Gashead's Blog Wonders

3Jan/103

Being There : The Stranglers University Of Surrey 19th October 1978

First week in October 1978 I returned to Guildford for the 3rd of 4 years of my degree in Linguistic And International Studies (Russian). I was a rich man, £120 a week washing pots for 3 months at The Grand Hotel, Stockholm tax-free because I was also studying Swedish went a very long way, even if I blew £100 in Virgin records the day I got back.

The buzz in the Upper Bar, my first port of call, was that The Stranglers were playing in the hall for the BBC Rock Goes To College series. At long bloody last, we were moving into modern times. I went to most of the gigs, 8 or so a term, much of which we now call Dad Rock. John Martyn, Roy Harper, Steel Pulse and Osibisa probably the best but it was as if punk had never happened. I had to go to the Civic Hall in Guildford to see Stiff's Live Stiffs and Eddie And The Hot Rods with guest appearance by Rat Scabies even if the band didn't appear to want him on the stage.

"So how much are the tickets and where do I get them?"

"They're free and you don't!"

"Que?"

"They gave them all out in Fresher's Week!"

"Do what John?"

Whose bloody stupid idea was that? Part of the fun of gigs at the university was the mixture of fresh-faced kids, old hippies, Iraqi Mech Eng. students, locals from the town and pissheads not quite sure who it was up on the stage but recalling Clapton and Harrison lived nearby and might turn up, like. But this threatened to be a hall full of mummy's boys wearing John Craven jumpers wishing they were watching post-Peter Green Fleetwood Mac or Peter Bloody Frampton. I was outbloodyraged!

The next day after I had calmed down a bit I encountered a young lady I had enjoyed an evening with in Moscow earlier in the year, I was obviously in her favour but more importantly she was on the Entertainments Committee and wondered if my copy of Borras and Christian's Russian Syntax was going begging as I had completed the exam and the bookshop had sold out. A less worthy man might have suggested carrying on where we left off but dyed blondes not normally my type. Subtle enquiry established she had a spare Stranglers ticket to offer above and beyond the fiver to complete the transaction, deal done!

Cometh the hour, cometh The Meninblack. On the day of the gig I was up in my room playing my pink vinyl import 7" EP of Hanging Around + 3 when I looked out my bedroom window facing the amphitheatre at the side of the concert venue and saw the band having a drink and a fag. I quickly grabbed two picture sleeve singles, breathed deeply then walked down to where they were sat trying to look cool and punkish but in reality heart pounding and sure my voice would rise several octaves the minute I opened my mouth. I went up to Hugh Cornwell and Jean-Jacques Burnell and asked very nicely if they would sign my singles (Jet Black was too scary and Dave Greenfield seemed to be on another planet). Hugh said he would sign one and as he took it asked me if I was going later, having said yes in an only slightly silly higher than normal voice both he and J-J looked into my eyes and asked where I got the ticket from. I told them the story about the book and how pissed off I was. They told me how pissed off they were and it certainly showed. The Stranglers are a Guildford band with a substantial fan base in the town going right back to their beginnings. They had been told Bonaparte Records which normally distributed University gig tickets had been given none, this was not what they had agreed with the BBC, their fans were pissed off, the band were pissed off. Had I had a ticket but no singles in my hand I suspect they would have turned me to stone on the spot. I gradually sloped off to avoid petrification but with "I slept on Guildford campus - Hugh Strangler" and "Jean-Jacques Burn...." duly signed.

I spent most of the rest of the day pinning people to the spot, telling them of my encounter with fame and expecting to be taken out to dinner regularly on the strength of it. On the evening the hall filled up, surprisingly most of the regulars who loved all live music whatever the genre, style or attitude had got tickets somehow or other but there was still an element of Noel Edmonds jumper types with a distinct whiff of Brut belying the term Fresher. The girls with Laura Ashley style blouses were just plain wrong, this wasn't Steeleye Span.

On came BBC Producer Mike Appleton all hearty and talking as if it was a scout meeting in a church hall. The plan was that The Stranglers would come on stage, play three or so numbers to warm up and let the sound and camera people ensure everything was right, then he would give us all a sign and the recorded programme would start. Jolly D old chap, top hole. The band walked out, not quite rock and roll "Hello Guildford", still simmering as they were earlier, appearing to check us out. In between songs various things were said designed to make us feel unworthy, taking the piss, pent up anger. But hey, this was punk, that's what they were supposed to do. At one point they asked if anybody was there from the town. The reaction was like Alexei Sayle shouting "Let's bomb Tunbridge Wells" at the Tory Party Conference, barely a handful of cheers. But the performance was amazing, venomous songs sung with venom as it should be, they really went for it. Strange thing was they appeared to be singing all their best songs, putting in 100%, what would be left for the recording? On came Mike Appleton and made the signal, the recording was live during Hanging Around, played with the evening's great sense of urgency and menace :

Watch this video on YouTube.

At the end of the song Hugh Cornwell (William Ellis School, Highgate and BA in Biochemistry, Bristol University) announced "Guildford University never represented Guildford, we hate playing to elitist audiences so fuck off" and off he went with Jean-Jacques Burnell (Royal Grammar School, Guildford and BA in History at Bradford University). Dave Greenfield appeared to disappear while former ice cream van magnate Jet Black added a very rock 'n' roll touch of drama to the walk off by doing unspeakable things to his drum kit.

Oh dear, was it something we said? The nice boys in jumpers all booed, their decency outraged, while I managed to raise a small chorus of "no more Stranglers any more" to the tune of Heroes. On came a very upset Mike Appleton, he spoke through tears about how the band had been leading up to this all day and how very sorry he was and all that stuff. From where I was standing it was entirely the fault of the Ents Committee giving out all of the tickets in such a meat-headed way but equally it was a fantastic evening, the best 15 minutes of live music ever!

Later on back at the Upper Bar Frank Dowling the Students' Union President was telling everybody how he had rung up Fleet Street and the NUS with the message The Stranglers should be banned from everywhere for telling us to go away in a nasty manner. It was all a bit silly, very middle class student attitude blaming the band without even considering his people had caused it through their ticketing policy and either communication with the BBC was lacking or somebody cocked up. It made the papers, nobody banned The Stranglers even for writing much nicer, radio-friendly MOR hits. A year later the BBC returned and we had a fantastic evening of The Average White Band who were still big news playing to 800 of us in the hall, just to make up and that, but this was the real night to remember.

April 2011. For some strange reason this post is suddenly picking up views 15 months after I originally wrote it. The Meninblack website is obviously very active. This is, of course, flattering. I believe in cutting the crap and double-speak and getting to the core of issues, much like Wikipedia. If anybody out there has different interpretations or memories of that night, or the causes of that night I would love to hear them and would happily include them in this article. I get few comments so pop your thoughts in there and I will try and include them and credit you.

1Jan/101

Being There : Bob Marley And The Wailers Live At The Rainbow 1st June 1977

Bob Marley (courtesy Keith Morris Photo)

In 1974 Bob Marley made a minor breakthrough when Eric Clapton launched his comeback with a rather lame cover version of I Shot The Sheriff. By early 1976 his Live! album was the trendy wine bar's soundtrack of choice following the success of No Woman, No Cry. But despite my natural aversion to wine bar soundtracks I was seriously up for it when my house mate Felix Wilson from Dominique asked me if I would like to go and see the great man at The Rainbow, Finsbury Park with his girlfriend. I had never been to The Rainbow before which was the prestige concert venue of the era and the University Of Surrey Afro-Caribbean Society had the best parties on the campus.

The memory starts in the Students' Union building laying down with a nurse giving a pint of blood. It was Derby Day and the Blood Transfusion Service ladies had a serious bet on Lester Piggott. As I lay down relaxing after giving them an armful the housewives' favourite was heard on the radio winning a nice little sweetener for their modest income. I was glad they had inserted and removed the needle before the race started as there was much excitement. Having inherited the leaflet collection bug from my father I left with several examples featuring clean cut Noel Edmonds extolling the virtues of giving blood for later study when sat on the loo. The tradition in those days was to head straight to The Upper Bar after the free cup of tea and a biscuit, the theory being less blood in the body made the pint go further.

Late afternoon we headed off to London, Felix's girlfriend (black, this will be significant later) having a car and performing driving duties. Somewhere in Kingston we stopped for fish and chips, having parked on a pelican crossing zig zags I was hardly surprised when the police pointed out this indiscretion. Two firsts for me that evening, first ride in a car driven by a black person, first time I had been in a car and the police had given the driver a ticking off.

Fish and chips down the hatch, Thames crossed, car stopped a second time by the police for some minor misdemeanour none of us spotted, car parked and just in time for the show. In we went and there were T shirts on sale, something relatively rare at concerts at the time. I had a fiver in my pocket, same price as the red T shirt with the Exodus logo in black so that was me cleaned out, or so I thought. As we queued up to go into the standing area there was a sudden push from behind and before I knew it my back pockets were emptied of Noel Edmonds memorabilia. Hey ho, it wasn't one of his best jumpers and I could find something else to read next time I went to the loo, maybe an academic book, no, don't be silly! Immediately I got inside a big crush formed around me and a group of hands went into every pocket from several directions, all that was left was my room key but having large legs and relatively tight jeans it stayed put. But they weren't giving up and I had to be rescued by two security guys who hauled me out of there and got bad-mouthed for their actions. I left them all getting stuck into each other using phrases to denigrate their respective manhoods, sisters and menstrual cycles I had never heard in Bristol.

Beyond the melee support act Rico was leading his band with various trombone based reggae tunes and rhythms. These days he breaks into song but this was pure instrumental. To relieve their boredom, every few minutes a group of youths would run across in front of the stage hotly pursued by equal numbers of security guys. There would be a runble in the corner then the security guys would run away pursued by the youths. It looked very Keystone Cops to me seeing the groups chasing back and forth and amused me now I was safe from the pickpockets. When Bob Marley played The Lyceum in 1975 there had been great tension between the mainly black audience and the all white security, this time around the security were all black locals. Somebody nearby reckoned the troublemakers and security all knew each other and this event was being used as an opportunity to settle a few scores.

Eventually the main event started with the band introduced by an MC with a very strong voice, all very Jamaican with a large backdrop of some album artwork. The I-Threes were wonderful with long dresses and very fancy head gear, the boys in the band sporting relatively sensible hair to Bob's entanglement of dreadlocks wearing his usual denim shirt and jeans. He ruled the stage, was everywhere and anywhere and had the audience singing or oy oh, ah woa woa woa woaing every time the urge hit him. The rhythm and the feel was quite magical and nothing like the rock bands I was used to, even the glamour of early Roxy Music seemed superficial compared to this. Stood right next to me was a small military tank of a man with outrageous dreadlocks engulfed in a guff of herb which crept into my nostrils more than once and contributed to the other-worldliness of the event. As best I can recall the set was essentially some of the Exodus album with earlier songs featured in The Lyceum Live! album. Exodus itself became a vehicle for displaying the individual talents of the band with a Peter Frampton style vocal guitar effect playing "Bob Marley And The Wailers" through the lead guitar, or something like that!

We all loved it, headed home and got stopped by the police twice more, surely her driving wasn't that bad? Every time we were stopped it seemed as if my white face in the back made it all OK, the seal of legitimacy but four times in one night!

There were three more shows at The Rainbow, the remaining two were cancelled as the result of a footballing toe injury Bob Marley sustained which ultimately lead to his death in May 1981. In June 1978 I saw the band again at Gröna Lund in Stockholm on the Kaya tour, a predominantly white audience with the exception of some Ethiopians who loved my T shirt with their traditional calligraphy on it, by then it was more of a show aimed at the international audience featuring the hits from Exodus like Jammin' and Waiting In Vain. My final show was The Crystal Palace Bowl in June 1980 supported by Q Tips (Paul Young lead singer), Joe Jackson and The Average White Band. It was more of a celebration with lots of Caribbean food on sale and a large number of London blacks giving it a great buzz and turning the day into a true punky reggae party. While I enjoyed the show with my friend and sister my brother-in-law was running the Portaloos before moving into concert generators for the likes of U2, Madonna and Pink Floyd. The following year I was ironing a shirt with headphones on listening to Radio One when the news came through Bob Marley had died of cancer. I didn't burn the shirt, a special flame went out that day.

Watch this video on YouTube.