2022

Fun Boy 3 - Having All The Fun?


Fun Boy 3 on The Tube (Channel 4) in June 1983

It do not suppose for a minute that when The Specials recorded 'Too Much Too Young' it crossed their minds that the stark message to the young mum of the song could be equally applied under different circumstances to The Specials themselves.

For all of Jerry's meticulous planning of the 2 Tone brand from label, to look to sound, I am sure that even he did not imagine that the band's flame would burn so brightly but for such a relatively short period of time. Such were the pressures on the bands associated with the 2 Tone label that none of them (Madness being an exception) enjoyed any prolonged success. As leaders of the 'movement', Jerry Dammers and The Specials felt those pressures more keenly than any of their label mates, including those that moved away from 2 Tone early on, but still flew the flag so to speak. 

The heavy touring schedule across the globe, violence at gigs and personality differences within the band (it was prickly on stage and in the studio) did little to bring longevity to the career of The Specials.

Legend has it that as The Specials appeared on one of their two Top Of The Pops appearances with the seminal 'Ghost Town' the band were in the process of splitting up in one of the BBC dressing rooms. In fact something of a coup was announced when members of the band not in the know were informed that three members, Terry, Neville and Lynval had already split off to form Fun Boy Three.

This 'Specials spin-off' trio it should be remembered were also rather successful, 'enjoying' no less that two top 20 albums (they only released two!) and seven top 20 singles in their short career. The music they produced was rather different from that of The Specials but in fairness that was only to be expected. Since Steve Strange had delivered 'New Romanticism' into the charts things became pretty superficial pretty quickly. At the height of the FB3 success in '82 and '83 they were competing on the record buying front with the likes of Wham and Culture Club! Nevertheless, I have argued it previously on this site that much of the material recorded by the band very much carried on the themes that lay at the heart of The Specials world view. 'The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum' is a natural successor to 'Ghost Town' whilst 'The Tunnel Of Love' echoes 'Too Much Too Young in every respect! Sure, there were lighter moments that perhaps the General would not allowed to appear on a 2 Tone release.... but the subject matter of 'Well Fancy That' is about as bleak as it gets.

A common theme in the bands material is how far removed is the perception of the pop star lifestyle from the reality! Terry sings in 'We're Having All The Fun':

'I live in a flat, I like Manchester United
I live with my girlfriend and my cat, we're really happy
I like watching television wearing pants and moccasins
Eating crispy pancakes and having Monday haircuts that we've done'

How glamorous is that?! But that speaks volumes about Terry Hall as a person.

So whilst many of the glowing obituaries and tributes to Terry gloss over his career beyond The Specials in both their initial and later incarnations, we should not overlook what he did in the interim!

Tuesday 27 December 2022

The Specials - Reaction to the Debut Album - The Critics Thoughts


The Specials: Specials (Two Tone) *****

Garry Bushell Sounds November 1979.

“All you punks and all you Teds/National Front and natty dreads/Mods, rockers, hippies and skinheads/Keep on fighting till your dead/Who am I to say?/Who am I to say?/Am I just a hypercrite/Just a piece of your bullshit?” (‘Do The Dog’)

This is the album that proves The Specials really are as special as our pumping purple hearts would have us believe. Its got the lot: the tunes, the exuberance, the beat, and the philosophy, god-dammit. This is an important record from an important band, a band that stands for something – and something a bit more than getting wrecked and shagging around.

There are fourteen songs on The Specials’ debut album – five covers, nine originals. But each and every one of them is shot through with invigorating energy and irresistible excitement.

It’s been a mighty long wait down rock ‘n’ roll since their first debut gig supporting The Clash at Aylesbury Friar’s Club last summer, via Bernie Rhodes and the Paris debacle but it’s been worth it. Some of the credit has to go to producer Elvis Costello, but we all know that the real kudos belongs to Jerry Dammmers for making this dream happen and for having the brains to make it mean something.

Jerry’s themes often boil down to a simple Oi, You, The Teenage Person Lurking At The Back, Think About What You’re Doing. ‘Just because you’re a black boy/Just because you’re a white/It doesn’t mean you’ve got to hate him/Doesn’t mean you’ve got to fight, run his lyrics on ‘Doesn’t Make It Alright.’

It’s an attitude spelt out with perfect clarity in the album’s opening track, Dandy Livingstone’s sixties classic ‘A Message To You Rudy’ (‘Stop your messing around/Better think of your future/Time to straighten right out/Creating problems in town… better think of your future/As you wind up in jail…’).

Keyboardist Dammers credits ‘Do The Dog’ to Memphis soul legend Rufus Thomas but he’s taken the song and twisted it like a pretzel until he could have almost claimed it as an original, Jerry’s ‘(Dawning Of A) New Era’ continues the friendly hectoring which feels close to lecturing on ‘Too Much Too Young: ‘You’ve done too much, much too young/Now you’re married with a kid/When you should be having fun with me.’ It’s friendly advice – don’t waste your life - delivered by a mate with a marked anti-social streak: ‘Call me immature/Call me a poser/I’d love to spread manure in your bed of roses…’

Musically the album sounds sparse but as tight as an assassin’s garrotte. The Specials are now a seven piece with brass supplied by Dick Cuthell on flugelhorn and trombonist Rico Rodriguez who by coincidence played on the 1964 original version of ‘A Message To You, Rudy’. Horace’s bass playing gives the whole enterprise pace; the guitars are simple but effective; the vocals a mix of scowling punk and howling rude-boy.

All of the band’s originals are by Dammers except for the short, sharp ‘Concrete Jungle’ – a phrase taken from Bob Marley’s Catch A Fire – which was written by Roddy Byers, aka guitarist Roddy radiation. There isn’t a duff track on here. Even the live highlight – the band’s cover of ‘Monkey Man’ (a hit for the Maytals in 1969) loses none of its sweaty enthusiasm in a studio setting.

The album married clear and glorious echoes of the past (Toots, Prince Buster, Lloyd Charmers and The Skatalites) without ever sounding naff or retro-escapist.

We know the formula for the Specials success: old-time ska meets today’s punk attitude. We knew it worked live. What we didn’t know was how good it could work in the studio; how it would turn out to be the soundtrack to life in a decaying modern Britain.

Other bands have tried to combine reggae and punk before – from the rowdy Chelsea Shed singalongs of The Members to the classier driving power of The Ruts (Fuck The Police!) But none have got the formula as right as The Specials have.

Record Mirror 27TH October 1979

MADNESS: 'Onel Step Beyond' (Stiff SEEZ 17)
SPECIALS: 'Specials' . (2 Tone CDL TI5001)

"DON'T WATCH that, watch this!" as Chas Smash, lead dancer and rabble - rouser of Madness, would say. You may have read one or two primary school essays elsewhere in the music press recently, clumsily slagging the Specials in particular. Take no heed of these nauseating little toadies, boys (rude or not) - they're just showing symptoms of critical paranoia, which is where The Hack scrabbles desperately to be the first to put down a success story – any success story, to maintain his own dodgy credibility. It makes you sick. Enough about the problems that plague the pen though, Let's talk about two bands who spell ACCESSIBLE in 15 foot letters.

'The Prince' and 'Gangsters' respectively drew Madness and the Specials into the limelight, with the requisite appearance on 'TOTP' easing them into the mass-popularity market. We are now presented with debut albums from two bands who have built up a following through consistently playing the most enjoyable gigs around. None of yer arty-farty nonsense with all that beating off and around the bush, but straight ska/bluebeat with careful attention to fashion applied. (And there's nothing wrong with that, you stinking elitists.)

'One Step Beyond' is the opener on Madness’ LP of a like name, and immediately lets you know what to
expect: heavy, nutty monster music. Entirely instrumental, apart from Chas' intermittent interruptions, with fat sax contributions from Lee Thompson. It's a brillo dancing record - no party will be complete
without this, as it's the current single as well.

Vocalist Suggs likes to spin a tale or two in the course of a song. For instance, 'Night Boat To Cairo' is a song for chuffing across foreign seas to middle eastern shores with some rising and falling sax almost bringing on seasickness. 'Land Of Hope And Glory' isn't the same unless performed before a live audience, even Suggs' fine growling vocals can't do themselves justice, 'The Prince' you all know about. A classic in honour of the original father of bluebeat, Prince Buster.

Mike Barson and Dan Woodgate should get a mention for their fine contributions on keyboard and drums respectively on 'Bed And Breakfast'. Barson's piano on 'Razor Blade Alley' gives it the hazy, run- down feel of a backstreet club. 'Swan Lake' is the only mistake on the LP. Yes, its the original tune by the Big T and I never could stand it – reminds me of hours of piano practice by other kids at school. 'Rockin' In A Flat', Mummy's Boy' and 'Chipmunks Are Go' rectify the situation. But sitting on your bum and trying to listen to a dance band is next to impossible, so if you'll excuse me... ('Chipmunks Are Go'? Wot a stupid title)… madness, they call it, madness...

Coventry's other rude boys are like Madness' older, more responsible brother. They've got a social
conscience, see, they worry about kids getting into a 'Stupid Marriage', and heavies like 'Gangsters' and even living in a 'Concrete Jungle'. The Specials rely heavily on the trumpet and those distinctive post – punk vocals by Terry. The competition is hot - Selecter are breathing down their necks with 'On My Radio'.

Where they score over Madness is the greater vocal flexibility they have in their power. Terry shares
the vocal work with Neville ("Don't call me scarface") resulting in their own special (whoops) sound.

Elvis Costello plonked himself smartly behind the mixer for this one. Not surprising really: this lot display the reggae/ska/bluebeat/rock blend that he's been chasing through numerous albums and here it is in black and white. The production, mercifully, is faithful to their live sound.

'Nite Klub' is an anthem to the essence of the band - sweaty, cramped, good – time music. Whether or not the Costello control is responsible for it, no one can really say, but this is a consistently taut effort and for a debut, to use the vernacular, shit hot.

Whereas Madness are plagiarists, this lot are purists. This is really how bluebeat should be played, if it's going to be played at all, and what a perfect alternative to John Travolta!

'(Dawning Of A) New Era' has Terry singing through a rolled – up newspaper. The boy would make a wonderful pixie with looks like that.

The Specials don't take everything seriously though: they laugh at themselves, at their race (whatever
that may be) and things in general. 'Too Much Too Young' contains a wistful invitation to a pert young married, who could be having fun as a Special instead.

Specials keep a hold on your interest, Madness let it slip. They are both prime cuts live, but when they
come in a black, flat round shape, the Specials take the prize.
:So  *** and ***** respectively.


Smash Hits 1st November 1979

THE SPECIALS: The Specials (2 Tone)

Sick of overnight ska trendies? Me too. But hang on – this album is actually very good with The Specials showing enough genuine talent to outlast any passing fashion. Good balance of old and new songs, some excellent original touches (especially the very strong lyrics), first rate production by Elvis Costello, fourteen tracks – a very promising debut and highly recommended. Best tracks: ‘Too Much Too Young’, ‘Doesn’t Make It Alright’. (9 out of 10).

The Specials - Reaction to the Debut Album - My Thoughts


It is true that debut albums can be hit and miss sometimes. Little or no studio experience and/or no clear establishment of the band's distinctive sound can make for a lacklustre first album. It can be the case that that first album that a band produces is a bit of a let down or at least falls short of the fans and critics expectations. This was a definite risk for The Specials who had become a tight, high octane live outfit by the time they entered the studio to record their debut. However, with Elvis Costello at the production helm and General Dammers keeping a watchful eye on progress, nothing was lost in the studio environment.

The album is now 43 years old having been released in October 1979 and unlike many of its contemporary releases it has aged like a fine wine. Perhaps it is the content, in terms of the style of the music. Take sixties Bluebeat infuse it with the snarl of punk and its a kind of future proofing. Produce something that contains a strong element that is already ten years old and you almost protect it from aging. Conversely, listen to some of the over produced shiny hits of the '80's and they can be instantly placed as products of that particular OTT decade. But it's not just the sound of the album that must be considered here, it is equally the message that it conveys that has stood the test of time and the reason is pretty straight forward. 'Specials' held a mirror up to societal environment in which it was written and recorded. British heavy industry was in a steep decline, death throes even, unemployment figures were huge and as ever, in this set of circumstances, the far right flourished. The music of 1979 has rarely been bettered but gigging and going to gigs could be a perilous affair as different youth cultures clashed, be it for reasons of fashion and/or politics! The material on 'Specials' echoes all of these issues, albeit in a particularly lively and upbeat manner. The message that pervades both sides of this remarkable piece of vinyl is that yes, things are shit, but you have one run at this life.... don't waste it. 

'Specials' is just 10 years younger than me but as I listen to it now as I am writing this at the end of 2022, there is so much of that message that resonates today. The reflection from that mirror held up in 1979 is not so different from this year's reflection. Roddy's 'Concrete Jungle' includes the lines 'I have to carry a knife/Because there's people threatening my life'. In 1981, guitarist Lynval Golding was set upon by three men in a racially motivated attack in London, an incident which was immortalised in the song 'Why?'. A year later, he was slashed with a bottle in an incident in Coventry that nearly cost him his life. Fast forward to 2018 and vocalist Neville Staple's grandson was fatally stabbed outside of a Coventry nightclub.... things don't seemed to have moved on so much in the intervening years. As in 1979, our young people are on the receiving end of a new raft of issues.... a cost of living crisis, Brexit, a European war and let's not forget our friend, COVID-19.

Perhaps digital copies of 'Specials' should be co-prescribed with the anti-depressants that now seem to be given to young people at the drop off a hat. 

Saturday 24 December 2022

The Specials Santa Cruz 16th February 1980


And here they are on that first US tour with a set built around the first album and the early singles.



01. Dawning Of A New Era
02. Do The Dog
03. It's Up To You
04. Monkey Man
05. Rat Race
06. Blank Expression
07. Rude Boys Outa Jail
08. Concrete Jungle
09. Too Hot
10. Doesn't Make It Alright
11. Stupid Marriage
12. Too Much Too Young
13. Guns Of Navarone

01. Little Bitch
02. A Message To You Rudy
03. Nite Klub
04. Gangsters
05. Long Shot Kick De Bucket/Skinhead Moonstomp
06. Madness
07. You're Wondering Now
08. Monkey Man
09. Man From Wareika

The Specials Interview - Record Mirror (2nd February 1980)

In late January 1980, The Specials were on the verge of becoming a very big band indeed. This interview with Record Mirror's editor Alf Martin in the freezing Lowlands took place days before the band headed to America for their first US tour.

Sixty Minute Men

Alf Martin hits the land of cheese, clogs, windmills and dope dealers to track down some very Special boys.

One hour. Sixty minutes. 3600 seconds.

Anyone and everyone connected with a working band lives and breathes for that one solitary hour in the day when the lights, PA and adrenalin are turned on.

The Specials are no exception, only seeing them before any gig in their normal clothes, you'd never think they'd get it together.

Amsterdam on a cold day. Canals frozen solid. Feet and hands turning blue. Enter the hotel. Various  members of the band pounce when told we have all of that week's music papers. Starved of any stimulation that day they devour the contents, passing round interesting stories.

Out of a corridor appears Jerry Dammers, leader and keyboards player of the Specials. Now. I've seen some unlikely looking rock stars in my time but he beats the lot. For a start there's the famous Dammers teeth. or lack of them. Just a huge gap at the front where they should be. When he talks he tends to splatter you with saliva. Lucky he doesn't talk that much.

He's wearing an old and shabby suede coat, and hanging from the arms of the coat are a pair of gloves,
attached to a piece of elastic that runs up one arm, across his back and down the other. Perhaps he  loses a lot of pairs of gloves or he's just a kid at heart. All this is topped off with a scarf, wrapped around his neck and a black and white peaked cap on his head. Other members of the band are just as suitably attired .

Suddenly we're surrounded by people and trying to fathom out who's in the band and who isn't gets pretty difficult. Including the horns men, there're nine people in the band.

This is a story starring Jerry Dammers, keyboards; Roddy 'Radiation' Byers, lead guitar; Lynval Golding, rhythm guitar; Neville Staples and Terry Hall, vocals; Horace Panter, bass and John Bradbury drums. Plus supporting cast and bit - part actors.

First on the agenda is a trip to the town centre to catch Monty Python's 'Life Of Brian'. Because we're late we're pushed into front row seats, meaning that you have to lie almost vertically, to watch the film.
I'm not sure if this was some Monty Python joke but when the show ended, all the lights in the house
went out and the doors stayed locked.

Onto the Milkweg Club, a hangover from the sixties with dope, space cake, films, theatre, music and general "stoned - ness" . . . in that order. It causes great amusement to all those present, but you soon get bored .

Then another club but the party is depleted. 'Rapper's Delight' by Sugarhill Gang comes over the
speakers and Jerry Dammers is bopping away to It. He tells me that the Specials appeared on a TV
programme with them and he was amazed how professional those guys were. "Word Perfect." he
splutters at me.

By 5 O'Clock a few decide to go. Drummer John Bradbury has been hoarse all night. His throat is gradually packing up. As we walk out with manager Rick Rogers, John says he knows the way to go. One
hour later we are still walking, totally lost. Hugh, the record company's PR vainly tries to stop a car ...
only to end up being driven down the road on top of the bonnet.
I ask Rick Rogers how he gets the Specials going in the morning. He gives the obvious answer: "I tell
them to be ready two hours before we're leaving and we usually end up at the right time." 

Jerry Dammers was the last to go to bed and, in the morning’ the last to get on the coach. We're travelling to the South of Holland, Sitvaard and 80 miles down the road I join the coach. Jerry's back in Slumberland.

Bass guitarist Horace Panter is huddled in a corner with  his coat and hat on. The heater doesn't work. "We were told this would be a luxury coach," he moans "But look at it." He seems the quiet and sensible member of the group. As he looks the studious type I ask him if he has any hobbies part from the group.

"I was thinking of taking up a hobby but that has to be something you like and music is the thing I like. I'm in a job I enjoy doing, I can travel and I get paid – probably about as much as your average teacher - for it."

Horace takes pride in telling you about his stereo system as though it's his pride and joy. "It isn't
expensive but it's beautiful." he says with a glint in his eyes. He doesn't want anything else but: "One dav I'd like to buy a house and maybe alittle car."

Being the quiet one in the group I asked how he got on with the others. "Well, there's enough of us to form different groups at different times. If you want to be on your own you can and if you want to party you can.

"Robert Fripp once said you need three things to make a group – a love of music, to like one another
and to like money. If you have all those or at least two. it should work."

One thing that strikes you about the Specials is they may not look like regular rock stars, or act like
shrewd businessmen, but when you talk to them about 2-Tone, their own record cop3any, there's no flies on these boys.

"I'm not sure if it's too early for some of the groups." says Horace. " Sometimes I get a bit worried . Like if we sign the Bodysnatchers, what are we letting them in for?

At the moment we're sticking to the people we've got. Later we might expand. "

Enter Sitvaard. Hotel, and soundcheck. The gig is next door to the hotel.

The gig. This is what it's all about. That one hour in the day which the band and anyone connected with
them has been waiting for. The transformation of tired, bored, sleepy - eyed scruffs into a pulsating rhythm machine. The clothes, the hair and the vitality are all geared for this moment.

Dressed in their best outfits - flashy glasses, ties and shiny shoes - they are greeted with shouts of
"Rude Bwoys". They open with 'Dawning Of A New Era' and continue into 'Do The Dog'.

How can anyone play that much good music while concentrating on superb dancing as well? Neville
Staples' muscular body gets into action and never stops. He toasts (although it sounds like singing to
me) along with Terry Hall and sweats bucketfuls. Throughout the set he climbs over the amps, hangs
from the balcony and falls all oyer the stage.

He even cuts a chunk out of his face when he drops his monitor onto himself. "It happens all the time," he says later.

The gig was one of the hottest, tightest, energy - packed sets I've ever seen. Praise should definitely go to drummer John Bradbury for pushing and holding the whole thing together; not forgetting horn me  Rico and Dick for adding the extra oomph.

With the Specials you don't just listen to their very catchy songs, you want to dance with them as well. Especially when vocalists Neville Staples and Terry Hall try to out-dance one another on 'Night Club'. One line in the song says: "I wouldn't dance in a club like this." Well, no one’s listening because the mass is definitely moving.

Their hits, other hits, and five encores ending with 'Madness', make it a superb night. Jerry Dammers even jumps headlong into the audience to finish it off. Then the change takes place again.
Back to being tired and scruffy. .. off-duty Specials.

At the hotel three British guys who are in the RAF have travelled from Germany to see them. A
drinking session starts and the small hotel is going crazy with about 30 orders all coming up at once. Perry. chief fan from Britain supplies sweets and someone shouts the news that Coventry have beaten
Liverpool 1-0.

"Oh well." says Rick Rogers. "That's the last time John Peel plays any of our records."

It’s getting like Barnum and Baileys circus now with people milling about all over the place. Terry Hall is about to do an interview over the phone with American radio. He's kept his moody. straight faced look for the whole of the time I've been there but when he comes back and says the name of the girl that interviewed him a smile cracks his face. Jane Hamburger. The smile soon goes as he sits down on his chair, topples over and falls flat on his back.

I turn to Neville, who has had problems with the law in the past, and ask if music had kept him out of
prison. "Well, it was music that got me in there in the first place. I had my own sound system and wanted to build my own speakers. I nicked some wood from a yard and got .caught!"

Jerry Dammers wants to know more about America. Is it possible to get around there by travelling in
the truck instead of flying? "I'm scared," he says, "I even used to get nervous in cars ." But he knows that on some of the gigs he's got to fly, so there's nothing he can do about it.

The drinking' continues. The eyes get blurry. No wonder they look tired the rest of the time. Apparently
John Bradbury and Jerry Dammers stay up all night.

They're off to America now, and I'm sure, in the daytime, they'll be just as tired. But I bet the Specials, and everyone else involved with them will still have every ounce of stamina for that one hour that matters.

Friday 23 December 2022

Terry Hall Obituary The Guardian 20th December 2022

Singer with the Specials whose chart-topping Ghost Town evoked the sense of social collapse gripping Britain at the turn of the 80s.

Famously deadpan, dour and slightly menacing, Terry Hall, who has died aged 63 after a short illness, shot to fame at the end of the 1970s with Coventry’s groundbreaking multi-racial band the Specials. They emerged in the aftermath of punk, with a fizzing, politically charged mix of ska and new wave, and enjoyed instant success with their debut album, The Specials, which reached No 4 on the UK chart. For a time, the Specials’ 2 Tone Records operation became the UK’s most successful record label, with releases from Madness, the Beat and the Selecter alongside the Specials’ own.

Their second album, More Specials, featured a broader and jazzier musical palette and scorched to No 5. The band scored Top 10 singles with Gangsters, A Message to You Rudy, Rat Race, Stereotype and Do Nothing, peaking with their chart-topping classic Ghost Town in 1981.

Hall commented that “I don’t believe music can change anything” because “all you can do is put your point across”, but the Specials caught the fraught and dangerous atmosphere of the turn of the 1980s with an eerie intensity. Ghost Town in particular chillingly evoked the sense of social collapse and economic decline gripping a riot-torn Britain.

The Specials found themselves in the eye of the storm, with neo-Nazis frequently targeting their gigs. Hall and the band’s keyboards player, Jerry Dammers, were both arrested when they waded in to try to break up fighting between fans and security guards at a gig in Cambridge. They were found guilty of “incitement to riot” and fined £400 each.

However, when recording Ghost Town for an appearance on Top of the Pops, Hall and his bandmates Neville Staple and Lynval Golding announced they were leaving the band, as the result of internal personality clashes. They went off to form Fun Boy Three.

Building on the ska legacy of their former band, Fun Boy Three hit the UK Top 10 with their eponymous debut album (1982), and scored a Top 5 hit single with the infectiously catchy It Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do it), its chart-friendliness much enhanced by the addition of the female trio Bananarama. Hall had brought them on board after seeing them featured in the Face magazine.

The same combined team enjoyed a further Top 5 hit with Really Saying Something, which also reached the Top 20 of the American club chart. After a second album, Waiting, and Top 10 hits with The Tunnel of Love and Our Lips Are Sealed, Fun Boy Three split up following an American tour.

Hall was born in Coventry, where his father worked at the Rolls Royce aeronautics factory and his mother at a Chrysler car plant; he had two elder sisters. Though he showed academic potential, passing his 11-plus exam with ease, and was skilled enough at football to be invited for a trial at West Bromwich Albion, he was given little encouragement in either direction by his parents.

His childhood was scarred by his experience of horrific sexual abuse. When he was 12, he was abducted by one of his schoolteachers and delivered into the clutches of a paedophile ring in France. He wrote about the episode in the song Well Fancy That, a track he recorded with Fun Boy Three in 1983. It included the lyrics: “On school trips to France / Well fancy that / You had a good time / Turned sex into crime”. Hall commented that “the only way I could deal with the experience was to write about it, in a song. It was very difficult for me to write, but I wanted to communicate my feelings.”

The traumatic events resulted in Hall being put on valium at the age of 13, and the effects of these experiences would continue to haunt him. During the 1990s he used drinking as a crutch and slipped into alcoholism. In 2004 he tried to kill himself and he was subsequently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which had to be controlled with anti-psychotic medication.

He left school at 14 and undertook a string of temporary jobs, including as a bricklayer and a trainee hairdresser, before joining the punk band Squad as lead singer. Hall described the band dismissively: “It was just like 1-2-3-4 then make a noise for two minutes, and then stop and say 1-2-3-4 again.” When Squad supported an early incarnation of the Specials, then known as the Automatics, Dammers was impressed and invited Hall to join them. Hall liked the Automatics’ songs enough to accept, though it would take some honing and refining before the distinctive Specials sound emerged.

Hall’s post-Fun Boy Three career found him hopping between a bewildering variety of projects. In 1984 he formed the Colourfield with Toby Lyons and Karl Shale, which produced the Top 20 album Virgins and Philistines (1985) and a string of singles, of which only Thinking of You made much impression on the charts. Hall also undertook songwriting collaborations with Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds, before forming Terry, Blair and Anouchka in 1989, alongside Anouchka Grove and the American actress Blair Booth.

The trio were united by their fondness for cheesy 60s pop, and they covered the Captain & Tennille’s hit Love Will Keep Us Together, but their solitary album Ultra Modern Nursery Rhymes failed to chart, and a couple of singles did little better. “A lot of the stuff I’ve done is pretty much a wind-up,” Hall admitted. “Terry, Blair and Anouchka was completely taking the piss out of us and everyone else.”

Another project was Vegas, a collaboration between Hall and the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart. Their solitary album fared poorly, though their version of Charles Aznavour’s She reached the Top 50. He undertook further collaborations with Tricky, Lily Allen, Shakespears Sister, Nouvelle Vague and Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz, and with Mushtaq (from Fun-Da-Mental).

He was also part of the Specials’ various reunions post 2008, one of only three original remaining members. The band’s comeback album Encore (2019) topped the UK chart. In 2021 they released Protest Songs 1924-2012, a collection of cover versions of famous sociopolitical songs down the decades, which reached No 2.

Hall is survived by his second wife, Lindy Heymann, and their son, Orson, and by two sons, Theo and Felix, from his previous marriage, to Jeannette, which ended in divorce.

 Terence Edward Hall, singer and songwriter, born 19 March 1959; died 18 December 2022.

Adam Sweeting

Monday 19 December 2022

Terry Hall R.I.P.


It's another bad December, echoes of 2016 all round. Terry hall, one of this country's best front men has left the stage at just 63. Whilst this site was set up as a vehicle for my passion for The Stranglers, The Specials mean the world to me as well. A band with such spirit that picked racism up by the braces and showed it for what it was and sadly still is.... bullshit!

You will I hope forgive me if over the next week I indulge myself with a few Terry/Specials related posts.

R.I.P. Terry Hall, the world is a poorer one without you.

Tuesday 13 December 2022

Vanian Inked.... again.


'We're just having some fun
Messing round with a gun
Don't get excited
I'm just killing some time
It's a fantasy crime
And I'm living it again.'

Dave Vanian of The Damned
A4 linoprint
Black ink on dreadnaught grey art card.

Jet Black Obituary The Guardian 12th December 2022

Founding member and drummer of the Stranglers who set up the group after a business career in home-brewing and ice-cream.

The Stranglers rose to prominence alongside the mid-1970s punk movement without ever being part of it, being a little older and more musically seasoned than bands such as Clash or the Sex Pistols.

Pivotal to the Stranglers’ development was their drummer and founder member, Jet Black, who has died aged 84 of respiratory problems. As well as being a musician who had grown up with jazz rather than rock’n’roll, Black was also a successful entrepreneur who had built his own home-brewing empire and enjoyed a lucrative career in the ice-cream trade. He later also managed to invent the patented Jet Black Power Bass Drum Pedal, allowing the drum to be played remotely.

In 1977 the Stranglers achieved immediate success with their debut album, Rattus Norvegicus, which reached No 4 on the UK album chart and delivered the Top 10 hit Peaches. Despite Peaches’ provocatively sneering, sexist lyrics, it became an enduring favourite, frequently used in TV shows, movies and video game soundtracks. Black’s jazz background had given him a level of expertise and flexibility that enabled the band to stretch out experimentally, as with their improvisatory revamp of the Dionne Warwick hit Walk On By or the prog-rock perambulations of Genetix.

Their most successful single, Golden Brown (1982), was conceived by Black and the keyboards player Dave Greenfield, and featured a quasi-baroque harpsichord part as well as a distinctively stuttering time signature. “It all took place in about 30 minutes, so it was very unusual,” said Black. The song reached No 2 on the UK chart, despite their then-record company EMI’s apathetic promotion of it. They belatedly sent the band a case of champagne after it zoomed up the charts.

Black played on all the Stranglers’ albums up to Giants (2012), and expressed a particular fondness for The Gospel According to the Meninblack (1981), the band’s enigmatic concept album about alien invasions, among other things. The recording sessions were fraught with problems and pitfalls. “It seemed that we’d touched something very occult with that album, and the day we finished it all the problems ended,” said Black. “We feel it’s stood the test of time and a lot of people think it’s our most interesting work.”

Black was born Brian Duffy in Ilford, Essex. His father, who had come to Britain from Ireland as a young man, was a headteacher who later became a private tutor, and his mother was a milliner. He recalled that “my mother was non-musical and my father, I think, actually hated music”, yet he found himself having piano lessons at the age of five. However, he displayed little aptitude for the instrument, and his musical progress lay dormant until he was sent to the Holy Cross Residential Open Air school in Broadstairs, aged 10. He suffered from asthma, and it was felt that the sea air of the Kent coast would be beneficial.

He described his time as a boarder at the school as the happiest time of his childhood, since it was an escape from the “domestic warfare” of his parents’ unhappy marriage. It was there that he also discovered an unsuspected gift for playing the violin – “within a short time I was the best in the school” – but when he left the lack of support at home deterred him from pursuing his violin studies.

Later, however, a visit to an Essex jazz club fired his interest in jazz drumming, and he formed a band with a group of fellow enthusiasts. As he pointed out, he grew up before rock’n’roll had been invented, and his idols were jazz players such as the drummer Buddy Rich. Unable to afford a drumkit, he initially had a go at playing the clarinet, but ended up behind the drums after stepping in to replace the band’s original lacklustre sticksman. Once he secured an apprenticeship as a cabinet-maker in London he was able to buy the drumkit.

The band performed regular gigs and cut a four-track EP under the name of the Omega Dance Orchestra. Black then branched out on his own as a semi-professional musician, playing regularly until his seven-year apprenticeship came to an end. Deciding against trying to become a full-time musician, he worked at a series of temporary jobs before getting involved in the ice-cream business. Initially he drove an ice-cream van, and was then offered a job as a depot manager in Guildford, Surrey, responsible, among other things, for organising ice-cream supplies to events such as the Farnborough airshow and Royal Ascot. He recalled how, in that period, he informally played drums at house parties thrown by Barbara Andrews, a veteran pianist and music-hall entertainer who was the mother of superstar Julie Andrews.

Black then then diversified further by pursuing an interest in brewing his own beer, and made a deal with a brewery to acquire a large building in Guildford with an off licence, The Jackpot, on the ground floor. He renovated the premises and installed his own brewing equipment, and was soon reaping rapidly escalating profits, developing a successful international wholesaling operation. However, his fixation on his businesses caused the collapse of his first marriage. After a bout of self-examination, he concluded that “I ought to be back in music! Music is where I belonged.”

After a period of experimenting and auditioning musicians, he met the guitarist and vocalist Hugh Cornwell, who had been in the Anglo-Swedish band Johnny Sox, and they were joined by bass player (and classically trained guitar player) Jean-Jacques Burnel as well as the keyboards player Hans Wärmling (also from Johnny Sox). In 1974 they named themselves the Guildford Stranglers – of various nicknames they took, Jet Black stuck – and played middle-of-the road pop, travelling to gigs in one of Black’s ice-cream vans. Wärmling was unhappy with the musical direction and quit the following year, to be replaced by Greenfield, establishing the classic Stranglers lineup.

Black stopped performing live with the Stranglers in 2015, having suffered various chest problems as well as an episode of atrial fibrillation (heart arrhythmia). He died at his home in Wales.

He is survived by his wife, Ava Rave, and their children, Charlotte and Anthony.

 Jet Black (Brian John Duffy), musician and businessman, born 26 August 1938; died 6 December 2022.

Adam Sweeting.

Thursday 8 December 2022

Jet Black 1938 - 2022


Early evening my Facebook newsfeed went into overdrive for all the wrong reasons. It was May 2020 all over again and once again, it was our daughter Mo who broke the news which a note on Messenger, 'Sad news about Jet!'. So the thing that we all knew would happen some day has happened. Knowledge of the ill-health that Jet has endured over many years now does not counter the shock of him finally going. These people that we have grown up with, admired and looked up to, musicians, actors, comedians, even politicians, that we always known to be there, are slipping away. In the case of someone like Jet Black, he was a part of my life, admittedly from afar, for more than 40 years, that is incredibly more than three quarters of my life... and I certainly wouldn't consider myself to be a spring chicken!!

Jet was the elder statesman in a band of elder statesmen who had become considerably older still by the time that Jet reluctantly passed on his sticks and his stool (that sounds wrong!) to a younger man. Sure,  he retained an omnipresence in the band even when he wasn't physically present. But he did more than simply guide the band and steady the Stranglers' longship on what were more often than not extremely turbulent and choppy waters. His interest in several esoteric topics, perhaps most notably the UFO story and even more niche, the phenomena within a phenomena of 'The Men In Black', gifted us some of the quirkiest, madcap, brooding and sinister music of the early 1980's. Porky meat sandwich anyone?

I always loved in issues of 'Strangled' that this band of four independent thinkers would address issues that in some way shaped the music of the band and in this respect Jet was always very articulate in presenting a given case. A point in case, although not within the pages of 'Strangled' was the BBC West piece that Hugh and Jet collaborated on about the significance of the colour black and its use as a tool of control and intimidation.... I have worn nothing but black since first seeing it... but I cannot carry off the intimidation part of it!

I am glad that Jet is no longer locked in a head to head battle with failing health, but of course feel greatly for Ava and his family for their loss. But I also think that it is fair to say that Jet, in exactly the same way as his band brother Dave, lived a full life and they lived it well. To be in a band is the dream of many. To be in a band that has success is something that is enjoyed by few. To be in a ground breaking band having one or more of their songs known and loved globally is wonderful. To have lived a life doing something you love across the globe for over 40 years is a rare, yet deserved, privelige.

So thank you Jet Black for the beat and the great memories.

Tuesday 6 December 2022

Pete Shelley 6th December 2022 - 4 Years Gone.


So, another run up to Manchester to visit Mo and to fulfill her request for us to bring up some warmer clothes as for once the rain has abated and the weather seems to be perishingly cold, although this may be related to the unseasonably mild weather that has bathed the UK for the past few weeks.

Saturday morning is bright and cold, the best weather that a British winter can offer. After 30 minutes or so of wandering around Manchester Cathedral, we boarded a V1 bus that would take us out of Manchester, through its little sister of Salford to Leigh. The reason for this diversion from the metropolis? Why, Pete Shelley of course!

The town of Leigh is part of the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan and is the birthplace of Peter McNeish, universally better known, to my generation at least, as Pete Shelley, the enigmatic singer and songwriter of Buzzcocks (but there's now need for me to you that is there!). Earlier this year I made a promise to myself that the next time we were on family business in Manchester we would make the pilgrimage to view the exceptionally good mural painted in his honour on the gable end of a property in the centre of town. A truly huge canvas! 

Of course I have seen many online photographs of the work from its early execution through to the unveiling in July 2022. However, a still image viewed on a computer screen is no substitute for a up close and personal encounter of the mural! This Malcolm Garrett design was realised by acclaimed Manchester artist, Akse P19. However in contrast with other Akse works (Ian Curtis and Marcus Rashford) that are in black and white, the first thing that impresses upon the viewer of the Shelley mural is the vibrancy of the colours involved. The red and blue intensity of the Garrett heart motif leaps out from the brickwork, whilst the sky blue background illuminates the work whilst providing a stark contrast to the monochrome portrait of a young Pete staring intensely into the lens of photographer, Chris Gabrin's, camera.

I am so glad that the Andrews family, minus one, made the journey to say hello to Pete. I felt quite emotional standing before it I must say. I just hope that it is respected and that money is available to ensure that it is maintained such that its impact is not lost for future visitors. The fact that Pete's family have been involved in the project from the beginning gives me hope that this will indeed be the case. After all, the Manchester climate is no respecter of art exposed to its elements!

Sunday 27 November 2022

Farewell Wilko Johnson!

It was with great sadness last week to hear the news that Wilko Johnson had died at the age of 75. I was familiar with  much of the material that he recorded with Doctor Feelgood, but did not get to see him live until his support slot on a Stranglers tour (the year escapes me). Thereafter, I saw some of his solo shows, the incredible trio of Wilko, Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe. What a visual as well as an aural treat those gigs were. Such a sight to see Wilko and Norman locked in a deadly combat with their respective instruments. Wilko being dragged across the stage by his Fender telecaster jerking in his hands like a high calibre machine gun whilst Norman was engaged in a life or death wrestle with a wet alligator, slippery with Mississippi mud..... or was it a bass!?

Back in the early to mid-1970’s a rough at the edges quartet, in the form of Lee Brilleaux, Wilko Johnson, John B. Sparkes and The Big Figure, roared out of Canvey in the direction of London and its plethora of smokey pubs that would nightly play host to a array of bands who delivered gutsy Rhythm and Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll to appreciative beery audiences. Sadly, like Doctor Feelgood itself most of those venues are no more, but the former had lit the touch paper that in 1976 emerged as punk rock and those same pubs opened their doors to a new breed of music fan.

The Feelgoods were rather blown up by their own bomb as the likes of The Pistols and The Clash (The Clash themselves coming together out of a pub rock band and a glam rock band) swept away all that had come before. Those most closely associated with Pub Rock either put a little distance between themselves and pub rock and took on took on board some of the elements of the new music or they battled on for a time against the tide.

But it should never be forgotten that those bands and Doctor Feelgood with the amphetamine rush of their music, their look and their stage presence paved the way.

RIP Wilko Johnson.

Wilko Johnson
Linoprint A4
Clack ink on Cream artcard.

Wednesday 23 November 2022

The Newtown Neurotics and Attila the Stockbroker The Lexington London 22nd November 2022


I am not sure that even the Neurotics imagined that they would be back on tour in 2022, but here we were on the last night of that tour in London Town.... a last night in Harlow would have been more poetic but for some inexplicable reason the magnificent Square was demolished several years ago now and now stands as a vacant plot! However, the Lexington offered a splendid intimate environment for tonight's entertainment. 

With Attila opening up for his Neurotic mates, it is business as usual, an evening spent with 'his punk rock family' in his words. Whilst there is new material to be heard tonight from both the Neurotics ('Cognitive Dissidents', the new album is out now) and Attila (new material at least for me), tonight is not one of those nights where the band are on the front line as was often the case in the past. There were no impressionable skinheads in Skrewdriver T-shirts taunting the band at the front of the stage or their older mates saluting the stage. This really did feel like a group of musicians and fans coming together to celebrate 40 plus years of intelligent music, the sole intention of which was to 'agitate, educate and organise'. Preaching to the converted it may well have been, but everyone needs an affirmation of values every now and again, and right now seems to be a fine time when I increasingly reluctantly watch the news!

Attila had a new vibe.... dub-ranting verse, which is as you would imagine is a amalgamation of poetry with a reggae backing. It worked really well. I was reminded of an old Attila rant 'The Iron Men of Rap' when the lyric along the lines of 'My only hoes are in the garden centre' hit me. Brilliant stuff!

As I recall, the Neurotics took the stage at about 9 pm (a good early start for me as a middle aged punk out in London on a work night!) and got he evening of to a good start with a trio of songs from the debut album 'Beggars Can Be Choosers'. We were warmed up with 'Wake Up', 'The Mess' and 'Get Up and Fight' before the first new material was offered, two singles in fact, 'Climate Emergency' and 'Liar Liar'. 

Then it was back to the early days of the band with the two earliest singles 'When The Oil Runs Out'.... very apposite in the winter of '22, and 'Hypercrite' (which could have been dedicated to FIFA boss Gianni Infantino in reference to his speech on the eve of this World Cup... maybe it is just me but having FIFA's top brass officials moralise to me sticks in the craw a little!). These songs were the bread around the 'Repercussions' filling of 'Fighting Times' and 'This Fragile Life', again songs that bolster the belief that we are not alone in our disdain of the current political climate (and actual climate!) whether here or internationally. These songs are also the reason why I sounded like Paul Robeson with COVID this morning!

'Stand With You' is a new anti-fascist anthem and one that resonates very strongly with me having been to Sachsenhausen concentration camp in the last month and being utterly shocked at the attitudes of some of the residents of the Oranienburg suburb that surrounds the camp. 

And then we are on the home stretch, with a real treat of The Neurotics sharing the stage once again with Attila for a rousing rendition of 'Andy Is A Corporatist' which hammered home the key message of the previous song.

'Andy Is A Corporatist'
The Newtown Neurotics and Attila The Stockbroker
The Lexington, London 22nd November 2022.

They left us with 'Kick Out The Tories' and 'I Get On Your Nerves'..... they did nothing of the sort of course. And with that I headed back to Angel tube station for the journey back to Bishops Stortford with the slight comfort in the knowledge that if I am angry with the world at least I am not alone.

Monday 21 November 2022

2 Million Views and Counting!


At some point over the weekend, the counter registered the 2 millionth visit to the Aural Sculptors site. 

I would like to thank all of those people who have added something to this site over its 11 year existence. You know who your are, whether you have in that time shared files, donated sums of hard earned cash to the upkeep of the site or just offered positive comments... thank you one and all. And thanks for uncomplainingly supporting me in my mostly musical indulgence that this site offers me.

Cheers to all!


Small Fakers 100 Club London 2022


Last summer I finally got round to seeing the Small Fakers who were performing at the Stone Valley South Festival. Normally, I rather shy away from tribute bands, but in this case where there is no other option when it comes to hearing the music of the Small Faces live by virtue of the fact that three quarters of the band have shuffled off of this mortal coil, I was more than happy to make an exception. They were fantastic in a festival setting so I figured that they would be even more impressive in their own headlining gig and when that gig just happens to be at the 100 Club (my favourite London venue) we were gonna be there!

Taking a step back for a moment. The Small Faces were the real deal, genuine pint-sized ace faces with killer songs to boot. In Steve Marriott the band had one of the best vocalists that Britain has produced. Aside from the tongue in cheek cockney delivery in some of their songs Steve had the most extraordinary blues voice, one at complete odds with his stature! The band's back catalogue is also something to wonder at, a proper mix of styles, from the raucous cock-er-ney singalongs to full on ballsy blues numbers.

The Small Fakers take all of this in their stride. Matt Bond, the Fakers answer to Stevie Marriott is the bollocks. The man to a tee, the look, the attitude and most importantly let's not forget, the voice!

Gunta and I arrived part way through the support set by The Veras, who happen to be the same band but playing original material. A quick outfit change.... a Humble Pie t-shirt swapped for a velvet suit and The Small fakers were upon us. We had a great vantage point, right at the front in fact. I am more used to punk gigs where space at the front is more aggressively contested!

What followed was a razor sharp, chronological romp through the Small Faces' back catalogue.  Early stompers like 'Whatcha Gonna Do About It', 'Shake' and 'Sha La La La Lee' as well as the hammond heavy 'Grow Your Own' warmed the crowd up admirably for mid-period songs like 'My Mind's Eye', 'Here Comes The Nice' and 'Tin Soldier'.

Mid set two well known faces were introduced to the stage, Glen Matlock (well known to be a big Small Faces fan) and Clem Burke, one of my all time favourite drummers, for a rousing version of 'All Or Nothing'. Crash, bang, wallop.... Clem signed off with a thunderous routine.

'All or Nothing' by The Small Fakers
100 Club London 22nd October 2022

Onto the latter days then with a fine selection of songs from 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake'. We were treated to 'Song Of A Baker', 'Lazy Sunday' and my song of the night 'Rene'. My German mother-in-law is called Renata and sometimes we would shorten this to Rene, just to wind her up! We used to play the song over Sunday lunches just for mine and Gunta's amusement. Of course, a combination of age-related hearing loss and Steve Marriott's barrow boy delivery guaranteed that she had not the faintest idea of what the song was about. Lurid descriptions of Rene's colourful dockside occupation were totally lost on her... which only added to the joke!

The end of the set gave Matt as Steve the full opportunity to showcase his vocal talent as the band ran through 'Afterglow' and 'Rollin' Over', late career song that pointed in the direction where Marriott was heading next with Humble Pie.

If you are unfamiliar with the music of the Small Faces, don't be a fool.... give them a listen. Had I have been around in '65 this would have been my band! If you like what you hear, take it that bit further and spend an evening in the company of the Small Fakers and you won't regret it, that I can promise you-aaagh!

Sunday 20 November 2022

Thursday 17 November 2022

Hugh Cornwell Interview Sunday Express 13th November 2022


Last Sunday presented me with a dilemma. As I looked at my Facebook feed, it was apparent that Hugh featured in the review section of the Sunday Express. What to do, clearly, Hugh is out there promoting his new ‘Moments of Madness’ album and tour and naturally, I want to know what he has to say….. but…but…. It means purchasing the Sunday Express, a publication, along with the Daily Express, for which I have a fervent dislike! Notwithstanding I made the purchase, extracted the relevant pages of the review section and cast the remainder into the recycling bin. As John Cooper Clarke once said…. ‘Margeret Thatcher looks stunning yes, but why no nipples in the Daily Express!’

I do not have high hopes for such articles that inevitably devote much of the column inches to rehashing the ‘bad boys of punk’ narrative with lurid tales of misogeny, ill-treatment of journalistic unfortunates and Class A drug use. These are stories and anecdotes that compulsorily accompany any article on The Stranglers or past or present members of the band. They add little to our understanding and only elicit the same oft-repeated responses from the interviewees. What remains then for me, the reader, is to scan the piece, with Stranglers’ anorak on, looking for inaccuracies and examples of sloppy journalism. 

Did JJ study history? I thought that it was economics…. ‘Harris, now 84, has retired’…. Presumably a mistaken reference to Jet Harris, the now deceased former bass player of The Shadows!

One comment that did stand out for me was Hugh’s assertion that JJ, disdain for ‘Golden Brown’ was such that he did nor appear on the record…. Is this true…. Or just another shot in the ongoing rounds of sniping between the former guitarist and current bass player?

Answers on a post card please!

'The Stranglers never tried to please anybody' Hugh Cornwell on punk era and new album.

While all of the UK's original punk rock bands exhibited a dandyish rebel stance, only The Stranglers exuded a genuine sense of menace.

In their early pictures, the band look positively thuggish compared to the dyed spiked hair, slogan-smeared T-shirts and clownish make-up favoured by their contemporaries. “We didn’t dress up or wear safety pins, we definitely weren’t like the others,” former Stranglers singer-guitarist Hugh Cornwell tells me.

For a start, they were older. Cornwell turned 28 in 1977 – the year punk entered the mainstream. Johnny Rotten turned 21.

Behind their scowling image, the four were professional musicians. As well as being a karate black belt, bassist Jean-Jacques “JJ” Burnel was a classically-trained guitarist who’d read history at university.

Keyboardist Dave Greenfield was a piano tuner with a background in prog-rock. Drummer Jet Black owned a fleet of ice cream vans and was an accomplished jazz musician. While Cornwell was a biochemistry graduate whose first band included future Fairport Convention folk-rocker Richard Thompson.

The Stranglers had spent years playing London’s hard-to-please pub rock circuit, tightening their skills, before Peaches became their first of three Top 10 hits in 77.

Hugh tells me, “The necessity of adopting a pose appealed to our provocative nature. Like Elvis Costello and Blondie, none of us were really punk. It was an opportunity. Who cares what they called us? This was our chance to get in through the door.”

The BBC banned Peaches, for “coarse language and innuendo”, and the band revelled in the notoriety. The song (minus its lecherous lyrics) famously went on to become the closing theme to the late Keith Floyd’s TV cooking series…

“Could a group get away with that stuff now?” ponders Cornwell. “No. Would we be cancelled? We would. But the ones who complained about Peaches had no sense of humour.

“Nobody has got a sense of humour anymore. It’s a sad, sad time for the human spirit that people are behaving like this.”

You needed more than a sense of humour to digest some of The Stranglers’ more antisocial antics, however. Their feuds with journalists became legendary.

Hugh once tied a French journalist to a girder of the Eiffel Tower – 200feet above the ground.

JJ kidnapped another hapless hack and suspended him over a London stage. In Australia, he gaffer-taped a female journalist to the stage.

“There was also a Portuguese journalist who we left out in a desert,” Hugh recalls. “But that wasn’t very clever.”

At one stage the notorious Hell’s Angels adopted the band. “We realised they weren’t there to do us any harm. When we came offstage, they took us to their clubhouse. They said, ‘Any of these women you like? They're our girls. Anyone takes your fancy, they’re yours’.”

To refresh the band, the gang served them amphetamine. “There was a huge knife with a pile of industrial-strength speed, and you can’t say no…”

This episode was commemorated in their 1978 hit, Nice ‘N’ Sleazy, which they promoted with a now infamous outdoor show in London’s Battersea Park with a chorus line of onstage strippers.

“The police busted the strippers afterwards,” Cornwell recalls. “They were trying to take their names and they’re going, ‘Miss Tubby Hayes’, ‘Tessa Tickell’...all false names and addresses. It was very funny.”

The joke wore thin after the band agreed to play a fundraiser for the Angels. “As one of them was escorting us to the stage we saw two Angels beating the crap out of each other with knives. It all fizzled out after that.”

Worse was to come for Cornwell however when in January 1980 he was convicted on drug charges and sentenced to two months in Pentonville prison.

He “toughed it out, kept my nose clean and was out in five weeks; you’ve just got to treat it as a new experience that you can learn from. And I learned that I never want to go to jail again.”

The next two years proved a nadir for The Stranglers. Album sales held strong, but the hits dried up… until 1982 when Hugh composed their million-plus-selling single, Golden Brown – number 2 in the UK, Top Ten in six other countries.

With its dreamy hypnotic allure, Golden Brown was – unlikely as it sounds – harpsichord-led punk baroque.

London was awash in cheap ‘brown sugar’ heroin at the time and many assumed that the song was about the drug.

Hugh still insists however that “the lyrics served more than one purpose – there was a girl I was having an affair with who had beautiful golden-brown skin.”

Burnel never liked the song. “He didn’t actually play on the record,” says Hugh. “He said, ‘I can’t. This doesn’t turn me on.’.”

He must have been the only person in the world that didn’t like it.

Hugh laughs. “Well, he probably likes it now,” referring to the fact that the record still brings in considerable royalties.

We meet at a recording studio in west London, where Cornwell was putting the finishing touches to his first solo album for three years: Moments of Madness. A less-is-more delight that lets the music do the talking.

“I’m not trying to knock down any doors these days,” he says. “I grew up buying Eddie Cochran singles and Cliff Richard EPs. I’d rather write a great three-minute pop song than a nine-minute epic.”

There are plenty of great three-minute moments on the album, not least the single, Coming Out of The Wilderness, which sounds exactly like the sort of catchy one-two-punch that first made The Stranglers famous.

Hugh left the band in 1990 and has resisted several lucrative offers to reunite. “Five years after leaving the Stranglers, there was a seven-figure offer. I said no, and I’ve continued saying no.”

Greenfield died in 2020, aged 71, of Covid-related causes. Harris, now 84, has retired. And Cornwell is adamant he’s not interested in teaming up with JJ again.

“I’ve had covert offers. I was told, ‘We are going to let you re-join the band’. I went, hang on a second, I left. I wasn’t sacked! Thanks but no thanks.”

He frowns. “They treated me quite disgracefully after I left. Never wished me luck or anything. It was sad because we’d spent so much time together.’

Little changed from his Stranglers heyday, apart from the thinning thatch he still insists on pushing up, Hugh kissed goodbye to his wild years long ago.

“The drugs are off the table because they end up destroying your cells. The trouble with cocaine, it sobered you up. So that if you were blind drunk, you could carry on. Ultimately, your body’s going to pay for that.

“Dope now is so strong. I mistakenly tried some a few years ago, and I had to sit down in an armchair for three hours, I couldn’t move.”

Now 73, he tries hard to stay fit and healthy. “I eat a lot of fish; I don't eat much red meat. I avoid processed stuff, sausages.”

Hugh is on a 23-date UK tour, his first since before Covid. “I remember thinking at the end of 2019 how I could use a year off,” he says. “But not like that!”

His new show is “a game of two halves – the first is my solo stuff, the second is ramming those Stranglers songs down their throats.”

He hates encores and eschewed them for years. But has grown tired of fans complaining.

“We’ve gone back to that facade of, ‘Right. We’re going to walk off stage now, and then we’re going to walk back on, and then we’re going to play…’.

“You can’t please everybody.”

And as he reminds me, the band he personified in his black-clad punk days never tried to please anybody but themselves. “I was always my best judge.”

He still is.