INDEED IT was. During an office move, one of our readers made this amazing photographic discovery of The Stranglers on Top of the Pops performing Thrown Away. The weekly BBC show aired each Thursday and filming took place on the Tuesday beforehand, dating this image to 27th January 1981. No audience members are visible. This is because we are seeing the band in rehearsals providing acts with an opportunity to hone their performance but also for the camera men to practice their angles.
Here we see two operators with a third which will travel around the back of the set during the actual take. Having compared the image with the filmed performance, we notice that JJ’s guitar strap has been swapped. It definitely depicts a moment in time.
Blogitorial: the art of Rattus…
18th April 2016
We know, we know…the info behind the cover art of Rattus Norvegicus. Yes, It’s all in our Burning Up Times PDFs. But have you ever pondered the back cover art with the rat running across a fence bar in a glorious sunset? Doubtlessly, you too are one of those fans who hopelessly study these things in forensic detail for insubordinate amounts of time! But only now has the truth be known – a sheer twist of fate on the 39th anniversary of The Stranglers debut LP - thanks to the internet and Mark Taylor. The only problem for Strangled is to decide on an awful rat strapline…
Who let the rat out of the bag? Rattus gnaw-vegicus? All rodents lead to… Or, How now, brown rat - Or was it?
Mark Taylor has the ‘tail’ behind the rat…
Some 40 odd years ago, I had two pet rats and my mother, being a photographer, photographed one of them on a sunset studio set. I assisted her – placing the rat on a wooden fence for him to run along for the photos. Unbeknown to us, one of these photos was chosen for the iconic Stranglers album, Rattus Norvegicus. Only when I saw a friend with it painted on the back of his leather jacket did I find out about the album photo.
I don’t believe The Stranglers ever knew anything about my mother or the story behind the photo as it was chosen from our photo agent’s collection. But I always have pleasure every time I see the album, knowing I was standing just to the right, having placed the rat on the fence, when the photo was taken. I feel great pride at being associated with such a cracking album with a truly amazing photo. A while ago I wrote a small story about a pet and the link below is that story. There are more photos from the shoot of the rat on our website.
Now an additional credit can be made to Rattus: ‘Rat photograph by Jane Burton’
Hugh Cornwell and Robert Williams recall the making of Nosferatu to Gary Kent. A record that Hugh says made no money.
WINTER 1979: Bedtime. I’m under cover. Beyond the callous reality of a school night beneath candlewick covers. Lights off. Next door, parents a-kip.
Koss K-6 cans cup my ears with Nosferatu, this hero of horror, on full volume from the Fidelity music centre; coiled extension between at optimum stretch. One wrong move and the jack plug will certainly flick out of the socket, sending full-on power and Peelers whistling in the distance… I slip away into the darkness, warm grip on the coiled flex, absorbing this unnerving imaginary soundtrack to a vampire-themed movie. All the same, it shits me up.
Nosferatu is a one-off album collaboration between Strangler Hugh and Captain Beefheart’s drummer, Los Angeles-based percussionist Robert Williams. Inspiration comes from Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s haunting Dracula-based silent of 1922 – one of his finest, they say - and the most influential German film directors of the silent era. Murnau was at the pinnacle of the expressionist movement in 1920’s German cinema. Greatly influenced by Nietzsche, Shakespeare and Ibsen, Nosferatu is his adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Murnau died in Santa Barbara in 1931 following a car crash.
Hugh and Robert’s Nosferatu is a wonderful work. For Hugh, it is conceived post-Black And White. Cold, eccentric, doleful, haunting and melancholic... but always exciting. Drums are hard and almost metallic; bass is deep and throbbing; vocals are soporific and atonal (Hugh’s) although Robert sets the tone with the eponymous opener, strident, striding through a fog-lorn London on the run and into the shadows once more. The Stranglers sound is redolent. Although fear strikes through many teenage Stranglers ninjas at the time: the thought of Hugh becoming successful as a solo concern and leaving The Stranglers was unthinkable! JJ released his solo LP and toured with it in April, but now Hugh’s at it! Nosferatu is unleashed in November 1979, 35 minutes in length, it’s now almost 35 years on.
‘Burnel had just recorded Euroman, so I thought, why not have a go?'
‘As far as the motivation to make the record goes, Nosferatu was pure whimsy.’ Hugh discloses. 'I mean Burnel had just recorded Euroman, so I thought, why not have a go? I was a huge Captain Beefheart fan, and I took the opportunity to see Robert play in San Francisco whilst I was there after a Stranglers tour. He played three nights at a place called the Trocadero I believe. I went one night with the Blondie mob who were also huge fans. I met Robert after one of the shows and we hung out together and decided to keep in touch. A short time later I had a break in The Stranglers schedule so I rang him just before Christmas 1978 and invited him to make a record with me. As Nosferatu had been a silent movie originally, I thought a good starting place would be to try to approximate a soundtrack for it.’
Robert: ‘Hugh then called from the UK asking me to collaborate. I asked about a band and he said it would be just us two. When I asked about the songs he said we’d make them up in the studio. So I booked some recording studios - the best studios in LA - and invited an old friend of mine, Joe Chiccarelli, fresh off recording Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage, as our recording engineer.’
Hugh flies out to LA and sessions begin on Boxing Day, 1978. But the recording process is somewhat laboured as studios are spread between Cherokee Studios, Sunset Sound Studios, Village Recorders and Davlin Studios. Drum kits take time to mike up. Plus, there’s the continual setting up and packing away. ‘…It’s the drum-kit I used in Captain Beefheart which I still own - a Ludwig maple finish with 2-24” bass drums, 13”, 14”, 16”, 18” toms and a vintage Rogers snare drum, currently disassembled and awaiting refinishing.’
Fleetwood Mac have an unexpected recording hiatus due to one of the band disappearing. So Lyndsay Buckingham helpfully offers Robert and Hugh Fleetwood Mac’s studio time. The pair dig in, working late nights - with a little help from their other friends, controlled and otherwise - through the graveyard shift and beyond. They rush back from the studio most nights at sunrise and fall asleep back at Robert’s place. For Hugh, recording Nosferatu is instrumental to a future sonic path; musically, this is where his spidery, almost Beefheart style of guitar playing is so evident. You’ve only got to listen to the next Stranglers album - The Raven - or Hugh’s Sons Of Shiva for that matter. Coincidentally, it’s the rare Dan Electro semi-acoustic bass that Hugh plays on The Raven track - Dead Loss Angeles – which he picks up in LA. Lyrically, Hugh’s creative force in this track is where he describes the superficial nature of the city, with a line in reference to Robert playing timpani.
‘It’s a tribute to Robert who, as a friend had shown sensitivity. Robert was just as isolated in LA as I was.’ Hugh recalls the writing and recording modes: ‘I had a cassette tape full of guitar ideas for songs and I took it with me to work on. As it was such short notice, we moved around from studio to studio every few days around Christmas and New Year and it took longer than necessary because we were moving around so much. We’d sleep during the day and work most of the night, picking a guitar idea from the cassette and then work it into a song which I then wrote the lyrics for. Each song started with a click track as a template, and we were starting more or less from scratch.’
Robert: ‘Hugh and I made the songs up in the studio usually starting with the drum track although we usually created a click track to keep everything in time and off we went making it up as we went along. Hugh did not have a demo before starting Nosferatu but he had a few little riffs on guitar for just a few songs that we both fleshed out. Then we would bring home cassettes from the sessions to study and come up with subsequent parts. We spent daylight hours sleeping and worked throughout the night, very much like vampires.’
Hugh: ‘Robert suggested inviting various guests in to play from the LA area, and he was in contact with Ian Underwood, Devo’s Mothersbaugh brothers and his guitarist friend Dave Walldroop who played on White Room. I was happy for Robert to organise the Mothersbaugh’s session for Rhythmic Itch and Robert and I prepared the backing track and they wrote the lyrics and added some bits. Robert wrote the track Nosferatu and recorded it in my absence.’
Robert: ‘Recording went on for a few weeks as I recall. We hired instruments and experimented with them. Like the calliope in Wrong Way Round and the waterphone for the intro to Irate Caterpillars. There was one night where the entire studio was filled with percussion instruments like tympanies, tubular bells, tamatoms, gongs, bongos, congas, and timbales, etc. Hugh suggested we do White Room and the arrangement was my idea. I invited Ian Underwood and David Waldroop to participate as well as Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh. Devo had moved from Ohio to LA. I had dinner with Bob and Mark and they were keen to contribute. They were big Beefheart fans. I knew Ian Underwood through my Zappa connections and Dave Walldroop was a mate of mine and an excellent guitarist. I remember that The Tubes’ Fee Waybill was supposed to be singing on Wrong Way Round originally but then Ian Dury became available and once Hugh’s management got me Ian’s number, Ian did it instead.’
The Nosferatu sessions then shift from LA to London in April 1979; Mothra is recorded at Eden Studios with Alan Winstanley and mixing begins at Air Studios with Steve Churchyard shortly after. Hugh: ‘Ian Dury (that’s Duncan Poundcake to you and me…) did his fairground rant for Wrong Way Round while we were mixing. The Clash were also mixing at Air and we invited them in to sing backing vocals on Puppets but when we did it, only Mick was around. (Or Various People – crowd, shall we say…) and Puppets is about record company manipulation of artists.’
Sounds like The Clash (Remote Control) but also a tucked-in reference to Clash manager Johnny Green: ‘Greeny pays the bills, Greeny gets the pills… ’ What about the other tracks on Nosferatu?
Hugh: ‘Irate Caterpillar began as an instrumental originally but it’s about Fred Frith who I had seen in concert with Henry Cow. Big Bug was about Leon Trotsky’s war train. Nosferatu, by Robert, is self-explanatory. Losers In A Lost Land is about struggling actors. Wrong Way Round was about a girl built upside down. Rhythmic Itch was written by the Mothersbaughs. Wired is about being on Cocaine. Mothra we thought sounded like the machinations of a giant moth, so we named it in memory of a Japanese myth.’
I can’t help but wonder if there is an exclusive Nosferatu out-take… Perhaps there is..! Of course there is, but it’s hidden within these very pages! (- Ed.)
Meanwhile, an old NME clipping ahead of Nosferatu’s release talks of a track listed called Bacteria Cafeteria. A track which is mysteriously errant from the finished product and I am inquisitive. I ask Hugh, who suspects that this is the original title for a song that started off as an instrumental – ‘though not sure which – but could be Irate Caterpillar.
JJ’s Euroman Cometh scrapes into the UK Top 40 earlier that year and has since gone on to sell quite well, according to JJ. Whereas Nosferatu failed to make any impact on the album chart at the time, JJ is eager to point this out when the subject is broached! Hugh:
‘It was an extremely expensive record to make and has never made any money. The record company knew nothing of Nosferatu being made: UA had no idea I was making the record until they started getting the invoices sent to them from the studios, but they paid them all. The costs were so huge there was no possibility of me getting an advance, either from the record label or for the publishing as the deals I had in place with The Stranglers which covered solo works too. Robert did not have a publishing deal at all so he managed to get an advance out of Virgin in the UK.’
Robert: ‘His [Hugh’s] publicist then went on to announce the project as Hugh’s solo record. Is it a duo album or a solo album? Anyway, I listened to Nosferatu a few months ago and the sound and production still holds up to today’s standards.’
I can’t help play Nosferatu. But I wait till after dark. The Koss K-6’s and the Fidelity music centre are long distant memories, as is the coiled headphone extension, however warmly gripped. I stick the Nosferatu CD on and play. It still shits me up.
Special Strangled thanks to Robert Williams and Hugh Cornwell.
Joe Goes To Hollywood...
It is worth mentioning the young engineer responsible for those Nosferatu sessions in Los Angeles; Massachusetts-born Joe Chiccarelli starts out as a bassist in 1970’s Boston before turning to studio engineering and heading out west. A lucky break while at Hollywood’s Cherokee Studios comes when Frank Zappa’s engineer is delayed in London with visa problems. In an interview with HitQuarters, Chiccarelli says: ‘I was 20 years old working as an assistant engineer in a studio, and Frank booked in. His engineer couldn’t make the session and he took a chance on me. I’m so thankful ever since that day because he gave me a career.’
Subsequently, Chiccarelli is now an eight times Grammy recipient responsible for capturing the sounds of many of the best acts around. As a producer-mixer-engineer he has worked with an impressive array of artists including: Elton John, Beck, U2, Tori Amos, Oingo Boingo, Rufus Wainwright, Carole King, The Cult, Bon Jovi, The Bangles, Herb Alpert, Al Stewart, Jonathan Richman, Brian Wilson, Joan Baez, Counting Crows, Etta James, White Stripes, The Raconteurs and Jamie Cullum to name a few. Oh, and of course Hugh Cornwell and Robert Williams! Chiccarelli still uses Sunset Sound Studios these days while Cherokee closed in 2007 to become live-work units. In Beatles producer George Martin’s autobiography, Cherokee was named the best studio in America. Joe Chiccarelli is presently working on Morrissey’s album in France.
In a White Room… Chris Gabrin
Ice breaker single White Room is a cracking redo of the Cream track from 11 years before. The brilliant expressionist promo video is by Hugh’s pal, Chris Gabrin:
‘We filmed it at my studio in St. Pancras Way. I shared half the attic with a sculpture called Denis Masi and his studio was painted white - sculptors 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 an old Victorian building owned by the Post Office. It’s long gone now, though. I moved out soon after: my lease was coming up, and I was always expecting it to get knocked down for redevelopment. A friend moved in and ended up staying there another four years. The video was done in the Nosferatu 1920’s style using German expressionist lighting. It was very visual, and with my photographic background, I came up with some new tricks. Do you 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.’
Paul McGuire in… Nosferatu!
‘The pairing of Hugh Cornwell and Robert Williams was truly inspired musically, not to mention certainly the most black-eyebrowed duo. Just recently I picked up Nosferatu on CD - vinyl always needs a back-up - this evening Nosferatu comes alive during a long drive as the gorgeous blue LA skies turn to blackness.
The opening title track evokes a Transylvanian nightmare that Bram Stoker should be proud of. Robert’s frenetic double-bass drum-fuelled workout and Hugh's unmistakably weird guitar and vox mesh with sinister keyboard washes unlike anything off Dave Greenfield's dextrous hands, which is saying something. A furious, haunting track suggesting a cinematic chase - the title tune builds, peaks and fades like a runaway horse-drawn wagon.
Following on from the rapid die out is a much slower number, Losers In A Lost Land. Hugh Cornwell’s melancholy vocal is punctuated by his evocative six-string work as Robert Williams' restrained accompaniment frames his gurgling moog backdrop. An unexpected version of Cream's White Room is next, a monochromatic take stirred by Robert's powerful kettle drums. The - one of the greatest song titles ever - Irate Caterpillar with Hugh’s spoken word leads to Rhythmic Itch, a genius collaboration with Devo's Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh, the former's distinctive singing elevating the track next to Williams' bass marimbas and a driving fadeout propelled by Mark's Prophet synth.
Wired is twisted and asymmetrical, abetted by Mothers of Invention stalwart Ian Underwood whose talents at soprano sax and moog are on full display. Great stop and start finale. And who can forget the turkey-taloned EP sleeve? With many songs in pop and blues history about trains, Big Bug stands alone as the strangest. Inspired by Trotsky's infamous locomotive, the song is dominated by Williams’ multiple talents. Truly one of a kind. Mothra is based on fabled Japanese terror and is another bizarre, complex and ultimately fascinating piece of work. Carnival barker Ian Dury (Duncan Poundcake) winds up Wrong Way Round to places even The Stranglers never venture. Puppets closes the album, with jungle drug chants and more alchemic genius from Williams and Cornwell.
Nosferatu is not easily accessible. On first hearing I can’t fault its power and beauty, but it is clearly a strong piece of work by two acolytes of Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart, may he rest in piece. It is also extremely well produced and, to me, it is the best solo Stranglers work in league with JJ and Dave's Fire And Water. Tonight it sounds better with age and I hope someday Cornwell and Williams revisit it for a one-off live soundtrack to the classic German film that inspired it. In that respect it is also quite reminiscent of Lou Reed and John Cale's Songs For Drella, written and performed quickly in honour of recently deceased Andy Warhol (if you haven't heard it, A Dream alone is worth the price of admission, as powerful as anything either man has done together, apart or with The Velvet Underground).
It amazes me that Nosferatu was cut in 1979, sounding fresh and far more interesting than just about anything I hear elsewhere today. I may be stuck in my ways but there is simply no new music that compares to The Stranglers collective work. Those like me who were there from the first bars of Grip and beyond along with Hugh's magnificent body of solo work are indeed lucky.’
Big Strangled thanks also go to Chris Gabrin, David Fagence, Paul McGuire, and Adam Neil.