They used to be called The Guildford Stranglers. Then they dropped the Guildford, which is sort of lucky.
They were a huge influence on my protracted and turbulent adolescence. I used to clip their media coverage and kept it in a number of scrapbooks, but no, I don’t think that influenced my current choice of occupation. I used to pick up anything I could find on them: I’ll never forgive Melody Maker’s snide, ‘greasy white reggae’ review of No More Heroes. Bastards.
I have every single one of their records right up until the point just before Hugh Cornwell left, the point where they had started to lose me. To make ends meet, before the Stranglers and after he left Sweden and Emile and the Detectives, Cornwell used to play acoustic guitar for diners at Keith Floyd’s restaurant – Floyd still uses their music for his food programmes on British TV. I love him for that and, OK, for being a deliciously maverick boozy foodie too. But I’ve got ‘em all – every recording: Choosy Susie, the limited edition white vinyl Walk On By, the Peaches picture cover – rarities that I can no longer play because I don’t have a record player any more. Walk On By was the longest single, over seven minutes, ever to chart in the UK top 20, a massive jam session that still makes me grin like a lunatic when I play it.
10 was the album at the end of the road for me, when the magic of the best years was nothing but a distant memory. But oh, what magic. Battersea Park, Nice and Sleazy and a stage full of strippers. Shite ‘punk comedian’ Johnny Rubbish getting pelted with cans for being crap. He’d shouted that he’d walk off the stage if anyone else threw a can and the sky turned black. Agincourt.
Walking one day, a lonely kid failing to make sense of pretty much anything, past a block of flats and hearing The Stranglers playing. Knocking on the door: it’s a bloke in his 30s; he’s friendly, sees I’m a little taken aback and thrown by my own random action. I explain it’s the music. He asks me in. I’m confused. I just thought it might be someone I could talk to and I can’t explain to him and I turn and leave him there, on the doorstep. It’s a consequence of going to school over an hour’s drive away and living somewhere you don’t belong: I don’t know anyone in the town where I live. My mate Cliff was a boarder from Swaziland, just as alienated as I was. We got into trouble together. A great deal of trouble. The Stranglers were my criminal soundtrack.
Playing bass, that double punch at the start of Hanging Around... baow baow, then the heaving rhythm, putting little flourishes into it. Gigs at school, thrown off stage in Stanmore.
Stumbling with my schoolboy crush, the lovely Kay, out of the Rainbow, deafened by Dave Greenfield’s wailing, buzzing, rise and fall Oberheim OBX solo at the end of Raven, marvelling at her: dressed in black; vibrant, laughing, smelling gorgeous and sexy as fuck. I ached for her for years, then rejected her the night she finally got me to realise that she wanted me, too.
Travelling down to the Bear Garden by London Bridge on the train, working at the Stranglers Information Service, a new game that school chum Tom Noble turned me onto before he went off to shoot rabbits by lamplight in Australia. Working at SIS for no wage, taking home a bagful of band freebies after every day. Tomorrow was the Hereafter and Nublies, lyric sheets and t-shirts in lieu of pay. Watching their accountant despair after another ruinous tour of Sweden (Jet Black, a big bloke by any standard, had picked up a fruit machine and thrown it at a bar, an incident somehow rolled up with running battles with the Swedish teddy boys), talking to Black’s insufferable brother Paul Roderick, who ran SIS at the time. Mourning Simon Sparrow. The band think the Meninblack got him. Coke-fuelled paranoia or just bad PR?
Buying ‘Gold Watch’ with Jet’s Son, the Ayatollah, and watching the girl at Threshers fail to find the brand (“Gold watch! Scotch, love!” explains the Ayatollah, a true Bow Bells cockney), on the way to a booze and blues party. Going back to my parents’ place in Hemel Hempstead with Andy, a guy I’d met at SIS, and spending the weekend being naughty with some of the naughtier girls I knew ‘cos my parents were away. Getting caught when they copped the state of the bedsheets after they got back.
Jean Burnel’s hand-strengtheners in a box at SIS, handles wrapped in string and stained rust brown with blood. He’s worryingly physical. Playing Black’s warehoused Promuco drumkit (sorry, Jet) and Hazel O’Connor dropping by to say ‘hi’. Toyah Wilcox. Wow.
The Stranglers having to skip Queensland on Hells Angels’ bikes after pissing off the authorities. Hugh Cornwell goes down for three months at Pentonville for drug possession. Thank you, judge. The amazing benefit gig. The Stranglers imprisoned at Nice for inciting a riot: every window in the University Hall broken by infuriated students after the insufficient power fails the band and they walk offstage.
Golden Brown. Being delighted for them getting a real hit – they’d expected so much from The Gospel According to the Men in Black, thought they had it made with Who Wants the World. But they just had to fa fa fade. Strange Little Girl the followup, actually one of their first songs, not quite getting up there. Tori Amos’ cover is brilliant. La Folie, back on form. I’ll never forgive them for selling Golden Brown to Breville for a bloody sandwich toaster advertisement.
And then growing away from it, Aural Sculpture a disappointment but the first time I’d ever encountered an album with ‘content’ – and so the Spectrum led to the Amstrad which led to the computers which shaped my life. But Aural Sculpture was the Wrong Musical Road: horn sections and no life, straining, commercially inept.
Dreamtime, more of the same Linn Drums and parping horns. Losing interest and then the years when the rest of the world took priority, leaving home and finding my own way, discovering new stuff and then Hugh left to become one in a million children, segueing on to the brilliant, mad experimentalism of Nosferatu and Wired. Seeing them at the Irish Club in Northampton, Ellis on guitar, Paul Roberts on vocals. Not good enough. No Hugh and me feeling old and alienated, wondering what on earth I’d thought I was going to recover by going there. And then, years later and a whole world away, seeing Cornwell at the Dubai Marine Beach; a grumpy, ageing man toting an acoustic guitar and more attitude than stature. Buying a CD at Virgin in Deira City Centre out of sheer curiosity: Norfolk Coast. Not bad at all... playable: enjoyable. A few flashes of the Raven brilliance. Enough reason to go and see them again, that and a strange feeling that these people are part of my growing up, a huge part of me. A chance to let a lost world rush by me again, to relive some of the things I seem not to have truly appreciated at the time – some of which tear at my heartstrings now. Sometimes I watch young me walking down the road and want to shout out to myself, to tell me how to do it better.
I just bought my tickets for The Stranglers’ Dubai gig at the Irish Village on the 3rd October, in case you were wondering what the hell my head’s doing...