Hugh Cornwell, who was once the lead singer and guitarist in the Stranglers, has a new internet radio show devoted to movies and their music. You wouldn’t know it from his most famous song about Hollywood, but Hugh loves the moving pictures.
MrDeMilleFM is Cornwell’s second internet radio venture dedicated to film. (The interviews he did with Debbie Harry and Brian Eno for the first one, the now-defunct Sound Trax FM, have vanished along with their former home, but Cornwell says they will return in time.)
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…
The Stranglers arrested for inciting a riot in Nice, France, 1980
One of my favorite Stranglers tracks belongs to the spoken word genre. The B-side “An Evening with Hugh Cornwell” is just 20 minutes of Hugh talking to audiences on the Aural Sculpture tour, c. ‘84/‘85. It’s a bit like Lee Ving from FEAR winding up the crowd in The Decline of Western Civilization, but slower to build and, for me, even more hilarious. It made me sob uncontrollably with laughter the first three or four times I listened to it.
The other two tracks on the Stranglers’ Official Bootleg twelve-inch, “Hitman” and a live version of “Shakin’ Like A Leaf,” surfaced on the recent B-sides compilation Here & There, but “An Evening with Hugh Cornwell” has never been released in digital format.
A sampling of Hugh’s wit and wisdom that doesn’t spoil the best laughs:
What’s wrong? What’s happened? Has it been a depressing day in Sheffield… again?
If you paid ten pounds, you’re a mug! You’re an absolute mug. I wouldn’t pay ten pounds to see us. I wouldn’t! I’d go out and buy two LPs.
Most—all musicians would come up here and say what a great place Newcastle is and you’re all such wonderful people, but I’m not going to say that, ‘cause I think that Newcastle’s awful. Oh, it’s an awful place.
Someone up here is really thick ‘cause he’s thrown his identity card here. He’s gonna forget who he is. Oh no, it’s a lady.
Jean-Jacques Burnel and Hugh Cornwell on the stage at Battersea Park in London, September 16th, 1978" height="277" width="465" /> Jean-Jacques Burnel and Hugh Cornwell of The Stranglers on the stage at Battersea Park in London, September 16th, 1978
Back in 1977, the members of the Greater London Council were not the biggest fans of punk rock instigators, The Stranglers. According to legend, (and detailed in the book, England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond) at a show at The Rainbow in London, Strangler vocalist Hugh Cornwell wore a shirt with the word “fuck” on it. This didn’t go over well with the GLC, and The Stranglers set was cut short. After that, the GLC banned the The Stranglers from booking and playing gigs around London. Finally, on September 16th, 1978, the band was able to organize and play an outdoor gig at Battersea Park in London. And thanks to the fact that The Stranglers love trouble, it wouldn’t go off without a good dose of controversy.
Two of my favorites things; Hugh Cornwell of The Stranglers and the word “fuck”
Showbill for The Stranglers show at Battersea Park, August 16, 1978
The line-up for the show at Battersea included Peter Gabriel, Scottish punks the Skids, English band The Spizzoil (better-known in the US as Athletico Spizz 80 and for their “Where’s Captain Kirk?” single, also known as Spizzenergi and The Spizzles), a band called The Edge, and a comedian that was being managed by Cornwell at the time known as “Johnny Rubbish.”
Everything was pretty mellow until nearly the end of The Stranglers set when the band slid into “Nice ‘n’ Sleazy” from their 1978 record, Black and White. During the song, The Stranglers brought a group of strippers onstage (both male and female) and a guy with a whip (because why not?), who all proceeded to serve up some daytime strip-club, full-frontal glamor for the audience. Although the show was filmed, the footage that’s gotten around isn’t amazing quality by any means. Lucky for us, the five-minutes of the completely bonkers (and NSFW if you haven’t already figured that one out) performance of “Nice ‘n’ Sleazy” is pretty great, and I’ve posted it below for your viewing pleasure.
The Stranglers and their stripper posse performing “Nice ‘n’ Sleazy” at Battersea Park, London, 1978
Like many of you, I was once an avid collector of comic books. While it’s still in my nature to pick up an occasionally graphic novel (my last one was The Big Book of Mischief from the great UK illustrator, Krent Able), I was naturally drawn to the illustrations of the punks from the 70s done by several artists who would go on to make great contributions to the world of comic book art in a publication from 1981, Visions of Rock.
Visions of Rock by Mal Burns (on the cover Chrissie Hynde, Rod Stewart and Debbie Harry)
Although including Rod Stewart on the cover is a bit perplexing (as are some of the illustrations in the book itself) loads of incredibly talented illustrators contributed work to Visions of Rock such as Bryan Talbot (who worked on Sandman with Neil Gaiman), Brett Ewins (of Judge Dredd fame who sadly passed away in February of this year), Brendan McCarthy (who most recently worked with George Miller on a little film called Mad Max: Fury Road, perhaps you’ve heard of it) and Hunt Emerson whose work appears in nearly every book in the “Big Book Of” series.
Inside you’ll find comic book-style renditions of your favorite 70s punks like Sid Vicious (equipped with a chainsaw no less), Elvis Costello, Brian Ferry (wait, he’s not a punk rocker…), The Stranglers and others. Here’s a bit of the backstory on the making of Visions of Rock from comic book illustrator, David Hine (who worked with Marvel UK back in the 80s and whose work appears in the book):
This company that put out Visions of Rock, Communication Vectors, was run by a guy called Mal Burns, who also produced the comic Pssst! It was a weird setup, I think the (our) money came from a mysterious French millionaire. We were all paid about $200
I must admit, I’m a huge fan of Brendan McCarthy’s caricature of John Lydon (at the top of the post) looking like a crazed super villain descending upon London, compelled by the powers of both filth and fury. If you dig the images in this post, Visions of Rock can be had from third-party vendors over at Amazon for about $20 bucks, or less.
Sid Vicious by Brendan McCarthy
Elvis Costello by Hunt Emerson
More comic book versions of punk rock royalty after the jump…
Add this to the list of reasons to be very, very nice to Stranglers bassist and singer Jean-Jacques “JJ” Burnel, if you should ever meet him: he can kill you with his bare hands.
Burnel has, let’s say, a heavy reputation. According to the Guardian, the Stranglers’ authorized biography devotes no fewer than 20 pages to the subject “Burnel, violence.” The Stranglers’ former singer and guitarist, Hugh Cornwell, writes that he and Burnel fell out when the bassist attacked him backstage after a show in Italy, and that the incident was a factor in Cornwell’s decision to quit the band in 1990. Burnel had famously beaten up punk journalist Jon Savage in 1977 for giving No More Heroes a bad review in Sounds, and decades later, in an interview with Strangled, he was unrepentant about that encounter:
“I tracked him down one night to the Red Cow,” JJ explained. “And I punched his lights out right there in front of Jake Riviera, Andrew Lauder – our A&R guy, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe – all these people saw what I did. So yeah, we made a lot of enemies, bless ‘em, and these people got in a lot of influential positions within the music industry and literature… Tony Parsons, Julie Burchill… But we weren’t gonna suck up to these c*nts.”
Has anyone heard from the magazine editor who misspelled JJ’s last name recently?
Burnel, now 62, started training in martial arts at the age of 19. Since 1991, he has been the branch chief and chief instructor of the Shidokan GB organization. He is a sixth dan black belt, and as a teacher he has attained the formal title of Renshi. (I am just a flabby nerd from the suburbs and I do not pretend to know what these ranks and titles mean, but they scare the shit out of me.) According to the Shidokan GB website, London residents can train with Burnel at Slim Jims in Broadgate on Tuesday evenings. There are a few clips of Burnel in competition at the 1:40 mark in the segment below, from the ITV series After They Were Famous.
When most musicians say they have “chops”... oh, never mind.
In 1982, BBC Southwest aired a short documentary about the color black made by two members of the Stranglers. Singer/guitarist Hugh Cornwell and drummer Jet Black
“were asked to put together a piece about the colour black for an arts programme called RPM,” according to Cornwell’s autobiography.
Around this time, the Stranglers were obsessed with the sinister Meninblack (as they stylized it) legends of UFO lore. They had released their great concept album, The Gospel According to the Meninblack, and changed their names to Hughinblack, JJinblack, Daveinblack and Jetinblack; they were even thinking about changing the band’s name to the Men in Black. Ultimately, these pursuits scared the band shitless.
“We were unearthing very curious connections between UFOs and dark forces,” Cornwell writes in his autobiography, characterizing the period as “disastrous.” “It wasn’t until after we had finished on The Meninblack album and had moved on to working on La Folie, that the misfortunes stopped.”
Cornwell touches on the BBC documentary in The Stranglers: Song by Song: “Jet and I made a television programme about how the colour black has always been associated with authority. We were doing a lot of research into the Meninblack, but there were certain crucial books that we couldn’t get hold of at the National Library. It just so happened to be the books that related to the connection between the Meninblack, religion and civilisation.”
Hugh Cornwell’s last show with The Stranglers at Alexandra Palace, London on August 13, 1990. The band would continue without Cornwell but would never be the same. A fucking shame and a particularly big disappointment for this hardcore Stranglers fan. I’m still waiting for a re-union gig.
00:46 Toiler At The Sea
07:46 Something Better Change
11:24 96 Tears
14:30 Someone Like You
17:32 Sweet Smell Of Success
21:40 Always The Sun
26:11 Strange Little Girl
29:07 Hanging Around
33:40 Let’s Celebrate
38:36 Golden Brown
42:45 No More Heroes
46:38 Nuclear Device
53:35 All Day And All Of The Night
56:04 Punch And Judy
Outstanding audio and visual quality. Play it loud!
This Dutch TV documentary from 1977 captures some brilliant performances by The Stranglers, Blondie and The Sex Pistols. The bands are firing on all cylinders as they perform in Amsterdam.
In 1977, this is what was moving my world. I had just arrived in New York City and I felt like a sail in a hurricane. Slept all day and hit the clubs at night to see a rock revolution in the making.
The Stranglers at the Second Avenue Theater were particularly awe-inspiring. Unsung heroes of rock and roll, which is probably as it should be - no more heroes. Though, I have my share.
The Stranglers - No More Heroes, Something Better Change
Blondie - Detroit 442, Love at the Pier
Sex Pistols - E.M.I., Pretty Vacant, Anarchy in the UK
The video quality is pretty rough, which seems appropriate - like an underground transmission from the distant past. It’s also in Dutch without English substitles, but it hardly matters. The music speaks for itself.
It’s been a bad week for music with the passing last week of Gil Scott-Heron, and on Friday Andrew Gold. Now we have the sad news that producer Martin Rushent has died at the age of 63.
Rushent was one of the most influential producers of the late 1970s and 1980s, who created the soundscape that defined the era. If you turned on the radio back then, you were guaranteed to hear a Rushent-produced track within minutes, for Rushent was the touch of genius on some of the best work released by The Human League, Altered Images, The Stranglers, Generation X, The Associates and The Buzzcocks.
Though Rushent may be best remembered for his work producing (and performing on) the Human League’s album Dare and its hit single “Don’t You Want Me”, for which he won Best Producer at the 1982 Brit Awards, his influence was not kept to one band.
There was a trick I once heard, which claimed: if you ever travel around London, vaguely point in the direction of old churches and say Hawksmoor, you’re bound to be right, so prodigious was that architect’s work. The same can be said for Martin Rushent, hear any track from the late 1970s and especially the early 1980s, and if you can’t name the band just say, Martin Rushent and you’re bound to be right, for so prodigious, and impressive, was his output.
Rushent also produced The Stranglers first three albums, which as Louder Than War states:
Rushent, born in 1948, produced the Stranglers first three albums – creating that classic sound that was clear, punchy, dark and sleazy and groundbreaking all at the same time. With The Stranglers third album, ‘Black And White’ Rushent with engineer Alan Winstanley created a soundscape that was post punk before the term was even thought of.
He had a trademark sound. Each instrument had its place. he could make the complex sound simple and harnessed The Stranglers weird imagination and pop nous into something totally original and very commercial making them the best selling band of their period with a bass sound that launched a generation of bass players.
In an interview with Uncut Rushent recalled recording The Buzzcock’ biggest hit:
“Pete [Shelley] played me ‘Ever Fallen In Love…’ for the first time and my jaw hit the floor. I felt it was the strongest song that they had written-clever, witty lyrics, great hooklines. I suggested backing vocals-to highlight the chorus and make it even more powerful. No one could hit the high part-so I did it. I’d sung in bands in my youth and I also worked as a backing singer.”
Before his career with Punk, New Wave and Electronic bands, he worked on records by T Rex, David Essex and Shirley Bassey.
Rushent was said to be working on a 30th anniversary edition of Dare at the time of his death.
A Facebook page has been set up by Martin Rushent’s family to collect memories of the great man, which you can add to here.
The Stranglers - ‘No More Heroes’
Human League - ‘Open your Heart’
More Rushent-produced classic tracks, after the jump…
Let me say right upfront that I am a huge fan of The Stranglers and their former lead singer, songwriter and guitar player Hugh Cornwell. I vividly remember the day in 1977 that I bought Rattus Norvegicus at a shop in Greenwich Village (Robert Quine was also buying a copy) and the subsequent thrill of listening to it over and over again that night and for months to follow. A big influence on the punk scene in England, The Stranglers’ guttural, malevolent and beautiful rock and roll was primitive and yet sophisticated, savage and sublime. Seeing them live a few months later at the Second Avenue Theater was among the most exciting rock shows I’ve ever experienced.
In 1990 Cornwell left the band and as far as I’m concerned that was the end of what was arguably one of the best and most underappreciated bands of the past four decades. Although The Stranglers have recorded and toured with various different lead singers, the magic has long been gone. I saw the reconstituted Stranglers with some nondescript lead vocalist in the mid-90s at The Cat Club and it was like seeing the Doors without Jim Morrison or The Sex Pistols fronted by the guy from Creed. Nothing worse than a pioneering punk band reduced to an oldies act.
It pains me that there is so much much bad blood between Hugh Cornwell and the rest of the group that they’ve never buried whatever hatchet exists between them and gone back into the studio to make more of the sound I’ll always love.
Cornwell seems to be on an eternal solo world tour. He must need the money. I can’t imagine he’s thrilled playing Stranglers’ classics with pick-up bands or by himself on electric guitar. Which brings me to this recent performance on Brazilian TV. Why, Hugh, why? It’s the money, right? From the rollergirls in bathing suits waving flags to the drummer who looks like an extra from The Young Ones, this has to be one of the lamest things I’ve seen a rock legend subject himself to in the name of keeping his career alive. I know I’m probably overreacting, but don’t we all feel a twinge of sadness when one of our heroes suddenly seems ordinary, smaller than life rather than bigger?
Hugh, if you’re reading this, give Jean-Jacque, Jet Black and Dave a call. Tell them all is forgiven. The Stranglers aren’t The Stranglers without you and you’re not the artist you were without them. It’s never too late.
Some choice videos of The Stranglers after the jump…