Guildford, the birthplace of Punk? A Strangler speaks…

Good morning, I’ll be a little short with the early post as it’s the anniversary date of when I met Ms. Clashblog (the woman who performed miracles to make the site look how I’d hoped) so I need to be at my best.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this but Jean-Jacques Burnel is still insisting that Joe Strummer was keeping an eye on the Stranglers for ideas back in 1976. I didn’t give that statement much credence when I first heard it and he’s still regurgitating it 30 years later. I know Strummer attended early Stranglers concerts and the 101’ers even shared the bill. Don’t neglect the fact that the Stranglers did get an earlier start and a following than other bands on the scene that was yet to come . The correlation between seeing them live and it being inspiration for The Clash (or Joe in particular) is beyond me. Perhaps I’m missing something. I’ve been to Guildford many times, it’s a beautiful even pastoral town. The kind of place I’d like to retire or attend a church jumble sale, it’s not the birthplace of punk.

guildford 300x225 Guildford, the birthplace of Punk? A Strangler speaks...

The birthplace of Punk...or not?

I always saw a clear association between the sound/energy  between the Clash and The Damned, Buzzcocks and to a certain extent the Sex Pistols. Not so with the Stranglers. The entire London scene including the periphery and fans was a very small number of people during the initial months. As you look at the earliest days of Mick Jones writing music and the people he was spending time with; it was a fairly limited list of names. If you saw a similar formative scene in your own town you’d have hardly noticed it. In a city the size of London it was a select group. I’ll write more in the weeks and months ahead about those links and connections in 75-77 and when you weave the thread it emphasises the unique circumstances that  created what was to follow.

Back to the Stranglers, I always saw them as a pub rock band who morphed into punk when it was ideal. That sounds very simplistic but the same has been leveled at Joe Strummer over the years. Pub rock spearheaded by Dr. Feelgood was a good old rock and roll blues based sound that while offering entertainment value in a live setting wasn’t exactly breaking any new ground. You also have to remember that the origins of the Stranglers go back to 1974-75  and 2 years was a lifetime in the music circuit back then. Strummer was often labelled as ‘too old to be punk‘ often lied about his age and/or downplayed it.

Strummer was 24 when he met Mick and Paul and 25 when the wheels started turning. Burnel of the Stranglers was born the same year as Joe (The Strangler being 8 months older) and Hugh Cornwell was 3 years the PATTI SMITH STRANGLERS 1976 300x222 Guildford, the birthplace of Punk? A Strangler speaks...senior of both of them. The Stranglers found themselves supporting Patti Smith and The Ramones in the UK prior to being categorised as punk, and not the other way round. There’s also alleged bad blood between the bands stemming back to the very early days, a cynic might say that issue leads Clash fans to be be a dismissive about the Stranglers. Not true, I found their music to be uninspiring long before I knew some of those inside stories of the punk scene.

Maybe it was those keyboards, maybe it was the vocals or maybe it’s perpetuated by the belief that they were leading the charge of the new wave in London. Burnel certainly is keen to keep banging this drum.

I didn’t mean for this to become a Stranglers rant but after years of hearing who inspired who I wanted to dig a bit deeper. Strummer as a songwriter and performer was never one to dismiss who influenced him, in fact it was a badge of honour. I just don’t think a band who were contemporaries of the 101’ers would ever top that list.


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25 responses to “Guildford, the birthplace of Punk? A Strangler speaks…”

  1. CK says:

    Well, London Calling is very much a return to Pub Rock throwback, so maybe that's what Burnel is referring to. I can see a lot of similarities there- very retro, backwards-looking. And Sandinista really played up the keyboards and basically turned off the guitar amplifiers. But the Stranglers always had more of an overt Doors influence. Like the Clash, the Stranglers abandoned the aggression of their early material and put out very watered-down studio records. You can see Golden Brown and Rebel Waltz occupying the same basic territory.

    • Thanks for that and a valid point Burnel doesn't refer to what period of The Clash they made have influenced …I'm keen to debate but hoping others will join first. Ahhh…bugger it…

      I'll start with calling Clampdown, Hateful, Jimmy Jazz, London Calling, Brand New Cadillac, Rudie Can't Fail (to name just six) a return to pub rock is open for discussion. Ska, skiffle, rockabilly, straight out rock would be more apt. Nobody sensible played 'punk' beyond early 1979 (maybe) but I remain fascinated by who wore the label with affection versus just wearing it.

      I've heard it said The Clash were only considered Punk as they began in 1976. Based on the dimensions added they might have 'just' been a constantly evolving innovate rock and roll band in any other era. It was Jon Savage as early Sping '77 who said of The Clash "that was great Rock n Roll, man"

      I actually prefer the middle period Stranglers music as I think post punk fitted their natural sound more.

  2. CK says:

    No, most of the original punks moved forward into Post Punk which at the time was even more anti-commercial than Punk itself. There was an very exciting new generation of Punk bands- SLF, Undertones in the UK certainly, and the hardcore bands in the US. But for better or worse, Punk would long outlast all of the fads that were supposed to replace it.

    The Clash chose to go back to their pre-Punk roots because they were rightfully afraid that US radio wouldn't play their actual music. And the Pub bands were most certainly doing R&B, Rockabilly, skiffle, Stonesy rock and all of the rest of it as well. Train in Vain sounds like something Brinsley Schwartz or Ace would do- note that Paul Carrack joined Squeeze in 81- who were another pack of leftover Pub rockers. Jimmy Jazz and Right Profile could have been done by the 101ers when they had horns- they're almost doctrinaire pub rock, 12 bar R&B boogie woogie. Clampdown was definitely the Clash's version of an early 70s Who number. It's ironic- Punk was supposed to do away with Pub Rock and Teddy boys and that's exactly what the Clash gave the US with London Calling. There's no shortage of Pub Rock on Sandinista either.

    It's interesting though- I just read a quote from Caroline Coon where she claimed to have gotten the Clash focused on "breaking" America- she felt that if they stayed in England they would have split in 79.

    • Did I strike a nerve by having an opinion on The Stranglers claiming to teach Joe 'punk'…which in turn has manifested into your apparent disdain for The Clash? It'd be wrong of me to censor anything here (so long as it's relevant) so I'm glad you wrote back. I think your definition of post-punk and mine are entirely different which again is fine. I enjoyed the effort of your writing, I'll leave it at that, but if you feel a track like Julie Ocean was a post punk banner to carry into the summer of '81 we'd be at odds. When I think of Dr Feelgood I don't hear any tracks from London Calling, it seems you do. I'm worried that you even remember Ace, but it's great they get a mention. Did you happen to like the first Clash album? We can do Sandinista track by track (pub rock evaluation) but I fear I'd lose interest.
      1. Mag Seven, not pub rock
      2. Hitsville UK, not pub rock
      3. Junco partner, erm…not pub rock
      4. Ivan Meets…., well…no…still not pub rock

      see what I mean….

      Caroline Coon quote is interesting and also pretty speculative.

  3. CK says:

    And also with London Calling you had Mickey Gallagher from the Blockheads (and Frampton's Camel) and Graham Parker's old horn section- it can't possibly get more Pub Rock than that. Really, London Calling was Pub Rock's greatest triumph, not Punk's.

  4. CK says:

    Pub Rock was very much an attempt to go back to roots rock idioms, which sort of laid the groundwork for Punk in many ways. It was a very broad-based movement and most of those guys could really play. So I don't see why so many people use the term pejoratively. It's certainly where Joe and Topper made their bones, and in a lot of ways Mott were musically akin to a lot of those acts. Again, very much a diverse movement with a lot of talent, and very much what the Clash were tapping into with London Calling.

    I'd say Never Mind the Bollocks is the definitive UK Punk document, and the first Ramones for the US. But the first two Clash LPs are certainly up there.

  5. Lone Akita says:

    this article is a load of trash, written by another fool tricked into thinking the clash were real rock n roll punk revolutionary's.
    to me there phony, and thats likely why the music press loved them so much.
    ive read quite a few comments now by various people including captain sensible, (although he may have changed his mind) and JJ burnel that suggest the clash were not what people thought they were.
    ive never liked them anyway. you say you found the stranglers uninspiring,
    personally i find the clash VERY uninspiring. there form of punk song is bland, there songs have absolutely none of the excitement and energy that songs by the Damned, the Stranglers, The Jam, Buzzcocks etc have. they also sound pretencious. and the whole reggae thing i find a bit pathetic (why do you want to hear reggae if your a punk fan?). The Stranglers were A BILLION times more punk than the clash, if you have sense and read more about them, you'd know it was true. i also think its disgusting that Joe strummer didnt clean his teeth for years. its not clever.

    • What a very well founded and cleverly thought out response. Obviously nobody wanted to incorporate Reggae (mad idea) if they grew up exposed to it daily (Simonon). Great point also I always evaluate dental hygiene when enjoying a band. Perhaps Sheryl Crow is more to your liking? Thanks for dropping by and sharing your wisdom. If I just labeled myself a 'punk fan' I'd have missed an amazing amount of great music the last 30 years. Then again if you think 'Town Called Malice' is punk have yourself a punk party. Say hello to the leafy lanes of Guildford for us.

  6. Personally, I think this is a case of Burnel trying to stir the pot a bit — which is understandable, given that a) Hugh Cornwell isn't there to kick around anymore, and b) both bands' destines were so different. As Hugh himself observed in THE STRANGLERS: SONG BY SONG, the Stranglers outpaced the Clash on the singles charts, but didn't come anywhere near their sales worldwide…and were never really favored in the music press, which accounts for their cult status today, I think (though it's not a problem for me, as I like both bands).

    But, putting those factors aside, I find it hard to see any magpie tendencies on Joe Strummer's part — especially given his long- and well-documented enthusiasm for rootsy musical styles, weighted heavily toward the 1950s and 1960s (and not nearly so much thereafter). From my own perspective as a performer, it's natural for people — after a suitable period has passed — to gravitate back toward the music that originally inspired them. What separates LONDON CALLING from the Dr. Feelgood era is the subject matter, basically — I don't think old Lee B. would have sung a lyric like, "The ice age is comin', the sun's zoomin' in"!

    Still, OK, let's take Burnel's argument for granted…if Joe really was copying anybody, I don't think he'd have turned to the Stranglers for inspiration, as he already had enough juices flowing within the West London scene of which he was a well-recognized part. Don't forget, by punk-era standards, 25-year-old Joe was practically a senior citizen — but one who'd been around the block a little bit, had a strong stage presence, and a fair idea of what he wanted to do.

    So, even if that were the case — and I don't think it is — I don't believe that the Stranglers' 'muso'-ey-type leanings would have proven an attractive model for Joe, not when he had so many inspirations closer at hand (and not necessarily the latest, greatest band, either: after all, the 101'ers could draw on many Latin influences vis-a-vis the backgrounds of singer-saxophonist Alvaro Rojas, and the drummer, Richard Dudanski, and that's only one example coming to mind). So, as much as I love Burnel's bass style, I honestly can't see what he's going on about here, sorry!

  7. Lone Akita says:

    i most certainly dont call town called malice punk, do you call rock the casbah punk?
    all the best punk bands have released AT LEAST one song that isnt punk, so your point about that makes no sense. The Jam were definitely a punk band,
    listen to the albums in the city and the modern world and look at the style of the LP'S and the singles and the way they performed and you'd be mad to say they were'nt a punk band!
    Joe strummer used to grovel to The Stranglers, saying how much he like'd them,
    and that he'd love a band like theres.
    that clearly says he was influenced by them, although clearly The Stranglers greatness didnt influence him that much because if they did, the clash wouldnt have been so ridiculous.

    • You brought up the 'punk sound and energy' of The Jam. Make your mind up. All good bands progress and change of course….as did The Clash. Your assessment of them was brilliant. My original post wasn't about how 'punk' the Clash were, it was about Burnel saying Joe stole his ideas. You seem to feel he did -- I don't.

  8. Lone Akita says:

    The Jam were a punk band, with the punk sound and energy, town called malice was not a punk song. thats what i said.
    to me Joe strummer just came across as someone putting on an act.
    i heared Joe was a friend of the stranglers till his manager told them they were not popular, and he should'nt speak to them, and he didnt.

  9. dan king says:

    burnel has always talked a lot of what we generally term as -bollocks -- so never mind that…i have heard it over and over as…..the clash were more progressive and more of a 'band'….

  10. tim says:

    The clash more of a band- now thats talking bollocks. The stranglers were a band that were prepared to goto war for each other. Im not sure theres that much link between stranglers and the clash at all. Both great bands in their own right. I think strummer loved the band when he was in the 101ers because technically the stranglers were streets ahead of the guys he was playing with. But then the stranglers were technically way ahead of most of the punk bands. Yep they jumped on the punk bandwagon and as a life long stranglers fan I don't care. The stranglers were the nasty agressive actions speak louder than words face of punk. While the pistols swore and acted punk the stranglers were punk. The pistols were a scruffy boy band of 'in my opinion' no artistic or musical merit whatsoever. The clash, the stranglers, siouxie , damned for me opitimised the various flavours of punk. The clash were more overtly political than the other 3 and strummers was undoubtedly a great lyricist. So to cut a long story short I don't give a monkeys whether the clash were or were not influenced by the stranglers because both bands are legends

  11. Baldasacootmick says:

    The Clash are/were utter piss; almost as bad a the pistols, so untalented. The Stranglers were, quite simply, musically way, way ahead of the rest. 20 years ahead of their time.

    Also, you're all a bunch of cunts. Come to Glasgow & I'll break you all in two, you fucking shower of Clash twats

    • Tim at The Clash Blo says:

      With a case put as eloquently as that where would I begin to debate? Thar rumour that lovers of the Stranglers are delusional pricks continues to gather steam. You're doing a lot for Glasgow tourism too….well done you.

  12. […] drop by and read the blog. While I welcome all readers I find it amusing to come back to find that something I wrote last August about The Stranglers still seems to be pissing people off (see comments at end of the post). Point being if JJ Burnell […]

  13. Mark says:

    I think JJ has been misunderstood here. Joe Strummer was influenced by the Stranglers for having a fantastic cool band with a great name. This inspired Joe to start the Clash, you see it was'nt the songs but the stance. JJ had short hair and Jet had bleach blond hair before it was fashionable.

  14. Geo says:

    just came across this.I knew that Joe admired the Stranglers from the 101'r days but that's where the link ends. The Clash were a manafactured band- a boy band if you will. The Stranglers were organic and musically a cut above the rest who danced to their own tune and not their managers. That said i love much of the Clash's output-London Calling is one of my all time favourite albums.Ps. JJ said he always liked Joe and recently met Paul in London where they chatted for the 1st time in 30 odd years about their respective Triumph bikes.

  15. Robb says:

    What eveyone seems to forget here is the Influence the Clash had on almost every Group since. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Stone Roses, Primal Scream, MBV, Asian Dub Foundation, Manic Street Preachers to name but a few -- with all the other things they gave Momentum to like Ska (the Two Tone Groups)and their Reggae Stuff was awesome (Armagiddeon Time wipes the Floor with other New Wave/Reggae Music of the Era). What made the Clash wasn’t just the Music, it was their Attitude towards their Fans and how Joe could always articulate the Issues. I’m not sure the Stranglers were as influential -- being somewhat rarified musically. What the Clash did was either the straight forward Punk of most of their first 2 Albums, while drawing on many other Styles and giving it their Flavour so it might be Funk/Rockabilly/Reggae/even Disco but it was definately the Clash doing it. They were superb at reinventing Music.

    It was Strummers Persona that made a lot of it, while in latter Years he became Radio Presenter, Interveiwer and something of a Racontuer. This is why they are as influential as a Cultural Thing as well as musical.

    The Jam were important because they epitomised life for most of us living in the Provinces (where most of the Population live)and those Songs infuenced by Paul Weller growing up in Surrey can be transferred to anywhere else outside London. So the Clash were the Soundtrack to Urban UK, while being London meaning Stuff we were made aware of via the Media, the Jam were that of anywhere else. Both Groups have their subsequent Merits.

  16. Dav Woking says:

    Clash, one of the best bands in the world

  17. […] RELATED: “Guildford — The Birthplace of Punk?” […]

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