16th March 2019

Stranglers

The Stranglers did great promo videos didn't they?
Gary Kent rewinds those AVs from the UA/EMI era.

Did Video Kill
the Radio Star?

Bob Dylan

WHILE EVERYBODY'S Kung-Fu fighting, incredible innovations collide with a brand new breed of 1970's music: Punk Rock, invented by Malcolm McLaren and Bernard Rhodes, so they say. Punk being the biggest, brightest cultural shift in music since rock 'n' roll.

New-fangled high quality colour videotape recorders and portable video cameras combine with Punk and New Wave for the making of the promo video as a cool marketing tool. And oh, the irony of 24-hour video channel MTV launching with Video Killed The Radio Star. Who are you kidding, Buggles?

1977 is when The Stranglers crash the charts and I'm suddenly lost in music. It's a perpetual parallel universe of a school desktop daydream picturing the band in a studio or shooting a video. Anything beats the drudge of double physics or maths. The Stranglers are the cause of my ache and the cure. Love is the drug. Let's rewind some classy Stranglers videos with those who made them, and find out which video changes my entire existence!

Film Strip Badges

(Get A) Grip (On Yourself) & Hanging Around...

Punk pioneers The Damned film New Rose at the Hope and Anchor which is also where The Stranglers play for Bernard Duckham to shoot a live version of debut single (Get A) Grip (On Yourself) plus Hanging Around for an Old Grey Whistle Test transmission on April 5th 1977. Future member of The Lurkers, Arturo Bassick, is down the front of the pogo throng. The band are due on Thames TV's Magpie to do Grip but they get a ban due to the Sex Pistols Bill Grundy debacle. Grip stalls at a lowly No. 44 in the UK charts. But the big break for the band is only just over that sand dune over there. Where? There...!

Peaches & Go Buddy Go...

Peaches

Peaches is the pivotal Punk love song. Jean Jacques Burnel's opening bass coda - surely on par to Beethoven's Fifth - is suddenly a mantra across my school's play concourse, the talk of the tarmac. Der-der-dum... Double A side Peaches / Go Buddy Go is my first aural encounter with The Stranglers: I have to get a second and third copy due to excessive playing on the old McMichael radiogram. Meanwhile homework stacks up. Yet I'm still top of the class with my unintentional assistance keeping Peaches in the UK singles chart. Released May 21st 1977, by July it's at a mighty No. 8. In retrospect, it's implausible (criminal) that there's a gigantic black hole with no peach of a punky reggae promo with United Artists being a big record label too. Even Peaches' naughty clit and shit words are rubbed out for radio. So, no Peaches promo, and no Top of the Pops: well, the slightly safer rock 'n' roller Go Buddy Go is aired on TOTP on 26th May with repeats on June 9th and 23rd. The Hairy Cornflake aka Dave Lee Travis hosts, but neither he nor the crew is aware (care?) that Hugh and JJ switch guitars and mindfully mime bad. Moreover, they miss the speed drug reference in the verse but best of all, as JJ opens the song with his "Boogie..." he actually mouths his own special mime to the play back: 'Booogeeee... bollocks!'

TOTP Logo Stranglers TOTP

Something Better Change & Straighten Out...

It is a soggy grey Saturday morning in the Silver Jubilee summer. Fourteen-and-a-bit year old Gary is on an errand to the bakers for his dear Mum. He speculates whether any change out of the bluey will help fund a purchase next door in Roach's Records. Not today. However not all is lost. For soon Gary will be soaked in sex and drugs as well as sausage rolls. That's because over the other side of the wet High Road lies Crescent Cameras - the display is neatly packed with stacked colour tellies - and today it's the window to watch. Zooming in, the sets are tuned to the same channel where a techni-colour dream explodes in a furnace of teak-surround speedballs of fire. Wow! Here's a raging ragtag band on the run performing wildly, although Gary can't hear much through plate glass and the traffic racket. So he takes a step inside, love. Bass and organ gently pound from the tellies sending butterflies to his belly. A supermarionation of green guitar, blue jeans, red boots and tatty T-shirt bless his eyes, ears, soul and synaesthesia. Bass and organ... Oooh. Could this possibly be The...? Surely it's not the purveyors of Peaches is it? Well he's not to know what The Stranglers look like because all of his Peaches come in sober blank sleeves, with just the red Stranglers logo to ogle, and he didn't have the money to buy the LP. Maybe his hunch is right?

JJ mad Stranglers JJ green bass Dave mad Stranglers running JJ mic JJ mic2 Stranglers above

That's me and my first amazing multi-coloured audiovisual meet with The Stranglers. Something Better Change is a tremendous video. It's The Stranglers first proper pop video, and something really does change. I am brainwashed by The Stranglers! For soon I will be able to easily evaluate each day and each day's issues effortlessly and successfully by the way that JJ thinks, acts, looks and kicks. Or so I think. I snipe away at my fringe with a Stanley blade for that rufty-tufty bad boy Burnel look. I play my Fender precision expertly in my bedroom mirror when it's really just one of those Bullworker exercisers in my grip, at the expense of my lack of upper body strength. I walk to school in the way JJ walks, however that is. Don't tell me I'm the only one here! True validation comes when I discover JJ shares his birthday with moi! How great is that!? The Stranglers logo is soon strewn all over my exercise books which will upset school ma'am Miss Barnforth who will lose her rag with me in front of class to shiver and shake her fiercest, caustic caveat yet:

'Gary Kent - get a grip on yourself!" Of course, the class of Stranglers IV fall about in hysterics at her lapsus linguae while I gain rebel kudos in the cruel classroom jungle. This will add to Miss Bamforth's hormonal disparity, facial perspiration and lip quiver as she no doubt, secretly and silently, relishes not having any kids like me of her own.

I will soon swerve expulsion through knocking the arse out of playing truant, and of course other things. There's always other things. I also become pretty delft at intercepting school correspondence - the crest is on the envelopes - from headmaster to Dad to find out where I was, and the creative and credible reasons (and signature replication) for my various absences explained away and apparently accepted in good faith. But just to doubly make sure I can cover my tracks, the class register goes missing which is enough to out-fox one entire year's absentee recorder. More rock 'n' roll shenanigans involve a school break-in for a bottle of ether to get out of our nuts with over Hollow Ponds or the derelict power station that we - me, McFadden and Jameson - commandeer at the weekends. Funny how they get sent to Oxford, while I'm sent to... Coventry, with regards to the school.

I could go on with my Punk spirited unsavoury deeds, high jinks, jolly japes and whatnot, but I'll leave it there, not wishing to incriminate my old Stranglers pals and myself. Mum's the word. Suffice to say, Mum's right when she lets me know that I'm never the same after The Stranglers. Something changes, yes. But for the better?

I'm pretty sure London Weekend TV broadcast the Something Better Change video during ATV's Tiswas that Saturday morning when everything changes for me. It's my Sliding Doors moment. My epiphany. Say, if I hadn't gone to the shops and stayed at home? Even if we had a colour telly, even if it's tuned to LWT, even if the telly was allowed to be switched on Saturday mornings... I just happen to be in the right place and time. That video is a dazzling filmic endorsement from UA Records. Experienced director Tony Spratling (everything from The Dirty Dozen to Muppet Island 3 and more) is someone I'd like to trace but I don't even get as far as his wife's email address. But Spratling captures the Punk spirit admirably - look too close you'll catch sight of a Jet beard or a Dave moustache - yet perfectly framed in a sunny run-down boarded-up bend in west London along with Straighten Out shot the same day. Location-wise, Southern Row off Ladbroke Grove is a one-time workshop access for 'Happy' Hamrax Motors, a landmark for west London motorbike owners. Marvin Gaye and Desmond Dekker top the charts when the company relocate leaving an empty space. The circus is long gone when I soak the buzz of the shoot amid modern, boring brick pave and pointless bollards.

When Something Better Change peaks at No. 9 in the late summer of Punk, archives show TOTP's Legs & Co jigging away in place of the video, and the tune is laudably audible for a chart run-down on 18th August. Straighten Out gets an airing on a TOTP transmission of August 4th, and Granada TV's So It Goes shows Something Better Change on November 6th 1977.

Victoria Buildings 1969 SBC now SBC stairs

No More Heroes...

The fourth single No More Heroes and the second album No More Heroes are out. I tape Sunday's Top 40 off the radio before I can afford to buy the single: I get the album's cassette when the turntable decides not to turn. Like Peaches, the No More Heroes single reaches No.8, and also like Peaches, it isn't granted a promo video.

Okay, admittedly The Stranglers are busy heroically playing halls and clubs up and down the country - a whopping 240 gigs in 1977 - which may be the foremost reason, but United Artists do miss a trick. Surely a day out from the live itinerary could facilitate TV promotion while they're on the Heroes tour?

Although several years on, a video consisting of newspaper clippings is made for The Video Collection video compilation but it's no great shakes(pearo). Given the chance to film back then, I wonder if they'd have done a performance video - and one for In The Shadows too? How menacingly eerie that might have been. TOTP appearances on September 22nd (repeat on October 6th), sees Hugh and JJ making a show of fanning the BBC's special effects dry ice with magazines, which is much more interesting than the clippings vid. Hugh Cornwell says TOTP is 10 hours waiting around to do one song. So why not spend half that time on a promo video? On a Dutch TV show sees the band swap instruments with Dave on bass, Jet on guitar, Hugh on the organ and JJ drumming like Animal from the Muppet Show. Skylarks in Europe continue: blink and you'll miss this one where JJ is supposed to be bashing out the twangy Heroes intro and intentionally misses it and mouths to the camera:  'Fuck!'  He then proceeds to trash the stage area. On another Dutch TV show JJ takes the lead vocal, miming: 'Fuck off you silly c*nts!' Awesome ad libbing (ad miming?) I must say, yet not the sort of quality antics you'd get on a promo video I suppose. But not having promos for Peaches and No More Heroes? If it's not the time factor, surely it can't be the cost, can it? That's unfathomable (unthinkable) for a band at their sales zenith. UA really should get a grip, to partially quote The Stranglers and of course, Miss Sweaty Betty Barnforth.

5 Minutes & Rok It To The Moon...

JJ 5 Minutes

It's a new sound for the fifth single. At the tail of 1977 the band return to TW Studios with Martin Rushent and Alan Winstanley. 5 Minutes - heavier than Ugly and School Mam combined - comes with Rok It To The Moon. For the band's second video shoot, the location is a basement in Fitzrovia. The Stranglers look mean, moody and serious. And in black. Mostly. The room is seriously black too. For a music performance, it's dramatic and chilling. My dream is to find someone behind the scenes, or even someone behind the lens. Someone who has some vague memories of the videos, someone actually there. It's a long shot when I research and find a film, a costume designer, a producer and an email in my inbox. I can't believe my luck! For this is none other than video director Roger Lunn. I phone him as planned, but he's busy. He phones me back and I'm all ears, eyes and soul.

"Well, the two videos really started with an open brief," Roger recalls. "It was like, well, what are we going to do? We've only got so many hours, so let's just do a performance piece. What shall we do to make it a little bit different? Let's do so many takes with the band playing to playback, and then another bunch of takes playing with those neon tubes for Rok It To The Moon which we did the same day."

Roger's local pub just happens to be the Hope and Anchor, so he is already familiar with The Stranglers live act. He also gets to know the Albion Management team. Roger remembers that filming was a quick process and there was time to do two videos in the half day shoot.

"It was The Stranglers in the morning - an early start, 9am I think it would have been - and not the best of times as the band might well have been working the night before. I remember picking up Jet Black in the cab on the way in and he was completely zombie-fied! In the video you can see Jet looking quite drawn, they were all a bit tired. Might have picked up Dave as well. But so early in the morning wasn't a great idea and the band were pretty grumpy. I got the impression they didn't like doing promos. It wasn't fractious. I mean, well, it was a case of this is a job that had to be done."

Amazingly, Roger reveals that this is his very first video! Speaking for millions of Stranglers fans around the world, I say how tremendous they both are, yet Roger is humble in his response:

Jet 5 Minutes

"That's really because it was shot on tape - a multi-channel tape shoot mixed as we shot - with some tidying up afterwards. Tape was quite new then and only really used for television. It was shot on 2" and 1" followed quite quickly afterward which was a lot more flexible and portable - but everything done in a studio tended to be shot on 2" because it was land-locked where all of the machines recording the information you were shooting on a multi-camera shoot so you would end up with a big kit in the studio. On my later promos, 1" was more flexible where you'd just wear a back-pack. With the onset of digital filming, it's so much easier nowadays. But back then, it was on 2" helical scan, so instead of scanning upright onto the tape, this was diagonal and carried more information."

Filmed diagonally across the tape allows for increased quality and is very effective. JJ looks pretty mean, like his bass and vocals. Hugh appears forlorn and fettered. Jet is sunset-eyed, and Dave's on his second tin of Heldenbrau, his first being a can of Colt 45. Amid the black and blue drama, plug sockets suspend, television monitors idle. Fluorescent tubes substitute guitars and drumsticks for Rok It To The Moon, like Star Wars on sulphate. Behind the scenes of the shoot, sparks fly when the band chance upon Ian Dury for the first time. Ian and the Blockheads are also here to film a video. But Ian is irked when The Stranglers make a bit of a racket, so he lets them know precisely what he thinks of them in his raw vernacular. Not quite the meeting between Aerosmith and Run DMC in their Walk This Way video, eh? JJ is taken aback at first, yet he does say Ian garners respect from him for fronting them out. Two years on in April 1980, Ian is invited to stand in for an imprisoned Hugh at the Rainbow gig in April 1980 where he sings (murders!) Peaches and Bear Cage in his, once again, raw vernacular. Roger is on hand with the real underlying cause of Ian's grief at the shoot:

"Well the Stiff Records session was in the afternoon, and that was Ian Dury and the Blockheads. They were there to do What A Waste. Ian had just been to the dentist and was out of his head with pain, which is why I imagine Ian objects to The Stranglers making a row!"

"Budget-wise it was something like three grand for UA's morning session and three grand for Stiff in the afternoon. It really was all a bit like a sausage factory - do one band video, move on and do the next one - which was how it was in those days. In short, it was a job and I got paid for it. It was a really difficult day's work working with all of these people - artists nowadays are all a bit more subservient - but back then, it was a case of let's get this job over and done with. Time was money and perhaps The Stranglers knew they were paying for it so I think they were a little bit distant with me, no doubt for this reason."

5 Minutes is hostile, disgruntling. Lyrically, it's JJ's return to the West Hampstead flat-share with Wilko Johnson and Steve Strange to discover house mate Susie is raped at knifepoint by five black men. The West End Lane downtown location being five minutes proximal to the capital's richest road, The Bishops Avenue, London's Beverley Hills. JJ packs and goes for Motorhead to move in. But the unnerving event is etched and The Stranglers first metal-sounding single is born, with a chilling finale from JJ: "Et si je les trouve, ma pauvre chou chou encullée, je les aurais, je les aurais." The video is angry too, packed with power, depicting a hint of the new Men In Black iconography in the new post-punk New Wave haze. Brilliantly, a digital clock in the corner ticks away portentously.

"Doing the performance piece was good, although Jean-Jacques was a bit... Anyway after this, we did the other one with the neon tubes - they didn't really seem to like it. Well, they didn't quite get the idea of it, at least at first, although in the end they did. I took inspiration of playing with those tubes from the 1970 film Performance with Mick Jagger and James Fox where there's a scene similar to that."

Sharps

Roger says the videos are shot in Windmill Street at Televisual, a long-gone film facility supplying the equipment as well as the studio. However, the precise location is unknown probably because this Televisual firm didn't seem to last long. However, I speak to a film studio expert called Martin who is as mystified as me as where this may have once existed. He can only relay that a well used film facility called TVI once exists at 9-11 Windmill Street, although they disappear by 1977. But he reckons it's quite feasible TVI's basement is a useful space to convert into a small studio for videos or interviews. However, on Martin's fascinating site, he has an image of a studio at TVI dating from 1974. It's actually a still from feature film Man About The House. He also notes it has a particularly low ceiling. What I find remarkable is a distinct similarity to the ceiling in the 5 Minutes and Rok It To The Moon video shoot. I can't believe I've found it! Roger Lunn remembers the ceiling too:

Man About The House

"It had a really low ceiling and not a lot of room at all, but it made for a nice environment to film. I don't think they'd ever done a promo there before. But It was a good experience and a very good learning curve. I've always been interested filming the performer's faces and how their hands work on guitars, drums, etc., and with some close-ups and several cameras, that made for two great videos done in only three hours. It had to be that quick because everything was just so expensive, what with the crew, the kit, rent of the studio, and so on. Fast and furious times with not much money in terms of production values. It was a very naive time in the promo video business. I mean, it was only twenty years from the advent of rock 'n' roll, so it would be pretty naive. Punk was the first major mass movement in music since then, and the promo caught up with technology as punk came along."

"We were testing the water - nobody knew what to do - and that naive scenario is what punk needed. The last promo I did was Flowers in the Dirt by Paul McCartney in 1989 where the budget was about a hundred grand. Nowadays they spend an enormous amount of money compared to back in the '70s."

Gigantic budgets don't guarantee tremendous videos. Take David Bowie's Ashes To Ashes - directed by David Mallet - costing $582,000, while Michael Jackson's Thriller video from John Landis is close to midnight at a ghoulish $800,000. Both are pretty rubbish it has to be said!

5 Minutes boots 5 Minutes JJ 5 Minutes band 5 Minutes JJ 2 5 Minutes JJ & HC

The 5 Minutes video is brilliant. It's timeless too - except for the clock! Not just Tiswas, but TOTP educate the nation with transmissions on 9th and 23rd February 1978. The tune is really quite a unique sonic departure and I remember the second it goes out on Radio One, Saturday morning with DJ Dave Lee Travis. I pump up the volume - the teak transistor rattles - and it's not the only thing rattling. For when Hairy Cornflake makes his announcement at the end - it's The Stranglers with 5 Minutes - Dad patiently (if not politely) pauses before he provides his feedback. Not that anyone asks for it.

"That - is - FUCKING - SHIT!" Like when Pretty Vacant goes out on TOTP and Dad adds a "disgusting shit!" for optimum impact, with eyes full of fear and hate. I vacate the Jukebox Jury breakfast table and leave Dad with DLT's Snooker on the Radio segment and so World War Three is narrowly forestalled. About a year on, Dad (aka Harry) is heard singing along to Don't Bring Harry while decorating. Golden Brown too, more recently, in his workshop. After his 2016 death, I discover a Stranglers compilation in his car, although 5 Minutes is not a feature on the Decade CD as it is fucking shit. So I think he grew to like the music of The Stranglers albeit begrudgingly. Mum too: like, when they touched down at Gatwick back in 1990, and with one foot into the arrivals, Mum reveals that Hugh has left The Stranglers and look, here it is in the Daily Mirror. "But, but.." I mutter as Mum has the folded out pop page, "I was only watching them at Ally Pally last week..." Yet my Mum finds out before me, on a Mediterranean island one thousand air miles away. So red tops are on sale in Sardinia and for one reason or another, parents can sometimes appreciate their offspring's music in the end. 5 Minutes only marginally misses a Top 10 placement in February 1978.

To be continued...

BLOG: TIME TO FLY

2nd March 2017

Stranglers 2016

Classic Collection

BLACK AND WHITE swept the UK like Hurricane Kate earlier this year. Doesn't seem like a year ago, does it? But performing that third album was something we championed yonks back in the Wish List. Fans can be so demanding can't they? But now there's more to be demanded, but that's later. Meanwhile, thanks must surely be in order for drummer Jim Macaulay for making some mighty meaty bangs and crashes at the back. The recent official image for this year's Classical Collection features our new tub thumper, yet there's no word on Jet Black's place in the current line-up. Or whether this UK tour - which features the mighty Ruts DC - is named from a future greatest hits release. Not that the world is short of a best of The Stranglers CD!

What has been made absolutely crystal clear is how the band sound so on-form – and clearly enjoying themselves onstage – and a myriad of fans are already making noises about touring their brilliant fourth album. The Raven is the LP where the band really stretched their wingspan with their most accessible album to date. Notwithstanding the recent re-release of The Raven on vinyl. Don't forget they re-released a vinyl Black And White and gigged that. So can we get to relive another landmark trip down memory lane? Longships, The Raven, Dead Loss Angeles, Ice, Baroque Bordello, Nuclear Device, Shah Shah A Go Go, Don’t Bring Harry, Duchess, Meninblack and Genetix… Or will it be Shah segued into Ice..? And Fools Rush Out? Bear Cage?

Now there’s some food for thought, even if it is porky meat heeeeeeeeee…. And let’s not forget the stage setting. What could that possibly look like..? Mmm… (thinks).

Rat Fly Straight

Raven

The Raven is every fans favourite Stranglers album. With style and panache - with a magnificent canvas backdrop gracing the stage - striking, very Viking and vaguely malevolent.
Gary Kent ponders the possibilities of resurrecting it, phoenix-like.


THE BOLD BLACK bird straddles with beady eye peep-hole bursting with blinding white strobe. This immense ornithic icon sagely oversees the band being magical, mythical and menacing.


There is nothing permanent except change’ - Heraclitus.


JJ Raven

‘Something better change! Something better change!' - The Stranglers.

It's a sea change for the Meninblack. Yesteryear's pub rock and punk gobbing is binned in a post-punk hinterland of unknown pleasures. Black And White makes the leverage but The Raven is the leveller.

‘To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often’ – Winston Churchill.

Fly straight with perfection, find me a new direction…’ – The Stranglers.

The Raven is rammed with new directional musicianship up another level and almost unrecognisable from the burbly organ / big burly bass of their punky past. Is Hugh Cornwell right when he says the band seem to be playing different parts all at the same time? Maybe that's the beauty of it. JJ Burnel and Jet Black both say it’s probably their best album, although JJ says the same for The Gospel According to the Meninblack. Or is that the Diamorphine memory?

Elegant, ebullient and fluent, The Raven is stacked with shiny new keys courtesy of Oberheim OB-X, Korg Vocoder and Eventide Harmoniser. Hallmark Hohner Cembalet is obsolete. Lyrically, the likes of Dag Dave, the Finchleys, Choosie Susie and favoured pub landlords are outmoded. Now we are wet with Australian gerrymandering, Abo’s and nuclear urania, the Shah of Iran, Gregor Mendor’s peas, LA’s Tar Pits, Class A’s, Japanese suicide, blue-blooded love - a bird within a bird - a rococo brothel plus Unidentified Flying Objects, aka the Men In Black. The Raven is surely a Hitchhiker’s guide to the globe.

If Nostradamus stood in the Nashville alongside Dagenham Dave in 1976, neither could have foreseen such a sonic shift of quantum teleportation. A far cry from those heady halcyon nights loading up Jet’s ice cream van. Now a fleet of Tonibell's and Rossi's couldn’t contain The Stranglers gear.

JJ Longship

It's a gloriously classy time at school to be a Stranglers fan in 1979; a live Stranglers LP, JJ's Euroman Cometh album, a summer time Stranglers single on Top of the Pops, a gorgeous fourth album and a sell-out tour… Oops. Meltdown comes one night in November for the band; the car with Hugh in gets a tug by the police. It's a Hammersmith horror when Hugh's hold-all reveals a stash of coke wraps, dope bags, resin, grass and a little Heroin. The magic mushrooms get ignored and Hugh's a funghi to be with as one copper cops Hugh’s autograph. The Raven lands, landing Hugh in jail in early 1980, and the law won by teaching naughty boys drugs don't work. For the band, it's a seriously sinister start to some seriously sinister malevolence and misfortune:

Stranglers logo man Kevin Sparrow dies on Christmas Day with a bottle of booze and some pills, and his art mysteriously goes missing; former manager Charlie - as in the early tune Charlie Boy - dies at the age of twenty-four; tour manager Alan suffers a heart attack at twenty-eight; the loaded-up lorry full of Stranglers equipment disappears after a gig; it is not insured, apparently. There’s more behind the scenes, but strange forces lurk and remain unsaid.

Out of jail (second coming for Hugh following the Nice riot) is when I get the phone call and it can't come at a better time. It's Jet Black. We chat, he's interested in my letter about a new direction for Strangled magazine. He invites me to Stranglers HQ the next day. I'm wearing what I believe passes as a Man in Black when it's more Man at C&A. I pass John Cooper Clarke (man in black?) at the cathedral gates and find New Hibernia House in Winchester Walk. I'm in, I call. It's Jet. We shake, and I'm shaking! He is so friendly. I'm in awe. We discuss artwork for the next issue. But now the blank paper Jet piles in front of me is staring back at me even blanker. But when I unclick my black Pentel felt tip, I'm on a run. Each Man in Black sketch is duly sliced and pasted, not forgetting the Snopake round the edges for the print copy. Before we hit the lunchtime - and the tarnished Scotch Egg incident - I've done enough for a brace of Strangleds and Jet is made up. I'm there the next day and continue my new direction with Jet's son Anthony, brother Paul, and Steve Thompson but it's always best when Jet's there.

One day, Anthony's at the post office, Paul's out somewhere, Steve's not in and I'm left in sole charge of the Strangled operation. Stretching my legs, stepping past pallets of posters and sacks of unrequited fan mail, I spot an archway in the bowels of this former Thames warehouse. I turn a door knob, half expecting it to fall off in my grip, not expecting to be allowed inside. To my shock, the door opens, so I push my luck into the dark dank space. A shaft of light beams across a dusty vision of an extremely impressive Raven backdrop for the gigs. It hangs suspended, tied to rusty hooks. My heart skips a beat as I beat a retreat back into fan mail and a ringing phone, just as Paul returns to his desk. I decide not to mention what just happened and keep it to myself in case I get read the riot act, so to speak.

Dave G
Soundcheck discussion

Doing the European: The Stranglers with that iconic back drop during sound checking at Castel S. Angelo, July 2nd 1980, just five days after JJ, Hugh and Jet are released from jail in Nice;

Record Mirror’s Barry Cain joins in the discussions; and Dave has a Wasp at his side. More images from the era can be found in ‘Second Coming’, the Meninblack PDF on the Strangled home page.

Now I'm wondering whatever happened to that Raven backdrop. Like I said, hanging around New Hibernia House was pretty fantastic back in that golden summer of 1980, but to see the backdrop was...

I'm guessing it must have been July 1980…

It was there at the Lyceum gig, Sunday 27th July...

In fact I think it was there on the whole Who Wants the World Tour up to August...

Why don't I remember much after that?

I do recall that the band weren't around after that September... after the SIS party... and I didn't join any tours.. Nor did I get to snoop round the back of the poster stacks. That's because I think the band were back in the USA by then. And I had to get a proper job. Cut to now, I spot an online chat on the subject of the backdrop and I'm enthralled as the story unravels and I trace its creator, Geoff Davidson for a chat.


Geoff Davidson

'Yes, it was me. I painted it...’

‘Yes,' says a very jovial Geoff, 'it was me. I painted it! ! met the lighting tech for The Stranglers - a mad Irishman called Martin Mulligan – he was quite a character… I’d only just started doing backdrops the year before. My first was for the Boomtown Rats and it was Bob Geldof who nudged me and said: ‘dat's fookin' great’. Anyway, Martin Mulligan gets my phone number and it is arranged that I come down to the Roxy in Harlesden where The Stranglers are rehearsing. When I get there, Martin’s nowhere to be seen. But I see the band playing pool so I ask where I can find Martin. JJ looks up from his shot and says to me:


‘He'll be in the nearest pub, with a dead policeman by his side!’

Raven Raven tour

‘From there, I had to draw loads of raven images and for this I took inspiration from Norse mythology and I did my research at the Natural History Museum during the 1979 May bank holiday. As soon as it was done it was couriered off by motorbike the next day. Once the drawing gets the say-so, I then had to paint it which happened one of those strange coincidences: Saturday 18th August 1979, the day The Stranglers played Wembley. I was painting it and listening to The Stranglers on Radio One on a simulcast that also featured Nils Lofgren, AC/DC and The Who. Of the gig, I remember Martin Mulligan telling me he had to be pulled off ACDC guitarist Angus Young for giving him some lip backstage. ‘Feckin' speed freaks!’ He ranted!’

‘I remember it was a scorching hot summer’s day and I spread out this 40 ft by 20 ft canvas across the garden to paint. Then suddenly my next door neighbour’s rabbits decide to run riot all over it! It was chaos!’

Geoff Davidson

‘Once the canvas was finished, it was meant to have a very discreet hole made in the Raven’s eye for a strobe light to flash out from. Martin asked me to cut the hole but I left it to him for choice of size for the strobe, as I thought he knew best. He then took this knife to it, but it was blunt and he ended up being a bit, shall we say, ‘enthusiastic’ carving out this rather crude and very large hole! But the strobe effect looked great, and I was so proud of that backdrop. I just wish I could find the snap of me painting it with rabbit droppings sprinkled all over it! I think I lost it in one of my house moves.’

‘I remember going to see Ian Grant at his office in Covent Garden to get paid. I walked in and sitting there was Jet Black who thought that I was someone else. He then told me how amazing it is to meet ‘Billy Connolly’. I had to let him down easy on that one!’

‘I did end up pitching for another tour - the Feline tour - as it was such a beautiful image of the cat. It was Bill Tuckey who came round to chat about it at my house in East Ham. Although I remember thinking that the meeting went a bit odd, and it was only when he got up and left that I saw one of my joke turds on the floor! Right where he’d put down his cup. Maybe that's why I never heard back? But I’d love to know where the Raven canvas went, or if there are any photos of it anywhere…’

BIG IN AMERICA: Eleven dates into 1980's US tour and disaster returns; all of the bands custom equipment is stolen following the Ritz Club gig in New York; the hired help lorry driver dives home to freshen up for the journey to Washington. He returns to an empty space where the truck was parked. £46,000 worth of gear is gone in an instant. Now it looks like the case of the missing Raven canvas seems like it's solved. Elementary, it's gone with all the gear. Thankfully, in a way, enlightenment arrives from Stranglers mega-collector Neil Horgan who reveals an extremely interesting piece of evidence appertaining to the lost inventory in the haulage heist, published below. Seems obvious now doesn’t it? Talk is of the driver being on the inside, allegedly. Mafia too. Typical Men In Black madness. And still no sheet, Sherlock.

Raven

If a Raven tour ever happens in the present day, maybe Geoff Davidson will pitch for the backdrop? If it's not computer generated? True, many Raven tracks have been played in the live set, and some might say the band are more likely to tour album number five, The Gospel According to the Meninblack. Or how about a combination of the two? The Raven-in-Black Tour. To end, post-heist, JJ is more or less philosophical:

‘We did get a bass speaker back. But let’s face it; America is the land of free enterprise. They were enterprising - and it was free.’


Below: Some of the missing items from 1980 and a £500 sheet of canvas is most evident.
© Huge raven thanks to Geoff Davidson, Neil Horgan and Paul Davis.



Missing items