Aural Sculptors - The Stranglers Live 1976 to the Present
Welcome to Aural Sculptors, a blog aimed at bringing the music of The Stranglers to as wide an audience as possible. Whilst all of the various members of the band that have passed through the ranks since 1974 are accomplished studio musicians, it is on stage where the band have for me had their biggest impact.
As a collector of their live recordings for many years I want to share some of the better quality material with other fans. By selecting the higher quality recordings I hope to present The Stranglers in the best possible light for the benefit of those less familiar with their material than the hardcore fan.
Needless to say, this site will steer well clear of any officially released material. As well as live gigs, I will post demos, radio interviews and anything else that I feel may be of interest.
In addition, occasionally I will post material by other bands, related or otherwise, that mean a lot to me.
Your comments and/or contributions are most welcome. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday 23 October 2022
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
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).
TRADE TEST TRANSMISSIONS
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?
DAVE 'UNAPOLOGETIC' SIMPSON
Here are the band promoting the 'Trade Test Transmission' album in the US at an in-store appearance on 5th Avenue in New York.
Artwork: https://we.tl/t-LMy54fDg5f01. Do It
03. When Love Turns Around
04. What Do I Get?
06. Palm Of Your Hand
07. Harmony In My Head
08. Ever Fallen In Love (With Somebody You Shouldn't've)
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
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.
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'!
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!
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.