Secret London pub gigs 1978

During 1978, in an effort to circumnavigate their GLC ban from London venues, the band played a trio of secret gigs in the capital. The gigs, all played under pseudonyms, have become legendary in the band’s history.This feature spotlights these dates…

History- secret London pub gigs ’78


During the winter of ’77, whilst the band were still holed up in the frozen countryside at Bearshanks Lodge, the Greater London Council (GLC) had taken the decision to ban all ‘punk’ bands, including The Stranglers, from London venues. Initially the band had come to their attention as support to the Climax Blues Band at the Rainbow in January ’77 when Hugh had worn the now infamous ‘Ford/Fuck’ t-shirt. Further trouble and various local council bans had followed the band around the country on the No More Heroes tour that autumn and this had finally pushed the GLC over the edge.

Following their successful five night November stint at the Roundhouse and their low-key appearance at the Hope and Anchor during the Front Row Festival, they soon found any further London gigs impossible to secure.

Frustrated by the lack of venues in the capital, and eager to air the fruits of their Bearshank labours, the band arranged a one-off, secret gig at the Duke of Lancaster in New Barnet in February ’78. To avoid the GLC ban, they maintained a high level of secrecy and decided to play the gig under a suitable pseudonym ‘Johnny Sox’.

With the launch of Black and White in May, the band went back out on the road for a short mini tour of larger venues. Again, no suitable London venue could be found and, despite valiant attempts to organise gigs at both the Queens Park Rangers stadium and Alexandra Palace, the tour was forced to bypass the capital.

Sounds music paper cutting detailing issues with the GLC

The full UK tour for the album was arranged for September and finally they managed to secure a London gig. The band would play a large open air gig in Battersea Park which had been carefully organised via a loophole in the GLC’s ban. For some reason, the GLC had less control over events in the capital’s parks.

But, in a gesture of defiance to the GLC, the band decided to flout their ban further. Less than two weeks prior to their Battersea Park date, they would play a pair of gigs to audiences of a few hundred in West London venues that had a major significance in their career. The Nashville and Red Cow were selected and booked as the ‘Old Codgers’ and ‘Shakespearos’ respectively.

All three of the venues chosen for these secret gigs were old haunts of the band, each of them had played host to residencies in their early days. The gigs were in part aimed as a thank-you to those venues and their landlords for their support during the band’s rise to success.

JJ remembers the thinking behind the gigs: It was three fold really. Firstly, it was the chance to thank old friends, secondly, the chance to play some of the new material and finally to say ‘Fuck you’ to the GLC!

The gigs were advertised purely by word of mouth and were all ‘pay on the night’ only with no advance tickets. This led to huge queues well over the venue’s capacities, many sadly disappointed fans and some pretty inventive ways of gaining entry to the packed venues.

Finchley Boy Al Hillier recollects: One of the greatest pleasures of my young life in the early days was watching the Stranglers play in the more intimate pubs and clubs, like the Torrington. By the beginning of 1978 the boys were right on top of their game. The gigs were now much bigger and always sold out and two seminal albums and a string of successful singles had made them a household name but recent issues with a ‘Rabid’ GLC had tried to force the punk bands off the London agenda. In typical Stranglers style they decided to repay the fans -and beat the bans- with a string of low key pub performances.

The three gigs were something special according to those few people who were lucky enough to be there. Each of the minute venues were packed to the rafters and sweat literally rained from the ceilings. The band played blistering sets of material culled from their trio of albums and low stages meant that the audience had free access to the band’s space…


Johnny Sox, Duke Of Lancaster, New Barnet 14th Feb 1978

The first of the band’s secret London dates of that year was relatively low-key compared to the September ones. During their set, the band debuted many new tracks from what was to become Black and White. They were even joined onstage by Laura Logic on sax (presumably for Hey! Rise of the robots).

Onstage at the ‘Duke’ with Laura Logic on sax

Jet recalls why they had selected the Barnet pub: The ‘Duke’, was a particular favourite of ours as it was one of the early surprises, in that we were starting to get enthusiastic audience responses around that point.  Up until then, audiences tended to hate us.  Also, we experienced an entirely new phenomenon at the ‘Duke’.  The landlord treated us like royalty.  He was a lovely man to deal with and very helpful.  Bill Phelan – an Irish man – so impressed us, and it was this relationship that prompted the carving of his name into history as the “Phelan man”, in Bitching! This was all before we had secured a deal with United Artists.  So, by way of a thank you to Bill, we returned to the ‘Duke’ after the success of Rattus.  It was a sensation.  There were more people outside the pub than in.  It was so packed that clouds actually formed inside from the condensation and it rained!!

Band portraits from the Duke Of Lancaster gig

For Al Hillier, the details of the gig were hazy until he was reminded by a couple of other Finchley Boys: What a night that was! Speaking to Leigh ‘Arthur’ Brown and Big Steve Hillier the other night made me realise how difficult it is sometimes to differentiate between gigs. Steve had spent some time up at Bearshanks the previous month and had had first hand experience of the new Black and White material. My overriding memory of the gig is cramming about 12 of us into my 1967 powder blue Ford Cortina Mk2 and heading up to East Barnet (Thanks for reminding me of that Arth). The place was literally awash with people and outside the pub the punters were about ten deep. Just like at the Roundhouse, there was a typical carnival atmosphere, but with a lot more pushing and shoving in a desperate attempt to enter. Many that night were never going to get in to see the gig and settled for staying on outside to catch the audio ‘buzzing’ through the building. To say it was chaotic would be an understatement, inside it was crammed and it was impossible to move, especially by the doors. But, as ever, those that got in were treated to a great gig, never to be forgotten.

Setlist: unknown

Group pic and Dave with his ornate pipe. Both photos from the Duke


The Shakespearos, Red Cow, Hammersmith 2nd Sept 1978

The Red Cow had been a regular gig for the band during ’76 playing host to them numerous times. For JJ, their return to the venue had a special significance: It was the first tme I’d been back there since the Jon Savage incident around winter ’77. All I remember about the gig itself was letting a fire extinguisher off into the crowd but fuck all apart from that!

Chelsea Danny, a teenager from Shepherd’s Bush at the time, remembers that night at the Red Cow: By complete chance/good luck, I met a mate of mine from my secondary school in Ladbroke Grove late that afternoon. Knowing I was a Stranglers fan, he told me he had heard a rumour the band where playing at the Red Cow in Hammersmith that night! At first I thought he was having a laugh as they hadn’t played a gig in London since the previous November due to the GLC ban on the band. He convinced me that he wasn’t joking and, knowing they where going to play at Battersea Park on the 16th September, I decided I would go along and check it out… It’s not far from Shepherds Bush so it was no problem… When I got there, I could see a large crowd already going in….I didn’t think I had a hope in hell but went to the back of the pub around the corner where the queue started. It was just as I was reaching the back of the queue that a door opened which led to the back of the pub where they stored the empty bottles and barrels! Two fans ran in with the guy that had opened the door. They jumped on a wooden box and climbed through an open toilet window which I presumed was where the other guy came from to let them in. I took the same route closely followed by at least a half dozen others and walked straight in to the pub. It seemed to be an eternity before the band came on and played an amazing set which included old favourites and tracks from the Black and White album which were just brilliant to hear live for the first time in that atmosphere. This had to be one of the sweatiest gigs I had ever been to! At the time, the general opinion was if you came out of a gig as dry as you went in then it must have been a pretty shit gig….The morning after this one my clothes where still wet!!!!

Al recalled the gig as well: These were really supposed to be warm ups for the forthcoming Irish gigs and of course, the Black and White tour that would follow them. But far from being just warm ups they turned into stand alone events in the band’s history. Absolute, total pandemonium is probably the best description and it was so much more intense than the Duke of Lancaster gig. Rumours had spread on the back of the first ‘secret’ gig back in Feb and, although they were billed as the ‘Shakespearos’, the word was most definitely on the street and ‘secret’ it most certainly was not. Both gigs were ‘heaving’ but I think the Red Cow takes the honours for the most lively and incident packed… But, having said that, back in the early days, it was pretty much like that at every gig and those gigs were just like old times in many ways. The temperature inside was in the 100’s and the sweat and body heat was astonishing, condensing in some areas. It felt like being in a prehistoric swamp with a band of crazed tribal warriors! Anyone got a spare time machine???

The photos below were taken at the ‘Shakespearos’ gig and they capture the intimate atmosphere perfectly. The band are hot, sweaty and clearly enjoying the experience of returning to such small venues for one last time…

Pack ’em in…

Jet in cramped conditions!

A very sweaty Hugh

Quite intimate surroundings

Dave seems unphased

A shirtless JJ (with Jon Moss behind)

JJ trying to play a gig!

Jet in full flow

Going walkabout!

Hugh looking slightly wary…

Dave spots a familiar face

The mood changes (Finchley Boy Dennis Marks to left of JJ)…

… so JJ decides to cool the crowd down with a fire extinguisher!

Hugh dries off

Dave ‘relaxing’ post-gig


Setlist: Burning Up Time/Dagenham Dave/Nubiles/Dead Ringer/Hanging Around/Sometimes/Ugly/London Lady/Down In The Sewer/Curfew/Tank/ Nice ‘n’ Sleazy/Threatened/Do You Wanna?/Death And Night And Blood/ Sweden/4 others*/5 Minutes/Something Better Change

NB: * Sadly, these four tracks are illegible on the one photo where the setlist can be seen clearly. Definitely Toiler was played but there are no details about the others…

Red Cow photos courtesy of Jet Black, photographer unknown.


Old Codgers, Nashville Rooms, West Kensington 3rd Sept 1978

Following the packed Red Cow gig, the band returned to another familiar venue just down the road. The Nashville Rooms was a venue that they had played many times since their debut there back in autumn 1975. The Tubes were across from the States for some UK gigs and Hugh’s friend Fee Waybill joined the band onstage to sing Straighten Out. Hugh also displayed his linguistic talents to the crowd that night by singing Sweden in Swedish.

Chelsea Danny’s attempts to get in that night were thwarted: Someone at the Red Cow had mentioned that there was a Nashville gig the following night. I went down there to try and get in but it was absolutely packed. I stood no chance of getting in at all…

JJ at the Nashville

Unlike the Duke and Red Cow gigs, a bootleg recording of this legendary gig is available and soundtracks the anarchic events of the night perfectly.

Setlist: Grip/I Feel Like a Wog/Go Buddy Go/Sverige/Ugly/Princess of the Streets/Peaches/Nice ‘n’ Sleazy/Do You Wanna?/Death & Night & Blood/ Something Better Change/Straighten Out/Bitching/Down in the Sewer/5 Minutes


February and September pages from Jet’s 1978 diary showing the three secret gigs

Special thanks to: Jet, JJ, Chelsea Danny and Al Hillier for their help with this article