It has often been said that The Stranglers are probably the most enduring band of the UK punk/new wave era, while at the same time being the least celebrated. A number of current bands cite The Stranglers as an influence; concerts are packed; and the loyalty of their fans is legendary -- following the band from gig to gig (both domestically and around the world) and amassing huge collections of recordings and memorabilia are common-place. Yet, at times, bad (or non-existent) press have made The Stranglers seem the unwelcome "Lepers of Rock".
The original Stranglers line-up jelled during 1974/75 and brought together four individuals with very different backgrounds and interests. This diversity was probably a main factor in keeping them together during the band's first phase (up until 1990).
In the early seventies, Jet Black was a successful businessman, who owned a fleet of ice-cream vans and ran an Off-License (Liquor/Beer Store) in Guildford, South-West of London, UK. Losing interest in the routine of the business world, Jet looked to music as an escape. In his teens, he had been a semi-professional drummer; after buying a new drum kit and getting in a few weeks practice, he set out to find a suitable band. A "drummer wanted" ad in "Melody Maker", led to a meeting with Johnny Sox; upon joining, Jet persuaded the other band members to move to his Off-License, which had ample space for both rehearsal and accommodation.
Jean-Jacques (JJ) Burnel was introduced to the band through a chance hitch-hiking incident. Although an accomplished classical guitarist, he had never seriously considered a music career -- his main passion was Karate, and his ambition was to travel to Japan, in order to further his development in this martial art. JJ has since fulfilled this ambition and currently teaches at his own Dojo near Cambridge, UK. His other passion (which he has also maintained throughout his career) was for motorcycles. Soon after this initial meeting, Johnny Sox disintegrated, as two of the original members left, leaving Hugh and Jet to pick up the pieces. Shortly thereafter, JJ was taken on as the bass-player (having bought an instrument from Hugh and getting quickly up to speed with it).
The Stranglers were (temporarily) completed, late in 1974 by guitarist Hans Warmling, a friend of Hugh's from Sweden (photo courtesy of Joel Ekstrand). In this guise, the band started gigging around the Guildford area, under a variety of names; at about this time, an American serial killer known as the "Boston Strangler" was grabbing headlines around the world, which, given the menacing atmosphere projected by the band, eventually led to the name "The Stranglers". The number of gigs increased, and demo tapes were recorded; however, a record deal was not forthcoming. Eventually, Hans tired of the slow progress the band was making, despite their efforts, and quit the band to return to Sweden.
In July 1975, an advertisement in Melody Maker produced one Dave Greenfield, keyboard player. Dave had already played in a large number of bands and it was immediately obvious to the others that he was a natural addition to The Stranglers. The unusual inclusion of swirling keyboards at the time was to give the band a very distinctive sound, setting them apart from their contemporaries.
The end result was a very dedicated and hard working band, who were almost constantly on the road. This determination first led to a deal with Albion, a London agency which gave them access to some of the City's most influential pub venues. In December 1976, the band signed a recording contract with United Artists. To The Stranglers and those that knew them, this was the culmination of all their persistence over a two-year period; ironically, their signing angered a number of established bands who thought that these "punk upstarts" had come from nowhere!
So began the ever-changing recording career of The Stranglers. The punk/new wave scene was taking off in Britain and the band's style at the time fitted (if not neatly) into the genre; however, as this scene gradually died out, The Stranglers’ true colours started to show. The band's diversity had been clear from an early stage (and may have contributed to the difficulty in finding a record deal, as they could not be easily pigeon-holed); this flexibility and their experimental creativity were evident on an increasingly wide range of songs, with many stylistic twists and turns being showcased. New technology and techniques were happily embraced (as is clearly evident on such albums as "The Gospel According to the Meninblack") and new horizons were explored with the inclusion of a brass section (from "Aural Sculpture" to "10") and steel guitar (on "Dreamtime").
Through all this diversity, one image stuck to the band -- black. In the early eighties, the band's fascination with the Meninblack (mysterious visitors to UFO witnesses, possibly not of human origin, who tried to silence their victims) led to "The Gospel According to the Meninblack", which gave an alternative view to biblical happenings, from the perspective of alien intervention. Soon the band themselves were being dubbed "The Meninblack", further strengthened by the all-black dress adopted on stage. Even today, this name is applied to the band by their fans, who are often to be seen in all-black clothing and frequently go by "[name]inblack".
By 1990, and the completion of the tenth studio album "10", Hugh Cornwell (as stated later) thought that the band could, artistically, go no further. August 11th saw the last performance of The Stranglers with Hugh, at the Alexandra Palace. In the aftermath, JJ, Jet and Dave concluded that they disagreed with Hugh's assessment of the band's fortunes and decided to continue, albeit in a new format. The first new recruit was John Ellis, an ex-member of The Vibrators and a long-standing friend of the band. John had been a member of JJ's Euroband for the "Euroman Cometh" (solo album) tour in 1979 and had played guitar for the gigs at the Rainbow (London, UK) which featured a number of artists filling in for an incarcerated Hugh Cornwell (jailed for drugs possesion). More recently he had been a member of the Purple Helmets, a cover-band featuring both JJ and Dave and had joined the band's live set as an additional guitarist during the "10" tour. As an established member of The Stranglers extended family, John was the perfect choice as the new guitarist and he fitted neatly into the band.
The new line up now presented a completely different (and more dynamic) image, with Paul crashing and writhing about the stage. At the same time, the horn section was removed, giving a more straight-forward presentation.
This reincarnation of The Stranglers produced four albums: "Stranglers in the Night", "About Time", "Written in Red" and "Coup de Grace". As always, these albums showed a great musical diversity, blending in the new line up.
In March 2000, after nearly ten years with the band, John Ellis left to pursue other interests. He was replaced by "Small Town Heroes" guitarist Baz Warne. Baz is familiar to The Stranglers tour in 1995, as his band Small Town Heroes provided the support. He was almost immediately thrown into the spotlight for live performances in Bosnia and several festivals around Europe.
In 2002 they celebrated the 25th Anniversary of Punk Rock for it was in 1977 that the four kings of the UK punk movement; Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Stranglers and The Damned started a long term grip on the Top 40 singles chart.
The Stranglers have, over the last 25 years, become the only band from the original four to continue with a successful recording career.
The group, re-issued their first seven albums with bonus tracks via EMI (which where among the best selling back catalogue releases of the year) and their next four via Epic (again with bonus cuts). They were the subject of a major Radio 2 documentary and had a DVD issued by EMI of all their video clips for hit singles, among the very first to be issued of any group by the company.
The band’s repertoire has been in the spotlight with songs in ‘Me Without You’ and Tori Amos now up for 2 Grammy’s after her success with ‘Strange Little Girl’.
Adidas used ‘Peaches’ for their World Cup advertising campaign in May-June 2002 which led to EMI releasing a Greatest Hits album of the same name which charted in the top 20 UK album Charts.
With new guitarist Baz Warne in his 4th year the band re-signed to EMI in 2004 and their last 2 albums 'Norfolk Coast' and ‘Suite XVI’ have been hailed as their best for 20 years, with hit singles ‘Big Thing Coming’ and ‘Long Black Veil’ giving the band the rare accolade of maintaining top 40 hits over 4 decades.
In 2010 the band returned to main stage at T in the Park and Oxygen and a debut performance at Glastonbury after selling out their UK tour in Feb 2010 including a sell out Hammersmith Apollo followed by dates in Europe and Japan and appearances at other key major festivals around the World.
The EMI collection album ‘Decades Apart’ featured tracks from all 5 decades of the bands career and was released on EMI on March 1st 2010.
The band start 2011 with a the UK ‘Black and Blue’ Tour with sees them performing 17 shows across the UK before playing some European Festival dates, finishing in Cannes in September.
Carphone Warehouse have chosen to use Waltzinblack in a major European advertising campaign starting in December 2011.
They then continue the recording of their first new album for six years.
“Giants” is due for release in March 2012.