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I first learned about The Stranglers as a teenager in the early 1990’s, having picked up a compilation of early U.K. punk by Rhino Records that included them. I thought their music was pretty solid, but at the time I was so into hardcore and crust punk that Dave Greenfield’s swirling, virtuosic keyboards didn’t really do it for me. Plus, I never really liked The Doors all that much. Blasphemy, I know.
Fast forward to 2014. I’m older, have a more expansive view of music, and find myself feeling nostalgic for the sounds of first-wave punk, preferably on vinyl. When I got around to jotting down a list of bands from that era that I was familiar with, but hadn’t really heard much from, The Stranglers stood out for some reason. I’m not sure why, only that it felt like the right band to dig into next.
It was then that I remembered seeing an expensive, Japanese import vinyl copy of The Stranglers’ Black And White (1978) on a shelf behind the cash register of a record store I’d frequented in my youth. Every time I approached the record store counter and piled up all of the hardcore punk records I’d planned to buy, the store owner would casually suggest to me that I check out The Stranglers, and gesture toward the overpriced disc looming over his shoulder.
And every time I would politely decline, scoffing on the inside as I remembered how slow and plodding the songs were that I’d heard, and that they were full of keyboards (the horror!)—could this man not see the stack of hardcore punk records from labels like Ebullition and Profane Existence in my hands? I could not be reached at that time by anything less extreme than Extreme Noise Terror!
And yet… the austere, monochromatic image of four strange British gents on the album cover (a striking and bedraggled Jet Black appearing front and center) stuck with me for years to come. And thus it eventually became the first Stranglers album I consciously decided to purchase.
I picked up a used copy of Black & White from my friendly local record store (Music Millennium in Portland, Oregon), and boy was I in for a surprise! That record absolutely blew my mind and kicked off an obsession with The Stranglers that continues to this day. I quickly snatched up, and greedily consumed, the rest of the 1970s albums plus a few early 1980s albums by the boys from Guildford.
Naturally, as a newly-minted fan of the Meninblack, I had to learn all there was to know about their history. This being the age of the internet, I started by reading The Stranglers’ entire Wikipedia entry. I found it edible, if a little dry. Sort of like eating a plain, baked pork chop with a side of boiled potato. That’s something a British person would enjoy, yes?
Anyhow, to stretch the food metaphor just a bit more, the information I found on Wikipedia was like an appetizer, when what I really needed was a full course meal.
That’s when I found “Peaches: a Chronicle of the Stranglers 1974-1990” by Robert Endeacott.
Let me just say that this book contains a glut of data for Stranglers obsessives to feast hungrily upon, and feast I did.
First off, the format of this book is easily one of the most digestible of any rock biography I’ve ever read. Nearly every chapter is devoted to a particular year of The Stranglers’ career, up until Hugh Cornwell’s departure in 1990, and offered chronologically. Within these chapters, Endeacott carefully exhumes the granular details surrounding the band’s accomplishments and setbacks, and present those details with a layer of humorous and deeply knowledgeable commentary.
The overall effect is like reading a long tour diary – we’re given front row seats to the notable people, places, and things that comprise the collected mythos of The Strangler’s original, and most potent incarnation. We learn who the Finchley Boys are, who Dagenham Dave was (R.I.P.), and the origin stories for many of The Stranglers’ hits.
In addition to the deep lore about The Stranglers’ concert and television appearances that we’re presented with, Endeacott offers detailed reviews of each Stranglers release during their time with Hugh Cornwell – both his own and those of other music writers. He even provides brief, but detailed synopses of each track!
What I Liked Most
Endeacott is at his best when his attitude shines through in the writing. It’s the little jabs, remarks and observations he sprinkles on the concert appearance entries that keep them from feeling stale or repetitive, which you might think would happen after the hundredth show you’ve read about.
I really enjoyed how Endeacott chronicled the continuously changing targets of the “worse places to be…” line in “Peaches”, which Hugh Cornwell would improvise during nearly every show documented in the book. It’s a great window into Cornwell’s sense of humor, and an appropriate link to the title of the book, as Endeacott acknowledges in the introduction.
Similarly, I loved how Endeacott presented examples of the band’s stage banter over the years (mostly from Hugh Cornwell, but occasionally from other members too). It was a helpful guidepost when reading, and I found myself getting into a routine of checking off facts for each appearance of the band: date and venue for the gig, check; set list for the gig, check; audience reactions to the band’s performance, check; Hugh and/or the band’s reaction to the audience, check; Hugh Cornwell’s mood, stage banter, and improvised “Peaches” lyrics, check…
What I Liked Least
There are occasions where the print in the book is almost too small (for me) to read. This happens when Endeacott relays the details of particular gigs that he received from someone else, which amounts to a dozen-plus gig reports. It’s a small quibble, but a quibble nonetheless.
If you enjoy diving deep into the lore and mythology of your favorite bands, then this is the book for you. If you’re a Stranglers fan and haven’t read it yet, then this book is for you. Hell, even if you just want to read some tour diary-style stories about rock musician hijinks and debauchery… this book is for you. Go out and get it!
Buy it on: Amazon
Buy it on: Booksamillion