Aural Sculptors - The Stranglers Live 1976 to the Present

Welcome to Aural Sculptors, a blog aimed at bringing the music of The Stranglers to as wide an audience as possible. Whilst all of the various members of the band that have passed through the ranks since 1974 are accomplished studio musicians, it is on stage where the band have for me had their biggest impact.

As a collector of their live recordings for many years I want to share some of the better quality material with other fans. By selecting the higher quality recordings I hope to present The Stranglers in the best possible light for the benefit of those less familiar with their material than the hardcore fan.

Needless to say, this site will steer well clear of any officially released material. As well as live gigs, I will post demos, radio interviews and anything else that I feel may be of interest.

In addition, occasionally I will post material by other bands, related or otherwise, that mean a lot to me.

Your comments and/or contributions are most welcome. Please email me at

Sunday 23 October 2022

Buzzcocks Interview Record Collector June 1993



Back in 1978, Pete Shelley’s nostalgia "for an age yet to come" ("Nostalgia", on "Love Bites") caught rock music in an uncharacteristic forward-looking mode. The Buzzcocks were delivering
octane-charged, punk-approved pop into the charts, while all over the country, people were sectioning off their record collections into pre- and post-punk categories. Forays into the former
bundle became increasingly rare as almost every week brought with it a clutch of records (usually on 7") that demanded constant turntable attention. With that sort of buzz, which was shared in crammed, back-street record shops and unlikely concert venues, it's impossible not to romanticise the era as one when the only possible nostalgia could be for the future.

Tuesday 18th May 1993: Pete Shelley and guitarist Steve Diggle are hunched over some concrete steps outside Guildford Civic Hall. It's the early stages of the reformed Buzzcocks
35-date tour, and a bubbly Shelley has just exclaimed that it never was the group's intention to become a living museum, a national treasure. The words "But you are!" spontaneously
gush out, echoing the sentiments of a generation brought up on one of the best run of pop singles since the days of Bolan, even the Beatles and Stones.

Shelley and Diggle both agree that the Buzzcocks played - and continue to play - what's now referred to as 'timeless pop', a phrase which has become something of a catch-all for any three-minute melody that brings with it twinges of a safely tucked-away youth. But many who take great pleasure sticking on "Singles Going Steady" every once in a while have a problem with the notion that the Buzzcocks are back. I mean, you don't mind meeting up with an old partner once in a while, but you probably wouldn't want to go to bed with them again.

The Buzzcocks don't quite see it that way. They're still making music that refreshes and sparkles in much the same way it did back in '78 - in fact, if history was a ball of confetti that you could throw into the air and reassemble in a different order, you might easily imagine that their new album, "Trade Test Transmissions", was their 1979 follow-up to "Love Bites".

Shelley and Diggle are still at the helm, as they were back then, now ably assisted by two London-based musicians, Tony Arber (bass) and Phil Barker (drums). Original bassist
Steve Garvey is a family man in New York, while ex-drummer John Maher is, according to Shelley, unable to commit himself when the sun shines because his greatest love is motor-racing. Any whiff of an inauthentic revival, though, is quickly swept away by the new record. It's classic Buzzcocks, through and through: direct, high-powered songs, with neat guitar fills, those unmistakeable "woaahh" backing vocals, and evocative track titles such as "Innocent", "Who'll Help Me Forget?" and "Palm Of Your Hand". As Steve Diggle sings on "Isolation", he "can't escape from what he knows".

Neither can we, the mistrustful rock audience who (even at 'Record Collector'!) regard reunions, reformations and general retro conviviality as misguided at best, sickening at worst. And Pete Shelley understands it too: "There's an obvious prejudice about bands getting back together," says one of the most famous voices in punk rock. "There are lots of bands I like that, if they got back together, I wouldn't even go and see the concert. Because personally I don't need that reinforcement of my past."


Throughout the interview, there's a tension between the very real knowledge that the Buzzcocks are happening now, and the fact that their music is representative of something that happened way back when. Pete Shelley's justification comes two-fold. The Buzzcocks are in "that 1 % of bands who aren't going to short-change people by playing slow, shoddy versions of their past hits” he says, a  comment that's certainly backed up by their performance later that evening. Secondly, he equates the 'ice cream doesn't taste as good as it used to' thesis with what the band were up against first time round: "That's just the other side of the coin of those who say, 'that's not really music'," he insists. "There's always a backlash to change."

So the age yet to come has arrived and brought with it a new take on nostalgia. What neither Shelley nor Diggle mention is the fact that writers like Dickens and Tolkien can have their work reissued without the batting of an eyelid; and no-one ever questions retrospectives of artists like Warhol and Matisse. Pop, though, has never quite lost its quest for novelty, or its obsession with youth, which leaves bands like the reformed Buzzcocks in a difficult position.

The record companies may have sustained themselves through an ever-larger diet of reissues during the past decade, but when it comes to an old act doing something new, they're not always so keen, as Pete Shelley explains: ''We tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to obtain a record deal. But unless you can ship hundreds of thousands of units, they won't give you the time of day. So it's good at the moment that we've got a record company interested in music again. It's a breath of fresh air."

Steve Diggle is equally enthusiastic about the deal with Castle/Essential, a label which has built its empire on the collectors/reissue market. "A lot of the people at Castle are Buzzcocks fans anyway, and they have a passion in terms of the way they deal with it. At the big companies, it's so much more impersonal. We told the majors, 'Look, we've been touring for three years, there are people out there wanting to buy the records.' They didn't want to know." (The group intend to
frame a rejection note from one major label A&R man who replied along the lines of "the Buzzcocks were one of my main inspirations, and so I was saddened by the news that they've got back together..." "He can piss off as far as I'm concerned," says an aggrieved Shelley.)

It's taken four years since the band's original reformation to get the album out, although there has been one EP, "Alive Tonight", issued in 1991 on Planet Pacific. Being without a record deal hasn't unduly bothered the group members, who still get nervous before they walk out on stage. But the ball was set in motion very much by accident. Steve Diggle was fronting Flag Of
Convenience, who arrived for some French dates one day to discover that the posters stated Buzzcocks FOC. Diggle retained the name. "I suppose it put us back in communication," Shelley remembers with a wry grin. "It did kick everything off," he continues," and Ian Copeland, who used to promote the Buzzcocks' U.S. tours, called asking why we hadn't been in touch with him.
Our manager told him that we weren't strictly back together yet, but asked him what kind of tour he would put on if we were. We were all interested in doing this tour in America – it seemed like a good idea, though little did we know that we'd still be flogging away at it now." Both Steve Garvey and John Maher played on that tour, though apart from the odd guest appearance, neither has much to do with the 90s Buzzcocks.

Although both Shelley and Diggle had pursued quite differing musical avenues throughout much of the 80s, they decided that a Buzzcocks reformation should actually sound like a Buzzcocks reformation, and not cheat themselves and their audiences by touting another music in a familiar name. “If a band chops and changes styles like the seasons," argues Pete Shelley, "they'll forget where they come from and they'll end up being rootless. It's always good to have that thread of continuity. The Buzzcocks is a story about four people who make music."

And two of those are quite different people to the ones who were there first time round. However, talk to Tony Arber and you'll soon realise that the new faces aren't disinterested
session players drafted in just to make up the numbers. "I've got scrapbooks at home full of
Buzzcocks stuff," exclaims the bassist with the vaguely Johnny Rotten demeanour. "I'm the oddball who's got all the one-sided 12" test pressings! There's nothing in your old Buzzcocks article that I haven't got." Arber first saw the group on the 'Another Music' tour when he was 14.

"I'd met Pete a few times at gigs over the years, bumped into him when the band got back together, and got pissed with him. Then I heard they were looking for a new bass player. When I finally got through to their manager, he said, 'That's the bloke we've been looking for!' It turned out he'd been trying to get hold of me for a couple of months.

"They'd been auditioning for while in Manchester and London, but I went down there and said, 'Right, which ones of the 57 are we playing?' They'd forgotten half of them and I had to teach them how they went!"

Arber missed the band's first major U.K. show at Reading in 1990, but caught them at the T&C. "They were tighter and better than they were first time round. They used to be pretty sloppy. I remember them stopping halfway through songs, and Pete would go, 'No, let's start that one again'!

"I've got no problem playing with this band at all. We've had a great response. In Ireland the other day, some people came up to us and said, 'When we saw the posters, we thought it was gonna be crap.' 20 year olds come up and say that it's a lot faster that they thought it would be. They expected a load of fat old geezers. You know, a lot of new bands would have a lot of trouble keeping up with this band, especially Diggle - he's a bit of a wild man!"

Arber, who brought his mate Phil Barker along as drummer, has something of a history himself. "Me and Philip were in Lack Of Knowledge, who released the third but last single on the Crass label. I was 16, Phil was 14." Lack Of Knowledge also issued an album through Crass, plus singles for their own label and with Chainsaw. After spells as guitarist with Rubella Ballet and session player/co-producer on Daniel Drummond's album, Tony started a club in Camden. "The club was in a tiny room and held around 100 people at a squeeze. I made all these different rules: I refused to accept demo tapes, but every band got paid. I lost loads of money, but the bands enjoyed it. My Bloody Valentine, who'd just got back from Berlin, played there several weeks running."

Arber and Barker backed Slaughter Joe (Foster) on his two solo albums, before Tony got sidetracked with experimental outfit Ear Trumpet. "After that, I joined Boys Wonder, who've now become Corduroy. I always wondered what it would be like to be in a group on a major label, but when I did it, it was enough to make me give up playing music, which is virtually what I did. Until the chance to play with the Buzzcocks turned up.

"People must think Pete and Steve tell us, these two 'other blokes', what to do, that they travel in a separate limo. But it's not like that at all. You should see us arguing after some gigs when we're pissed in a hotel bar. You'll soon see that it's a group effort!"


"Tony was a fan already," says Shelley, "and had put himself up to our manager for an audition. We'd already been billed for 'NME's 'Viva Eight' concert last September, and needed to sort out a regular rhythm section pretty quick. So he got his trusty sidekick Phil and they came down together.' Because they both knew the songs, it was an easy decision. It saved us having to teach the entire Buzzcocks methodology - it was ready-made!"

An almost unnatural enthusiasm runs through the entire group, as Steve Diggle explains. "There's definitely a new feel to the band. It's like a first album in many ways. That old Buzzcocks piece of history feels like someone else in a way. You have to approach it as a bloke in his 30s, though. You can't really be 16 again."

And so what about the oft-cited 'timeless pop'? "It still proves to be timeless pop," says Pete Shelley. "Look at the fans at the front of the stage. We write songs about the greatest thing in the world, which is real life, and the way in which it affects us in a personal way. And that's what you find with any friend, isn't it? They appreciate the small things in life as being important, rather than the big issues."

Regard the Buzzcocks as the Frank Sinatras of the punk rock scene at your peril. There are no hairpieces, faltering movements or the ghost of a past technical skill. Not that the group really care, anyway. After all, they kicked off their career with an acute recognition of the ephemeral nature of the pop beast, singing "I'm already a has-been" on "Breakdown".

Reviews of Trade Test Transmissions by Buzzcocks


Whilst reading around information about 'Trade Test Transmissions' Buzzcocks' 4th (and comeback) studio album for an earlier post, I as rather surprised that the reviews that I found on line for a reissue of the album were consistently (at least in a pool of two!) lukewarm. Not best satisfied with this state of affairs I did some rumaging through some old press cuttings and found three reviews that were contemporary with the original 1993 release and I was pleased to see that they were much more encouraging and favourable.

Not sure now where they came from, one would be Sounds, which I was buying at the time and one is probably Q Magazine.

Trade Test Transmissions
(Essential/All formats)

THE BUZZCOCKS, if you don't know, were the doomed urchin lovers of the New Wave. Never quite macho enough for punk, they showered the late '70s with teen bursts of lovebites and angst, and unwittingly fathered C86 and fraggle in the process. In 'What Do I Get' and 'Ever Fallen In Love' they had songs to fall in lust to, an entry into a world of dirty sheets and soiled thoughts only ever briefly rivalled by The Only Ones. As David Quantick pointed out in his review of 'Product' in November '89 (Research? You got it!), "No-one ever made music like this that was better".

So is 'Trade Test Transmissions' any good? Well, maybe. There are great things here. Steve Diggle's 'Isolation' is as thrillingly neurotic as 'Harmony In My Head', 'Palm Of Your Hand' is as crushingly camp as 'Why Can't I Touch It' right down to the way Pete casually slips a phrase-drop of 'Ever fallen In Love' into one of the verses, the devil. 'Unthinkable', too, is prime-time

Buzzcocks bluster, principally because Steve Diggle abandons his singing voice and re-adopts the gravel-throated bark of yore.

Fundamentally 'Trade Test Transmissions' sounds like a real Buzzcocks album, a grimy follow up to 'A Different Kind Of Tension' stuffed full of Diggle's frustrations but always counterbalanced by Pete's edgy, lovelorn yelp. It's not great, but then none of the Buzzcocks albums ever were. They were just these long 12-inch interludes between the singles.

Time to spurn our natural emotions, then. A spunky (6).

Paul Moody

(Castle Communications)

THE trouble with all these "legendary" bands reforming is that, while the gigs may well bring a tear to the eye and a tremor to the heart, the subsequent new recordings are invariably shite. Quelle surprise, then, that the Buzzcocks have managed to confound the cynics and return with such a magnificent record. In recent times, only (the 'Cocks-inspired) Lemonheads' "It's A Shame About Ray" has managed to convey purest pop perfection with such effortless panache.

The secret is that, while the Buzzcocks may have emerged during the inferno of punk, they were always primarily a classic pop group. As such, they can simply carry on where they left off. But while "Trade Test Transmissions" could easily be the sequel to 1979's "A Different Kind Of Tension", it also fits snugly in a contemporary pop landscape featuring the likes of MCF and Blur. Except it pisses on the lot of 'em!

Their supernatural sense of melody and their impossibly romantic lyrics remain. There are no less than 15 pristine lovelorn pop peaches in here, not one of them over four minutes long, and almost all of them worthy of a place on "Singles Going Steady". Highlights? How long have you got?! Try the incorrigible swoon of "Innocent" (sheer buzzsaw heaven), the vibrant, regretful "Isolation" or the impossibly youthful "Smile". To which I might add that the confused, yearning harmonies and faberoonie Telecaster solos are still intact, they're still as awesome as ever, and that "Trade Test Transmissions" has spent as much time on my turntable recently as New Order's "Republic". I can think of no higher compliment.

Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn't have?



Buzzocks 5th Avenue New York 1st November 1993


Here are the band promoting the 'Trade Test Transmission' album in the US at an in-store appearance on 5th Avenue in New York.

Many thanks to the original Dime uploader, Elegymart.



01. Do It
02. Innocent
03. When Love Turns Around
04. What Do I Get?
05. Isolation
06. Palm Of Your Hand
07. Harmony In My Head
08. Ever Fallen In Love (With Somebody You Shouldn't've)

Trade Test Transmission – Buzzcocks Bounce Back In 1993


In 1989 something wonderful happened when Buzzcocks announced a reformation tour. How it came about I cannot rightly recall, but perhaps in part it was something to do with the fact that Steve Diggle’s band ‘Flag of Convenience’ started performing under the name of ‘Buzzcocks FOC’ but I can’t say for sure. So, here was another name punk band with itchy feet. When Buzzcocks split back in 1981 it wasn’t really on their own terms, the combined age old rock ‘n’ roll pitfalls of constant touring and Class A substances colluded to bring the band down. Buzzcocks were to attend to unfinished business in a handful of gigs in UK cities offering up a set of classic singles and album tracks, enough to make a fan cry tears of joy! Changes were once again afoot though when John Maher returned to the US to resume his normal life. For a short time his place on the drum stool was taken up by ex-Smith Mike Joyce and together, Shelley, Diggle, Garvey and Joyce released the ‘Successful Street EP in 1991. That same year the band laid down demo versions of material that was intended to form the basis of the band’s fourth studio album, shortly after which Steve Garvey left the fold once more. The demo’s were shelved for a while as band activity seemed to tail off for a while. New material was only available in the form of those demos to those lucky enough to acquire a cassette copy of them.

Bereft of a rhythm section, Tony Barber and Phil Barker were drafted in a line up that was to remain stable for several years. It was not until 1993 that the band were back in the studio for a frenetic month of recording. Some of the demos made the cut, but others were culled (‘Tranquilizer’, ‘Why Compromise?’, ‘Australia’ and ‘Dreaming’ (at least until it was resurrected for inclusion on the 2006 album ‘Flat-Pack Philosophy’)). The new album entitled ‘Trade Test Transmission’ finally saw the light of day in April 1993. As I remember, it’s release was not heralded by much fanfare, but that not withstanding it is a great album in my opinion taking many of the trademark aural signatures of classic Buzzcocks whilst refining the sound to acknowledge that the musical landscape had not stagnated in the course of their 12 year recording absence. At this point in the ‘90’s guitar bands were back in vogue with a harder sound perhaps that Buzzcocks were used to. Indeed, significant endorsements of the band’s achievements and importance from Stateside musicians, most notably Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, did much to buoy the band up and ramp up the Buzzcocks profile. On that point in a perfect ‘Something’s Gone Wrong Again’ moment, Buzzcocks were on the verge of playing some of their biggest gigs of their lives having secured the support slot on Nirvana’s 1994 tour…. Until that is Cobain decided upon a different course of action entirely.

As with their earlier albums the songs were written by Steve Diggle and Pete Shelley and if anything Steve Diggle has a bigger piece of the pie this time around contributing 5 of the 15 songs that appeared on the original release of the album. I recently read some reviews that were written at the time of the 2004 reissue and was rather surprised at the lack of enthusiasm that the reviewers expressed for the album. One criticism of the album that I can relate to is that there is very little space in the songs, they are generally all full on…. In keeping with the grunge scene of the day perhaps. Earlier releases would perhaps be rather less frantic. Nevertheless, despite the guitar heavy feel to the album, the quality of the writing shines through brilliantly. Old themes are revisited such as in ‘Palm Of Your Hand’ or ‘Who Will Help Me To Forget’ and ‘Last To Know’. Buzzcocks here also dipped there toes into the murky world of far right politics with the track ‘Crystal Night’ a track which as the name suggests is based upon the so-called Kristallnacht, infamous nights of violence meted out against the jewish community across Germany between 9th and 10th November 1938. The song warned of a resurgence of far right sentiment in the present day. As an aside, the only violence I ever witnessed at a Buzzcocks gig occurred in London in a Spastics Society benefit gig at the Town & Country Club in Kentish Town when members of Combat 18 were causing problems...the fact that Steve Diggle burned the Union flag on stage probably heightened tensions somewhat as well! Never given over to the overt expression of political opinion in their songs, Buzzcocks did support RAR, appearing at the Manchester RAR Festival in 1978. At the end of the day why write political songs when there are still songs to be written about wanking and romantic setbacks as yet unwritten!!

I saw the band a few times when they were promoting ‘TTT’, most notably at the East Wing, a smaller hall within the Brighton Centre complex and at the Old Trout in Windsor, when they came on so late that I saw about a third of their set before having to get the last train back into London. The stage set was cheap (I guess) consisting of a wall of old TV sets that provided a riot of colour behind the band.

There is no better way to describe the quality of ‘TTT’ than to post some contemporary audio.... the aforementioned Demos having received a formal vinyl release in the past couple of years.

Wednesday 12 October 2022

Ruts DC Bring Counter Culture to the UK and Europe

Those prolific Ruts boys have yet another album ready to be unleased on 11th November. In support of of the album, entitled 'Counter Culture'  they are taking to the road in the UK and Germany. I am gutted that Gunta and I will miss the London gig, as we are with the madcap daughter in Manchester on the day but a third visit to see them at the wonderful SO36 club in Berlin more than compensates.

The UK and German dates are here too.

The Damned The Roundhouse 27th November 1977


So, following on from the reunion post, here are those Damned misfits at the Roundhouse in November 1977. Unfortunately, only three songs from the aforementioned and much maligned second album 'Music For Pleasure' feature in this partial set... but one of those is the fantastic 'Idiot Box'!



The Damned Reunion Shows October 2022


Another series of events derailed by COVID-19 were the Damned reunion shows. Actually, I wasn't impacted by this one as I did not opt to buy a ticket in the first place. I didn't join the chorus of disapproval over the ticket price, high though it undoubtedly is. Expensive, yes, but now looking at the line up each night with a couple of name bands/musicians of the day on each night, I think that the sting has been somewhat lessened and the package shapes up pretty well.

My decision to skip these gigs was based upon a couple of considerations. The first is that I saw them play a couple of times in the '76 form 30 odd years ago and I do not think that that will be bettered. The second, and more relevant reason is that 'Damned Damned Damned' has been showcased to death, not only by the original lineup on reunion tours but also on a recent(ish) tour by another more recent line up (when the album was coupled with 'The Black Album'). I like the album, but remember that the Vanian, James, Scabies and Sensible line up released two albums not one! I have never really comprehended why the band have such an aversion to their second album, 'Music For Pleasure'. Was it just down to the fact that it was Floyd's Nick Mason in the producer's chair rather than the desired Syd? I listen to that album and I hear great songs, songs that took the band in a newer direction without losing sight of where they had come from with 'Damned Damned Damned'.

Personally, I would much prefer to see Rat in the band with Dave, Cap and Paul doing justice to both 'The Black Album' and 'Strawberries'.

What do you think?

Anyway, good luck to them. I hope if nothing else it gives them the opportunity to bury their differences and realise, probably for the last time, that back in '76 and '77 the four of them created some unforgettable sounds that have stayed the course for nearly 50 years! Then again it could all end in fisticuffs.... such is the nature of rock 'n' roll!

Parr Hall Warrington 27th February 2022


Here is the final gig on the last UK tour, a rescheduled date as a result of members of the band and crew going down with Covid (didn't we all on that tour!). Many thanks to Malcolm for recording.



01. Waltzinblack
02. Toiler On The Sea
03. Something Better Change
04. Sometimes
05. Water
06. Skin Deep
07. This Song
08. Nice 'N' Sleazy
09. Don't Bring Harry
10. Strange Little Girl
11. Always The Sun
12. Peaches
13. Golden Brown
14. The Last Men On The Moon
15. (Get A) Grip (On Yourself)
16. Curfew

01. White Stallion
02. Nuclear Device (The Wizard Of Aus)
03. Relentless
04. Baz Thanks Roadcrew
05. Walk On By
06. Straighten Out
07. Duchess
08. Hanging Around
09. The Lines
10. And If You Should See Dave…
11. Go Buddy Go
12. No More Heroes