The Stranglers are finally getting the credit that is due to them, One of the most influential bands of their era had been written out of history but we are writing them back in again- this latest blog from Cath Aubergine shows just what a profound affect that had on people…
I’d liked bands before: a primary school summer spent idolising Duran Duran; a typical 12-year-old’s first rebellion Sex Pistols phase; a brief period of U2 fandom that left me with not only an appreciation of their early albums that hasn’t been tempered by the shite they’ve put out since, but a lifelong membership of Amnesty International following an article in their fanclub magazine. But the first band I really loved was ”â possibly unusually for a teenage girl in the mid 80s ”â The Stranglers. I stuck pictures of J.J.Burnel on my schoolbooks where my classmates stuck Bros. Arguably he has aged somewhat better, despite a head start of a couple of decades. Yeah, he was old then ”â the youngest member of the original line-up, he’d have been maybe 34 or 35 ”â ancient to a teenager, and a sobering thought that I’ve now passed that marker.
Addicts always remember their first fix. Many try for years in vain to replicate that high; I’m lucky, I’ve been able to. The Stranglers were not the first band I saw live, but they were the first band where I felt that pleasure and pain euphoria. Me and my best mate were just fifteen and the band were not playing Manchester this time round so our nearest gig was Preston Guildhall. My dad said he’d drive us there; my grandparents lived in Preston and he could go and visit them during the gig. Arriving early, we headed for the front barrier and stuck ourselves right on it, two little 15-year-old schoolgirls surrounded by hard looking punks ten years our senior. We really had no idea what was to come.
The support came and went and the crowd packed tighter, we could feel the barrier pressing on the bottom of our ribcages, then the band came on. The surge was immense. Pressure like I’d never imagined, I thought I was going to lose my breath completely; the sound and the very experience of being that close to my idols; a few years older and more wordly I’d feel something similar coming up on a pill, but at this stage I don’t think I’d even been drunk, never mind anything else. Then the pogoing started. Old-school pogoing, not the violent thrash of moshing which was at that point largely confined to metal bands’ crowds, I was a passenger and I loved it.
I turned round to see my best mate being lifted from the crowd by a bouncer, limp and frightened. She wasn’t the only one; another skinny girl ”â older than us and presumably not at her first bruising gig ”â followed. I suppose I should have gone with her to make sure she was OK but I didn’t want to leave this now and the bouncers looked like they’d look after them. A fight broke out behind me and suddenly JJ, my hero, was clambering over the top of me; a crack with the bass sorted out the miscreant as the bouncers pulled out more crushed and battered punters, all older than me and some of them male. I reckon a good 30 people admitted defeat that night but I stayed there, high on the visceral energy, a lone 15-year-old kid in a mass of old punk blokes. Afterwards I went to ask the bouncer if he knew where my friend was; he said she was safe with the others down the side of the stage and that he’d thought I’d be next. No, I said, that was brilliant. A lonely kid at school, said friend aside, I had found my people and my place. For the next week or so the bruises on my ribcage, hips and knees were purple; I ran between the bathroom and my bedroom at home so my parents wouldn’t see and feigned some ailment to get off PE so I wasn’t mistaken for a child-abuse case, and I couldn’t wait to do it all again.
I moved on quickly as teenagers do. 1986 album “Dreamtime”Â remains important to me ”â Hugh Cornwell’s interest in Australian Aboriginal culture and potential environmental disaster opened my young eyes to such things, and four weeks ago (at the time of writing this in 2010 I’d recently got back from holiday in Australia) on the desert Nullarbor Plain I saw with my own eyes the dry cracked ground that had featured on its back cover; in the Aboriginal art gallery in Adelaide I saw images of the Dreamtime walks similar to those featured on its front. It was partly my love of Dave Greenfield’s garagey organ that led me to Inspiral Carpets and onward into the local Manchester music scene at a time when it was very much on the rise ”â and by the time The Stranglers released their tenth album just four years later I paid it little attention. Cornwell left the band shortly afterwards and I couldn’t even name the albums they released in the 90s.
It wasn’t until 2004”Â²s “Norfolk Coast”Â that the band reappeared on my radar: widely regarded as a return to form it inspired me and some similarly “lapsed fan”Â friends to go and see them in Holmfirth. As I wrote, for ManchesterMusic: “You wonder what Holmfirth was like before it became a living theme park. Tea rooms abound for the cardigan-heavy coach-loads of fans of gentle-paced Ovaltine TV, but tonight it’s a different crowd tucking into the pubs’ Compo special menus. A lot of them are not much younger than the cardigan set, although the dress code’s battered leathers and lots of black, and they’re here for much the same reason ”â to celebrate a bunch of old men who steadfastly refuse to act their age.”Â (full review: ) Soon after, we made the somewhat random decision to go and watch them at an arts festival in Perth, Scotland. (Jokes were indeed made at the time about Perth, Australia, and how that would be a slightly more impressive if rather improbable awayday ”â well, I’ve now been to both Perth Arts Festivals watching bands, so I’m not sure that joke works any more).
Again, though, the flood of great contemporary music soon swamped my desire to see old bands from the past, until a recent interview with J.J. which implied the band could be heading into semi-retirement soon: “Our drummer Jet Black is 70 now. It blows me away, the fact that he continues to play 90-minute sets. He’s been unwell a couple of times and his drum tech has stood in at a few festivals, but if he was permanently out, well, I don’t know what I’d do, actually. We could still record, but this is our last big tour, I think.”Â
OK, this turned out not to be true ”â but this is the review I posted on manchestermusic.co.uk the following day”Â¦
(from the blog, again) “Walking back up Oxford Road we’re still buzzing, everyone is. Conversations with random strangers all basically enthusing about how great it was. As we reach Grosvenor Street, a bald bloke’s saying to me “we’re lucky, our generation, to have had bands like that”Â and whilst I don’t consider myself quite his generation I agree politely, but I’m not surprised when he continues “Bands today are all just crap in comparison.”Â I disagree, tell him there’s as many great bands out there today as there’s ever been, you just need to get out there and see them, but he’s not having it, and I’m not in the mood for explaining that music is what you make of it and if you’ve convinced yourself you can never like any new bands then you probably won’t, but if you open your mind a little you might. I’m quite glad the lights have changed and we can head off our separate ways. I love the occasional trip into the past, but I’m not ready to live in it just yet.”Â
I’ve been writing for manchestermusic for about 8 or 9 years now and site editor for the past two years, as well as writing pieces for this site and occasionally elsewhere. In my late teens me and my aforemetioned best mate had a local fanzine Bobstonkin’ Aubergines from which I took the pen name I still use for music stuff. But before that, the first thing I ever had published (round about 1987) was in the independent Stranglers fanzine “Top Secret”Â. And it’s worth noting that that teenage kid would have been in total awe of a real life Finchley Boy ”â reading about the Boys’ exploits in fanzines probably had as much influence on my life as the music itself and even now at the age of 39 I am still prone to fucking off round the country or beyond for a week or two when one of my present-day favourite bands is on tour and love nothing more than hitting some unsuspecting town with a bunch of mates just because a band we like is playing there. I’ve also introduced a great number of younger friends to the delights of the band-following Awayday to ensure the culture still exists when I eventually hang up my travel bag. I think it’s fair to say The Stranglers had a major part in making me what I am.