There are movements, shifts in counterculture that make significant seismic impacts that seemingly change the way one looks, hears and feels about our collective surroundings to the point where it then becomes an historic benchmark or so we are told by the media. Although the comparisons to any kind of cultural movement that shakes up the status quo to such a degree has to be, in my lifetime anyway, when the white punk Rotten goaded that dope Bill Grundy on England’s tea-time Thames television local current affairs show entitled ‘Today’. A day that will stand in tabloids infamy with the wonderful headline in the Daily Mirror, which Julian Temple appreciated so much he entitled his Sex pistols documentary after it, ‘The Filth and the Fury’.
At school the following day, amongst my classmates, amongst my teachers, all anyone wanted to talk about, was that “shocking” incident. Luckily for me I was in the middle of prepping for an art exam. My art teacher in my secondary school or high school (from 14 to 17 years old) Stepney Green was the beatnik looking Mr. Johnson; disposed to dress in light tones of brown, corduroy pants, cashmere, or lamb’s wool crewneck sweaters an occasional angora and always with suede khaki desert boots or in the summertime open toe leather sandals with gnarly looking toes.
I never saw him arrive or leave, or neither accidentally bumped into him in the street, or a store or anywhere else in or out of the building. To some of us we had come to the assumption he was either another teacher at the school only in disguise or more fancifully a troglodyte, a ‘Morlock’
straight out of H.G Wells ‘Time Machine’ living in the bowels of my old school, “on a diet of rice and old shoes”, as Groucho Marx may have denoted. Why else did he have such a long beard? How was it the lens in his spectacles seem to change hue depending on the lighting conditions? However, he did see through his John Lennon style specs a talent in me to feed and encourage. He had very eclectic musical taste which, depending on his mood, ranged from classical, jazz, ska, reggae, dub, lovers rock, funk, and even disco. The soundtrack to ‘Saturday Night Fever’ was a favorite for one term, the one hit wonders Wild Cherry another, along with Kool & The Gang album ‘Light Of Worlds’ especially the track ‘Summer Madness’ which haunted my mind all that summer. Then there was the Isaac Hayes whose ‘Hot buttered Soul’ was to torture to my adolescent mind with his sexual response to the virginal Julie Andrew’s nanny from Mary Poppins, no-nonsense song, ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’.
The ‘Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic’ which combined with the former opened the door to a whole plethora of music. Although I regret to confess his 10-minute sophisticated version of Burt Bacharach/ Hal David’s ‘Walk On By’ was not appreciated by myself at the time.
However, when punk took off Mr. Johnson had to be pragmatic in his choices albeit The Clash first album became part of the repertoire a lot of those bands that were lauded over in the music press, some deservedly others were never punk bands,not in a million years..
One of which that he shied away from was The Stranglers who were essentially a nasty hard rock pub band with an attitude, a perfect shoe-in for the punk era who courted controversy intentionally. The difference with these guys being they were four well-seasoned talented musicians who not only looked like they had been around the block but had actually escaped from one. The resurrected bastard mutation of The Doors, originally formed in 1974 by the drummer Brian Duffy. Formerly a purveyor of ice cream who succeeded in the business of brewing ale felt he had missed his calling, so jacked it all in to be in a band. With a name change to the more ominous Jet Black, who scarily looked just like a strangler straight off the set of a Boris Karloff movie. The lead singer/songwriter Hugh Cornwall was a sinewy rocker who looked like he was pushing thirty was already an accomplished, experienced, lead guitarist. Jean-Jacques Burnel the youngest member with a background in classical guitar was also a proficient bass player whose cranked-up instrument would influence a whole new generation of bass players and was French, to boot, well sort of. Then there was the late great extraordinary Dave Greenfield who adorned a mustache worthy of the Sundance Kid, a dexterity on the keyboards that would put Rick Wakemann in the shade, because his look was out of time and out of place but who didn’t give a ‘pheasant in the big shitty’.
In 1978 they released their third album
‘Black and White’, whereupon the first 75,000 sold
came with a free single
their chart position.
Only an outfit like
this would have the balls to record,
close to a seven-minute version,of ‘Walk On By’ almost a decade after Isaac Hayes.
The snarling vocals of a misanthropic Cornwall
a romantic ballad into a brooding,
sarcastic, menacing threat.
With a two-minute complicated arpeggio mixed into a further two-minute guitar solo to break it up.
That’s when the penny dropped, and I finally got it. Here they were in plain sight, the ‘Men in Black’, a punk rock band, playing a keyboard solo with a lead guitar solo, a fully-fledged jerk off… a musical interlude worthy of Pink Floyd. Uncompromising, unequable in their commitment to a real rock, cockamamie “punk” music, right before your very eyes. The Stranglers had more in common with “Prog Rock” or “Prog Soul” because what is the difference in the music just the color of their Lilly white skin for, they had created something special, quite unique pop-born-moog-tastic –