To date, The Stranglers, have been one of the most influential yet controversial progressive-punk bands in the British music scene. Having created music over the past five decades, most notably a stir in the punk / new wave era, the group fails to receive quite the recognition you’d expect for such an impressive feat. Pushed into a box stylistically, having their amps unplugged in bars – iconically standing up to this by plugging themselves back in – furthermore being criticised for their lyrical content and confronting the press publicly when they weren’t happy about this, has definitely created a lot of drama surrounding The Stranglers. Critics weren’t enthused to feature them, but it’s the fans who were dedicated to follow them from the pub-rock scene, to the stages of festivals up and down the UK. It’s time to take a look back on the uprising of one of the first punk bands from the seventies.
Formed by Jet Black in 1974 as The Guildford Stranglers, Jean-Jacques Burnel (JJ Burnel), Hugh Cornwell, Hans Warmling and Black himself gigged their way around the pub-rock scene of Chiddingfold. Dave Greenfield had replaced Warmling within a year and after two years of hard dedication to their art, they were picked up by label United Artists. Ironically many people criticised the group for seeming to “appear out of nowhere”.
The Stranglers’ debut album Rattus Norvegicus was released in 1977, becoming one of the first punk releases of the time, it saw the group attract a new audience. Although they were typically categorised as a punk band, they never liked the pressure to fit into one category and drew inspiration from many different genres, from classical to jazz. No doubt the member’s different backgrounds and interests brought unique collaborations of sounds, from swirling keyboards to rolling bass. JJ Burnel described the group as “punk plus and then some”.
They’ve had a number of accomplishments over the years, such as a massive forty singles and eighteen albums in the UK Top 40, including tracks such as Peaches, No More Heroes and Always The Sun. They’ve opened for Patti Smith and been the first European band to open for The Ramones, incidentally giving them more of a place in the British punk scene.
While The Stranglers have lost a number of members; Hugh Cornwell left in the early nineties and persued a mildly successful solo career, being replaced by John Ellis and attracting Paul Roberts as a new lead singer. While the other members encouraged JJ Burnel to lead, he claimed not to be a good singer, evolving the band into a new image. This was a difficult feat for the band though, hence a number of failed albums that didn’t live up to their previous successes. The Gospel According to The Meninblackand La Foliewere initial failures, although it led to the cult formation of The Meninblack; fans would dress in black, as would the members during performances.
The Stranglers are a perfect example of a group of musicians who didn’t quit when things got tough, who persued music with very little cash and plenty of options and interests in their life. To this day they continue to tour and have recorded a two successful albums in the past decade; Norfolk Coast and Suite XVI which saw a resurgence of interest in the four-piece. They returned in 2012 with the release of their 19thalbum Giantson 5thMarch and a follow-up tour this month around the UK, which could conclude in either extreme given the band’s history. While many critics tend to focus on the drama and controversial rudeness of these men, don’t forget the powerful tracks we’ve been brought over the past thirty years and the influence they’ve had on a number of new wave rock groups.