Monday, October 6, 2014

Norfolk Coast-track by track

Released in February 2004, Norfolk Coast was seen by many as a real return to form for the band who had been fired up by the arrival of Baz on guitar. Baz talks us through each of the album's tracks:


This was the track that kick started the idea of the album returning to a rockier and more song led record I think…and its roots lay in unrest and a yearning for validity again… There’d been a lot of turbulence in the band prior to my joining with one thing and another and JJ in particular was very troubled by it I know…Apart from the obligatory live album and a compilation here and there, the last studio album proper had been the universally panned and disappointing Coup de Grace and that really niggled him…hurt him very much…Admitted by all as an incoherent body of work and not really recorded by a band at all…things were seriously unravelling and he’s on record as saying it was his attempt to seize back some power after being ‘ bullied and cajoled’ over the recording of Written in Red, and although his intentions were 100% honest and with the bigger band picture in mind, it just didn’t come off…and you can hear it on Coup…assuming you want to listen to it at all that is…leaving him even more at sea and directionless…something most definitely had to change… So he went away to ‘find himself’ as he puts it, in a rented house on the Norfolk Coast…walking, contemplating and writing…and came up with a gem…and in my opinion Mark 3’s best recorded highlight by some margin…although it changed direction a couple of times and needed quite a bit of TLC before we found it… I first heard it as a pretty downbeat but interesting acoustic track…I’m told it was played on an acoustic tour JJ had done just as I joined the band, although I didn’t see it live…and it wasn’t really considered a contender immediately…Jet I remember not being particularly keen on it at first…but as we worked on it we realised the best way to deal with it was to kick it heftily up the arse…and when JJ almost angrily played the bass intro one day saying “why can’t we just fucking do it like this”?!...we knew we had something…I tweaked the guitar chords a bit…adding some dissonance to the end of the vocal passages, worked a solo out, and cranked the gain levels right up, and Dave came up with some great filtered sequences which open the track…We went to a little studio outside of Bath with a producer with a view to recording it as an experiment really, to see if we could work with him and him with us…turned everything up so loud the walls and windows literally shook, and really went for it…recording it in 2 days…They then took it back to London, mixed it, and sent us copies. When it dropped on my mat at home and I put it on for the first time I remember being completely blown away…that fucking bass was back and it sounded like the Stranglers again…a new, sleek and somehow more modern sounding Stranglers…but undoubtedly us… There were a lot of excited phone calls that day I remember and we realised that we had a direction for the album to take…still one of my favourite tracks…new or old…

I think the nucleus of this was from JJ’s Norfolk trip too…Among other things they’d discovered Sea Henge near where he was staying, which historians had said was going to explain a lot of unanswered questions about Bronze Age Britain and our ancestry and heritage…a big thing coming…Also he may or may not have been thinking about a new start to the bands’ fortunes…being in the frame of mind he’s told me he was at the time… Either way this song started with me finding a snippet of this he’d recorded during one of our late night sessions at the farm in Somerset…literally about 30 seconds of an idea he just wanted to get down with a great hook and catchy vibe…and because I was living at the farm during a lot of this time and the others were commuting at weekends, I often sifted through stuff when I was alone trying to find ideas to expand…I called him to tell him about it and he suggested I knock it about for a couple of days until they all came back, and that’s when I hit on the idea of the intro being a kind of T.Rex guitar riff…and the whole song turned out to hang on that rhythm…it’s a very simple song this , with not a lot to it and we had to arrange it carefully to keep it interesting, which we did well I think…I like this one too and my one abiding memory of recording it was seeing Dave’s face when he heard the arpeggio keys coming back at him through the studio monitors for the first time…he turned to me beaming and said “I’m back”! This was a single and scraped its way into what was the old top 30…our last hit to date…and the BBC still use it from time to time…

I was going through a bit of personal strife by this time and this song reflects that… I was still married but things were sliding and I was at a loss as to what to do…there was someone else on the scene and that’s mixed up in here too…I felt like I was dying at times…just withering on the vine…I probably was aware of another song with the title Long Black Veil, I can’t quite remember, but I wouldn’t have cared anyway knowing the mood I was in at the time…The lyrics are quite dark but I think I wanted to offset that with an upbeat woah oh oh no brainer sing along type chorus to try and lighten the mood a bit…we worked on the music very hard because there are a lot of chord changes in this and twisting turning verses…with the call and response guitar…and Dave came up with the great piano part he plays…Jet decided to keep the verses on the side stick before powering into the chorus’ and JJ found a lovely bass line that weaves through the intro and chorus’ moving the song along nicely but not interfering with the vocal melody…a great band effort this one… We chose this as a single too which I was very pleased with on a personal level, and played it live both acoustically and electrically for quite a few years afterwards…

Just sitting at home one day I came up with the riff for this…and I can’t remember why but I just thought about writing a song specifically about JJ…in the first person and from his point of view…he had his doubts when I mentioned it to him one day but once we started to work on it he sort of warmed to the idea… It was initially faster than the version we ended up with…I can’t remember who’s idea it was to slow it down a bit, maybe the producer, but when we did it seemed to give things more weight and it drives along better… People love fast songs but if they’re not treated right it can just blend into a dirge…the riffs and power come out more if the tempo is right and not steaming away… I think a lot of Stranglers songs have suffered from this… particularly live when the blood’s up and we’re charging into the fray…the riffs suffer…and this band is big on riffs… Paul Roberts’ vocal is really solid on this too…he liked the song and gave it his all…

This song had a strange genesis. It’s widely known now that this was the first time I chanced my arm and wrote a song for the bands perusal…I’d been with them for 10 weeks and thought I better try something…All I had was the title…I remember looking out of a tour bus window somewhere in Holland with Smalltown Heroes at the most perfect huge yellow moon I’d ever seen, it was absolutely massive, and thinking it would make a great title for a song…and there it stayed…in the memory banks for about 5 years…until it became a sort of skewed love song…Sometimes you hear people saying that a song wrote itself, and that’s the case with this one…the lyrics came in about 15 minutes…I think the band expected some punky thrash thing and Jet in particular was very complimentary with my first fledgling effort…but it didn’t make the first batch of songs recorded and so we just forgot about it really…At the time I was working on a little limited edition EP thing with a mate of mine in the north east…a thing I’d actually started to record before I joined the band…and as it seemed they didn’t want it I recorded it myself for that, albeit very stripped down, and then just left it alone…That happens with songs sometimes…they just get left behind and you move onto something else. A few weeks later it was mentioned again, I can’t remember by who, and we looked at it again with the benefit of hindsight and thought it might have legs…I’d made a little demo of it which was pretty close to the way it ended up, but as soon as JJ started working out the walking bass line and Dave and Jet brought the key lines and brush work it came to life and we did it pretty much live in one take at the farm one afternoon, left it for the weekend, and on revisiting it when we came back, decided it was fine as it was… and that’s the version you hear now…It’s a lovely song this…no fat and great individual playing from everyone. It’s a fan favourite too when we play it…mostly when we do the acoustic shows…lends itself very well to that side of things…and I’ve heard it’s been used on more than one occasion as a couples’ wedding dance too…

This was one of JJ’s pretty much completed ideas. He had all the lyrics and the meter pretty much worked out but I seem to remember this being one of the songs we had the most trouble nailing. There’s a lot of London in this song…a lot of what was going on around him and his unease with the urban decay and the living breathing cauldron of a city that was unfolding right in front of him…his thoughts are not quite as pure as they once were…he’s bordering on some kind of revenge…The lyrics were biting and immediate and we needed some power from somewhere to go with them…I know there are quite a few demos of this song in existence, I have a few at home, and they’re all different…the rant in the middle where it goes off on a tangent is particularly inspired with a grinding heavy bass riff and squealing car brakes which were all done on guitar…and when we play it live we get the sub bass really cooking in an attempt to make people crap themselves…hasn’t happened yet but we live in hope… Another great live number…

All I really remember about this one was that I wanted to celebrate party culture and write a song about being as hedonistic as possible…the opening line “I need a woman like a stag needs a hat rack” was particularly intended to get peoples backs up, and it did…one writer calling us misinformed sexist pigs…mission accomplished then. This one suffered from a little too much in the overdubbed guitar department, and although the licks were intrinsic to the recording it couldn’t be replicated live and so is the only track on this entire album we’ve never done in concert…At one point we had as many as 6 of these songs in the set, such was our belief in the record…We were very gung ho around this time…

Somewhere between the villages of Norton St Philip and Faulkland in north east Somerset is the cider house known as Tuckers Grave. I won’t waste much time here trying to describe it to you because no words can do it justice unless you’ve been there…There isn’t a bar, no music, and 9 times out of 10 your mobile won’t get a signal…up until 25 years ago if you wanted a piss you went outside and did it up against the wall…and that included the women too…It’s a celebration in the dying art of spontaneous conversation…and if you haven’t got any, stay at home…the place is alive with character, and characters, the cider is lethal and the landlady’s tongue is as sharp as a cut throat razor…the locals play skittles in an alley at the back and are brought big plates of homemade cheddar, bread and pickles after the game…I was carried out once after ‘accidentally’ drinking 7 pints…I was in bed for 2 days…In other words it’s fucking fantastic… We spent many a happy hour there during this time. Getting to know each other and just relaxing into what we were doing…and JJ and myself developed an interest in the history of the place. Edward Tucker was tied to a tree stump on the crossroads outside the pub after hanging himself at the very farm we now call home…sometime in the latter half of the 18th century…he couldn’t be given a Christian burial because he’d taken his own life…against the law…so they just trussed him up and left him to rot…the local wildlife having a field day and the locals using his corpse as target practice…nice… His story is actually in a booklet on the mantle in the pubs living room for all to see, and after reading it one night we decided to write about it. I remember JJ calling me on his way home one weekend and asking me to “write this down”…he had quite a lot of the lyrics in his head and between us, down the phone we came up with the rest…I’d been messing around with open tunings on the guitar and after putting it into DADGAD came up with the rolling chord sequence…I’ve had a lot of people over the years asking me how it was done because they can’t play it…and you can’t in regular tuning… We wanted to make it trancy and atmospheric and Dave’s keys really gave it that slant…also Jet syncopated the snare drum…building it very slowly up into a spooky march of the dead…Paul absolutely sang the shit out of it and to my mind this is one of his best ever recorded performances…I love this track…

Looking at the lyrics to this they seem very personal to JJ and I really can’t remember who or what he said it was about when I asked him…I know I would have asked him at the’s important to know what stuff’s about…but for my sins I can’t remember…if he even told me at all that is… I think the idea started with his bass riff at the beginning, which he was playing over and over one afternoon… I remember pretty much playing the opening guitar riff straight away and we just went into it…some great fast runs from Dave in the bridges and building up to the chorus’…We played this live all through the summer and it really went down well…I remember taking inspiration from The Byrds for the jangly guitar at the fade…I think I maybe even tried it on a 12 string…there’s a picture of me in Louie’s studio sporting a Rickenbacker which I can only assume we rented to try this…and again another great vocal from Paul…he sang very well on the whole album…It came really quickly this song…we had it all in one afternoon…

This is the first thing JJ and I ever wrote together and it dates back to mid 2000 when I drove down to his then place outside Cambridge to see if we could write songs together. He’d had the bass parts for a while, essentially a tune just on bass, and all the lyrics, and it was the first thing he played me when I arrived. I loved it and picked up on the hot club vibe straight away, finding the chords and pretty soon, I’d say a couple of hours, we had most of it…It came together really fast and I remember him calling a mate in Germany for an accurate translation of the lyrics he’d written…Sanfte Kuss being German for ‘A Gentle Kiss’…There are 3 verses all sung in different languages…German, French and finally English, where we discover that all he really wants is to fuck…surprise surprise…I worked on the guitar solo at home and when we finally came to record it proper we got Jon Sevink from The Levellers to come and play violin on it…When we play this live Dave comes to the front to play rhythm guitar as there’s no keys on this at all…just guitar , bass, brushes and a voice…

Pauls sole contribution to the album writing wise, but one of the best songs on it…we re-visited this for the convention in London in 2011 and had a lot of fun playing it again. In retrospect this suffers from a bit of overproduction I think…lots of sound effects, bleeps and noises, but it’s a very strong chorus and we played this live a great deal around that time. I seem to remember the arrangement being kicked about a bit and PR not being too happy about that, wanting it the way he’d written it…Paul all over really…JJ and Dave working on the middle eight for quite a while to get it super tight…and me and Paul working closely to get the vocal harmonies right…I think this one was the first tune we recorded too, or one of the first, and it just seemed to fit really well as the albums closing song…I was never really sure what it was about though…none of us were…but it was a really strong number…

In the summer of 2003 we all went to Hunstanton in Norfolk for the weekend to take the shots that ended up on the cover…driving down directly one afternoon after a performance on the main stage at that years’ Guilfest…Us being us we had to actually go to the Norfolk Coast…nowhere else would do… Those rocks are actually there…The tour manager we had at the time brought his young son along and I remember JJ, Paul and myself playing football with him on the beach between takes…and also the portly American photographer we were using eating every last sandwich that was brought in for us for lunch…as a lot of portly Americans are wont to do… This was my first album with the band…there was a great vibe around us at the time and it felt like a new beginning for everyone…we were all mates and had spent the last year very closely together working on this and getting to know each other…and the great music notwithstanding, that alone holds very good memories for me…

BAZ W/6th OCT 2014


  1. Thanks Baz a great insight to a great album.cheers si

  2. Thanks Baz for your insights into this landmark album. Totally agree about Paul Roberts doing a great job on vocals throughout - it all seemed to fall into place with Norfolk Coast. Really enjoying these Track By Track articles - fascinating stuff and can't wait for more!

  3. really enjoyed this, give an interesting insight into the atmosphere of the band at the time. perhaps it's time to do a volume 2 of "song by song" ??

  4. Baz Warne this is a great read and thanks for sharing this with us -you are and always will be a Strangler

  5. Cheers Baz, top stuff! Always great to get the behind the scenes on a brilliant Album... Love a bit of DADGAD pure class!

  6. A great article for a great Album. Remember the excitement around the launch and the NC Tour in 2004 vividly. Probably the Album I listen to most. Cheers Baz

  7. Would really love to hear how the unusual and quirky B-Side'Lifes Too Short' came about. A marvellous song. Over to you Baz!

  8. An interesting read. Thanks for sharing. Hearing the album and seeing the cover inspired to go to Hunstanton where photos were taken. Look forward to seeing The Stranglers next March in Cambridge!

    1. Indeed a great album! good read. Hope for a new album soon! Thanks Baz,


  9. From the first listen, you got the feeling 'Christ, the Stranglers have come back to us!' A return to form is a very apt label for this fine album. An interesting insight. Thanks Baz. Gary Ashton under Lyne......

  10. yeah a good album,the renaissance started here

  11. Belter of an album, Norfolk Coast one of my personal favourites live....I look forward to 2015 with relish....

  12. I have vivid memories of seeing JJs first solo acoustic gig in Swindon (seated in the front row) and him playing 'Norfolk Coast'. Then leaving my phone number on my ticket stub atop his amp with a note about a book I was writing. A few weeks later JJ rang my house and my (rather scary) missus answered telling him I was down the pub (a drinking den now called 'The Raven'), but we got to speak a day or two later then I met up with him, Baz, Dave and Sil at Tucker's Grave. Savage hangover the next day, but a great night with the boys....then used to catch Baz regularly at acoustic gigs in Bath (always played lovely versions of 'Long Black Veil' and 'Dutch Moon') for a few years. Never finished that book (will one day) but have had 3 others published. Will never forget that night at Tucker's, boys...

  13. Great album - the bass line on the title track is one of my favourite JJ moments on record. Given that this is Baz's debut, it's a sign of how key he was to the band's renaissance. Hope we hear a track or two from this great album in 2015!

  14. Baz has played a massively pivotal part in revitalising The Stranglers. This piece was really well written too so hats off to you Baz!

  15. I can't believe this brilliant album was ten years ago. Great memories from around this time: watching JJ perform NC & other unreleased songs at several of his solo shows and being genuinely excited at the prospect of the album's release, the band playing Big Thing Coming on Lorraine Kelly's show, the in-store gig in HMV, Birmingham, Guilfest, the crowd's reaction to the band on tour plus two great gigs at SBE in 2004, the Norfolk Coast film being shown at one of them, going on holiday to the Norfolk coast because that's where it had originated, going to Tuckers Grave - the cider is bright orange and gross! - lots of good times. I also think the B side, Life's Too Short is a great tune too and played it a lot. I still see them many times each year but this was a great period in their history.

  16. very interesting read - but agreed very under estimated album - very strong content indeed

  17. Thanks for taking the time to write this detailed account of the making of the album. Totally enjoyed reading it. BTW, I was dead chuffed you liked the very first cartoon I drew of you way before I drew the 40th anniversary merch. Though we've never met, your "thumbs up" was the most important one for me.

  18. Fair enough but, having tickled us as such, where can you find the album?

  19. Great write-up Baz, many thanks. "I Don't Agree, for me anyway, is about Blair and the Iraq war. And I remember Paul commenting at some point that "Mine All Mine" was about 9/11.

  20. Thanks for the insight Baz. Norfolk Coast is one of 'those' moments in your musical life that will always be very important. The band finding that key sense of purpose and direction once again. All the very best for 2015.

  21. Hi,
    this is Detlef from Berlin. Just to tell You that in German You say SANFTER KUß (or KUSS) and not Sanfte Kuss. Don't mind. Next time phone me! 0049302924369. Guarenteed Stranglers fan since The Raven! All the best!