The Stranglers were formed in 1974 when Guildford off-licence owner and home-brew kit manufacturer Jet Black, aka Brian Duffy, met biochemistry graduate Hugh Cornwell following an advertisement placed by the former in Melody Maker. Black was a successful businessman in his mid-30s wanting to return to music, having played jazz and rock drums semi-professionally in the 1950s and 60s. Cornwell had played guitar in a band with some Swedes and US draft dodgers whilst embarked on a doctorate in Lund. The very early days of the Stranglers included an American and two Swedes, all of whom left before the band took proper shape.
In need of a bass player, Cornwell turned to local, newly-made acquaintance Jean-Jacques Burnel who had attended the Royal Grammar School, Guildford before studying history. Burnel was a karate exponent, classically-trained guitarist, and motorcyclist with links to the Hells Angels. Cornwell sold him a second-hand Fender Precision bass for £35. The nascent band rehearsed upstairs at Black's Jackpot off-licence in Park Street. In September 1974 they played their first gig at the Star Inn in Quarry Street.
The band moved to Chiddingfold in 1975 where they rented a house and rehearsed in the village hall. When the money ran out (gigs were neither frequent nor well-paid) the band stayed on as squatters. Rehearsals also took place in Bramley village hall, Shalford scout hut and Brook cricket pavilion. Professional keyboard player Dave Greenfield joined at this stage. Gigs became more frequent as the band began to play any pub, hall or Army camp that would have them. The band would turn up at gigs in one of Jet's old ice-cream vans.
The addition of keys complemented the sound of Cornwell's guitar, giving the band a Doors feel. An early cover version (Bacharach and David's Walk on By) features similar arrangements to Light My Fire. More gigging led to a management deal, with more London dates on the burgeoning pub-rock scene, alongside Dr Feelgood, Eddie and the Hot Rods, and Kilburn and the High Roads (featuring a pre-Blockhead Ian Dury). Constant gigging led to greater confidence, faster, more aggressive performances and bigger audiences. Confrontations with audience members and venue organisers were not unknown: the Stranglers' only gig at Surrey University, in October 1978, televised for BBC's Rock Goes to College, was cut short abruptly by the band after having heard that tickets were only available to students and not outsiders.
The punk/new wave explosion of 1977 launched the band to a nationwide and international audience. The Stranglers' style and sound, as expressed in songs like Grip, Peaches, and No More Heroes, was now 'in', while the likes of the Eagles, Genesis and Yes were 'out'. But the Stranglers also evolved and in 1982 reached the UK no.2 with Golden Brown, a delightful, harpsichord-led waltz, mixing 3/4 and 4/4 time.
Hugh Cornwell left the band in 1990, but they continued as a ferociously good live act. Dave Greenfield passed away in 2020 at 71 from complications related to coronavirus. Jet Black passed away in retirement in 2022 at 84 from respiratory problems. Jean-Jacques Burnel remains as the only original musician in the Stranglers.