Saturday, 15 August 2020

The Stranglers - The Early Days in Guildford, Location and Landmark Tour

The Star Inn on Quarry Street, Guildford
The Stranglers have been on my mind even more than usual recently. I'd been talking to Ian Person the guitarist with two of Sweden's most influential bands, The Soundtrack of Our Lives and Union Carbide Productions for our latest Retrosonic Podcast when he told me that "The Raven" was the first record he ever bought. We both enjoyed revisiting the album and he picked his favourite track to include in the episode. Then, just as we finished the interview by coincidence I noticed that The Stranglers had announced the re-arranged dates for their final tour, of course now due to go ahead sadly without keyboard genius Dave Greenfield who passed away suddenly in May. Like all Stranglers fans I was devastated by this terrible news, after all, the band have been in my life for over 40 years now. I vividly remember "No More Heroes" being part of the soundtrack to my youth and when I was old enough to really get into buying records, "Duchess" and "Nuclear Device" were among the first on my list. So, I decided it was time to pay homage to one of my all time favourite bands and in a little tribute to Dave, I finally got round to doing a D.I.Y. tour of Stranglers related locations in and around Guildford, something I've been meaning to do for ages.

Guildford is where The Stranglers were formed back in 1974, it gave them their original name The Guildford Stranglers and I guess it's the band's spiritual home despite none of the members actually coming from the town. After all, Hugh Cornwell and JJ Burnel were born in London, Jet Black in Essex and Dave Greenfield comes from Brighton. Despite the band's fearsome reputation I was surprised to discover that most of the locations involved are surprisingly posh. Guildford itself boasts an attractive High Street that thankfully still retains a bit of character, rare in most of England's generic town centres these days. Then there's Chiddingfold, Bramley, Shalford, Godalming - even the names conjure up images of cricket on the village green and afternoon tea - hardly the high-rise council flats along The Clash's Westway or riot hit Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove. It's certainly all a far cry from the working class streets of Joy Division's Macclesfield or Salford and the polar opposite to 1970's Lower East Side of New York's legendary CBGB's scene either. But, I guess this suits The Stranglers down to the ground - I mean they were always outsiders - unfairly derided in the music press as being too old, too clever or too musical to be "real" Punks and often airbrushed out of trendy Punk retrospectives and exhibitions. However, despite the leafy suburban commuter belt area that saw the band's formation, The Stranglers always had far more menace, danger and genuine Punk attitude than the majority of their safety-pinned, dyed-haired contemporaries. Music journalists, fellow musicians, record companies and sometimes even their own audiences felt the wrath of their seething anger and distrust. 

Guildford High Street
Bramley Village Hall, an early rehearsal room
Hugh moved to Guildford after studying Biochemistry at Lund University in Sweden where he had also formed a band called Johnny Sox. The idea was that he and the guitarist/keyboard player Hans Wärmling should relocate and try their luck with the U.K.'s music scene. They advertised for like-minded individuals and JJ and Jet joined after seeing an advert in the music press. JJ's parents had moved from London to Godalming, a small town just outside Guildford where his Dad Roger, ran a French restaurant called La Chaumiere. Searches for details on the restaurant are sketchy as one result led me to the English Heritage directory of listed Grade II buildings and it comes up as Gomshall Lane in nearby Shere, currently the site of Kingham's Restaurant. However, I've also just had information from Gill at the Proud To Be a Stranglers Fan group that La Chaumiere was on Meadrow in Godalming which actually burnt down and the site is now a row of houses called Little Thatch. Malcolm Wyatt from the excellent WriteWyatt Blog corroborates this and adds that JJ's Mum ran the front of house and JJ also used to help out around the Restaurant too. Godalming was also home to the Gin Mill, a popular venue and nightclub inside The Angel Hotel on Angel Court that hosted gigs by bands such as Free and Fleetwood Mac. One night out here would go on to inspire the lyrics to "Go Buddy Go". Sadly, the Angel Hotel has since been redeveloped and there is a web-site asking for people to contribute their memories and stories. JJ attended the Royal Grammar School in Guildford and it's claimed that one of his schooltime experiences would go on to contribute the idea for "Choosey Susie", probably best not to delve too deeply into that!

Royal Grammar School, Guildford
The site of Jet's old Off-licence The Jackpot
Meanwhile, Jet Black was something of a local entrepreneur, a former Jazz drummer he was now running a large off-licence called The Jackpot which was also the base for his Ice Cream company. Here I also ran into some problems trying to find the exact location of The Jackpot as in most features about the band's early days the address mentioned is 61 Woodbridge Road. However, Malcolm from WriteWyatt tells me "(it) was nearer the railway station, on Park Street, not far from what's now the Academy of Contemporary Music, where incidentally Hugh Cornwell's current bandmates both lecture". If anyone else has memories or information on The Jackpot please do get in touch. In the early days, The Stranglers used one of Jet's fleet of Ice Cream vans as their 'tour bus' for a good couple of years, even making it over to the Continent to play some gigs. Now with things looking more serious for his new band, Jet bought a new drumkit from Anderton's music shop, a long established and well respected store that at the time was located in the North Street area of the town which relocated to 58-59 Woodbridge Road in 1990. Back to the band, and they decided to change their name from Johnny Sox to The Guildford Stranglers, but soon dropped the 'Guildford' prefix probably due to the reasons stated above that Guildford is hardly very 'Rock & Roll' and certainly didn't have quite the same credentials as say, The New York Dolls. However, Hans gave up on the band and returned to his native Gothenburg to be replaced by Dave Greenfield on the keyboards and with the new classic line-up and name in place they were ready to go.

Anderton's Music Store (new location)
The band's house in Chiddingfold
The band had been living and rehearsing above Jet's off-licence and songs such as "Sometimes" came from this period, but when the premises were earmarked for redevelopment, Jet sold up and rented a large cottage on Coxcombe Lane in Chiddingfold, an idyllic English village a few miles south of Guildford. They weren't made to feel very welcome by their new neighbours or even their own landlord for that matter, who at one stage even tried to evict them, changing the locks in the hope of forcing them out. Unfortunately for the locals, this didn't stop the band and they continued squatting at the property for a while afterwards. Hugh has since stated in interviews that he enjoyed his time at Chiddingfold, he was lucky to have the best room in the house which was conducive to songwriting and he liked to sit in the garden relaxing while JJ played acoustic guitar and songs like "Goodbye Toulouse" and "(Get a) Grip (On Yourself)" were written here. 

Chiddingfold, village green preservation society!
The Crown Inn, Chiddingfold
They were pretty poor at the time and Hugh admitted in one interview that they used to go to the Crown Inn, an historic pub on the nearby village green to consume pints of Guinness and packets of mixed nuts and raisins as it was all they could afford and they thought this would constitute a healthy balanced diet! The band even performed under the hilarious name, The Chiddingfold Chokers so the village had an undoubted place in their hearts! Hugh actually returned to Chiddingfold in October 2000 to play a show at the since demolished Chiddingfold Live Music Club around the release of his "Hi-Fi" album. The Stranglers also held early rehearsals in Bramley Village Hall and in the highly unlikely location of the Shalford Scouts Hut, which still stands to this day.

Shalford Scout Hut
The Royal Hotel Stoughton, now the Beijing Restaurant
In December 1974, they played their first ever gig at The Star Inn in Quarry Street right in the centre of the town and also secured a residency at the Royal Hotel in Stoughton on Worplesdon Road, which is now the Beijing Chinese Restaurant. Fast forward forty five years later to January 2019 and the PRS Music For Heritage 'Plaque-in-Black' on the outside of The Star Inn was officially unveiled by JJ, Jet, Dave and Baz Warne alongside the Mayor of Guildford and I'm sure the irony wasn't lost on the band that day. After all, this was the council that not only banned The Stranglers from the Civic Hall but also any other Punk Rock gigs in the town. In fact, I'm just reading the excellent new autobiography "Remain In Love" by Chris Frantz and he mentions that the Ramones & Talking Heads show scheduled in Guildford was pulled at the last minute thanks to this ban. 

G-Live Guildford, built on the site of the old Civic Hall
The Stranglers on stage at G-Live Guildford, 2013
Talking of being banned...G-Live, Guildford's largest music venue and now a regular stop on Stranglers tour itineraries is located on the site of the old Civic Hall - scene of a riot at one of the band's early gigs that, as alluded to above, saw them getting banned by the local Council. Then there was the infamous gig at the University of Surrey in 1978 that was being filmed for the "Rock Goes To College" TV series. The band were angry that their request to offer tickets to local fans, not just for students was being ignored but they kept quiet right up until the fifth song in their set "Hanging Around" after which Hugh slagged off the crowd and the University and walked off stage. Following this, the Student Union decided to ban The Stranglers too - leaving them nowhere left to play in Guildford. I think you can safely say that this was when the love/hate relationship between The Stranglers and their adopted hometown of Guildford turned into strictly a hate/hate relationship for a pretty long time after!

"Guildford University never represented Guildford, we hate playing to elitist audiences so f**k off..."

All photos copyright Retro Man Blog. Please do get in touch if there are any glaring inaccuracies and I'd also love to hear from anyone with personal memories and stories relating to their own experiences with The Stranglers and Guildford which may be included in a follow-up feature. With thanks to Malcolm Wyatt from WriteWyatt Blog for filling in some of the blanks. Here's some recommended reading..."No Mercy" by David Buckley, "Stranglers Song by Song" by Hugh Cornwell & Jim Drury, "A Multitude of Sins" by Hugh Cornwell, "Peaches: A Chronicle 1974-1990" by Robert Endeacott. Further online reading can be found at the following places: The Stranglers official web-site, Hugh Cornwell official web-site, WriteWyatt Blog, Strangled web-site, FamilyInBlack Facebook Group, Burning Up Time Facebook Group, Proud To Be a Stranglers Fan Facebook Group, SIS Japan Facebook Group.

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