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Date: 05/05/20

One Less Hero

Photo of Dave Greenfield

David Paul Greenfield
Musician and songwriter
b. 29 March 1949, d. 3 May 2020

As someone who fancied himself to be a keyboard-player-in-embryo at the age of fourteen or fifteen (and one day I'll have to tell you about my failure to be a musician of any stripe), I was always likely to find The Stranglers to be more to my taste then any of the other bands which came through during the so-called 'punk' explosion of 1976.

It wasn't just that they were quite clearly more musically accomplished than the rest (they were, in fairness, a little bit older than their erstwhile competitors), and that their songs - and their delivery of them - had a darker, deeper, more intense and more genuinely menacing tone than their rivals.

No. It was because they not only had an organist, but that they had one who was absolutely central to the sound they created.

It was the look as well; complementing the fuck-you sneer of singer/guitarist Hugh Cornwell, the scowling assassin stare of bassist Jean Jacques Burnel and the night-club bouncer look of drummer Jet Black was the moustachioed keyboard king Dave Greenfield, looking like he'd just arrived from gunning down the jefe in a Mexican border town.

The Stranglers were emphatically not 'punk', although they were just about prepared to describe themselves as 'new wave'. Their musical hinterland was in the mid-seventies hard-edged heyday of pub rock. This was evidenced in - amongst other things - the fact that the band had a keyboard player at all, at a time - in that intense interregnum between the end of 'prog' and the coming of the Synth Army - when such embellishments were seen as a sign of malintent, or at least pretentiousness.

There was nothing pretentious about Dave Greenfield's playing. Although the obvious comparison was (and still is) made between him and Ray Manzarek - not an equation entirely devoid of justification, as you will hear - Greenfield described his influences as being more Jon Lord and Rick Wakeman than the Doors (he said that at the start of his career, he'd only ever heard two Doors tracks; the ones the world and his coypu had heard - Light My Fire and Riders On The Storm). But there was a steely edge, a ballsiness about his playing and his arrangements which dispelled any notion of latent hippydom, and which drove the music on even beyond the pace and power set by the rest of the band, and made The Stranglers such a forceful presence.

Here are three vids which show the variety of styles Dave Greenfield could produce to equally strong effect. Firstly, the typical arpeggiated style from the band's first hit, (Get A) Grip (On Yourself) which first entranced me in 1977:

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Secondly, here's where the Manzarek comparison has some validation, in the band's cover of - of all things - Bacharach and David's Walk On By, with Greenfield's solo - indeed the tenor of the whole track - bringing back memories of Light My Fire (although The Stranglers did at least have a real bass player; one of the best, as well):

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And finally and, I suppose, inevitably, is Greenfield's compositional masterpiece from 1983. Even in that weird time, a harpsichord-led song with lyrics possibly (but by no means inevitably) about heroin, and even in that weird time signature - alternating between 6/8 and 7/8 - this came out of left field to provide The Stranglers - who had fallen from their peak of popularity simply by following their own musical bent - with their last big hit.

And this piece of virtuosity from Guildford's finest was kept off the number one spot by a bunch of middle-class poseurs from fucking Woking!:

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And that's another part of my teenage years that's now with O'Leary in the grave.