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

Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Interview with Chas de Whalley Sounds 17th September 1977

 Here is a really nice piece that appeared in UK music weekly Sounds on 17th September 1977. It was written by one of the earliest, if not the earliest serious music journalist to take a positive interest in the band, Chas de Whalley. In it he gives a fantastic early insight into the dynamics of the band at the time of the recording of 'No More Heroes'.... and producer at the point that the band were rapidly becoming the biggest commercial draw on the punk/new wave scene. Something is said about the songwriting processes that were employed within Fulham's TW Studios. This was of course before Martin Rushant, 'The Fifth Strangler' famously fell out with the band over that old creative chestnut.... musical direction!

TWSTUDIOS are tucked away behind a drab shopfront off London’s Fulham Palace Road. To gain entry you have to go round the side, through a used car lot and down three crumbling steps. The building looks so ramshackle it’s difficult to tell whether it’s in a state of terminal collapse or whether it’s being shored up at the eleventh hour. 

It's a far cry from the slick recording establishments you might find in the West End. You can hear the music out in the street, but it still comes as a surprise to push open the battered white door and stumble straight onto the mixing desk. 

No lap of luxury this. There is hardly room to swing a cat in the tiny control room. And there are few chairs. The walls are painted some shade of dirty brown. The ceiling tiles are battered and broken while the air conditioner, if it's working at all, fills the square concrete cell with a hum as pervasive as the tobacco smoke in the air. 

But as a recording studio, as a place to capture those rock’n’roll vibes piping hot as and when they happen, TW and its twenty four tracks are highly regarded in London circles. Despite its lack of facilities, TW comes out top of the pile for its atmosphere and intimacy. 

Even on those terms, however, the place has its drawbacks. Like if you've been drinking too much you’ll have to step out into the cold to hang a rat. Once you're there, (up the steps over the rubble and turn right, okay?) you’ll find there's no door on the bog. And should have been foolish enough to sample some of Fulham’s awe-inspiring array of takeaway food, you'll discover there's no bog paper on the roll either. 

What a bummer! 

WHILE YOU and I spent the first week of July basking in the sun or staring longingly out of an office window, the Stranglers were locked away in this grubby little pit. Working on their second album even as their first ‘Rattus Norvegicus' crested the New Wave and their double headed single 'Peaches/Go Buddy Go’ became THE Summer Hit of Seventy Seven. For ten days the toasts of the nation might just as well have called TW home. 

But if it wasn't actually home the Stranglers were still receiving visitors. A steady flow of well-wishers. Like the dressing room of a successful football team an hour before the match. Stranglers people like Steve, Dennis and Leigh from Finchley (first the band's fans, now their personal friends, these three young guys recently promoted the Stranglers at a secret North London Youth Club benefit). Stranglers' comrades in arms like Dick and Sheds from the road crew. Representatives from the record company United Artists. 

And while the boys were at work the control room was filled with a friendly and relaxed atmosphere that was jaunty even to the point of being jovial The Stranglers know this studio inside out. They recorded everything they’ve released there and its seedy backstreet ambience suits. Perfect|y at ease, the Stranglers were working under little strain.

Unlike producer Martin Rushent, chain-smoking with a look of genuine harassment on his face.

“THATS GREAT JJ. If you really want drum spill all over the track, you're doing a really great job." 

At the mixing desk Rushent sits with a smile of playful sarcasm hiding his exasperation. On the other side of the glass Jean Jacques Burnel bounces past the amplifiers and tiptoes through the trailing leads with his face fixed in an impish grin. He thrashes at Jet Black’s kit with all the energy and skill of a three-year-old with a tin drum. 

Martin Rushent groans again in mock despair, but Jean Jacques pretends he can't hear. Secretly watching the window along his sly black fringe he crashes the cymbals with renewed vigour. Le gamin français raises titters and smiles as usual. Even the producer has difficulty supressing a snigger. 

But Dave Greenfield is not amused. He stands at his keyboards, fingers poised, headphones over his cars, ready and waiting to lay down a lil’' overdub. He shoots Rushent a look of I mild irritation as Jean Jacques bashes on. 

The bearded producer takes the hint immediately. 

"Okay. Jean. Dave's ready to do this take. If you don't cut that crap out immediately, I won’t let you go home tonight. Come back in here." 

Burnel recognises the tone of authority and obediently he lays down the sticks. But, as he appears at the console door, with the hangdog expression of a truant summoned to the headmaster's study, he looks like there's still a dodge or two up his sleeve. Dennis the Menace with a history book in the seat of his pants. 

"Oh Martin. It’s getting late, man. Recording's supposed to be fun. You're too much of a slave driver." 

"And you 're a c—. Stop giving me a hard time' eh." quips our man. 

"I don't need to take that from you." 

The room bursts into laughter. 

Rushent has this 'Look-I-could-get- I just-a-little-pissed-off-with-you-guys' rap that always begins with the line 'I don't have to take that from you’. And it’s invariably a show stopper. Jean Jacques played for that point and he won it in a game of verbal tennis the two strike up every time they meet. 

Backchat and banter, mental muscle flexing and friendly rivalry make up the twenty fifth track in any Stranglers mix and as the hours drag on, the sun shines bright outside but the tapes continue to roll down below, the jokes and the pokes serve to keep the corporate pecker up, the band cheerful and relaxed and the morale high. 

Making records, you see, isn't the most exciting thing in the world. Unless you’re personally involved, a recording session can be a remarkably tedious experience. And even if it is you that’s got your head in the bucket screaming your thoughts to the world or else lacing your vanillas with electricity, the process is hardly one big party. 

For the Stranglers, the same as any , other band, it means work. And like every other aspect of rock'n'roll it is money earned under extremely high pressure. Short bursts of high activity, real mental energy squeezed into a thirty second organ break the same way as the whole working day might be compressed into sixty minutes on a stage. The action is exhausting and the subsequent inaction sometimes deadly boring. 

Just ask Jet Black what it's like and, reaching for his rolling tobacco, he’ll tell you how he spends two thirds I of his time simply sitting about. Rolling cigarettes, opening beer cans, I drinking coffee and .. . sitting about. 

There's not that much for him to do, you see. After the basic group backing tracks have been laid down Jet has few if any overdubs to see to. 

So he sits at the back, next to the mixing desk, and chips in short and pithily but with fatherly wisdom as the Stranglers and their producer toss ideas around off tape. Otherwise he is silent for hours on end. 

So while Dave Greenfield sucks on his Sherlock Holmes pipe and rattles through books of crossword puzzles; while Hugh Cornwell talks knowledgably about cricket, discusses the virtues of Strangler schoolgirl fans or reads socialist book club paperbacks about prisons; while Jean Jacques Burnel bounces between serious conversation and comic riot, Jet Black leans back, puts his hands behind his head and closes his eyes in repose. 

You asleep Jet? 

“Nah. I'm thinking about my holiday." The bearded face breaks into a smile. "I'm going to Tenerife next week. It’s the first holiday I’ve had for years." 

In the beginning there were the Guildford Stranglers and they starved for nearly two years. Then they signed a record deal with United Artists last December and since they have been moving at a pace that would cripple most other bands. 

Their debut album ‘IV (Rattus Norvegicus)’was recorded at the TW studios in little more than a fortnight. They had little rest since, for they were out working on a gruelling schedule that culminated in the ‘Rats On The Road' tour and those two triumphant shows at the Roundhouse. Less than a week later they were back down in Fulham hard at work on the follow-up 'No More Heroes'. They seemed to be at what we music critics call a 'creative peak’. In fact where I expected to find them tired and drained after the months on tour the Stranglers were bubbling with ideas and motorvatin' with their  foot hard down on the floor. 

In seven days they cut eleven tracks for the LP.

And gave short measure to none. 

A QUICK look on the label of a Stranglers record will credit no one individual with song writing credits. The experienced ear can often pick out individual authorship (except for the man from the NME who thought Hugh Cornwell was responsible for the voice as well as the lyrics of 'Princess Of The Streets') but the songs as such are conceived by the band as a whole. Sitting in the dressing room, riding in the car, playing in the studio they pick up on phrases in conversation and marry them to a riff or a beat someone has in their heads. 

New numbers are normally rehearsed at soundchecks. But if nothing seems to be working out after twenty minutes or so, that number is dumped unceremoniously. A hard system perhaps, and one which might trample on a few egos from time to time. But it is one which makes the Stranglers an unusually cohesive and committed band. The strength of purpose carries over on to record. Few can have failed to notice the actual sound of the Stranglers. It’s full, round and rich in texture. A Fleetwood Mac fan with an expensive stereo might even grant it decktime — an honour bestowed on few New Wave bands. There is a quality about the Stranglers recorded sound that creates a vivid, almost psychedelic tension in the jagged nature of the music itself. 

Fanfares for Martin Rushent (although he would be the last to claim it was all his doing). This bearded young man with the wit of a used car salesman and a line for every occasion is United Artists 'house' producer and he learned his trade working with just about everybody from Shirley Bassey to Stretch and beyond. 

Not automatically the sort of person you'd expect to click with the Stranglers. A bit too Recordbiz at first sight. Talks of 'artistes' and 'acts' and such. Rushent admits that he found the four Stranglers a little perplexing when he first saw them. Now, though, he is open handed in his praise of the band as a whole and as individual musicians. 

The claims he makes of Hugh Cornwell's abilities as a guitarist are awe-inspiring. But then Martin ought to know. He started off playing the six string in public himself. He knows it all from a musician's point of view. Which is maybe why despite and because of the playfully insulting banter, Rushent and the four Stranglers get on. 

They were a winning combination at work on 'No More Heroes', and they knew it. 

But to imply that the songs were the Stranglers contribution and the sound purely Rushent's would be to over simplify the situation. Even falsify it. Admittedly it’s Jean Jaques Burnel's unique bass tone and that eerily unreal vocal timbre that's the key to the Stranglers' Sewertone. And it’s in Rushent's department to get it down on tape. He freely concedes that he uses the sophisticated modem studio at full stretch to earn his money. 

"But we use the equipment in unorthodox ways that would be frowned upon by whoever designed them originally. As far as I’m concerned , the idea is to recreate the vibe I get off the band at a live gig and to compensate for the fact that you can’t actually see the band playing in your front room. What tricks are used are to make the right noise. If somebody notices any of them merely as effects then I think I've failed.” 

But it's them Stranglers 'oo think it all up first. 

"We want to sound like ourselves " Jean Jacques Burnel insisted. "We don't want a Ramones sound like most of the other bands these days. We want to explore ways of getting through to you. Of grabbing your attention. We experiment, but we don’t go over the top. But even if we do it doesn't matter." 

The adventurous imagination department. The suggestions department. The ‘why not an echo on the guitar?’ department is staffed by Stranglers and Rushent respects their judgement one hundred per cent. He says they’re probably the easiest band he has ever worked with precisely because they are not afraid to speak their minds. In plain simple English or even in the vernacular. 

“That's great, you know. Because when you get down to it the sound and emotion of a record is only as good as the ingredients your artiste puts into it. All the producer does is mix the cake. So if you're working with a band that doesn’t know what they want you’re in real trouble. 

So what are the Stranglers looking for? 

"Well, it obviously differs from track to track," ponders Jet Black, always the man for a serious appraisal of anything. "But, basically, when we come into the studio we have a preconceived idea of what we want. 

"It's a certain sound we get live when we’ve got a good sound and the acoustics are right. That’s what we're looking for."

PUNK PURISTS may knock the Stranglers for those operatic productions. They might even claim the Stranglers aren't even a New Wave band at all and use that sound gushing from their speakers as evidence backing their case.

Certain critics will doubtless brand the ‘No More Heroes’ album another case of middle class angst from those sexist hedonistic and existentialist Stranglers . But this is still a democracy and idiots are allowed their opinions. The Stranglers hearts are firmlv with the new politics of rock even if they approach it from up the fire escape and criticise its back yard while supporting its façade.

Already classic Stranglers numbers like ‘Feel Like A Wog’, ‘Dagenham Dave’, ‘No More Heroes’ and ‘Peasant In The Big Shitty’ – all on the new album – are by no means songs of selfish appetite. They question the status quo as strongly as the Clash, and only ‘Something Better Change’ could be critisised as mere sloganry. They question the motives and integrity of the revolutionaries too. ‘Dead Ringer’ quite shamelessly points the finger at some of the big punk polititiona. 

But what about the X Certificate porn of ‘School Mam’ or the decadence of that brand new tune ‘Bring On The Nubiles’? Our feminist friends won’t buy those two, that’s for sure. 

The Stranglers are ready to pull the sheets off anybody – YOU even – and if that doesn’t give them New Wave credibility then the Boring Old Farts are right. The whole thing is nothing but a fashion.

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