During the summer of ‘77, the new wave band Celia and the Mutations released its first single, an update of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Mony Mony” backed with a cover of the Stranglers’ “Mean to Me.” Celia was a new face, but there were clues to the identity of her backing band: that Stranglers tune on the B-side, for one, and the distinctive sounds of Dave Greenfield’s keys and JJ Burnel’s “Barracuda bass” on the actual record itself, not to mention the ads in the music papers that paired Celia’s face with the same image of the Stranglers’ silhouettes that was printed on the back of the record sleeve. In fact, these were not so much clues as a series of billboards, blimps and skywriters announcing the Stranglers’ participation; I think that, if you were a Stranglers fan, it would have taken genius to miss the Mutations’ true identities. “Yes, we know!” the ads screamed over the outlines of Cornwell, Burnel, Greenfield, and Black. “But who is Celia?”
Celia Gollin’s discography is easy reading. Just before the Mutations, she and Brian Eno were credited as the vocalists on Gavin Bryars’ “1, 2, 1-2-3-4” from Ensemble Pieces, a 1975 release on Eno’s Obscure label. Then there are the two Celia and the Mutations singles, and “the rest,” in the words of Albion’s ever-living poet, “is silence.”
Gollin came in contact with the Stranglers through their manager, Dai Davies, Burnel says:
Dai Davies came up with the idea of us working with Celia and to lend our kudos and musicianship to this girl he was trying to push. He wanted me to write songs with her, one of which featured Wilko (Johnson) too.
Sounds profiled the Mutations in July, after writer Chas de Whalley witnessed their performance of “Mony Mony” during a Stranglers gig at the Nashville. De Whalley gave Celia’s last name as “the Tolkienesque Gollum,” and reported that Davies had discovered her singing “camp cabaret” in a Chelsea restaurant, where she was accompanied by Kilburn and the High Roads’ keyboardist, Rod Melvin. Davies:
She was mixing Marlene Dietrich songs with Kinks and Velvet Underground stuff. And she sounded so polite and English and proper that I thought it would be really great to see her singing in front of a nasty dirty rock band like the Stranglers. The contrast would be incredible.
But if we credit the comments section of this discography, years later, Davies told a different story to the Stranglers’ fan club magazine, Strangled:
She was a make up artist who had done the band’s make up for one of the albums. The Mutations idea wasn’t as successful as we hoped, but we did a new Mutations which consisted of Terry Williams the drummer from Man, Wilko Johnson and Jean-Jacques [Burnel].
Make-up artist was one of the professions listed in the Sounds profile; that checks out. But who knows what to believe anymore, in the “age of computer”? Could up be down? ¿¿¿Could future be past???
The “new Mutations” Davies refers to above recorded Celia’s second and last single, “You Better Believe Me” b/w “Round and Around.” The change of personnel might explain why the A-side is credited to “Celia and the Fabulous Mutations” and the B-side to “Celia and the Young Mutations.” But who knows what to believe anymore, etc.
After the jump, hear both sides of Celia and the Mutations’ thrilling debut from 40 summers ago…