40th anniversary of 1977 – part 2

For the second part of this article, we focus on the latter part of 1977, the period July to December. The first half of the year had firmly established the band in the vanguard of the Punk and new wave explosion, the second half of the year further cemented their position, both as a chart act but also on the live stage. So, let us take you back to the heady days of the summer of ’77… 

Week commencing 3rd July 1977- During the Rattus Norvegicus recording sessions, earlier in 1977, the band had committed an album & a half’s worth of material to tape. 40 years ago this week, they returned to TW Studios in Fulham to record the remaining songs to complete what would become the No More Heroes album. Recently written songs, like Bring On The Nubiles, No More Heroes itself and the hastily, studio-penned English Towns, were captured by Martin Rushent & Alan Winstanley on the newly installed 24 track machine in the tiny basement studio. Eager to hear the fruits of the band’s labours, the Finchley Boys were regular visitors to the cramped studio during the Heroes sessions. JJ recalls that it caused some friction with Martin: ‘TW was in a very small basement room and, every day, the tiny control booth was full of Finchlies drinking wine or cider and smoking dope. It became a bit too chaotic and Martin got fed up with it as he was trying to work. He politely asked the Finchlies to vacate the premises…’

w/c 17th July 1977– this week 40 years ago saw the release of the band’s third single, a double A side coupling of Something Better Change/Straighten Out. These were the first tracks released from the recent sessions in TW Studios with Martin Rushent and gave a taster of the band’s forthcoming new album. JJ elaborates on the reason for double A side releases: ‘At the time, we were trying to release double A sides all the time as we thought it was a cool notion. We thought that B sides were throwaway tracks and that double A sides were giving value for money. Soon after that we started experimenting with B sides, seeing which direction we could go in…
Promo videos were fairly uncommon then, yet the decision was taken to film videos for both A side songs for this single. JJ: ‘We filmed videos for both tracks in the Notting Hill/Ladbroke Grove area. The location was chosen as it was near to where our then tour manager Dick O’Dell lived at the time’. The single again achieved a top 10 position in the UK, peaking at number 9

w/c 21st August 1977- 40 years ago this week, with their second album complete & ready for release, the band played a special low key gig for their friends & allies, the Finchley Boys. The gig took place at the Herbert Wilmot Youth Centre in Finchley on Saturday 27th August with London in support. Keen to keep the event off the radar, the Finchleys banned photographers & journos from the gig. The venue was packed to the rafters & it was a memorable night for those in attendance, as JJ recalls: ‘It was completely chaotic. I’m not sure what the capacity was but there were about 400 Finchleys in there that night. It was wild and was a coming together as the Finchleys had been with us for nearly a year by then. Everything was moving so fast for us then and we’d gone through so much together in such a short space of time. It was a thank you to them and helped to reinforce our bond‘.

26th August 1977- on this day in 1977, drummer & founder member of the band Jet Black celebrated his 39th birthday. Happy birthday Jet!

28th August 1977- Hugh Cornwell celebrated his 28th birthday on this day in 1977. Many happy returns Hugh…

w/c 28th August 1977- this week in 1977, the band returned to the BBC studios to record a second session for the Radio 1 DJ John Peel. They chose a quartet of tracks from their forthcoming album No More Heroes, including the radio-unfriendly & controversial Bring On The Nubiles. In a small artistic compromise, the lyrics were slightly changed for the session. When reminded of the altered lyric ‘Lemme lemme lemme lemme!’, JJ simply chuckled mischievously!!! He recalled of this second Peel session: ‘It was a precursor to the release of the new album. The final tracks of the album had been recorded by then so we were au fait with all of the songs’. Listen to the session on Spotify here

w/c 4th September 1977- 40 years ago this week, the band headed out for a short European tour which included some Scandinavian dates. A gig in a small southern Swedish town called Klippan saw the band attract the unwanted attentions of a huge gang of rocker types called the ‘Raggare’. They had taken a dislike to this visiting representative of the British punk rock movement and came to cause …trouble! JJ picks up the story: ‘We were battle hardened by then but that was quite heavy! The Raggare were kind of American Grafitti-ists, they looked like Fifties rock ‘n’ rollers with greased hair & college jackets. They drove these huge old American cars & they didn’t like the whole punk thing, which we represented apparently. Since we were the only band going out there on tour, they came after us. The venue was a large wooden chalet in the middle of the forest and about 60 of these cars turned up & broke through the perimeter fencing. They broke into the hall, beat up our crew & destroyed our equipment. The promoter locked us in the basement but we broke out & Molotov Cocktailed (petrol bombed) one of their cars! When the police finally turned up, they immediately escorted us to the ferry from Helsingborg to Copenhagen. We were meant to play Stockholm the next night but it was pulled. End of tour…’

w/c 11th September 1977- forty years ago this week, the band released their second single, and the title track from, their forthcoming album No More Heroes. Alongside Peaches, No More Heroes became one of THE anthems of the punk explosion that year. As had become the norm for the band by now, it was a top 10 hit peaking at number 8 in the UK charts. JJ remembers how the track was written: ‘It was a brand new write which we got together that summer. I came up with the riff, the melodies & stuff and I gave it to Hugh. He already had the lyrics. He had just read Don Quixote and Sancho Panza was his sidekick’. The flipside was a bizarre track, In The Shadows, a jazzy yet dark musical experiment which had developed in the studio. It was totally different to the band’s ‘established’ sound & showed their musical horizons were broad. JJ: ‘In The Shadows was a track too far for the Heroes album. It came from a studio jam session and was originally twelve minutes long. The vocal and rhythmical styles were based on Captain Beefheart, who we were big fans of. Peasant… from the album was too. I’d just seen the Magic Band, with a different singer, when they played the Roundhouse that autumn, under the name Mallard. Shadows took seven hours to edit down and I was in the studio with Martin Rushent for the session, cutting & splicing tape. It was a long session and my then girlfriend Tracey kept rolling us a supply of joints. We left the studio at six in the morning! We were very proud of In The Shadows‘.

w/c 18th September 1977- forty years ago this week, the band headed out on the road for their third major UK tour of 1977. This mammoth trek around the British Isles, to promote the imminent arrival of their new album, consisted of around 40 dates, climaxing in a run of gigs at the Roundhouse… Unlike previous tours that year, this tour suffered less problems with bans or cancellations as JJ recalls: ‘There were a only few issues on the tour with bans. In Glasgow, the whole of Glasgow City council turned up at the gig. They came along to decide whether they should ban all punk bands from playing in the city. We made a point of saying from the stage that ‘you can’t judge all other bands by seeing us’ ‘.
Backing the wealth of new bands coming out at the time, the group signed up various different bands to support throughout the tour. Bands such as Penetration, Radio Stars, Rezillos, The Drones, Only Ones, Steel Pulse, The Saints (from Aus) & The Dictators (from New York) each played 4 or 5 dates. JJ remembers The Dictators were in for a surprise: ‘The Dictators played on the last part of the tour & they weren’t used to being spat at. They were really shocked!’

w/c 18th September 1977 #2- the second anniversary this week showing what a busy time it was for the band! Forty years ago, the band made their second appearance on BBC1’s legendary Top Of The Pops show ‘performing’ their fourth single No More Heroes. Unlike their misbehaved debut appearance on the programme with Go Buddy Go a few months before, the band took this one far more seriously (although JJ wafts dry ice away with a newspaper and Hugh’s plays an ‘air guitar’ solo). JJ remembers they viewed the programme differently at that point: ‘We wanted to make a real go of it, to do it properly, we really wanted to be successful by then’. However, it wasn’t all professional behaviour for the band that day! JJ: ‘We also tried getting laid by the dancers from Pan’s People after the recording. They were in the green room and I tried it on with the prettiest one. She just looked at me like she’d seen it all before…’ Watch the Heroes TOTP appearance here

23rd September 1977- this day in 1977, the band unleashed their second album, No More Heroes, on the world. Following a mere five months after their debut Rattus Norvegicus, it featured a number of tracks recorded in the same sessions as Rattus. The remainder of the tracks had been laid down in TW studios that summer, showing how prolific the band were at the time. JJ elaborates: ‘We had accumulated a lot of material, like any young band, and we just kept writing. We still hadn’t got a ‘Stranglers’ direction that we were going in. As you start to find your own identity and sound, refining it, it started to go off in different directions. The Stranglers weren’t the finished product by No More Heroes, and still aren’t now! No More Heroes was a bit faster tempo than Rattus but it wasn’t as dark. It was basically Rattus II or Son Of Rattus! Those two albums are kind of together. We had over an album’s worth of material when we recorded Rattus so it was a choice of what would go on Rattus and what would go on the follow up’.
The striking wreath design of the sleeve wasn’t to everyone’s liking and the band were put off it after one journalist described it as ‘chocolate boxy’. The wreath cover was rushed through following the band’s rejection of the original sleeve design, which featured a picture of JJ alone, rather than the whole band. JJ remembers: ‘The original cover was meant to be me on Trotsky’s tomb but Hugh objected because it singled me out. That was fair enough because we were a band. The design wasn’t done in secret from the others though, everyone knew about it’.
Following its release, No More Heroes climbed steadily into the UK top 10 and finally reached number 2 in the charts. The band had achieved two top 5 albums in 1977-an amazing feat! Listen to the album on Spofify here

2nd November 1977- 40 years ago today, at the climax of the huge No More Heroes tour, the band played the first show of a five night run at London’s iconic Roundhouse. Less than a year before that, they had been appearing low on the support bill for major artists at the venue. Now they were selling out a string of gigs there as headliners. JJ explains how it felt: ‘I remember the sweet sense of revenge after we had been sabotaged at the Roundhouse by Patti Smith’s crew the previous year. They switched the PA off so we were just listening to ourselves in the onstage monitors. The bemused audience couldn’t hear us and walked off. I was told that week that we had broken the long standing record held by The Who and The Stones for consecutive nights at the Roundhouse. It was kind of a vindication!

When asked what else he recalled of those gigs, he relayed various memories from the time. JJ: ‘I remember that I was still living at West End Road with Wilko (Johnson). Also, I remember a young Scottish student at the stage door asking to put his rucksack in our dressing room. He was a budding journalist and that was the beginning of the ‘Ronnie Gurr’ situation with The Stranglers (note: involving friendship, a poor review of Black & White and then kidnapping on the Euroman tour!). I remember that I was knocking off Soo Catwoman (well known punk face in London) a couple of nights that week. Debbie Harry came backstage at one gig and she had a ‘JJ’ badge on! I had a ‘Blondie’ one on but I can’t comment if things went further… During those gigs, I bought my black leather biker jacket from one of the Dictators as he was skint. It was the one Dave wore on the Black & White cover but it was my jacket’. So, The Stranglers had arrived, following their consistent hard work on the live circuit for the previous three years. At the start of ’77, they were a support act at the Roundhouse & were selling out 5 nights by the end!

w/c 20th November 1977-  forty years ago this week, the band made their final appearance at a legendary London venue which had played host to them many times over the previous two years- the Hope & Anchor. The gig was the opening night of the month long Front Row Festival, featuring a variety of bands, which was designed to raise funds to save the iconic venue which was under threat. So, just over two weeks after their 5 night run at the Roundhouse had finished, The Stranglers crammed their equipment into that tiny basement room for the last time. JJ recalls their relationship with the venue & its landlord Fred Grainger: ‘Fred Grainger, who we mentioned in Bitching, had mentored us. He had taken the risk of putting us on on Sunday nights at the Hope, which was the only night of the week that they didn’t have bands on. They gave us a residency which meant that our name appeared in the Hope & Anchor listings in the Melody Maker every week. It had been our ambition to play at the Hope! At that time, we could count on one hand the people who had done us favours and helped us out. Returning that November was a way of saying thank you to Fred’.
In addition to the funds raised by the gigs, a double album was recorded and released featuring many of the artists on the bill, & included a pair of Stranglers’ songs. JJ: ‘A few other bands that played the Festival were included in the recordings, notably Dire Straits, XTC and Shakin’ Stevens. They were all bands who had been grateful for playing at the Hope previously’.
Luckily The Stranglers full set was recorded for posterity, featuring some rare tracks like Choosey Susie, and it was later released on CD. Listen to this legendary recording here

w/c 27th November 1977- forty years ago this week, the band capped off an extraordinarily busy gigging year with two shows at the legendary Paradiso Club in Amsterdam. The band’s entourage swelled to include various invited guests to help celebrate the successes of the year, as JJ recalls: ‘There was a bit of a press junket organised with various journalists as well as people like Martin Rushent there. The gigs were filmed too’. JJ had his bike out in Amsterdam with him:… ‘They wanted me to do a small cartoon strip for a magazine and wanted me to have my bike. One of the Finchleys, Pete Enter, ride my Trident T160 all the way out there to Amsterdam‘. On the subject of motorcycles, it was at these gigs that the band received the attention of some local ‘celebrities’. JJ picks up the tale: ‘It was at these gigs were we first met the Amsterdam Hell’s Angels who took it upon themselves to be our security. We ended up going to their Clubhouse which was an eye-opener! I remember seeing Jet being whisked away there on the back of a Harley. They all had guns! I heard stories that a journalist had been forced into a game of Russian Roulette by the Angels but I was in a different room at the time. We were told that they were given a little grant each (by the Government) just to stay out of the city, which they didn’t! You could call it a Dutch compromise…‘ Watch the video for No More Heroes (& the infamous ‘wall’ incident) at the Paradiso here and Something Better Change here
What a perfect live ending to the band’s pivotal year…

w/c 18th December 1977- As 1977 drew to a close, there was no let up in activity for the band. A humourous episode happened at this time when JJ appeared as a nude centrefold in the New Musical Express, although careful camera angles kept his dignity! The idea behind it was a dig at the band’s accusers as JJ recalls: ‘The point of it was that there had been so many comments about Rattus & Heroes being sexist and people thought that The Stranglers were male chauvinist pigs. All that year, people like Rough Trade (note: influential London record shop/label that banned Stranglers’ records) had engineered this idea that we were sexist and everyone got on that bandwagon. The NME wanted me to take the piss out of myself & appear as a sex object-the ‘Stud of the year’! At that time, we didn’t get too many NMEs as they were on the side of the phoneys, like the Pistols & Clash. It was a bit of fun & quite successful. The photos did me no harm whatsoever, on the contrary, they enhanced my appeal to a certain kind of lady! It also appealed to the gay brigade. One thing that the NME reneged on, when I agreed to it, was that you can’t see the title of the book I’m holding. It was ‘Women In Modern Society’ or something and was a nod to the feminists’.
The band also visited the recording studio for the final time in 1977, laying down two tracks for single release in January 1978-5 Minutes/Rok It To The Moon. They also filmed videos for both tracks & incurred the wrath of a well known person at the time. JJ: ‘We came into the film studio and were a bit noisy & boisterous. Ian Dury was finishing off something in the studio too & he came into our dressing room with his minder and berated us. Bless him, we thought that was very courageous if him, especially considering our reputation at the time! All power to him’.
Next stop for the band was Bearshanks in rural Oundle near Peterborough to start work on writing their third album. JJ remembers: ‘We went to Bearshanks just approaching Christmas. As the others had their own places by then & I didn’t so I stayed there on my own some of the time. Other times my girlfriends were there & sometimes some of the Finchleys. I remember writing the music for Toiler On The Sea there and Dennis (Finchley) played the drums, not very well! Hugh went to Morocco that Christmas with his Japanese girlfriend’.

w/c 25th December 1977- So, as ’77 turned into ’78, the band were working on their third album at Bearshanks Lodge. There certainly was no rest for the wicked. It was a fitting end to the year, working on yet more new material, when you consider just how busy they had been throughout 1977. It had been a packed year of endless gigging, sold out tours, prolific songwriting, countless hours in the studio, releasing two albums and four singles. All their efforts since their formation back in autumn 1974 had started to be rewarded. JJ sums up 1977: ‘Without a doubt, it was the year we arrived! Things had changed & people’s perceptions of us had changed too. Of course, it was a fingers up to all the people who had gone against us as well. We’d broken a lot of records that year like the consecutive night run at the Roundhouse. We’d had two albums in the top five for most of that year. Rattus had remained in the chart since its release back in April! We’d also played abroad in places like Sweden & Holland too‘.

Thanks to JJ for his memories of 1977 throughout the last year, we hope you’ve enjoyed reliving the events of that legendary time for the band…