Gashead's Blog Wonders


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!"


"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.