It's 1995 and The STRANGLERS celebrate 20 years in the music business with the release of what will be hailed as one of their all time best creations yet - "About Time", set for release on May l5th 1995.
It's five years since vocalist Paul Roberts took over co-frontman duties with JJ Burnel and five years since (already part-time Strangler) ex-Vibrators / Peter Gabriel guitarist John EIlis became a full band member. The addition of these two musicians to the line-up has moulded the Stranglers into a truly great organic band unit.
And "About Time" is a truly great organic/orgasmic album - a stomping melody ridden energy filled record that exudes a tight powerful revitalised band vibe, captured superbly by producer Alan Winstanley, who grew up with the Stranglers, produced all their demos and many early hits and has brought the wheel full circle, back to an exciting new creative peak.
After spending a year in rehearsal, recapturing the spirit and camaraderie essential to create classic songs and writing what became, "About Time", the Stranglers dived straight into the studio with Winstanley to put the songs down, without losing any spontaneity through demoing and analysing the life out of the music prior to recording.
And it is "About Time" that everyone realised what a truly great band the Stranglers are. "Peaches", "No More Heroes', "Duchess", "Golden Brown", "Always The Sun" and "Strange Little Girl" are just a few of many classic Strangtastic songs, their hook laden melodies often counterbalanced by lyrics with dark double-entendres, never more, evident than on "Golden Brown", reputedly a homage to heroin - always denied by the band.
The Stranglers are renowned for their fanatical following, which includes chef Keith Floyd, (who uses Stranglers songs as the soundtrack for his TV shows), Anne Diamond, Sun Alliance ("Always The Sun" has been used as the theme tune of their advertising campaigns for the last two years already and is set for a repeat run in 1995), Therapy (covered "Nice N' Sleazy" as a recent B side), Prong (covered "Get A Grip On Yourself' on their 1991 LP "Prove You Wrong", footballer Stuart Pearce, Dickie Davies, Inspiral Carpets, Pop Will Eat Itself, Elastica... the list is endless.
One of the Stranglers' greatest fans, Nigel Kennedy, schlepped up to the studio in February to see what he could add to "About Time,". He volunteered to play violin on "Face" and the result was so good that the band unanimously voted to release that version.
Historically, the first indication of what was about to explode into notoriety and chart success for one very puzzled teenager growing up in the Surrey commuter belt town of Guildford was a massive piece of graffiti sprayed on to a wall in the centre of town; "The Stranglers are coming - they're Strangtastic" was the message, and in 1975 as punk was a nascent glimmer in the eyes of a generation of disaffected teenagers, sick of Seventies 'Progressive Rock' and overblown' Roll, a very black beast was emerging from this unlikeliest of Iaunching pads.
In the early days, the band had enormous problems getting gigs. "Hello, I'm in a band and we'd like to play your venue" a group member would say when `phoning a club. "What are you called?" was always the first response and when the reply was "The Stranglers" The booker would laugh and hang up, thinking it was a practical joke and that even if it wasn't, no way would he book a band with a name like that!
Suddenly Punk exploded and the Stranglers were lumped in with this movement. They were, however, harder, heavier, blacker, meaner and nastier than any of their contemporaries but went on to confound expectations and outlast every other original punk band of their time - probably because they had better songs, never- really thought of themselves as punk, or harped on about it, let alone reduced themselves to pretending that they couldn't play their instruments!
As the original group members reflect on their twenty years in this fickle business they have every right to chuckle at earlier exploits. They were just a mad bunch of musicians, playing R & B tinged pop whose rise to fame coincided with the punk era; they were, however, innately more punk than any of their contemporaries:-
* Who can forget when they were banned by the G.L.C. for wearing tee-shirts emblazoned with "Fuck", a piss take of the Ford Company logo at the Rainbow in `77?
* Who can forget how the Stranglers cocked a snook at Westminster Council when they brought strippers onstage at their open-air Battersea Park gig in September 1978?
* Who can forget the time when an unlucky female NME journalist was tied up in the desert (Sept. `79 in Portugal) and left to sweat in the midday sun after a particularly vitriolic review?
* Who can forget when they bound now famous French TV journalist Antoine De Caunes to half way up the Eiffel Tower in 1979 during the recording of Raven?
* Who can forget the riot in Nice in June 1980, when every member was locked up in jail for inciting a University riot?...
The days of all those early exploits are, however, over. The Stranglers have now become an institution, revered and respected for producing some of the best pop songs of the last twenty years. It is suddenly becoming fashionable for today's new bands to admit that they have always been greatly influenced by Stranglers' songs. Nowhere is this ability to write classic songs more evident than on "About Time", a record which reflects a remarkably refreshed collective muse and boasts eleven perfect and soon to be very popular songs.
Paul Roberts' distinctive vocal talent might almost have never been brought to light. The Chiswick born son of a train driver was an original young punk who gave up the chance to be a professional footballer when he descended to the depths of serious drug addiction while still a teenager and survived several suicide attempts before completely cleaning his act up at the ripe old age of 21. Calmer and more focussed, having done his front man's apprenticeship in various bands and sessions (most notable being Seal, Go West & Then Jericho) he now channels all his energy into The Stranglers, amateur football and go- karting.
John EIlis had already stood in for original guitarist Hugh Cornwell at the Rainbow in 1979 when Hugh was banged up in jail for three months for possesson of drugs. He was also guitarist in the Purple Helmets, JJ`s occasional outfit, and, played backup guitar on The Stranglers's "10" tour, so was the natural choice to join the band full time in 1990. His experience as press officer for the "Stop The M11 Link Road Campaign" for four years (until evicted in 1993) led him to write, "Paradise Row" about that doomed fight.
In March 1994, the Eric Cantona of music - JJ Burnel - became a third Dan Shidokan Karate Black Belt and a fully qualified teacher ("Sensei") of his own Huntington Club ("Dojo"). Nobody gets to that level in Martial Arts without a huge amount of self control and maturity. In France, bilingual JJ is perceived as an intellectual and frequently appears on arts and culture programmes, belying his much vaunted `laddish biker profile in Britain.
Dave Greenfield, whose inspired keyboard playing has always contributed greatly to the Stranglers' unique sound, has of recent years developed an interest in breeding rats in Cambridgeshire, while drummer Jet Black has acquired and fully equipped a workshop in Gloucestershire where he designs and builds unique wooden furniture.
The Stranglers have mutated, matured and, metamorphosised into one of the nineties' best live attractions with a totally new life breathed into them by the addition of Paul and John. This new vitality is never more evident than on "About Time", a classic record that will confound critics, delight The Stranglers' legion of fans and win a whole host of ardent new admirers.
Roland Hyam : March 24th 1995.
The above was issued as the press release for About Time - compare this with the About Time Review here.
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