The Stranglers – Leeds University, 7th June, 1978

 

The Stranglers - Live @ Agora, Cleveland, USA, 03-04-1978
A band that were around Punk at its inception, were also outsiders from its inception. The Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Buzzcocks were the original fulcrum, lauded by the all powerful music press of the time. There were several reasons for this. They were not new, having been gigging since 1974 so they had no claim to having been inspired by punk- indeed their detractors accused them of bandwagon jumping. They were also not young. Drummer Jet Black was 40 in 1978, Cornwell and Greenfield 29, JJ Burnel 26. Cornwell and Burnell were University graduates, Burnell was fluent in French, Greenfield cited Rick Wakeman as a musical influence. They hardly fitted into the “Anyone can play /filth and the fury” pigeonhole, and yet…

78 a greenfield

Jet Black had made a fortune running an ice cream van business – a trade known for violent turf wars and enforcement. Burnel was a black belt in karate. Cornwell went on to serve a prison term for drugs offences. They were not hippy pushovers. Burnel epitomised that when searching out the Sounds journalist Jon Savage and knocking him out in the Red Cow pub in front of Jake Riviera, Elvis Costello and sundry music industry luminaries for giving No More Heroes a bad review. It would be true to say that their relationship with the London music press was uneasy – “London Lady” was reputedly Cornwell’s parting shot at Melody Maker’s Caroline Coon.

cc.

Was Melody Maker journalist Caroline Coon “London Lady”?

At the time of the gig, punk was in turmoil. The Pistols could barely find a venue to play at with the Anarchy tour cancelled due to bad publicity. The Clash had struggled for a time too after the chaos of the “White Riot” tour, Sham 69 gigs were frequently abandoned due to crowd violence. The Stranglers suffered similarly with gigs cancelled wholesale for the “Black & White” tour, their third album, an output, and repertoire which put them way ahead of their then contemporaries.

 

 
Fortunately Leeds University came to the rescue by offering them the venue to play a benefit in aid of PROP the prisoners charity. Tickets were £9, when the average admission was around £1.75 and Bowie was charging £5 to see him at London’s Earls Court. Such was the clamour for the band that the gig sold out nonetheless on the back of a tremendous live reputation, seven singles, three of which went top ten, two top five hit albums , and a bad boy notoriety.

 

 

Support were pub rock band the Inmates, recently formed from the defunct Flying Tigers. It was an odd choice – but that is the Stranglers for you.

 

 

The set comprised earlier material first, then new songs from “Black and White” which had been released a few weeks before so were largely unknown. The band tore into “Sometimes” with the ferocity of a band desperate to play, but frequently denied that opportunity. They threw themselves into the show to produce one of the best gigs I have ever seen.

 

 

“Hanging Around” was joyous, “Peaches” was lasciviously celebrated, “Go Buddy Go” burst with energy, “Tank” was an instant hit and “Toiler” immediately demonstrated itself to be a worthy alternative to “Down in the Sewer” as Dave Greenfield’s showcase.

 

 

As a live act, in their prime, they were as good as it gets. Greenfield’s keyboards gave them their distinctive sound, JJ Burnel’s bass was equally as distinctive, and he and Cornwell were a potent, credible front of stage duo. Crucially, they not only had the attitude, they had the songs to back them up.

 

Set List
Sometimes
Burning Up Time
Dagenham Dave
Bring On the Nubiles
Goodbye Toulouse
Peasant in the Big Shitty
Princess of the Streets
Dead Ringer
Hanging Around
Ugly
Peaches
Go Buddy Go
Grip
Curfew
Tank
Outside Tokyo
Nice ‘n’ Sleazy
Threatened
Do You Wanna?
Death and Night and Blood (Yukio)
Sweden (All Quiet on the Eastern Front)
Toiler on the Sea
Encore
5 Minutes

Nov 3rd 1986 Dreamtime Tour, Wembley Arena, London

 

Eight years on the musical landscape had transformed itself from the bleak days of the late 70’s. it was all big hair, swish clothes and materialism. The Stranglers had transformed themselves too courtesy of “Golden Brown”, written by Cornwell, arranged by Greenfield. Not only was it easily the Stranglers biggest selling song, it was one of EMI’s biggest selling songs. It bankrolled them for the rest of their career.

 

 

It was an odd, uneasy show. They split it into two halves, the first half being stronger. To open they hired a Northern Gay Leather muscleman in body harness and peaked cap to harangue the audience of “Southern softies” for around ten minutes, goading them to boo him off. It was foul -mouthed, it was intended to shock – instead it was just embarrassing.

 

 

Wembley Arena is a soulless box at the best of times. It did not serve the band well. They were playing a venue befitting their then commercial status, not one which would serve their music best. Pretty much full to an eleven thousand capacity, their audience now included the children of original fans and those more used to seeing the likes of the Commodores and Level 42.Their old material mystified their new fans, and sounded anachronistic in the era of synths and pretty boy looks, of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet , Pet Shop Boys and Wham. Their new material nonplussed their old ones.

 

 

The section which worked best was the newer material: “Always the Sun”,” La Folie”, “Strange Little Girl” and “Golden Brown”. Therein lay the problem that beset the Boomtown Rats after “I Don’t Like Mondays” and Bowie with the “Lets Dance Album”. The material which was commercially successful was at odds with their previous, and perceived, artistic direction.

 

 

It was an unsatisfactory gig, strong on musical diversity, weak on coherence. Thereafter I lost connection with the band and was unsurprised when Cornwell left four years later.

 

 
Set List

First Half
No More Heroes
Was It You?
Down in the Sewer
Nice in Nice
Punch and Judy
Souls
Always the Sun
La folie
Strange Little Girl
Golden Brown
Nice ‘n’ Sleazy
Who Wants the World?
Second Half
Big in America
Bring On the Nubiles
Shakin’ Like a Leaf
Uptown
Tank
Toiler on the Sea
Spain
Encore:
Peaches
Duchess
London Lady

 

 

 

Hugh Cornwell solo Robin 2, Bilston, Wolverhampton Mar Oct 26th 2000

The Stranglers performed with an array of different artists after Cornwell left, but for me Cornwell WAS the Stranglers so I would not see them without Hugh. Seeing him solo seemed like the obvious loyal act. It was misplaced.

solo 4
In order to distance himself from his erstwhile bandmates he elected to tour without a keyboard player. Dave Greenfield’s keyboards were as integral to the Stranglers sound as was the image and vocals of Hugh. Without keyboards it was like listening to a series of demos. The material was unfamiliar, Cornwell had the demeanour of a man who had made a horrible mistake, and a competent, but instantly forgettable, set followed.

 

 
Set List
Miss Teazyweezy
Goodbye Toulouse
Hanging Around
Dark Side of the Room
Torture Garden
Walk On By
Black Hair Black Eyes Black Suit
Nerves of Steel
Leave Me Alone
Live it and Breathe it
Putting You in the Shade
Long Dead Train,
Spain
Mothra,
No More Heroes

 

 
The Stranglers at O2 Academy 2, Birmingham, Mar 19th 2010
I had vowed not to see them without Hugh, but a mate had a spare ticket which he happily offered me in return for the company, rather than the cash. I went expecting the worst, not wanting to like it, or enjoy it. Those preconceptions were terribly wrong. Baz Warne fronted the band brilliantly. Physically imposing, he was a formidable counterpoint to the always brooding JJ Burnel whose loping bass lines fused with Greenfield’s keyboard arpeggios to stay true to the Stranglers sound.

mk2

They had appeared lost at Wembley, in a 3000 capacity hall they were in their element, and spent the next ten years exploiting that talent by constantly touring. The set list was tremendous, the highlight a joyous “Always the Sun” which trumped Cornwell’s performance of his own song twenty three years earlier.

 

 
Set list
Time to Die
Go Buddy Go
(Get a) Grip (on Yourself)
Curfew
Norfolk Coast
Skin Deep
Always the Sun
Strange Little Girl
Golden Brown
Walk On By
Retro Rockets
Genetix
Nice ‘n’ Sleazy
Peaches
Lost Control
Spectre of Love
Down in the Sewer
Encore:
Nuclear Device (The Wizard of Aus)
Duchess

Encore 2:
5 Minutes
Something Better Change

Encore 3:
Hanging Around
No More Heroes

 

 

 

In May 2020 Dave Greenfield died. This was to be the year of the band’s farewell tour, cancelled owing to the Covid 19 pandemic. Will they continue? Springsteen survived the loss of keyboard player Danny Federici and iconic co -frontman, saxophonist, Clarence Clemons. With JJ Burnel the only original member left ( Jet Black has retired) it looks odds against, but Warnes has been with the band for longer than Cornwell, and survives, and shows that gross £100,000 a night are a rare commodity.

 
Whatever happens, forty five years of headlining tours is a rare achievement, inevitably encompassing some highs and lows, but with far more of the latter than the former. Scoring some 23 UK top 40 singles and 17 UK top 40 albums in a career spanning four decades is a considerable achievement whatever the genre.

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