40 years since Battersea Park

Today marks the fortieth anniversary of the band’s legendary 1978 open-air gig at Battersea Park in London. The event was the culmination of months of planning by the band’s management and wranglings with the Greater London Council (GLC) over venues that were available for The Stranglers to play, with possible shows at Stamford Bridge and Ally Pally both being blocked. In fact, the band hadn’t been allowed to play a large scale London gig since the five night stand at the Roundhouse the previous November.

Due to an unofficial GLC ban in the capital, they had had to resort to the pseudonymic low key handful of dates in spring ’78 at the Nashville, Duke Of Lancaster & Red Cow to actually appear in London (see article here). Frustrated by the lack of large venues available to accommodate their growing fan base, the idea was hatched to stage a gig in one of the capital’s parks instead. Clearly an outdoor gig would have its own inherent logistical problems to overcome, let alone the unpredictable British autumn weather, but it was decided that this was the only way the band could play a decent sized gig in London. The gig was scheduled for mid September, part way through the band’s nationwide tour in support of the current album Black and White.

The huge stage was erected with a background of graffiti covered walls, courtesy of the Finchley Boys, adorned with posters for the B&W album. There was even a huge billboard promoting the band’s latest album to greet people as they entered the arena. The support acts for the gig were Peter Gabriel, The Skids and others with the band’s tour DJ Andy Dunkley spinning the sounds. The show was also to be filmed for posterity and possible TV broadcast at a later date. Although this sadly never happened, the entire gig was edited down to a seven song programme for that purpose. Tickets for the show had sold well and the band took the stage on that bright September day to the sight of 6000 eager fans, who had all been starved of a London appearance by them for nearly a year!

Storming into the set opener Get A Grip On Yourself, the sound was as brutal and powerful as fans had grown accustomed to, despite being outdoors. The set was a cross section of the band’s repertoire at that time, culling tracks from Rattus & Heroes as well as concentrating on the latest LP. At a recent gig, the band had been joined on stage for Nice ‘n’ Sleazy by an exotic dancer (stripper) and, like the bad boys they were, the band decided that this open air show in broad daylight in a busy London park should be no different! In the end, the band were actually joined onstage by a gaggle of strippers (plus a token male Finchley Boy!) during an extended rendition of Sleazy which got the police in attendance very hot under the collar. Tellingly, Jet pointed out that he noticed that they all barged their way to the front of the crowd to get a better view! Captured by the film crew, the footage of this multiple disrobing is legendary amongst fans, especially the younger ones, when it was finally saw release on The Video Collection 1977-1982 in 1982!

The finale of the gig was a huge hired tank firing its gun along with other explosions heralding the last song of the show Tank. After the concert, the police were quick to interview the strippers, the band’s management and anyone else that they could try to pin the obscene display on. However, no charges were every brought against the girls or anyone else. They’d got away with it!

To mark the occasion, we asked various people, who were in attendance that day, to give us their memories of that evening in London 40 years ago…over to them…

Jean-Jacques Burnel

I had a bandage around my wrist as I had accidentally touched my wrist on the hot exhaust pipe of my Triumph Bonneville the previous day and it had pulled all the skin off my arm. It wasn’t an affectation…

Harvey Goldsmith the promoter proposed that we play in Battersea Park and we thought it was a great idea. I had been there as a kid when there was a funfair there.

With regards to the strippers, we had been accused since the year before of of being misogynists and male chauvinists. There were attempts by the press and the Pistols and Clash and all that lot to denigrate us. My girlfriend at the time, Tracey, shared a flat with Lynn in Acton and I stayed there a lot of the time. Lynn was a professional stripper and made her living stripping in pubs. Lynn had originally proposed that she could strip at our Brighton gig at the time we released Black and White. She knew us and she thought it was outrageous that we were being accused of sexism. When Battersea Park was suggested, she said that she could get some of her work colleagues to strip too.

The girls were basically saying that we are empowered and we can do whatever we want with our bodies. We have power over men. It wasn’t The Stranglers exploiting them as it wasn’t our idea in the first place. Lynn volunteered to do it and, of course, we accepted! The police came back after the gig and cautioned the girls but they realised how silly it was and nothing happened to them. The press jumped on the bandwagon with headlines like ‘Stranglers in nude woman horror shock’ though. Instead of a display of female empowerment, it was more embedded that we had exploited the girls.

Hugh & JJ take to the stage, followed by Ian Grant

Ian Grant (band’s manager)

Battersea Park – what comes to my mind? Nearly setting fire to Harvey Goldsmith. Hiring a Churchill tank (nb: the tank was actually a Sherman M10 Tank Destroyer). Using real mortars and mock shells to appear to blow up the stage during Tank.  Meeting Joe Seabrook for the first time. JJ asking for a stripper and we end up with five! The Finchleys joining them during Sleazy. Hiding from the cops who were looking for person responsible for strippers. Being warned by Met Police that I would be personally prosecuted for inducing obscene acts in public, if it happened again. Peter Gabriel, The Skids & Johnny Rubbish. Not an every day kind of gig. Oh and the poster we printed afterwards of the guy with six pack of beer in one hand and his penis in the other. Oh what rude boys The Stranglers were in those days.

The infamous Tank!

Steve Hillier (Finchley Boy & merch man)

My memory of the 16th September 1978 is pretty vague to be honest but here goes … my first thoughts when I look back on that day was how lucky we were with the weather. It was a beautiful early autumn day considering it was pissing it down couple of days before! I was doing the merch and had collected the ice cream van from Jet on the Thursday before so we could get it set up and loaded with our various products. I collected Lee Bull and set off to Battersea Park. I remember as we drove in seeing the entrance with the big Black and White billboards up in their glory. It was quite surreal to be honest then, when the tank rolled up on a 40ft trailer, I knew this was going to be a day to remember! When the doors opened, we were surrounded by eager punters wanting to get their Stranglers T-Shirts. It was non stop and the event shirt sold out in minutes. Then I think it was Nicky Horne the DJ from Capital Radio coming over the PA getting the crowd fired up. I nipped out of the van and went to see the start which was the Legend in his own lunch time Johnny Rubbish, the punk comedian, being brought onto the stage by Dennis and Graham in his silver dustbin! Unfortunately for Johnny, he lived up to his name and was promptly greeted with a torrent of gob and bottles from the front rows. I think that was the only bit of naughtiness, the rest of the day went very smoothly till the police arrived to nick everyone and I’m sure that’s been well documented. I remember Spanish Louie out his bonce striping off during Sleazy and Dennis whipping everyone who got in the way!! The highlights for me were, of course, Sleazy and Tank and The Skids who were always worth a watch.

The huge Black And White billboard

Graham Hayhoe (Finchley Boy & roadie)

….So the Finchley mob were in full force… if you look at the vid, they helped with the graffitied background sets… obviously?… Usual stage set up… lots of help getting it ready. Then the big question was how the exotic dancers for Sleazy would go down? So it was suggested that a male dancer would make it less sexist? haha… anyway, it was decided that Dennis would have the whip, and Spanish Louie would happily strip to show off his artistic interpretation???! But, manager Ian Grant was concerned about keeping the local officials in the dark, as much as possible… (The local officials were already waiting to pull the plug) ….so he offered me a BONUS! ….ONLY IF…. after Sleazy was over, I quickly gather up the ladies’ underwear and return them to the respective owners, so they could not be arrested for unlawful whatsits!!!?… Obviously, my first thought was: What would me mother say??! So…. at the end of the number, I scrambled around collecting their goodies… (not Louie’s, mind! ) …and entered the ladies’ changing room/container to help sort them out… (Hmmm… couldn’t believe they never brought extra underwear ) It was a hot day, so it was like a sauna in there… To this day, the images are tattooed on my brain… Still…. job well done!!! Anyway, on exiting the ladies room, there’s Ian Grant mooching around, and when he spots me, he stops and says…. “Enjoy your bonus?!!!” …. bastard… but seriously…. It was definitely a good day, and all of the night!

Barry Cain (journalist)

Saturday, 16 September: The Stranglers played in Battersea Park. What fun. I thought I’d toddle off to see the boys in blue watching the boys in black…

You could be forgiven for assuming The Stranglers are essentially nocturnal creatures. That their eyes squint in strong daylight, that they go about their work under cover of darkness, that they pursue their prey along the corridors of the night. Such is their expertise. Their music instils in the mind twisted visions of decay and depravity, all acted out in a scenario of everlasting night. Edgar Allen Poe reads like Enid Blyton by comparison.

All the more surprising then that they decided to play at Battersea Park that afternoon, home of stray dogs, defunct funfairs and a Pink Floyd album-cover power plant. To top it all, they made a grand entrance on a tank – apparently they had intended to fly in by way of rocket-packs strapped to their backs, only to discover at the last minute that such a stunt required a two-year training course. They maintained the GLC (Greater London Council) had made life difficult for them and prevented the band from playing more suitable venues. Maybe the council was simply bored with washing down paint-splattered walls all over London that boldly proclaimed, ‘The Stranglers Must Play’, or sick of being inundated with petitions from irate fans.

The show? It was nice. And sleazy.

Alan Perry’s colour photos from the gig (available on ebay)

Chelsea Danny (punter)

A really hot sunny September day & The Stranglers in a park !!….I arrived just after the gates had opened & the first thing I recall was buying the Battersea badge set being sold from an ice cream van…. Under the stage a huge bank of speakers went all along the front. When the band eventually took the stage, Hugh made a speech about the GLC ban on the band playing in London and then the gig began with Grip…the other highlights for me were Something Better Change, No More Heroes, Curfew, Death & Night & Blood and Toiler On The Sea. Despite the usual sarcastic comments in the music press regarding ticket sales, there was a large turn out & the band had defeated the GLC ban which of course the press neglected to mention…. A superb day all for the sum of £4.00 !!

Setlist: Grip/London Lady/Go Buddy Go/Peaches/Hanging Around/Bring On The Nubiles/Something Better Change/No More Heroes/Curfew/Do You Wanna?/Death & Night & Blood/Threatened/Nice ‘n’ Sleazy/Toiler On The Sea encores 5 Minutes/Tank 

Watch live footage from Battersea Grip / Go Buddy Go Death & Night & Blood / Curfew and also some silent Super 8 from the day here

The gig had been a real gamble, with so many potential downfalls, but it all paid off. They had skillfully circumnavigated the GLC ban and had then flaunted the public indecency rules and regulations to have fun with strippers on stage. The gig starved fans of the capital got to see their heroes on stage and the critics of the music press were silenced by the huge crowd that the band attracted. The gig itself has passed into band legend as one of the concerts to be at, it must’ve been an amazing day…

Thanks to JJ, Ian, Steve, Graham, Barry and Danny for their memories of that day all those years ago. Wish I had been lucky enough to have been there too…

Hugh & JJ relax with the whip!