26th May 2019
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?
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!
(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 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!'
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?
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.
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...
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:
"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."
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:
"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!
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.
ADVERTS FOR the forthcoming Black and White LP tease (torture) for weeks. Radio One's John Peel kindly airs the entirety of the album before the release date including one of the extra tracks, Walk On By. I am tuned in with my new transistor radio, absorbing everything in nervous excitement and loving every single bit of it. Dave's keyboards are something else. Today, however, is red letter day: Friday 12th May 1978 is the LP's release day and my sole endeavour is to get my hands on a copy as soon as humanly possible. Personally, it's not an option to wait for after school. So I am forced to hatch a plan of studiously going through the motions of going to school without actually staying in school for any lessons. With Adidas bag over the back gates, I escape back on the Underground and I meet up with fellow truant Stewart Batsford. Batsford, normally, has an abnormally shit taste in music; Boney M, Bee Gees, Baccara... and Bay City Rollers to complete the line of busy Bs, but today he is here. So while nice and easy listening does it for Batsford, he is here today for my big day.
We get to Roach's Records and it's not even open yet, so we listen out for any jangling keys in the lock. Uniformly, we are standing in the shadows in school uniforms and looking conspicuous until we cunningly shed the blazers in a pretty rubbish attempt to disguise the fact we're two fifteen year old kids bunking off school hanging around outside a record shop. Jingle, jangle - we're in! Joe Roach has my Black and White album and I invest the best £3.75 ever and with said album underarm - it's got the White EP inside with Walk On By - and it's all back to mine. Parents out working provides an idyllic chance to absorb Black and White with forensic detail all day long. Which we do. This magnificent set of songs streams out through louvres and turgals with the volume up as loud as my as the record player allows: White Side, Black Side, White Side, Black Side, White Side, Black Side, White Side, Black Side, blasting out into the east London ether for as long as possible. Well, until someone calls the Old Bill.
Nice 'n' Sleazy...
Sixth single Nice 'n' Sleazy is a curious sonic twist. It's a reggae beat, strangled with twisting bass, sinewy synths and snarling lip. Audible for a TOTP chart run-down on the 4th of May, it's at No.27 and on the ascent. On the 18th of May, the band are on Top of the Popsicles for a cracking performance. Interestingly, the backing track is different: keyboard volume is up in the verses and Hugh's vocals higher on "Nice - ". It shows they redo the audio for the show.
Nice 'n' Sleazy peaks at No. 18 despite Frank Sinatra's lawyers apparently objecting to the Nice 'n' Easy titular similarity. Lucky they don't send the boys round. The Finchley Boys, that is. Birmingham ATV has the band on Revolver on July 22nd for a commanding Curfew and Tank. Black and White is at No.2 for three gold albums in a year and a bit. The only Nice 'n' Sleazy video on offer is the Battersea Park live version - my first ever gig. I try searching online for the real McCoy, but have you ever searched for anything with 'Sleazy Video' in a search engine? It's quite distracting. Still, I'm intrigued enough to ask the key players.
Back in June 2005 JJ agrees to meet me at his Karate dojo at the Barbican. This is an interview for our debut issue of The Burning Up Times PDF, all about Black and White. I have a zillion questions to pose and one of them gets lost in all the fun: so why wasn't there a video made for Nice 'n' Sleazy?
JJ: 'Well, there was one but it was terrible! It was shot in a studio like a sleazy night club with girls and feather boas and red lighting, dressed all sleazy and we refused to let it be shown because it just wasn't good enough.'
I was surprised at the time because no one thought there was one, including me. In a separate interview for the same issue, I hook up with Hugh in a Notting Hill Gate coffee shop:
Hugh: 'Well yes there was one, but it wasn't very good! It had a lot of men in bowler hats sitting in rows of bent back chairs in front of a stage with a girl stripping and we were playing next to her. And the guys were all sitting there in their bowler hats and umbrellas, and it's really dull, and I don't think it ever got used in the end. Someone's got it.'
Someone's got it indeed. But who? In Stranglers fan circles, memories are properly jogged with talk of it shown in the Eighties when a new pub-fad comes to town called the Pioneer video laserdisc jukebox. All this in a land before Sky Sports came across the West Sea: I - did - not - have - much - idea - that this Sleazy promo was shown in the Clarendon in Hammersmith, another pub off Oxford Street, a Glasgow boozer and a pub in Ipswich too. These fortunate viewers say it was very dreary and wasn't very good, just like JJ and Hugh say. Plus a fan-dancing stripper with a feather boa doing her dance while the band play on, looking fairly nonplussed. Sounds great to me! My appetite is well and truly whet. I need to look into this dirty dancing video. So who's got a copy? Do you know anyone? If Battersea Park's missing tracks from Battersea Power is my Holy Grail of missing film, the Nice 'n' Sleazy promo is my even holier than the Holy Grail. Black holier. I wonder if one of the other directors involved in Stranglers videos knows anything? I'm in touch with Golden Brown director Lindsey Clennell with high hopes.
Me: "Lindsey, did you direct the video for Nice 'n' Sleazy?"
LC: "Nice 'n' Sleazy? That was an early one wasn't?"
Me: "Yes, 1978..."
LC: "Yeah, yeah... yeah -"
Me: "You did? You filmed it???"
LC: "No, I didn't. That would have been before my time. Sorry."
Okay so I know they did a vid for Sleazy but no one's got it. The bit I don't get is they filmed a video for album track Sweden (All Quiet on the Eastern Front). So I ask Roger, director of 5 Minutes:
"Sweden?" Asks Roger. "Oh yes, I did do that one didn't I? I don't really remember doing Sweden. What was the video about? Oh, the operating theatre. That would have been the day I shot another video in the same session at the same place..."
Another video in the same session? I mean, 5 Minutes was done with Rok It To The Moon, so what's this other video on the same day..? Roger is intrigued and racks his recall:
"...So was Sweden a b-side? No? Oh. Yes, I directed it! Ha! Gary, I haven't thought of that since I did it! But I vaguely remember that one. I should imagine the session was for three hours and they probably thought, what else shall we film in the rest of the session. But I'm sure there must have been another video I did for The Stranglers."
The fifty million dollar question: the Nice 'n' Sleazy video? With fingers firmly crossed, my money's on Roger:
"Nice 'n' Sleazy? Yes, I did the Nice 'n' Sleazy promo the same day I did Sweden! That's it! Although I can remember that one a lot less than the others! They say it was dreary and dark, did they? I remember I did want it shot in a strip club but we didn't because they didn't have the money and it would have been too expensive. So we built a small set to look like a strip club at Carlton Television in St. John's Wood, north London. It would have been a lot darker had it been in a real strip club. We had a fan dancer performing and a bunch of blokes in raincoats with the band playing and I thought it was quite good. It was okay, but I don't remember it being dreary or dark. Unless it was dark on purpose to look like a strip club? If it had have been dark, the control box would have always said it's not going to register. It can happen that it had been graded. I mean, in those days, once you'd shot the job, it wasn't yours anymore. But yes, I did the Nice 'n' Sleazy video. So that's the four videos in two sessions."
How's that for a bit of detective work? But after all of that, Roger does not possess a copy of the video. I then resume my online research of Sleazy videos and suddenly there's a bit of a breakthrough. A snippet of the original video exists within a Polyphonic Size video so I grab some screenshots and clean them up for all to see. I still want to see that video however bad it is deemed.
It's on someone's shelf, in someone's attic, at the back of someone's drawer. I'm listening to Robert Elms on BBC Radio London and his regular guest, Russell Clarke, aka the Rock 'n' Roll Routemaster. He relays a fascinating story of a lost movie. In 1968, Mick Jagger conceives a film of the Rolling Stones playing in a circus tent along with all the stars of rock and pop. The Small Faces and Led Zeppelin are due for inclusion but in the end, they do get the odd super-group including The Who. It's shot in a big top set up inside a film studio over Wembley way and celebrity guests are dressed up in ponchos and sombreros and sit round the ring while the bands perform. Well, it's the Swinging Sixties innit? This is 'The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus'. However, problems with filming make for a laboriously long day extending into the following day. The Stones performance is weary whereas The Who are amazingly fresh off their concert tour, much to Mick's chagrin, according to rock 'n' roll rumour mill. As a result, the film is kind of ditched, and over the years, and the footage is thought to be lost or destroyed. However, the entire tape comes to light when discovered in a bin in a private vault belonging to The Who. The bin men must have been on strike! Amazingly this is some twenty-eight years later. I now have my DVD copy and it is tremendous for its historical magnitude as well as The Who's performance. The other acts - including the Stones - are rubbish, to be perfectly honest. But you see what I mean? Someone somewhere must have the Nice 'n' Sleazy promo video. Albeit four decades on. Notwithstanding, I can't help wondering who must have a pristine video of Walk On By too...
Walk On By...
Three weeks into July 1978, Walk On By is a single release. For fun, an in-house video is made and visual and media arts lecturer (and Strangled Magazine originator) Tony Moon recalls the video's inception:
"It came from many conversations between Hugh and myself and our mutual appreciation of the film Blow Up and so a rather daft homage to the film gradually evolved. Suddenly we're in the same park in southeast London filming our take on it. This was all done before the words 'pop video' had ever sprung from anyone's lips. It was shown at ICA once it had been blown up from Super-8 which is the reason that the one on Youtube is quite grainy and doesn't appear to have travelled too well!"
Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up is shown on Thames TV on 8th May 1978. Coincidence or inspiration? For the video, Hugh asks pal Chris Gabrin to film with Hugh's movie camera which is also used for the Battersea Park gig. Interestingly for photographer Chris, this is his also his first film, and he will go on to make many pop videos for many artists, including Channel 4's The Tube. Top jazzer George Melly plays the lead with a Dionne Warwick lookalike plus a prowling Lew Lewis on harmonica, with both musicians making an appearance on Walk On By b-side Old Codger.
The Stranglers mime Walk On By for a TOTP broadcast on August 17th which leads to an alleged TOTP ban after JJ kicks in a dressing room door occupied by pop band Child, as you do. I did say it's not straight forward between the band and the Beeb. However, a repeat performance is shown on the 24th. Once more, The Stranglers look seriously cool head to toe in black. It has to be said this would have been a sure fire Top Ten single if you count all those 75,000 gratis copies on Black and White's White EP. Instead it peaks at No. 21 in the UK.
Friday 20th October 1978: while John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John top the charts with Summer Nights, the cameras are rolling for a live Stranglers gig. The air is charged and challenging. Tell me more, tell me more.... It's a BBC Rock Goes to College from Surrey University; in-house ticket distribution to students over locals. This upsets the band who wait until the show goes live and down tools during Hanging Around. "The Stranglers don't play to elitist audiences!" Hugh says over the mic , with affirmation from Jet with a foxtrot-oscar aimed at the University. The cameras roll on but the band go for good. Poor old Pete Drummond is in a tizzy. But the producer is Michael Appleton who will go on to the Old Grey Whistle Test, a show The Stranglers would have cherished to play. I wonder if there's a degree of compunction attached to that walk-off?
"Yes of course," JJ tells me, "we would have done anything (then). But as it happened we had to do it without any help whatsoever. I suppose I have to regret the impact. The perception people had of us. But we didn’t make any threats or anything. Our plugger resigned that particular night, the BBC TV banned us for many years."
The Stranglers are spotted on BBC's Arena documentary on Dadaism with George Melly who calls them Dada surrealists of the punk movement, adding "Long live The Stranglers," as he mooches past the lascivious looking line-up leant against London billboards.
What a great year it is to be a Stranglers fan. My highlight being my first gig - my first Stranglers gig - at Battersea Park on Saturday 16th September. The date is etched in my cerebellum. Several years back, I am at work. This is in an operating theatre, where I work on the anaesthetic side of things. The patient is doing perfectly fine and I'm now logging the date on the anaesthetic sheet and I make a note of the time. It's midday on the 16th September. Without thinking how stupid this might sound to the non-musical and uncultured, I tell the team that I know exactly where I was this day way back in 1978. The operating surgeon had been totally silent throughout the operation so far. He looked up at me and this is what he said: "So do I. I was at Battersea Park to see The Stranglers!" Two people at work in the same room at the same place in history.
Watching The Video Collection DVD I can refresh my chemical recall during Nice 'n' Sleazy at Battersea and there I am, fifteen, looking up agog at the gyrating girls shedding frillies and shaking their bits to the Battersea beat. Aaaah. Those are the days.
Wot? No single for over a year? Well that's roughly how Duchess gets press promotion for the eighth 45 in August 1979. It's another sonic shift, yet still with hallmark bass and organ as the band mime hysterically for the video and dressed in choirboy surplices, a nod to it's working title of Choirboys. It's directed by (future) Highlander film director Australian born Russell Mulcahy (Making Plans For Nigel, Turning Japanese, and just about every Ultravox, Duran Duran and Elton John video) who will go on to direct The Buggles' Video Killed The Radio Star. Unfortunately, he is so famous I can't get in touch with him. Hugh breaks his glasses and fixes using foil from a fag packet. Duchess receives a veto from the BBC who deem it blasphemous or sacrilegious, or for having backward backing vocals subconsciously telling you to kill your parents!
Or maybe Cliff Richards is due to appear on the same show? The Beeb may be a bit wary - and should be too - of The Stranglers, but they get an invite to mime to Duchess at Television Centre and which is broadcast on 30th July 1979. That ban soon wears off. Inevitably, another incident takes place backstage as the band eagerly commit themselves to some earnest mopping and cleaning of their dressing room with tongues firmly in cheeks. However, all good deeds end when the cameras roll and JJ mimes: 'Silly c*nts - silly c*nts!' through the choruses which the Beeb miss. But it's a hit at No. 14 that summer.
Nuclear Device (The Wizard of Aus) is out next and the promo video is hilarious, although I should imagine it goes unseen, bar the A&R department. That's a great misfortune us loyal fans fail to see the funnier side of a pretty full-on bad boy band, especially here dressed in khaki billabongs and Crocodile Dundee corky hats doing pat-a-cakes in the Outback, aka Portugal.
After the shoot they strand poor old NME writer Deanne Pearson in the wasteland for a laugh. I suspect she'd not seen their funny side. Deanne says she's kidnapped by the band, abandoned, and missed the plane home. A private jet is laid on. However the plane lands unexpectedly in Luton when she lives in London. At least she had a bottle of Remy Martin for the flight.
There's a definite Pythonesque quality to the film which is directed by Hugh's friend and early band photographer, Chris Gabrin (who will direct the Ian Dury film Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll) who recounts for me his take on the Nukes shoot:
"It was filmed out there because the band previously cancelled a gig there. I mean, the band would turn up with a huge lighting rig, and the promoter shows them to a solitary 13 amp socket! Anyway, because they were so ruthlessly true to their fans, they booked this other gig and there was some spare time. So we filmed the Nuclear Device video down there. The gig had a big fireworks display, and I wanted fireworks for the video. Bloody huge fireworks. So we got this dodgy-looking firework guy who had scars all over his face to drive down with these explosives over from England on his truck."
Nuclear Device bombs at a lowly No. 36. The video misses me - Bruce and Sheila too - as well as TOTP. But I am so lucky, lucky, lucky one evening in the summer night city of 1980.
Clutching a fistful of O Levels and not much else, I bunk school for the very last time, and prospects are pretty poor. Dirty Harry drives a nail into my heart and a blow below the belt when he lets me know in no uncertain terms that I have to simply get a job or get out. That simple. To extend my teenage years residing in the family home, I choose Peter Blake and Ian Dury's old Art College to enlist. But first I need a portfolio of work. One afternoon I am in my room scribbling a load of rubbish charcoal crap on some posh paper when the phone rings downstairs. My life is about to change dramatically and being seventeen suddenly becomes the best year in my life. Mum calls out:
"Gary! It's Jet Black..."
I almost go through the paper. Jet Black? Did Mum really just say that? Jet Black..? Normally he's on my turntable. Now he's on the phone in our hallway. Hello? It sounds like Jet, like when he's Nicky Horne's Capital Radio interview in March in the squeaky chair. I know because I taped it, and play it an abnormal amount of times. Yes, it's Jet, who laughs at my suspicious mind when I tell him I first thought it was someone from school pranking me. Jet reminds me of the letter I sent to the Strangled Magazine editor. It was eons ago, now I remember. Oops. I did a critique on the artwork in Strangled magazine, and some of the articles: drawings are basic and some features are over the head of the reader. Guess what? Jet is the author of all of these things. But he's not annoyed. In fact, he's grateful. Really? Then he makes me an offer I can't refuse:
"Can you come down to the office so we can have a chat..."
With a hop, skip and a jump, I'm on the Central Line train the next morning. The man opposite nods: I normally see him in the Bradford & Bingley TV ad in a bowler hat. Out at Bank and over London Bridge, I dive down steps towards Southwark Cathedral and bump into punk poet John Cooper Clarke: I normally see him in music papers. I'm in the middle of a photo shoot for The Face magazine. Out Southwark Cathedral, Into Winchester Walk, inside an old whitewashed warehouse called New Hibernia House.
The door's open. I call out, I go in. I call out again. Jet Black quietly pops his head out from an office. He comes over and shakes my hand. These hands normally drum on my favourite songs. Can this really be happening? Jet shows me my desk and pulls up an extra chair. We discuss design, ideas, how to make Strangled magazine rival The Face. Sort of. I get to work sketching Men in black and a Strangled header. Jet cuts and pastes, glues with Pritt Stick and Snopakes over the edges to hide the lines for going to print. Jet loves what I'm doing. The next two front covers are done before lunch where Jet , brother Paul, son Anthony and Steve, a chap who stops by during our meet, get a pint and some food at the nearest boozer. Here's me next to Jet Black, eyeing up the contents of the pub grub warmer. Let's hope he likes the food and doesn't pick up a fruit machine or two and stick them in the Thames. Lunch (me, Scotch Egg... Jet et al, Lasagne) at the Anchor means I'm on the firm and I soon become a regular in the world of the Stranglers Information Service that glorious summer. The band are very appreciative of all the volunteers' efforts, as I discover when I meet JJ and Hugh, who eagerly shake my hand and thank me backstage at Guildford Civic Hall. Then Jet gets to work organising a party for the SIS people, and I get to see all of the videos by the band to date. A few days before, two men in brown overalls deliver a colour telly and a VCR to New Hibernia House and plonk them on one of the desks. What's a VCR?
Saturday night - time to partay! Jet pours myself and my plus one, the peroxide and pouting Rebecca, two tepid tins of Heineken. Jet's squeeze Suze is introduced. In a back room the telly sits on a table, flickering with Stranglers TV. I'm shocked seeing Nuclear Device for the first time. It's fantastic! It deserves every BAFTA and Cannes thingy in my book. Dave and his missus are with manager Ian Grant round the TV. Ian sticks a piece of cardboard on top of the telly on which he's written in felt tip, 'What price the fourth channel?'
Monday morning, Jet's son and myself relive those Stranglers videos once again, turning our backs to the awaiting fan mail and merchandising.
Don't Bring Harry...
No video, but there's a TOTP appearance of Thursday 6th December 1979 and only just escapes the Top 40. The Beeb are seemingly ignorant of the song's pharmaceutical reference. Meanwhile on the penultimate night of The Raven tour, Hugh is caught up in a police roadblock in Hammersmith. Prison is on the horizon and there may be trouble ahead.
For The Stranglers, 1980 is muddled with Class As, court hearings, appeals, a prison sentence (singular), a crowd riot and prison sentences (plural)... By design, Bear Cage is prepared and ready for release in March as Hugh enters Pentonville. The video is directed by Duchess director Russell Mulcahy who will go on to achieve great directorial heights with blockbuster film Highlander. The verdant pastures of Wandsworth near Young's Brewery make for the surreal Camp Bearlins - Butlin's holiday camp mixed with German prisoner of war camp - as well as Roehampton Green.
Like Nuclear Device, it only reaches No. 36 despite the band showing their lighter side once more. But sales are on the wane - hits are memories - and that splendid success of the early years eludes. Maybe fans can't keep up with any more sonic shifts? Or just get older, married and mortgaged?
JJ Burnel: Freddie Laker (Concorde & Eurobus)...
JJ Burnel's splendid electronic-edged Euroman Cometh album is released on 6th April 1979 and the single taken for release is JJ's homage to airline entrepreneur Sir Frederick Alfred Laker: Freddie Laker (Concorde & Eurobus) is out the following week with JJ's hallmark bass guitar groove and an almost undecipherable Vocoder vocal. Not only that but the Freddie video captures a classic JJ in both look and moves - a terrific archive of your favourite bassist icon. The performance is cut with the exterior shoot and the long lyric sheet. Both feature the tour band, aka the Euroband. So I contact JJ to unearth his memory of filming his first solo single:
"The make-up lady, she was attractive. She had worked with The Beatles. But other than that, I'm very sorry I don't remember much at all about it. But some of the video was filmed outside in Carnaby Street – I think the director chose that – and that it was a spoof on Bob Dylan where we improvised on the day with the lyrics printed out on a sheet and that there was cardboard and rubbish in the street."
The outside bit is shot in front of the Dog and Trumpet pub by the public loos. No one knows who the director was. Nor does anyone know where the interior studio shoot is made. Bearing in mind these videos are done on the quick, the studio bit is bound to be proximal to Carnaby Street. Intriguingly, Mike Mansfield of the Supersonic TV show - "Cue Gary Glitter, take one!" - is also a video director - remember Pretty Vacant, Prince Charming and Charlotte Sometimes? Yep he does those. His show transmits the Freddie Laker video too. Interestingly Mike's old office address is 5-7 Carnaby Street and it all seems to add up as I email him for the big reveal. Next day, he's in my inbox:
'Good morning Gary, thanks for your email.
Sorry - not me but I hope you find out eventually!
Have a Supersonic day! Best wishes, Mike.'
Blast! I then contact Euroband guitarist John Ellis who recalls his experience of "running around like a lunatic" to make the video. John also remembers the studio was just off Carnaby Street - and thinks it's called something like 'Molyneux'. I search online and the likely suspect is called Molinare. I get back to John with this to which he confirms the name is right. I may not have found the director - someone suggests to me it's someone in-house - but at least I discover the studio location.
Nowadays Molly's film studio is a high-tec development but the original sits across the road in the guise of a 19th Century former warehouse in Foubert's Place just off Carnaby Street. Beyond the big black doors is a 50 x 35ft film space: such a large ground floor means car commercials are filmed here, and once tagged as London's only drive-in film facility. The late 1970s sees some well-known promo videos produced here: Dr. Feelgood with Milk and Alcohol in 1977 replete with a couple of Cadillacs; Blondie with Hanging On The Telephone a year on, and Boomtown Rats' Rat Trap and Gary Numan's Cars. JJ and the Euroband film here in early 1979.
Seeing as recollections of the Freddie video are scant to zilch - plus I still don't know the director - I'm compelled to dig around a bit. That's when I spot a comment left on YouTube beneath a Freddie Laker video where someone called Sid says he has photographic stills from the shoot. So I send Sid a message and hear nothing back. I delve deeper and post another message to Sid's social media, and still nothing. Sid's online profile says he's a former video editor with his hobby as taking photos of his colleagues at work, and that he's a former Molly's staffer. I even post a nice letter enclosing a self-addressed, stamped envelope so it won't cost a stamp. Guess what? Nothing. I can only think Sid is no longer with us. So I contact keyboard player Penny but I get no answer. The same for the drummer, Pete Howells. Anyway, telly's Tiswas also play it in April 1979.
Hugh Cornwell & Robert Williams: White Room...
Hugh Cornwell teams up with Captain Beefheart drummer Robert Williams for 1979's Nosferatu LP: the single is a cover of Cream's White Room for which there is a fine video by Hugh's photographer pal Chris Gabrin who recalls the day for me several years ago:
"It was filmed at my studio in St. Pancras Way which I shared half the attic with a sculpture called Denis Masi. His studio was painted white, because sculptures want light, while my studio was black, because a photographer needs dark. We filmed it in the white room which had that unusual semi-circular window with the round windows each side. It was in an old Victorian building owned by the Post Office."
Like the entirety of Nosferatu, White Room's video is chilling and dramatic. Chris recalls the stylish filmic approach - as well as the gastropods!
"It was done in the Nosferatu 1920s style using German expressionist lighting. It was very visual, and with my photographic background, I came up with some new tricks. Remember that shot of the snails, with the shadows? I really wanted snails – and this was before the Internet and everything, don’t forget. We managed to find somewhere where we could get snails, so we picked up the phone and ordered them. It was someplace in Truro or something. Anyway, they sent them – by mail! We unpacked them, and surprisingly, they were all still alive."
To be continued...