Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Suite XVI

The Saga Of Suite XVI

Well, I suppose this had to be written about one day…there’s been a lot of talk about it, much at the time, and a lot more since. While the facts (and dirt, if you like) will always be between just the 5 of us, the result, whichever way you slice it, was that it was Paul Roberts’ last album with the band…a band he’d fronted for 16 years, good or bad, indifferent or striking…never boring… Sad yet ultimately inevitable, an album did eventually find its way out of it all…and this is my potted take on it…

When I’d joined the band 6 years before in April 2000, Paul had already been there for a decade, and they were tight. There were a few ‘new boy/ old boys’ things obviously, how couldn’t there be? But after everything they’d been through and survived, they were still together…and a team. During the About Time UK tour of ’95 and the European leg of the Written in Red tour in early 97, when the band I was in at the time were guests, we’d become friends and had kept in touch…calling each other from time to time, and Paul even coming to see us one night at the Borderline.

My first tour with the band was a blur…I auditioned, got the job, and was on the road in Europe 10 days later. Paul helped me through all of that, and much more over the 6 years we were in the band together. As we ploughed our way through the next few years on the road, we all began to get a feel for each other obviously…and there were a few little dints and cracks that started to appear and show themselves occasionally…and you’d expect that too…we lived together an awful lot. We’d had a very successful album in Norfolk Coast, and the time spent writing and recording it will always be a very treasured time, for all of us I know…new beginnings often are. We worked incredibly hard during that time, and no one helped me through it more than Paul.

When it was time to start collating stuff for the next record, we all tossed our bits and pieces in, as we’d done with the last one, and arranged some time together to start sifting and rejecting at our HQ in Somerset. There were tensions in the house and Paul wouldn’t stay, electing instead to drive the 180 mile round trip every day from the south coast where he was now living, a practice he’d started during the Norfolk Coast sessions which were now an accepted part of his routine…there was a wall going up. My thoughts at the time were, we’ve got to strike while the iron is hot from the success of the last album. There were a few good songs and bits left over from the sessions for it… and as any musician will tell you, you never entirely throw anything away. We had ideas and impetus, but it was becoming more difficult to all be in the same room together for the time necessary time to work on all the stuff we had…it was fucking frustrating to say the least.

The management company had arranged for a house to be rented in Cornwall…and almost as far away from normal life as it’s possible to get…with no distractions (always a downfall), and you fend for yourself. JJ and I went down there together in January 2005 to start the process…we got masses done…writing for hours every day, and night too. I was having personal issues and if I’m being totally honest, it was great to be so far away and be able to focus and concentrate on something else…I feel ashamed to admit that, but there it is. JJ always needs to be able to go somewhere neutral, and as we’d written much of Coast at the farm in Somerset, it was decided to get away from that and get off any kind of beaten track. This upset Paul a great deal I’m led to believe...he hadn’t been invited…although as I haven’t spoken to him since he left, I don’t know for sure.

What I do know was that there was a padded envelope on the doormat one morning with some songs from him on a CD…but such were the tensions between him and JJ in particular at the time, it was never opened while we were there. When it was eventually opened and played we already had most of what we needed…having said that if there had been anything absolutely killer on it, it would have been used I’m sure. There wasn’t…but I suspect Paul knew that anyway. This only led to more disruption, and recording the songs for the finished album dragged on mercilessly.

Personally I just couldn’t understand why he wasn’t prepared to make the most of the platform we’d been given, what with the success of the last album and all…but Paul just got more and more frustrated and I think we all knew something had to give. He was also incurring the wrath of our beloved road crew, who were his very dear mates…and things came to a head when he turned up to record one day having not bothered to learn the words to the song we were doing…unusual for him…he was usually the consummate pro, always giving it 100% with whatever we were involved in, and never settled for anything second best…even during the most stressful times. It was the beginning of the end. Usually you have a set of lyrics written on a stand in front of you for reference, but that’s all they’re there for…you don’t read them verbatim as you sing. I wasn’t there, but Paul apparently sang like a robot…maybe he was making a point…the producer complained, a meeting was called, and Paul quit.

He was given some time to think it over and make a choice…go on the road for the next 4 months with an album he felt he had no real part of, with a band he was becoming increasingly distant from, and with a crew who didn’t want to work with him any more…or leave for pastures new with a clean break and blank canvas…I think anyone would have done what he did next in that situation to be honest. He’d completed about 2/3 of the record, and there are versions of the finished songs with his voice on them, and some typically good Paul vocals, but he’d just had enough…and to those ends, so had everyone else…16 years and he was gone. I was shocked but not surprised if that makes any sense…upset but not fazed. He was my mate and I know to this day he thinks I was complicit in his leaving, that there was some kind of under handed conspiracy to get rid of him…total bollocks…that just proves he never really knew me at all. He worked so hard to ostracize himself, but it would’ve blown over like all the other disagreements of the past if he’d stuck in…I agreed with everyone that something had to change and thought he’d given up…we all did…a real shame considering we were following up a successful record and needed to bond together more than ever.

At his last gig at Rock City in Nottingham in December 2005 a few months before, he’d stayed out of the way of all of us and didn’t speak to anyone before, during or after the show…he’d made a few gestures to the crowd during songs that people picked up on, then got into his car and drove away…rolling it on his way home and completely writing it off…thankfully he was unhurt but his mind was clearly somewhere else…and so it proved… It’s been 10 years since all that happened and I still think about him often…a process I’m pretty sure isn’t reciprocated…whatever…He’ll crop up in conversation or we’ll play one of the songs he originally sang on and I’ll try to think about how he interpreted it…but no one can walk far with a stone in their shoe, and he had to leave…if for nothing else but his own peace of mind.



SUITE XVI - TRACK BY TRACK

UNBROKEN I remember JJ bringing this in one day. I think he had most of the chorus, and a few scraps of a verse. He started playing the verse bass line and I instinctively thought of a Nirvana style guitar line…a kind of loud/quiet/loud thing. It was obvious this would be a rocker of some description, and so the guitar is raw and dirty…I remember it being bollocking loud in the studio when I was recording it. JJ’s lyrics were autobiographical, and I liked the way he balanced it up with both good and bad elements. We decided to give it some light and shade vocally, so it’s me singing the chorus…somehow it seemed more amusing to have a big shaven headed northerner singing about wearing suspenders…to this day I’m not sure if that line was thrown in for effect, or whether JJ has actually done it…he hasn’t said…but knowing him…

SPECTRE OF LOVE I mentioned earlier about my personal issues, and this song reflects that for me…it’s about, and for, my daughter. Writing about things so personal, and letting the whole world see them, has always been a bit of a poisoned chalice. Its catharsis laid bare for the writer, and can sometimes come across as syrupy and sentimental…I didn’t want that…I’m not given to that publicly, but the turmoil I was in was all pervading and I had to do something I guess. By the time this was released my little girl was 2 years into a 5 year vow of silence against me…5 years without talking to me…she’s super stubborn like her dad, but even I hadn’t expected that…suffice it to say that I was caught in the usual rock and roll trap, and came out the other side a single man…my son was only very young, but my daughter was a teenager…she had a lot to say on the matter…

I’ve never spoken about it until now…I’ve been asked and have never breathed a word…so now you know…We’ve put everything behind us and are now closer than ever but it was touch and go for a while…and whenever I hear this or we play it, I think of those times…music should remind you of the bad as well as the good times in your life… This was the first ’single’ if you like and was released as a taster. We played it live very early on and it was heart-warming to see the crowd singing along with every word from the start. There were a few reservations about a Stranglers song with the word love in the title, but I was adamant it should stay, and I’m pleased it did. It’s a sing along kind of chorus…the old juxtaposition of dark subject matter and up beat music. I really like Dave’s synth line in the chorus which gives it a great flow…and the riff JJ and I play to bring the 2nd verse in…great all round effort. The band knew what this meant to me and really dug in…

SHE’S SLIPPING AWAY I was reading in the paper one day about a chap who’d had an argument with his girlfriend. The row developed into a full blown fight and eventually he’d punched her and she’d fallen to the ground…hitting her head on the fireplace. There was blood everywhere in the sitting room and he couldn’t rouse her after a considerable amount of time had gone by…so he did what any self -respecting cowardly woman beater would do…fearing he’d killed her, he took her outside and buried her in the garden. Trouble was, she came round…and with a light dusting of soil on her face, and screaming, hammered on a neighbours’ door…he opened it to find a banshee covered in blood and mud and obviously stricken with horror…I thought it would make a great song…

Paul and I wrote the lyrics and it’s an example of a song with a very repetitive riff that just keeps going around the same chord progression for pretty much the whole thing. We introduced light and shade to differentiate the verses from the chorus’, and JJ switches the bass line around to punctuate that too, but the chord pattern is the same. We wanted to tell the story with and not distract from the narrative too much. Just before the guitar solo, which I played with a dropped D on the bass E string, the producer gives it a bit of the devil by detuning my voice on the word ‘soul’ to give it a demonic twist…you can also hear me laughing into the guitars’ pick up during the solo too…the little Gibson Melody Maker I used has at some time had the pickup taken out of it and put back in the wrong way round, which gives it a slightly microphonic tone sometimes…so I laughed into it and we kept it in… Listening to it again I can’t remember why we had the coda at the end on the fade…maybe just to change the pace…

SUMMAT OUTANOWT Meaning ‘Something out of Nothing’ in a northern/Yorkshire/ Lancashire type accent, as if you didn’t know, this was one of the first songs JJ and I had written in Cornwall the previous year. I remember the core bass line and guitar hook coming almost at once one night when we were jamming, and when I woke up the next day JJ had most of the lyrics…about a relationship he’d had with a girl in his youth who made mountains out of molehills, blowing everything out of all proportion…we’ve all been there.

The line about ‘the bad Albino’ came from the Da Vinci Code movie which we’d seen on a tour bus somewhere, and ‘the rabbit horror show’ from Fatal Attraction, and he just tried to get in as much ranting as he could, to show his anger…worked very well. I remember him sitting with his bass for hours in the kitchen working out the bass solo in the middle…honing it and streamlining it…then I joined in at the end on guitar and we had the whole middle eight. This was the first song to be recorded I seem to remember, and there’s an amusing out take of Paul venting his spleen…he either couldn’t get the words right, or was showing his frustration at somebody…either way you wouldn’t play it to your mother… A proper arse kicker this one with some great playing.

ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN I remember a huge argument over this one. It brought the days’ work to an end with people walking out and refusing to come back. JJ had written it but Paul just wasn’t delivering it the way he wanted. Paul would always put his own spin on our lyrics, and mould them to himself…which is what you’d expect, but the cracks were widening by this time and I seem to recall the pair of them goading each other…both over reacting on purpose, and it just blew right up…2 crimson faced blokes right in each other’s faces…the day’s work was over and me and Dave went to the pub and Jet went home…dunno what the other 2 did but neither of them were there when we got back.

As a result this was one of the last songs to be recorded…and it changed almost beyond all recognition by the time we did. It started life as a medium paced rocker I think, but we were bored with it and it got shelved. By the time we looked at it again we were a 4 piece and wondered if we couldn’t give it a total overhaul. JJ had written the lyrics about George W Bush…Dubya to his detractors, and the ongoing war in the Middle East, and the more mellow direction we took it in suited it very well. I was determined to try and work out just 1 guitar part with as few overdubs as possible. There’s also a great atmospheric solo from Dave, with a counterpoint guitar behind it which I’d forgotten about until just now…but remember working on quite a bit to get it right…Paul plays percussion on this too…and I didn’t realise how much I liked this song until 10 minutes ago…

SEE ME COMING This was a piece that JJ had written for a Japanese animated version of The Count of Monte Christo, called Gankutsuou, which means The King of the Cavern. I think we just liked it and appropriated it for the album…I can’t remember the exact details, but as this was already released and part of a movie soundtrack, maybe we just liked the idea of having it on the album. In any case, I like the verses, and the turnaround rhythm, where we shout out the name of the lead character in the movie, E-D-M-O-N-D…the guitars are further up in the mix for this one too, which was a bit different… There are probably a few too many bleeps and keyboard effects in this for my liking if I’m honest, but overall a pretty good track, and one which I’ve not heard for a good few years…enjoyed listening to it again.


BLESS YOU (SAVE YOU, SPARE YOU, DAMN YOU) Driving along in the car with a friend one day around this time, the discussion turned to children’s nursery rhymes. There’d been a programme on the radio about the significance of some of them, the sign off being about ring a ring a roses, atishoo atishoo we all fall down…and it’s supposed connection to the Great Plague of London in the 17th century, which killed almost a quarter of the city’s population…but which is still unfounded. The conversation then turned to another saying from the same period, Bless You (you’ve sneezed once), Save you (twice), Spare You (thrice) & Damn You (you’ve sneezed 4 times…you’re dead)…I thought it was a great subject for a song.

I wrote the lyrics pretty quickly and JJ and I wrote some music, and there it sat for a while. I liked the idea of an old rock and roll song style intro, and came up with the chords…that kind of old doo wop feel to the rhythm at the top of the song…the first verse continued along and when it came to the first chorus I thought some female vocals would be great in there. During our time in Cornwall the previous year, one of the girls in the estate agents where we’d rented the house, turned out to be very musical and had a fantastic voice…lovely quality to her voice and a great command of pitch. We’d gone down to the local pub (The Bullers in Looe) one night to an open mic night and heard her sing…what a voice…I knew she’d be great for this song. So we called her and she came up and did a great job of making the chorus haunting and very atmospheric…it wouldn’t have had half the impact had she not sung on it…so thanks again Lucy.

The middle eight was a delight to arrange and play. JJ came up with a great chord sequence which was basically the intro chords in double time, then more added until they told a story all by themselves. Then Dave worked out the fantastic Elizabethan style baroque melody, and underpinning it all was some brush work by Jet that appears to go completely against the grain when you hear it on its own, but works beautifully…it goes right across the rhythm…I’d heard him do it months before and hadn’t let him forget it…it really works in this section. Then we thought we’d do the whole thing again only this time with a full band behind it…I got a bit bluesy at the end, pretty un-Stranglers…but it seemed to fit and the consensus was to keep it…no rules in this band… This is one of my favourite songs on the album, and one I still play acoustically when occasion allows…

A SOLDIER'S DIARY The fastest song the band has ever recorded. I wanted to cram in as many chord changes as we could and still keep the whole thing rocketing alone. It was inspired by reading about some of the notes, letters and diaries that were found in the allied trenches during the First World War, left by soldiers about to go over the top, never to be seen, and in many cases never to be found, again. I thought it was stirring stuff, heart breaking, poignant, and in the case of many a British Tommy, blackly amusing…never say fucking die…sometimes all there is left is to laugh…

Counterpointing dark subject matter again with a jolly upbeat tune and melody seemed to be key here, and we rattled this off in no time once we’d worked it through. It’s not easy playing as fast as this and keeping it tight, and we’ve been playing it live recently too…a first… As an aside, this was the song I mentioned earlier that Paul hadn’t learned before coming in to sing…ironic in that he singled it out in a demo playing session we’d had months earlier as a real contender and couldn’t wait to get his teeth into it…another sign I suppose of how disenchanted he’d become…

BARBARA (SHANGRI-LA) This was about my first ever girlfriend. I met Barbara when I was 15…there were a lot of firsts involved... She wore a particular perfume, can’t remember the name but can smell it even now…and I haven’t seen her for over 35 years. One day during this time I was at home and needed to rescue something from the attic. I was rummaging about through an old box I didn’t know was there and found a bag with some junk in it. I tipped it out and one of the things I saw was one of those perfume tester bottles you can get…not knowing what it was I unscrewed the cap and had a sniff…and there was Barbara in my minds’ eye…the smell took me straight back all those years…I couldn’t believe it and it had such an effect on me I told JJ about it on the phone the next time we spoke…"you should write a song about that” he said…

We tried all kinds on this, and it went through loads of adjustments and arrangements and even titles before we found it. I played 12 string Rickenbacker on it, I think you can still hear it somewhere in there…but I was floundering with the arrangement for days before JJ and I sat for a whole day on it and pulled it into shape…I had a real blank on it but he could see what I couldn’t. This was one of the first songs we recorded I seem to remember, and I also remember Dave getting hold of a theremin to try in the middle…giving it a ‘Good Vibrations’ vibe…but they’re so unpredictable and difficult to master we ended up using a virtual one instead…much more stable and user friendly…the original one is still kicking about somewhere though…saw it not long ago… Wonder sometimes if Barbara has ever heard this…

I HATE YOU The topic of much discussion at the time of its release…and he still won’t say who it’s about…though we all have our suspicions. This was an acoustic bash along that JJ came up with one afternoon…not sure when…don’t think he had it in Looe. Anyway he played it to me one day and I fell about laughing telling him we should use it. I’d just got hold of a Fender Stratocaster, not a model of guitar I have too much love for, but thought it would be great on this as a kind of Johnny Cash pastiche. This is an absolute blast to play. Jet’s brush work on this is superb and he really kicks it along in the up tempo sections. I’m pretty pleased with the harmonica I played on it, and JJ’s vocal is great, as is the walking bass line at which he is so adept…sitting right in the pocket with the drums. There was a jews, or jaws harp lying around and for a laugh I started playing it under the harmonica solo one day…never thinking it would be used…came in the next day and there it was in the mix…

RELENTLESS The last song to be recorded. This is one of our favourites to play live, and a fans’ favourite too so I’m told. Dave rates it in his all-time top 3 band songs. I was talking to Louie in the studio one day and he said something along the lines of “we need something that doesn’t stop…something that hammers along…something relentless”…it jumped into my brain and stayed there. I thought, rather than making the actual music relentless, write about things that just never stop…time and tide, love…all things that are eternal.

The lyrics came pretty quickly, but I laboured long and hard to try and find the right guitar riff…it sounds simple on the record, and it is, but therein lies its power. It took a day of just playing it over and over until I found it…the test is always playing it to the band, and once they got their hands on it, it came to life…I knew it would make sense, but everyone working on it shifts it, and it pulls and pushes and moulds itself in to the finished article…took a little while, and there were quite a few different mixes of this until we found the right one… I’m very proud of this song. It’s actually really quite simple, but Dave’s keys and the driving bass just smack it along, and the chorus is really just one word…I like that…


This album signalled another turning point for the band…one that until it actually happened, we didn’t really see coming. It was my first stab at lead vocals, good or bad, and marked JJ’s return to lead vocals after a 16 year layoff. We went out and played a show 3 weeks after we became 4 again too…and that surpassed all our expectations. It took a while to get used to…but not too
long…by the summer of 2006 we had it down…and this album helped start yet another new era for us…

BAZ/ 14th SEPT 2016

Saturday, January 30, 2016

2015-a year in the life...


Another year gone...where does it go? Unbelievable...I look back on it and, seeing the things we did, it seems simultaneously like yesterday and 10 years ago sometimes...

January started with a trip to JJ's to catch up and talk about possible songs for the March On tour...unseasonably warm even for the South of France, we managed to sit in the garden in t-shirts playing acoustic guitars one afternoon...global warming at its finest...

At the end of that month JJ, Jet and I appeared on BBC Breakfast TV in Manchester...Jet all bundled up in scarf, shades and woolly hat, prompting Boy George to Tweet "Jet Black...a punk Paddington Bear"...The presenters seemed more interested in the band's dalliances with Heroin from days of yore, I get asked one question and am abruptly interrupted by the rude and particularly crass male presenter during my answer...I opt not to speak again...

February is taken up, as most Februarys are these days with rehearsals...We convene in the west country for 2 weeks, have a break, then come back for another week. Sometimes it doesn't last that long, sometimes we need longer, but not often...We tend to know what we're doing...


March of course was tour time...and again, a great time. As it comes around, we always play it down thinking it'll not be as good as last year, or the year before that...and it always is...Our expectations are surpassed, and we still look at each other with 'wow' expressions on our faces...hard to put into words how it makes us feel...but I think you know...

April is a quiet month...nothing going on but the rent...

May is a very varied month. We play in a marquee in Belfast city centre...always fantastic to go there, we don't go enough...

Then me and my mate Merv go on a road trip of a lifetime on our motorcycles, getting a ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao and riding through Spain and along rhe bottom of France, culminating in a gig for Harley Davidson in St Tropez in the south of France...full of posing arrogant Europeans on very silly machines, but still worth a look...When I arrive home I discover I've ridden over 2000 miles. 

The month is rounded off by 2 cracking shows in Greece...despite all the economic problems both shows completely sell out and we're looked after very well. You always go to places like these and assume you'll never go again...somehow you always do.

June is a relatively quiet month but is punctuated by festival in Belgium early on, and rounded off by a superb show at the Eden Project in Cornwall with Motorhead...The weather surpasses itself and 5,000 people bask in the early evening sun as we take the stage. Despite us being pretty consistent in our performances most of the time, we play and sound particularly good on this occasion and win over a lot of hairy people during the next hour...It's all smiles as we leave sweaty and triumphant...

Backstage we encounter a very frail looking Lemmy who has a distant and glassy look to his eyes but is still friendly as only he can be...He and JJ embrace and him and I shake hands and exchange brief pleasantries...

It's the last time we'll ever see him...

July is a pretty varied and quite busy month too. We travel to London on the 9th to do a video with Simple Minds who we'll be touring with at the end of the year. Jim Kerr has come up with the idea of us playing together and making a promo to be streamed nearer the time...it's also his birthday and after we do the number, a combined version of 'Grip', the bubbly and cake appear and we all toast him as he stands looking slightly sheepish. Charlie Burchill then breaks the whisky out ,and it's with slightly blurred vision that we leave them later that afternoon, looking forward to seeing them all in the winter. Lovely day...

We then play a small series of club dates as we've done for the last couple of years, taking in Worthing, Hampton Pool, York, Middlesbrough, Holmfirth and Blackburn...The York gig being the hottest gig I've personally ever done in my life...ask anyone who was there...unbelievable...

August starts with the famous Scots Festival Belladrum, which takes place up near Inverness. I opt to ride up on the bike and it's a very pleasant journey indeed...The weather holding out nicely. We're on with the Kaiser Chiefs who are fans and mates, and the whole thing is set in a lovely forest clearing surrounded by mountains. Earlier in the summer they'd played in Sunderland with the Foo Fighters and a fan had presented Ricky with a football shirt complete with his name on the back...him not being a football fan at all, never mind a Sunderland fan, asked me if I wanted it...bless him...My daughter is a Kaisers fan, and when I give it to her, her face is a picture...

Unfortunately due to the late running of the previous act, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas would you believe (who can still sing like a bird) our set is cut short which we're none too happy about...We make our feelings known and people tend to give us a wide berth after that until we leave the festival site...bit of an anti-climax to say the least...Still, the ride was good...

We then do a couple of shows in the west country and Warwickshire which go without too many hitches, and then my favourite part of the whole summer...JJ'S too...

We're doing a festival in the Ardennes region of Belgium, and myself, JJ, Merve the Swerve and 2 motorcycle journalists ride down from England in a convoy to do the show...Merve and I getting a ferry from Hull and meeting the other 3 at a hotel near Zeebrugge...They're covering it for Motorcycle News (MCN) and also want to take in the gig...It turns out to be a fabulous weekend...The weather is sublime, the gig is superb, 10,000 folks in a gorgeous old city square, and the riding is an absolute dream...Of course, you can't have things your way all the time, and on getting back to Hull 2 days later, it's pissing down...I mean absolutely stair rodding it, and when I arrive home 3 hours later I'm soaked to the bone despite all my expensive protective clobber...If the weather wants to get in, ride through it long enough and it will...

Doesn't dampen my thoughts about that weekend though...it'll live long in the memory...

September is traditionally a holiday month for us...and providing there's no work to do, we try to relax...I go to JJ'S for another week of playing, writing and drinking...and we get a few little nuggets recorded for later...

The three stooges-France 2015
As we've an unusual November tour of Europe coming up we spend most of October rehearsing and getting ready...it's going to be an intense jaunt...16 shows in 19 days in 5 countries...3 days off....

And it couldn't be better...at least until the end of the French leg. It's normal for it to take 2 or 3 shows to bed in on a tour...iron out the wrinkles and get things seamless...but we don't even need that this time...We hit the ground running from the very first show and don't look back. It's apparent that all the playing we've been doing has really paid off, and we're as tight as I can ever remember us being. 

Then we hit Strasbourg...it’s the final night of a very triumphant French tour...we're heading into Switzerland tomorrow for a rare visit there, and things couldn't be better...until we're told to switch on our TV's because something has happened in Paris...something bad we're told...

I've mentioned the tour bubble before. Every band on tour gets it, and everyone associated with a tour understands it. You just don't know what's going on in the outside world most of the time, so it's with abject horror that we watch the events unfold around the Bataclan with absolute disbelief...I'm thinking of the layout of the place...We've played there...I had a birthday there...I was hoisted up onto the shoulders of fans and carried around the place there...like that famous picture of Bobby Moore holding the world cup at Wembley...I know how intimate that place is...and I can't imagine what those poor kids inside must have gone through...all that needless carnage and horror in such close proximity...We sit and admire the tactics of the French police...no fucking messing about...They formulate a plan, act on it, and are merciless with those responsible...exactly as it should be...but nothing will ever bring those poor unfortunate kids back...kids who'd only gone to see a show...The poor merchandising guy who was shot was known to some of our guys too...

It's with heavy hearts that we cross over into Switzerland the next day. We're anticipating a thorough shake down as we try to enter, in my opinion, one of Europe's strangest countries...but nothing could be further from the truth...They don't even stop us and we cruise on to Zurich for the next show. The rest of the tour is a blur really...I know it was great and our Wonky counterparts do us proud for the last 2 Dutch gigs...really charging the atmosphere...but it's hard to shake the images from Paris...especially with armed guards and police at all the remaining shows...keeping a low profile but there none the less...

Final gig of Euro tour
So we finally arrive in London with 3 days off before our first Simple Minds gig at the O2...

I sleep for pretty much the whole of the first one and don't do much for the other two either...The last 3 weeks have been very intense, and although extremely enjoyable, totally knackering too...

We do 5 shows with the Minds and enjoy every one. It's great when the pressure is off a bit and you can just enjoy it and leave...We were in the bar most nights by 8.30...

Both camps are tight but there's still plenty of time for a good crack with them all, and I enjoy a particular flight sitting next to Jim Kerr where we get to know each other much better...him telling me his first ever football match was on holiday in England and his dad took him to Roker Park in Sunderland to watch one of the world cup games of 1966...He was 5...bless his little cotton socks...

They've got a great crew, just like ours...Some faithful lads who've been there for years, through thick and thin...but also they had a couple of production managers who were hired in just for the tour...and I couldn't let this opportunity pass without giving our opinion on them...I won't get too het up about it but suffice it to say that if we never see those 2 wankers again it'll be too soon...If you've seen the footage of JJ blundering across the stage in Aberdeen when Simple Minds were on, or if you were at the gig itself and wondered what on earth he was doing, it was a direct swipe at these 2 pleasant individuals...and it worked...The confrontation afterwards between JJ and one of these chaps was worth the price of the admission alone...I laughed my arse off for 10 solid minutes...The one way to hit out at a jobsworth prick like that is to make him fail completely in his job...in full view of everyone...and my erstwhile colleague did just that...total humiliation...I love it...


Dave and I got the train home the next day, me leaving him in Edinburgh as he ploughed on home. We then did the Christmas thing and reconvened to fly to Poland on the 29th for a new year’s eve television special...miming to 4 songs musically but singing live in front of 75,000 people in a Wroclaw city square and 16,000,000 live on Polish TV...a weird but actually very enjoyable experience...

When we took to the stage for our final bit at 1.40 in the morning it was minus 8 degrees... 

We fly home on new year’s day and sleep for the rest of the week...

Who says we don't suffer for our art...

This year promises to be as productive as the last...We've of course got the much anticipated Black and White tour in March, and then with barely time to turn around, New Zealand and Australia in April...

The festival season will be upon us in the summer, and there are quite a few things being mooted for later in the year too...can't say too much about any of that yet as I don't know to be honest...but that's the beauty isn't it? 

Baz/30th Jan 2016

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Wonky Bus


"I don't know what effect these men will have on the enemy but by god they terrify me" is a quote attributed to the Duke of Wellington describing his own men.
This comes to mind when I think of the horde who pile out of the Wonky bus onto unsuspecting European streets in search of a Stranglers gig. Very much, I suspect, the same as those monks on Lindisfarne in 792 when suddenly confronted by the first Viking raid.
Grown adults, not all men I hasten to add, who enjoin The Stranglers in an orgy of joy, mayhem and, for the most part, a celebration of a commonality.
They add a vibe which can never be equalled by the good burghers of the Netherlands or Belgium who I have witnessed from the relative safety of the stage observing the Wonkies with a mix of trepidation and disbelief.
I applaud these modern day berserkers who give a lift to our concerts in Europe. Long may you Wonky(a new verb).
JJ Burnel/9th December 2015
Bus illustration-Steve Beaumont

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Summer Mini Tour- July 2015

WED JULY 8TH

Opted to travel on the train today. Despite all the well worn savaging it’s had over the years, it’s still my favourite form of transport by far, and as the train pulls out of Newcastle at lunchtime the familiar anticipation and tingle of the days ahead begins to take its hold…it always does… I love it…

The journey is extremely pleasant…a deli platter and some wine help to relax me as the fresh damp fields of England speed by and London gets ever closer…

I get to the hotel in Shepherds Bush before everyone else as I usually do, and as we’re here for 4 nights, get to my room, unpack, and wait for someone to call to tell me they’re in the bar…usually Dave G…

And so it proves…

THURS JULY 9TH

Quite a different and unique day for us today as we head off into London for an engagement we’ve all been looking forward to (in our way)…keep your eyes peeled…

FRI JULY 10TH / WORTHING ASSEMBLY HALL

As we’re staying in London we don’t sound check for this show…so the first time we see it is when we step onstage to play. It’s as you’d expect…a small and very neat little hall…and it’s absolutely rammed to capacity. Some of the usual suspects are arranged along the front, all in their regular places, same places as they’ve been countless times before, and will be again, and the glee on their faces is heart-warming indeed as we kick into Toiler on the Sea, and proceed to deliver a tight and punchy 90 minutes. We haven’t played for a fortnight since the triumphant appearance at the Eden Project, and despite that, and not having a sound check, we play very well…and it’s hot!

Just like to say I’ve never been to Worthing before, and again the jury is out as to whether the band has ever played here either…JJ seems to remember a demo recording session way back in the early days, but Dave isn’t convinced…For my part it’s a lovely little place, quintessentially English sea side…pier and long prom…lovely…

SAT JULY 11TH / HAMPTON POOL-LONDON

This is a bit of a strange one, as they sometimes are…

Hampton Pool is just that, a swimming pool/lido kind of a place…very Hi-De-Hi and somehow redolent of 1950’s British holiday camps. It’s been sold out for months, and instead of pomaded hair and bobby socks, we’re treated to some of London’s beautiful people, scenesters, women in deck chairs, and of course a lot of the army in black…quite a blend. There is a very large covered over swimming pool, and we’re actually warned that if we even so much as mention a swim, or incite anyone to jump in, our fee will be voided and we’ll be asked to leave…seriously…it’s in the contract. It’s like a red rag to a bull for Messrs Warne and Burnel though…and we wrack our brains for some way to get it in there without actually getting it in there…if you know what I mean…how can we say something we know we’re not supposed to say, but say it anyway without actually saying anything…

In the event of things once we’re up on the stage the pool isn’t visible anymore and we just sort of forget…getting into the show and having a lot of fun in the process. The crowd are really up for it, and my light hearted ribbing is taken in the spirit it’s intended…unlike later in the tour…more of which later…
Hampton Pool gig
Special mention to our mates Nine Below Zero who opened the show again tonight…they sounded as good as ever…proper band…and Dennis Greaves gets the prize for getting closest to breaking the dreaded pool rule…” yeah we’ve been told not to jump in the pool…and you shouldn’t either”!

Well said that man…

SUN JULY 12TH

Day off…a lovely journey to York, and a good dinner with everyone…very cordial…

MON JULY 13TH / YORK FIBBERS

I know from writing these blogs over the years that it can be very difficult sometimes to put into words what I’m seeing and remembering in my head…transferring my thoughts to the page and trying to keep my descriptions and thoughts as vivid as I possibly can…conveying the atmosphere of a certain time, place and event so that whoever reads it can at least get a sense of what it must have been like to be there…the key for any factual writing of course…

I’m struggling with this one…

I remember when I was a kid touring with the Toy Dolls in the US at the beginning of the 80’s. I was 19, strong and fearless…We did a gig in San Diego and it was so hot I had to sit outside in the shade afterwards, which was the coolest spot available, for a full half hour to try and get some breathable air…at that age…

We’ve done some club gigs in recent(and not so recent) years where it’s been unbearable…Oxford, Leamington Spa, Liverpool, Paris, New York, Reading (ha)…the claustrophobia will live with me forever…but nothing can compare to the melting, boiling thing that was York Fibbers…If you were there you’ll understand…if you weren’t, next time you’re in a place with a sauna, leave all your clothes on and go in for 20 minutes…unbearable…but bear it we did…

York Fibbers-pic Yellow Mustang
JJ and I, being the little boys we are, often have shirt wringing and boot puddling competitions after shows…there’s always something to compete for in this band…but we were both so saturated all we wanted to do was lay down somewhere cool, dark and quiet…Dave was shiny too…something you very rarely see with his big fan blasting beside him…and Jim bless him, had a very very bad hair day…It was an amazing gig…we played very well, getting into our stride by now…and the crowd were magnificent…how they shoe horned 700 people into that place will long be a mystery to me…It’s an extremely small place…The staff were very accommodating to our crew and bent over backwards to make sure everything was as it should be…a big thanks to them…

Visit when you can…

TUES JULY 14TH / MIDDLESBROUGH THE VENUE

Again, strangely for me, this was the first time I’d played in the ‘Boro with the Stranglers. Like York, I’d played here many times over the years with various bands and solo, but not with us…so it was nice to see some friendly faces from home nestled among the throng when we hit the stage at 9pm. From the off the sound was sharp and tight, and for a large room above a supermarket it had a nice range…the lowish headroom stopping the sound from travelling too far and bouncing around.

I had some local banter with the crowd as you’d expect and it was all pretty light hearted and in good nature. I probably raised a few hackles here and there, I’m good at that, but all in all a memorable gig. Our thanks to local band Zeitgeist 77 too, who, despite their blatant (and pretty awful it has to be said) era conjuring name, played some great original music…not what was expected at all…I have their CD and it’s good…

WED JULY 15TH / HOLMFIRTH THE PICTUREDROME

We hadn’t played here in around 5 years and there were quite a few changes. Because we were staying in Manchester there wasn’t a sound check and so those changes all became evident when we arrived at around 8pm. It’s always been a great gig this, but the backstage area left a lot to be desired and so in the past we wouldn’t really hang around here too long, but it was very comfortable and modern and indicative of how the folks here are presenting their venue now, and how serious they are at attracting acts of the right size…a statement of intent. The town needless to say doesn’t require an introduction as it’s been on our TV screens since 1973 almost every week as the setting for Last of the Summer Wine…but of course, you knew that. The venue is a beautiful old theatre which dates from 1913, and has many of the original features…the iron pillars and ornate balcony dressings, and we’ve always loved playing here. I actually broke a guitar here once after being hit with a pint of lager hoisted stagewards during a gig in the Paul Roberts era…people did that a lot more during that line up…I lost my temper as I am wont to do sometimes, and threw the guitar against the wall, snapping the headstock off…that’ll teach me…or maybe it won’t…
Holmfirth-photo Jim Mac

The gig was fantastic and a sell out since the tickets went on sale months ago. The audience were warm and friendly and there was a tangible good time vibe in the air right from hitting the stage. This was our 3rd show in a row and 5th in 6 days, so we were right on the money…it always takes 3 or so shows to get us firing, and this was it…really good. There was some great banter with the crowd (if you’re going to throw your knickers at us at least have the good grace to give us the ones you’re wearing…new ones still bearing the price tag just won’t do) and we played right up to the curfew, leaving the stage very hot, sweaty and satisfied…I’d love to play there again soon if we can…

THURS JULY 16TH / BLACKBURN KING GEORGES HALL

Another first for me…

Lost my temper at this show…not completely and not altogether un-theatrically I have to say but I saw red none the less. It’s always been my way to gently rib the crowd about where we’re at, especially if it’s somewhere relatively remote or off the beaten track, and I imagine you’ve seen me do it many times, but some folk it seems take exception to it sometimes, or me, or both…as if I could give a fuck…but it happens.

I love my old football teams…proper old style English football teams that have been around a long time. This part of the country hosts 2…Blackburn Rovers and Burnley, who I’ve always had a soft spot for since my dad took me to my first ever game at Roker Park in 1972 to see Sunderland play them. It was desperately hot inside the venue, not York hot but getting there, and I look over at JJ who’s getting very damp indeed and taking every opportunity to take water on board and towel himself down…and I needed to do it too…Our shows can be blitzkriegs and we rarely stop between numbers…knackering in heat like this…so I start to tell a story about Blackburn Rovers and my bass playing colleague who had their strip as a boy, just to get a minute to draw my breath, and some arse in the crowd takes exception to the break…he’s joined by the bloke I berated earlier and asked to identify himself, who took exception to my Blackburn baiting and tried to hurl a similar thing back at me…getting my town wrong(of course) and comparing me to the most sensitive part of the female anatomy…a fact I’ve never denied…I laughed at him at first and he got even more irate and then I did too…all in all a shouting match occurred which was all very funny to me, and life and death to these 2 blokes…

My predecessors were feisty fuckers and so am I...Of course, I wear in ear monitoring and could have completely misinterpreted what was said and over reacted…it’s difficult to hear the crowd unless the ambient mics are turned up…I’m in my own little world otherwise…but I don’t think so…If someone wants you to hear them badly enough you will 9 times out of 10…and I did…who cares…

Having said all that, the whole thing probably lasted 30 seconds and didn’t detract from what was a great hot sweaty rock show…the low ceiling contributing to the furnace like conditions and the crowd going mad right to the death…we played like men and sliced right through the heat…Great…

FRI JULY 16TH

Travel day…Dave, JJ, myself and Kev Allen, who’s joined us and is acting tour manager for the weekend, board a plane from Manchester airport to the Algarve in Portugal for a festival the following day. It is hell…

We’re staying at what amounts to a holiday resort, and so the plane is full of families, petting couples, the heat already beginning to get to them, fat women with fans, and sin of sins…lots of babies...Wouldn’t it be great if it was a legal requirement by airlines to mildly sedate children under a certain age for travel? I’m not talking about knocking the poor little blighters out, just something mild to calm them down and make it a bit nicer in a crammed sweaty plane for everyone…a little sweetie under the tongue perhaps, or a nice sugary drink…just to take the edge off for all the other intolerant old curmudgeons like me…

As it turns out, the hotel is perfectly acceptable though, and we have one of our patented band/crew meals which we all love…and then several drinks…and then bed…It’s dark, and more importantly, quiet…and before I can even reflect on the days gone by, I’m asleep…

SAT JULY 17TH / 34 FARO / PALCO 2015

This festival is one of Europe’s biggest motorcycle rallies…attracting around 30,000 people each year. Thankfully it’s not all Harleys like the last one we did in St Tropez, although there still seems to be a bit of an American infatuation, with Victory being a pushed brand, but there are many hundreds of bikes of different origin to be seen in the locale, and checking them out is a tour bus staple when getting in and off site. There’s a Portuguese metal/rock band on when we arrive, who we’re told are famous in their native land, and from backstage it sounds like someone’s miked up a herd of charging Wildebeest, and mixed it in with the sound of the Hindenburg coming down…

Onstage in Faro-photo Motoclube De Faro Facebook page
Then, as we wander around backstage there are many people in very strange tribal costumes and tall Amazonian women in various stages of undress…applying make-up and glitter to their nipples, and limbering up for something…It soon becomes obvious it’s no more than a glorified strip show…amusing, cringe some and mildly erotic, in a Carry on up the Congo sort of way…The women don’t look real to me, their amazing jelly mould breasts not moving at all as they cavort around the stage attempting to titillate several thousand apathetic bikers and pulling all the stops out. It actually looks to me like they do their bit, come off stage, take their boobs off and hand them to the next girl, such is the uniformity of it all…and we laugh the entire time…It’s a sexy as Boris Johnson and Clare Short doing the Rumba…and probably just as funny.

The gig itself for us is a different matter. We worry that 90 minutes to an after midnight crowd, who are not our crowd, is too much and we stand a chance of losing them at some point somewhere… We needn’t have worried. The stage is huge, the sound is spectacular, the lights are stunning, we’ve just done 6 shows in 8 days and so are drum tight, and the crowd are in desperate need of a break from tuneless thunder and fake tits…and we storm it…3 songs in and we’re looking at each other all smiles, knowing this is going to be a good one…

I’ve mentioned before how together and organised Portuguese festivals are. They’re never less than very well run and thorough. You get everything you ask for…the equipment is always spot on, and it lifts you…no doubt about it. We know after the last week or so that we’re going to play well, that’s not arrogance, it’s just a fact…you do anything all week and you’ll be better at it at the end than when you started… We have a great time and it’s a lovely way to round off a long and draining week. We haven’t done 4 shows in a row for a while, and when those shows are mad little sweatboxes it can really take it out of you…Playing on a huge stage with a light breeze to thousands of people is the other very welcome side to the same coin.

It’s been another really good week or so. Seven shows in 9 days…very varied and hugely enjoyable. This little mini tour thing we’ve found ourselves doing the last couple of years is proving to be a lot of work, but tremendously good fun…and we all reflect on that as we have one last very late drink together back at the hotel.

SUN JULY 18TH

We all fly out at different times today, which is something that happens now and again, and as I’m driven to the airport I think of everyone winding and wending their ways back home for another couple of weeks or so, recharging their batteries and looking forward to the next jaunt as our summer schedule starts to count down.

Looking forward to the next ones…

BAZ / JULY 2015

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Another busy year over...

Well...here we are again…the end of another year is practically upon us , and it falls to me to sum up the last 12 months…and to look forward to the next few coming…

We started the year as we have done for a while now…rehearsing in the west country for the 40th anniversary tour…catching up with each other and generally larking about for a day or two before earnest work commenced…it’s our way of blowing the cobwebs away and connecting again…we always do it…

The UK tour of course was the highlight of the year for us, and we had an alarmingly good time…the whole tour was a sell out , and we revelled in it…It’s always lovely to play in front of our ever growing family but there seemed to be an extra element of excitement in the air for each gig…and it surprised us all…so much so that we immediately made plans to do a smaller tour in the summer to some other cities and towns which are usually (and unfairly) left out of most bands touring schedules (see my summer blog here) and we really enjoyed that too. In between we did another fairly long European tour which included 4 gigs in Spain…an unusual amount for us, but which was tremendous…must try and get back there again…

The summer festival season seemed to grow again this year for us, and we played right across Europe…including quite a strange trip where we flew to Luxembourg, had our hotel in Belgium ,and did the show in France…We did a nice little one in God’s back garden, the Lake District, and for once were treated to almost perfect weather there…there can’t be many more beautiful places in the world than the Lakes when the climate is good…

We also revisited the V Festivals and T in the Park, receiving fantastic receptions again, and marvelling at the 1000’s of kids singing along to all our songs…old and new…

We finished to season at the end of August in Ireland at the Electric Picnic which was a first for us and was one of the highlights among many during the summer…JJ and I swearing and having a lot of fun on TV there during the afternoon…which was all broadcast…I know I have a penchant for obscenities and most of the time I really don’t care what people think, but they asked me for a story, I told them it involved swearing and they said it was fine…it’d be edited out by the time it was aired…but it wasn’t and they showed it all…very cool about that the Irish…

Baz at Sub 89, Reading-photo Maria Meli

And so we went our separate ways for the rest of the year…just addressing life really, and being pretty normal…speaking to each other every week and keeping in contact…I had some knee surgery which had me out of action for 3 months, JJ went to Japan for his 7th Dan…Jet and Dave kept busy with their various projects and things…and life goes on…normal stuff I guess…

Can’t really say much about the new year yet as it’s all starting to take shape as we speak, but there is of course a tour in March which we’re all gagging to do, and a trip to Russia, which is a first for me…looking forward to Moscow…then we’ll see what the rest of the year brings…We’re all looking forward to seeing each other again and getting stuck back into what we do best… See you all soon and have a good Christmas and even better New Year…

Baz/ 21st Dec 2014

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Aural Sculpture-track by track

Released in November 1984, Aural Sculpture was the band's eighth studio album. JJ talks us through each of the album's tracks although his memory is slightly sketchy of certain tracks as it was a period of some major personal issues for him:

ICE QUEEN

At the time, when we were preparing Aural Sculpture, I had a lot of studio equipment in the back room of my house in Cambridgeshire including a Linn drum. Dave was living just up the road in Cambridge. He would come around to mine, we would go to the pub and play darts for a couple of hours, have a few pints and then we would work through the night, sometimes until two or three in the morning. I was getting riffs together and Ice Queen was my riff with Hugh's lyrics. The lyrics were about his girlfriend in New York who was a model. For me personally, the brass section's finest moment was when they came in on Ice Queen. It was the best manifestation of the brass...

SKIN DEEP

That was originally a little blues riff of mine, Hugh took it away and wrote the lyrics to go with it. It was a little blues thing which I've since played on some of my acoustic dates. Between the ages of 14 and 17, my parents had a restaurant in Godalming, Surrey and there was a pub in the village which had a blues club every Sunday night. I saw lots of bands before they released their first albums there, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac were the most notable, although there were loads of other bands. I kind of played about with blues riffs as I liked the blues. I still like good blues musicians.

LET ME DOWN EASY

This was my music again and Hugh wrote the lyrics about my Dad (who was gravelly ill at the time) and I was very grateful that he did that. Hugh knew my Dad and came down to see me in the south of France when I was looking after him. I had spent the last month with my Dad who was in awful pain. Doctors and nurses were coming every day to give him injections to alleviate the pain. I used to carry him out onto the patio so he could get a bit of daylight. My Dad had died by the time that the album was released. It was very sympathetic of Hugh...

NO MERCY

Definitely Hugh's lyrics. Epic were putting quite a lot of money behind the record and we were starting to do quite well in various places. No Mercy was deemed a worthwhile single so we did a video for it. It wasn't a bad video actually as I recall. We were dressed up as doctors and also appeared as ghostly sax players.

NORTH WINDS

That was mine, just a JJ 'where things are now' song. It was one of my melancholy songs about the very strong images that had occurred during my life, while I was growing up. The 'Orange road burning' was about the self immolation of Buddhist priests during the Vietnam war, setting themselves on fire. The 'Youth on fire' referred to Jan Palak, who I'd talked about before on Euroman. The 'Metal machines...' line was about the Prague spring in '68, when the Czechs tried to be much more liberal and the Russian tanks just rolled in. 'Two generations' referred to the two world wars, 'Birth pains' was about the birth of Israel and what I remembered about the Yom Kippur war. 'Freedom in the shape of disease' was about AIDS, suddenly this new word AIDS had arisen when we were writing Sculpture. It was an unknown disease then. 'Kids whose bellies' was about the west and the rest of the world having so much food while there were images of kids with huge distended bellies starving on television. The title North Winds referred to where I was living in East Anglia which was subjected to winds from the North Sea and it gave a melancholy feel to living there...

UPTOWN

Originally Uptown started off as a more RandB track but it changed once we were in the studio with Laurie. Hugh's lyrics referred to taking Cocaine rather than anything related to horse racing.

PUNCH AND JUDY

No fucking idea!!! I don't know how that got on the album, I must've been asleep... Aural Sculpture was a labour of love between Laurie and Hugh to be honest. Dave and I were almost secondary and we weren't seeing so much of the others, apart from crossing paths in the studio.

SPAIN

I used the Kinkade acoustic bass on that. Hugh was going to Spain more and more often and he had read a book written by Franco's daughter. We used a recording of her voice on that song. The lyrics were inspired by the Spanish Civil War.

LAUGHING

It's an entirely Hugh song. The lyrics are about Marvin Gaye who had just been shot by his father before we started recording the album. We used an unprogrammable drum machine on this track, like I had used on the Euroman album, which was a Laurie Latham idea.

SOULS

Quite a nice track with Hugh's lyrics about the ancient Mayan culture in Mexico. Hugh had a big contribution on this album, a lot more than mine, and I can't recall much more about some of these tracks. It's a long time ago and it wasn't the best time for me with my Dad's illness... I wasn't too complicit in the recording and was a bit detached at the time.

MAD HATTER

Mad Hatter was another Hugh track. It was about his little clique in Bath. He had these sycophants, all posh Bath boys who laughed at all his jokes. They weren't healthy for Hugh I think.

JJ Burnel/9th December 2014

Monday, October 6, 2014

Norfolk Coast-track by track

Released in February 2004, Norfolk Coast was seen by many as a real return to form for the band who had been fired up by the arrival of Baz on guitar. Baz talks us through each of the album's tracks:

NORFOLK COAST

This was the track that kick started the idea of the album returning to a rockier and more song led record I think…and its roots lay in unrest and a yearning for validity again… There’d been a lot of turbulence in the band prior to my joining with one thing and another and JJ in particular was very troubled by it I know…Apart from the obligatory live album and a compilation here and there, the last studio album proper had been the universally panned and disappointing Coup de Grace and that really niggled him…hurt him very much…Admitted by all as an incoherent body of work and not really recorded by a band at all…things were seriously unravelling and he’s on record as saying it was his attempt to seize back some power after being ‘ bullied and cajoled’ over the recording of Written in Red, and although his intentions were 100% honest and with the bigger band picture in mind, it just didn’t come off…and you can hear it on Coup…assuming you want to listen to it at all that is…leaving him even more at sea and directionless…something most definitely had to change… So he went away to ‘find himself’ as he puts it, in a rented house on the Norfolk Coast…walking, contemplating and writing…and came up with a gem…and in my opinion Mark 3’s best recorded highlight by some margin…although it changed direction a couple of times and needed quite a bit of TLC before we found it… I first heard it as a pretty downbeat but interesting acoustic track…I’m told it was played on an acoustic tour JJ had done just as I joined the band, although I didn’t see it live…and it wasn’t really considered a contender immediately…Jet I remember not being particularly keen on it at first…but as we worked on it we realised the best way to deal with it was to kick it heftily up the arse…and when JJ almost angrily played the bass intro one day saying “why can’t we just fucking do it like this”?!...we knew we had something…I tweaked the guitar chords a bit…adding some dissonance to the end of the vocal passages, worked a solo out, and cranked the gain levels right up, and Dave came up with some great filtered sequences which open the track…We went to a little studio outside of Bath with a producer with a view to recording it as an experiment really, to see if we could work with him and him with us…turned everything up so loud the walls and windows literally shook, and really went for it…recording it in 2 days…They then took it back to London, mixed it, and sent us copies. When it dropped on my mat at home and I put it on for the first time I remember being completely blown away…that fucking bass was back and it sounded like the Stranglers again…a new, sleek and somehow more modern sounding Stranglers…but undoubtedly us… There were a lot of excited phone calls that day I remember and we realised that we had a direction for the album to take…still one of my favourite tracks…new or old…

BIG THING COMING
I think the nucleus of this was from JJ’s Norfolk trip too…Among other things they’d discovered Sea Henge near where he was staying, which historians had said was going to explain a lot of unanswered questions about Bronze Age Britain and our ancestry and heritage…a big thing coming…Also he may or may not have been thinking about a new start to the bands’ fortunes…being in the frame of mind he’s told me he was at the time… Either way this song started with me finding a snippet of this he’d recorded during one of our late night sessions at the farm in Somerset…literally about 30 seconds of an idea he just wanted to get down with a great hook and catchy vibe…and because I was living at the farm during a lot of this time and the others were commuting at weekends, I often sifted through stuff when I was alone trying to find ideas to expand…I called him to tell him about it and he suggested I knock it about for a couple of days until they all came back, and that’s when I hit on the idea of the intro being a kind of T.Rex guitar riff…and the whole song turned out to hang on that rhythm…it’s a very simple song this , with not a lot to it and we had to arrange it carefully to keep it interesting, which we did well I think…I like this one too and my one abiding memory of recording it was seeing Dave’s face when he heard the arpeggio keys coming back at him through the studio monitors for the first time…he turned to me beaming and said “I’m back”! This was a single and scraped its way into what was the old top 30…our last hit to date…and the BBC still use it from time to time…

LONG BLACK VEIL
I was going through a bit of personal strife by this time and this song reflects that… I was still married but things were sliding and I was at a loss as to what to do…there was someone else on the scene and that’s mixed up in here too…I felt like I was dying at times…just withering on the vine…I probably was aware of another song with the title Long Black Veil, I can’t quite remember, but I wouldn’t have cared anyway knowing the mood I was in at the time…The lyrics are quite dark but I think I wanted to offset that with an upbeat woah oh oh no brainer sing along type chorus to try and lighten the mood a bit…we worked on the music very hard because there are a lot of chord changes in this and twisting turning verses…with the call and response guitar…and Dave came up with the great piano part he plays…Jet decided to keep the verses on the side stick before powering into the chorus’ and JJ found a lovely bass line that weaves through the intro and chorus’ moving the song along nicely but not interfering with the vocal melody…a great band effort this one… We chose this as a single too which I was very pleased with on a personal level, and played it live both acoustically and electrically for quite a few years afterwards…

I’VE BEEN WILD
Just sitting at home one day I came up with the riff for this…and I can’t remember why but I just thought about writing a song specifically about JJ…in the first person and from his point of view…he had his doubts when I mentioned it to him one day but once we started to work on it he sort of warmed to the idea… It was initially faster than the version we ended up with…I can’t remember who’s idea it was to slow it down a bit, maybe the producer, but when we did it seemed to give things more weight and it drives along better… People love fast songs but if they’re not treated right it can just blend into a dirge…the riffs and power come out more if the tempo is right and not steaming away… I think a lot of Stranglers songs have suffered from this… particularly live when the blood’s up and we’re charging into the fray…the riffs suffer…and this band is big on riffs… Paul Roberts’ vocal is really solid on this too…he liked the song and gave it his all…

DUTCH MOON
This song had a strange genesis. It’s widely known now that this was the first time I chanced my arm and wrote a song for the bands perusal…I’d been with them for 10 weeks and thought I better try something…All I had was the title…I remember looking out of a tour bus window somewhere in Holland with Smalltown Heroes at the most perfect huge yellow moon I’d ever seen, it was absolutely massive, and thinking it would make a great title for a song…and there it stayed…in the memory banks for about 5 years…until it became a sort of skewed love song…Sometimes you hear people saying that a song wrote itself, and that’s the case with this one…the lyrics came in about 15 minutes…I think the band expected some punky thrash thing and Jet in particular was very complimentary with my first fledgling effort…but it didn’t make the first batch of songs recorded and so we just forgot about it really…At the time I was working on a little limited edition EP thing with a mate of mine in the north east…a thing I’d actually started to record before I joined the band…and as it seemed they didn’t want it I recorded it myself for that, albeit very stripped down, and then just left it alone…That happens with songs sometimes…they just get left behind and you move onto something else. A few weeks later it was mentioned again, I can’t remember by who, and we looked at it again with the benefit of hindsight and thought it might have legs…I’d made a little demo of it which was pretty close to the way it ended up, but as soon as JJ started working out the walking bass line and Dave and Jet brought the key lines and brush work it came to life and we did it pretty much live in one take at the farm one afternoon, left it for the weekend, and on revisiting it when we came back, decided it was fine as it was… and that’s the version you hear now…It’s a lovely song this…no fat and great individual playing from everyone. It’s a fan favourite too when we play it…mostly when we do the acoustic shows…lends itself very well to that side of things…and I’ve heard it’s been used on more than one occasion as a couples’ wedding dance too…

LOST CONTROL
This was one of JJ’s pretty much completed ideas. He had all the lyrics and the meter pretty much worked out but I seem to remember this being one of the songs we had the most trouble nailing. There’s a lot of London in this song…a lot of what was going on around him and his unease with the urban decay and the living breathing cauldron of a city that was unfolding right in front of him…his thoughts are not quite as pure as they once were…he’s bordering on some kind of revenge…The lyrics were biting and immediate and we needed some power from somewhere to go with them…I know there are quite a few demos of this song in existence, I have a few at home, and they’re all different…the rant in the middle where it goes off on a tangent is particularly inspired with a grinding heavy bass riff and squealing car brakes which were all done on guitar…and when we play it live we get the sub bass really cooking in an attempt to make people crap themselves…hasn’t happened yet but we live in hope… Another great live number…

INTO THE FIRE
All I really remember about this one was that I wanted to celebrate party culture and write a song about being as hedonistic as possible…the opening line “I need a woman like a stag needs a hat rack” was particularly intended to get peoples backs up, and it did…one writer calling us misinformed sexist pigs…mission accomplished then. This one suffered from a little too much in the overdubbed guitar department, and although the licks were intrinsic to the recording it couldn’t be replicated live and so is the only track on this entire album we’ve never done in concert…At one point we had as many as 6 of these songs in the set, such was our belief in the record…We were very gung ho around this time…

TUCKERS GRAVE
Somewhere between the villages of Norton St Philip and Faulkland in north east Somerset is the cider house known as Tuckers Grave. I won’t waste much time here trying to describe it to you because no words can do it justice unless you’ve been there…There isn’t a bar, no music, and 9 times out of 10 your mobile won’t get a signal…up until 25 years ago if you wanted a piss you went outside and did it up against the wall…and that included the women too…It’s a celebration in the dying art of spontaneous conversation…and if you haven’t got any, stay at home…the place is alive with character, and characters, the cider is lethal and the landlady’s tongue is as sharp as a cut throat razor…the locals play skittles in an alley at the back and are brought big plates of homemade cheddar, bread and pickles after the game…I was carried out once after ‘accidentally’ drinking 7 pints…I was in bed for 2 days…In other words it’s fucking fantastic… We spent many a happy hour there during this time. Getting to know each other and just relaxing into what we were doing…and JJ and myself developed an interest in the history of the place. Edward Tucker was tied to a tree stump on the crossroads outside the pub after hanging himself at the very farm we now call home…sometime in the latter half of the 18th century…he couldn’t be given a Christian burial because he’d taken his own life…against the law…so they just trussed him up and left him to rot…the local wildlife having a field day and the locals using his corpse as target practice…nice… His story is actually in a booklet on the mantle in the pubs living room for all to see, and after reading it one night we decided to write about it. I remember JJ calling me on his way home one weekend and asking me to “write this down”…he had quite a lot of the lyrics in his head and between us, down the phone we came up with the rest…I’d been messing around with open tunings on the guitar and after putting it into DADGAD came up with the rolling chord sequence…I’ve had a lot of people over the years asking me how it was done because they can’t play it…and you can’t in regular tuning… We wanted to make it trancy and atmospheric and Dave’s keys really gave it that slant…also Jet syncopated the snare drum…building it very slowly up into a spooky march of the dead…Paul absolutely sang the shit out of it and to my mind this is one of his best ever recorded performances…I love this track…

I DON’T AGREE
Looking at the lyrics to this they seem very personal to JJ and I really can’t remember who or what he said it was about when I asked him…I know I would have asked him at the time...it’s important to know what stuff’s about…but for my sins I can’t remember…if he even told me at all that is… I think the idea started with his bass riff at the beginning, which he was playing over and over one afternoon… I remember pretty much playing the opening guitar riff straight away and we just went into it…some great fast runs from Dave in the bridges and building up to the chorus’…We played this live all through the summer and it really went down well…I remember taking inspiration from The Byrds for the jangly guitar at the fade…I think I maybe even tried it on a 12 string…there’s a picture of me in Louie’s studio sporting a Rickenbacker which I can only assume we rented to try this…and again another great vocal from Paul…he sang very well on the whole album…It came really quickly this song…we had it all in one afternoon…

SANFTE KUSS
This is the first thing JJ and I ever wrote together and it dates back to mid 2000 when I drove down to his then place outside Cambridge to see if we could write songs together. He’d had the bass parts for a while, essentially a tune just on bass, and all the lyrics, and it was the first thing he played me when I arrived. I loved it and picked up on the hot club vibe straight away, finding the chords and pretty soon, I’d say a couple of hours, we had most of it…It came together really fast and I remember him calling a mate in Germany for an accurate translation of the lyrics he’d written…Sanfte Kuss being German for ‘A Gentle Kiss’…There are 3 verses all sung in different languages…German, French and finally English, where we discover that all he really wants is to fuck…surprise surprise…I worked on the guitar solo at home and when we finally came to record it proper we got Jon Sevink from The Levellers to come and play violin on it…When we play this live Dave comes to the front to play rhythm guitar as there’s no keys on this at all…just guitar , bass, brushes and a voice…

MINE ALL MINE
Pauls sole contribution to the album writing wise, but one of the best songs on it…we re-visited this for the convention in London in 2011 and had a lot of fun playing it again. In retrospect this suffers from a bit of overproduction I think…lots of sound effects, bleeps and noises, but it’s a very strong chorus and we played this live a great deal around that time. I seem to remember the arrangement being kicked about a bit and PR not being too happy about that, wanting it the way he’d written it…Paul all over really…JJ and Dave working on the middle eight for quite a while to get it super tight…and me and Paul working closely to get the vocal harmonies right…I think this one was the first tune we recorded too, or one of the first, and it just seemed to fit really well as the albums closing song…I was never really sure what it was about though…none of us were…but it was a really strong number…

In the summer of 2003 we all went to Hunstanton in Norfolk for the weekend to take the shots that ended up on the cover…driving down directly one afternoon after a performance on the main stage at that years’ Guilfest…Us being us we had to actually go to the Norfolk Coast…nowhere else would do… Those rocks are actually there…The tour manager we had at the time brought his young son along and I remember JJ, Paul and myself playing football with him on the beach between takes…and also the portly American photographer we were using eating every last sandwich that was brought in for us for lunch…as a lot of portly Americans are wont to do… This was my first album with the band…there was a great vibe around us at the time and it felt like a new beginning for everyone…we were all mates and had spent the last year very closely together working on this and getting to know each other…and the great music notwithstanding, that alone holds very good memories for me…

BAZ W/6th OCT 2014