The Stranglers – Grip

12th January 2022 · 1970s, 1977, Music, Punk

It’s the beginning of 1977 and punk is going overground. The Stranglers start the year with a bang, releasing their debut single Grip / London Lady.

To the tabloid press it’s a violent youth cult and, as a result, those of us who’ve been on board a while are starting to find ourselves challenged in the street by members of real violent youth cults – principally skinheads and Teddy boys.

In those post-Grundy days, punk was still being seen as some sort of urban subculture by most of the country, with parents protecting their children from the terrors of those boys who swore on the telly.

There’s still barely any music out because record companies are running scared, radio stations are afraid to play punk – with the honourable exception of John Peel – and venues are afraid to book the bands, fearing that the place will be smashed to pieces by hordes of safety-pinned thugs in bondage trousers.

Nonethelesss, at the end of January there’s a debut single by The Stranglers.

They’ve been around a few years – they formed way back in 1974 and I’d already seen them supporting The Ramones and Patti Smith by then – but hitched themselves to the bandwagon at a very early stage.

They swiftly acquired the requisite attitude to pass as snarling, sneering, provocative punk rockers – even though the drummer was old enough to be our dad.

Their debut single was Grip and it came in a picture sleeve with the band looking sullen and moody in monochrome.

It established their signature sound of Jean-Jacques Burnel’s rumbling bass guitar and Jet Black’s relentless beat, with Hugh Cornwell’s snarling vocals shrouded in waves of psychedelic keyboard by Dave Greenfield, channelling those American garage bands (and The Doors) from the 1960s.

It was a melodic element absent from any of their peers and, to be fair, most of those peers openly disdained The Stranglers while acknowledging that they were now part of a burgeoning movement away from the elaborate noodlings of prog rock.

Somewhere deep in the mix was a wailing saxophone, apparently played by a steel mill worker called Eric Clarke and, as far as I know, never heard (of) again.

Unlike The Stranglers, who would become perhaps the longest-lasting of all the groups to graduate from the Class of ’77.

Grip was backed by the aggressively misogynist but musically more appealing London Lady (sample lyric: “Making love to the Mersey Tunnel / With a sausage – have you ever been to Liverpool?”) and wasn’t a hit.

Peaking at no.44, it came too early for the UK pop charts in January 1977, where Mike Oldfield and Showaddywaddy were doing battle with ABBA and Johnny Mathis at the top.