Dave Greenfield: the keyboard wizard who cast a spell on punk


Dave Greenfield (credit – band’s Facebook page)

Dave Greenfield from The Stranglers has died, Getintothis’ Jamie Bowman reflects on his influence.

1988 probably wasn’t the greatest time to discover the music of The Stranglers.

That year saw the band, who had formed 14 years previously in Guildford, Surrey, hit the charts with two cover versions: a functional run through of The Kinks’ All Day and All of the Night and a take on ? and the Mysterians‘ garage classic 96 Tears.

I bought both on seven inch single, but as a callow 11-year-old, I wasn’t to know that these were the final breaths of one of the UK’s oddest and most unique musical institutions.

It wasn’t until I got my hands on their 1990 Greatest Hits collection (a Christmas present from my ever-encouraging parents) that I probably realised this latter-day Stranglers was a far cry from their imperial period when they became one of the biggest selling groups to emerge from punk with a sound that owed more to The Doors than the Ramones.

So what was it that appealed to my teenage self? Take one look at the cover of the Stranglers‘ debut album Rattus Norvegicus and you’re being invited into a pretty unpleasant looking world.

Stuffed animal heads, red-lit rooms, grandfather clocks and a sinister man lurking in the stairs in the background.

As for the sinister men in the foreground, only one of them – bassist Jean Jaques Burnel – looks like a punk but a dead one at that. Next to him is Dave Greenfield.

Greenfield holds a walking cane and has a moustache and looks like he wants to hit you with said cane.

Compared to the cartoonish horror of Iron Maiden’s Eddy or Guns n Roses‘ raping robot this was far scarier.

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Listening to The Stranglers‘ hits now you would never call them an easy listen but it was Greenfield, who has died from Covid-19 aged 71, who gave them both a signature musicality and a signature sound. The organ was a deeply un-punk instrument, as incongruous as Greenfield‘s facial hair, but this was not the gentle sound of the classically influenced Moody Blues or the prog trilling of Rick Wakeman.

Instead Greenfield attacked his chosen weapon with the aggression of RnB or the cheap thrill of US garage rock. Listen to early hits like Hanging Around or No More Heroes and it is Greenfield’s stabbed chords that take The Stranglers out of the London pubs they frequented and into the charts.

Yes it helped that they were accompanied by Burnel‘s rumbling bass and singer Hugh Cornwell’s gruff hostility, but even today if you think Stranglers, you think keyboards.

But Greenfield could do beauty too. Listen to his solo in the band’s extraordinary cover of Walk On By or the tumbling arpeggios of the lovely Duchess and you’re in the presence of something pretty special. Even on latter day gems like Skin Deep or Always The Sun he lends a shimmering counterpoint to his band mate’s latent aggression.

Greenfield‘s greatest contribution to pop culture will probably be remembered as his work on Golden Brown. An evergreen staple of UK music, it nonetheless remains a deeply odd song and surely one of the strangest records to reach number two in the charts.

An ode to heroin built around Greenfield‘s waltzing harpsichord I was thrilled and moved in equal measure to find it nestling in my granddad’s record collection after he passed away.

While I was too young to catch The Stranglers in their heyday, the post-Cornwell band proved strangely durable and remained a superb live proposition.

By then they’d acknowledged by other keyboard-driven hitmakers like The Charlatans and Inspiral Carpets and had even proved a key influence on Britpop with Elastica impressively managing to transfer the band’s ugly sexism into a compellingly fem-punk context.

Watching Greenfield, sat at his keyboard, happily sipping a pint (he would buy his own pub at the height of the band’s success) while running through The Stranglers‘ greatest hits, so many of which were based on his riffs, would become a huge live pleasure throughout the last decade or so.

The fact I got to do this accompanied by best mate, a huge fan who reinvigorated my passion for the band, only made things all the sweeter.

An outsider to the last, the ‘tache may have gone by then, but the attitude remained. Farewell Dave Greenfield.