The birth of Strangled-Tony Moon interview

The punk explosion in Britain in the late 70s saw the creation of a whole new, do-it-yourself ethic in the youth of the time. Many got involved, forming bands, opening venues, designing clothes, setting up small record companies or starting ‘fanzines’. One such punk convert was Tony Moon from South East London who, inspired & excited by the new movement, decided to get creative. He started a fanzine ‘Sideburns’ which focused on the bands he was into and also offered an opportunity to vent his spleen on other topics. He had chanced upon The Stranglers at a gig one night and arranged an interview with them. That was the start of a journey which would lead to over fifty editions of ‘Strangled’ magazine before its demise in the mid 90s… 

As a teenager in the mid Seventies, you became a regular on the London pub rock scene. What attracted you to this musical style?

I’ve always liked music, I used to go to gigs at the Marquee club when I was still at school and see bands who weren’t pub rock. Gradually, as pub rock became more successful, that sort of band would start to appear at the Marquee. Kilburn & The High Roads, with Ian Dury, was one of the key people I saw at that time.

The pub rock bands were palpably different from the bands I’d seen before. Before then, gigs at the Marquee had been very laid back affairs with people sitting at tables and it felt like a club. When people like Ian Dury came along, they upset it a bit and started to attract a different crowd, people who had seen them down the road in a pub. That happened with Dr. Feelgood too. When you’re younger I suppose you’re looking for a musical identity and I thought that the pub rock bands were interesting…

Another turning point for me was seeing Led Zeppelin at Earls Court in ’75 I think. We went along because that’s what you did. Earls Court is a terrible venue for gigs. We were right up in the gods, we could hardly see the band as they were so far away. We couldn’t hear anything either so we left. I vowed never to go to a big gig ever again…

Who were the most important bands from the scene for you?

Obviously Dr Feelgood I suppose. Slightly retrospectively though, as I didn’t see them until they were on the up & playing bigger venues. I thought ‘I understand this band’ , as most of the people in Britain did at that time and that’s why their album ‘Stupidity’ got to number one.  People were unconsciously looking for something which was exciting.

In mid ’76, you took an interest in the latest music explosion in the capital namely Punk and you randomly selected a punk gig to attend to check out the new movement?

It was really exciting. I went to gigs with a school mate and he said to me ‘We’re going to this gig at the Nashville with Vibrators, they sound like a punk band!’ They were supporting some band called The Stranglers. We went along to the Nashville and there were very few people there.

There was a curtain in front of the stage which opened and  The Vibrators appeared. They looked punk in PVC, ripped tshirts, plastic glasses, like cartoon characters. They told the audience to ‘fuck off’, played their fifteen minute set and went off. We thought it was great and decided we’d wait and see The Stranglers…

As far as we were concerned, up until that point, we thought The Vibrators were ‘it’ and then The Stranglers came on. It was a brilliant gig, very passionate. At the end of the gig, Hugh went over and kicked his VOX AC30 amp, not because it was ‘punk’ but because it had packed up! It was a very interesting evening…

How did you feel The Stranglers fitted in with the rest of their Punk peers?

They didn’t!  They looked terribly desperate. If you see pictures of them in that period, they all looked terribly emaciated, partcularly Hugh. They always wore drainpipe jeans which made them look even skinnier! Their equipment was awful, everything looked tatty and worn out. They looked edgy whereas The Vibrators or The Damned looked like cartoon charaters. The Stranglers didn’t, they looked quite menacing actually…

Quite a moot point is were they ever a punk band or just in the right place at the right time, like The Jam? There’s nothing wrong with that. At the end of the day, The Stranglers were very musical unlike a lot of the punk bands.

What other punk/new wave bands did you like?

That’s interesting. Although we liked other bands, we got so involved with The Stranglers. In those days, you liked The Clash or The Pistols or The Stranglers. We weren’t in opposition with each other but you put your emotional energy into one particular band. I liked listening to all of it, The Damned, Stiff Records stuff, Elvis Costello. In retrospect, a lot of the stuff I liked was quite musical.

As with many other people around the fledgling scene, you got creative and started your own fanzine which you called ‘Sideburns’. What motivated you to get involved in that way?

When we first saw ‘Sniffin’ Glue’ (ground breaking punk fanzine), we thought ‘we can do that’. I’d always liked writing things so we decided to do a fanzine too. We did interviews with the bands and that’s how we first met The Stranglers. We phoned up Albion and went down to the management’s offices in Putney Bridge Road and I interviewed Jet. It gave us a lot of confidence and it felt great. We put them on the cover, we actually gave them their first ever front cover!

When the printers delivered the first issue to my house, we thought ‘what do we do now?’ On my day off, I would go around all the London record shops like Rock On & Rough Trade and they would all take some copies to sell.

We also sold them outside gigs. One night, outside The Nashville, we were selling the first issue (shown right) and JJ came along on his way back from TW (Studios). He hadn’t seen the fanzine and he was there on the cover. That made us feel like we were doing the right thing. It was really exciting.

UA press kit containing Strangled vol 1 no 1

Alan Edwards produced the first Strangled magazine which was basically a promotional tool for the band, once they’d signed to UA, taking the place of the more standard press release. Who approached you to take over the running of Strangled?

We were doing ‘Sideburns’ and we were running out of resources and money. On behalf of the band, Dai Davies contacted us and asked if we wanted to join forces with them, change the title of the fanzine to Strangled and they would pay for it to be printed. I thought it was great, after all, I was just a bloke from Lewisham working in a record shop.

The seven issues of Strangled that you produced were a busy flurry of cut & paste and photocopying, typical of the era. Despite the title, the fanzine was not solely restricted to The Stranglers. As well as articles about them, each issue also featured gig reviews, news items and interviews with various other bands that you liked. Why did you decide to keep it more about punk in general rather than dedicate it to The Stranglers, as the title would suggest?

As far as I was concerned, it was still ‘Sideburns’. The band had no editorial control over it and no one ever told us what to do. The way we looked at it, because we liked the Stranglers, and we had access to them, we would always have an interview with them in each issue. It couldn’t be all about one band or it would become like a fanclub magazine and I never wanted to do that.  That seemed a bit crass to me, I wanted it to be part of the scene.

Assorted issues of Strangled volume 1

You ran Strangled from your home in Wood Yates Road, Lewisham rather than Albion’s offices. Did you do that to maintain your own editorial independence?

No, that was just the way it was. Until Albion moved offices from Putney, I couldn’t have gone there anyway as it was such a long journey from Lewisham.

In November ’77, you got involved with the organisation of the legendary Front Row festival at the Hope & Anchor. What part did you play in the festival?

My main role was to produce the postergramme for the festival, because it was Albion’s event. I put the postergramme together as I really enjoyed doing that sort of thing… I liked the idea of it being a calendar too, so you could have it on your wall for the year.

In mid ’78, you crossed the Atlantic to join the band for two weeks of their debut North American tour. What are your memories of that trip?

It was incredibly exciting. I’d always wanted to go to America. I got a phone call from Sandy at Albion saying ‘The boys want you over in America with them!’ I think, because I was chummy with them, they wanted allies with them, familiar faces. Suddenly I was on a flight to New York, it was like winning the Pools! I spent two weeks travelling around with them, we went into Canada. I was only meant to be there for a week but I asked Dai if I could stay on another week.

They were playing in moderate sized clubs and went down a storm at all the venues. I remember a gig in Ann Arbor, where the audience clapped the band as they walked through the bar. There was a sense of expectation that they were going to show the Yanks how to play rock and roll. They went down really well.

They were playing the Black and White album on that tour, as well as other stuff, it was central to the set. The new songs went down extraordinarily well.

During this trip Stateside, you became the band’s official cameraman, capturing events both on & off stage on Hugh’s Super 8 camera. That must’ve been a fun experience?

As I first got on the band’s hired Greyhound tour bus,  they gave me a great big binliner full of boxes of Super 8 film and Hugh gave me the camera he had bought. That was it, I was the bloke doing it, shooting the tour for them. It was a really formative experience for me, I never really looked back from then…

When we came back Hugh and I edited the footage, Super 8 is a very restricted medium. We were learning while we edited it. We cut it into a tour film.

Any idea what happened to the footage?

No idea. Hugh must still have it…

Did you go on any other trips with the band?

I went out on the road with them to lots of individual gigs, I went to the Bataclan in Paris with them in 1978. I was at the ‘Rock Goes To College’ gig at Guildford University too…

But you chose not to attend the Black and White press junket to Iceland. Why was that?  

I could’ve gone if I’d really wanted to, but I  just didn’t want to. In retrospect, it seems foolhardy now, why wouldn’t you want to go to see a gig in Iceland?! I was invited to the Rattus launch party on the King’s Road but I didn’t go to that either. In those days, it was all about positioning yourself. It all seemed very fraudulent, something I didn’t want to play lip-service to. With record company involvement, it all seemed like the what the old order of bands would do.

Tony, Brighton July ’13

During 1978, The Stranglers parted company with Albion and Ian Grant took over as their manager and you became his assistant. What did your job entail?

Whatever was necessary really, fielding phone calls, day to day stuff for the band. We were working out of Harvey Goldsmith’s offices at the time and there was always lots going on.

When they went to Japan the first time in February ’79, Ian went with them and my role was diminished. Sandy ran the administrative side of the office, I did whatever was needed.

And you were still producing Strangled at this time?

Yes, that was one of the main things I was doing in that office. The band were big at that time and, when you’re that big, the phone was always ringing with something that needed doing.

Around this time, you were working on a book about the band’s songs  with logo designer Kevin Sparrow, who sadly passed away before completion of the project. Why did you choose to do a songbook?

I knew Kevin quite well on a day to day basis. We decided to do a book using my writing and Kevin’s graphic design skills. It was a marriage made in heaven. We were both fans of the band and it was going to be a real fan’s book. I wanted to do a book that had insight into the band and their lyrics as I hated the songbooks at the time which just showed the top line of music and the lyrics. I wanted it to be about the band’s lyrics and their culture so we decided to do an illustrated lyric book.

We got the lyrics, which both JJ & Hugh checked, to make sure they were the definitive lyrics. I did lots of interviews with the band, which were going to be quoted throughout the book. What’s Hanging Around about? What is the Coleherne? Kevin then illustrated the lyrics with relevant designs.

We showed the rough artwork to a publisher who loved it and offered us a deal. The Stranglers’ lawyer then got involved trying to negotiate a reduced royalty as the book only contained lyrics not music.  It delayed things for months until, just before Christmas ’79, Kevin rang me saying it was all agreed. All the bollocks had been sorted out. Then the poor guy died over that Christmas.  The ‘galleys’ , the artwork proofs, which Kevin had, had disappeared and were nowhere to be found.

Your relationship with the band soured early in ’79 and you ended up quitting both your job with Ian and producing Strangled. Would you care to elaborate on the reasons for this?

One day I was sitting in our office with Ian and, because the room was so small, the phone was always echoey. JJ rang up and spoke to Ian. During the conversation, Ian said ‘…oh, Tony’s dealing with that’. I could hear JJ’s response ‘I thought he wasn’t involved (with day to day band matters) anymore…’

Nobody had said anything to me about it and it was one of those moments in my life where you woke up in the morning as one thing and ended the day as another… I realised that they didn’t love me anymore. I was upset about how I found out. Obviously it was their prerogative. They had decided that I should put my energies into Strangled and not be involved in their day to day affairs.  I didn’t want to just do Strangled, I liked working with Ian and getting involved with other things. I just thought ‘I’m out’ and I felt quite good about it.  It was sad but I’m glad I was strong enough to make the decision to leave rather than stay and just do the magazine…

What did you do next?

As far as The Stranglers were concerned, I broke the unwritten rule! I was at home one day and their former managers Albion rang me up to offer me a job as their label manager. I thought it was great as I’d always liked Dai & Derek. I did various bits and pieces with them, like the release of the album of the R&B version of the Front Row Festival.

You were also involved with some other bands, both performing and also writing. Who were they?

 I left Albion and started playing in a band called ‘Motor Boys Motor’. We were a very explosive little combo, we did a tour here & there. Musically we were a hybrid and played our own material. That was good fun… I decided to leave and the rest of the band became ‘The Screaming Blue Messiahs’. They were a much better band than ‘Motor Boys Motor’ and had much more potential. Because I had left in good spirits and they were keen on my lyrics, I started writing lyrics for them. It was perfect for me, I could be in a band and not in a band.

In the Eighties, you wrote a book called ‘Down By The Jetty’ about Dr Feelgood. Why did you specifically choose the Feelgoods to write about?

 Back in the ‘Sideburns’ days, we had interviewed Lee Brilleaux (Dr Feelgood vocalist) and emotionally we loved the Feelgoods on a par with The Stranglers. The Feelgoods had always been the benchmark for me, I loved their music and Lee grew in stature each time I met him. He was a very charismatic guy.

When Lee died, I pitched the idea of a book about the band to their manager and a publisher. They agreed, the idea came to fruition and it was fantastic.

You then moved into film and TV work as well as lecturing at college?

When the band came to an end, I contacted the only person who I knew who could get me out of my situation, Chris Gabrin. Chris was a photographer who had taken many photos of The Stranglers and was very good friends with Hugh. I’d met him a lot of times when Hugh and I were at Chris’ studio editing the US Super 8 film. Chris had shot the video for Walk On By and Hugh and I edited it.

Chris offered me a job to start the next day! I became his assistant, he was pretty busy, he had a studio and he was doing early pop videos. From there I moved into film and TV work and eventually became a lecturer in media at a college.

With hindsight, how do you remember those heady days of pub & punk rock?

With great affection… The irony is that, although I teach at a university, I never went to a university. My education was the university of life. I was very lucky that, in my formative years around 18 or 19, something came along that was bigger than anything before. I was very lucky, I got onboard with it and did a fanzine. It was a one off opportunity and we made our own luck…

And your time involved with The Stranglers? 

It’s nice talking about it. When someone as big as The Stranglers comes along, for however long, it’s like a meteorite. It doesn’t happen very often. You’re taken along on their coat tails. They were massive, they were the biggest band in Britain at one point. I got access to things that I never would have if I was an ordinary young lad. I went to America, I went to the BBC to see them film Top Of The Pops, I had lots of different experiences with them.

Looking back, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if I hadn’t have walked onto that tour bus in America that day and been given the Super 8 camera by Hugh who said ‘Get on with it!’

Thanks to Tony for his recollections of his involvement with the band and his memories of the formation of Strangled magazine back in 1977.

Tony’s famous graphic from Sideburns 1