The Stranglers have released And If You Should See Dave…, a tender, touching and open-hearted tribute to their late keyboard player, Dave Greenfield, as the first single from Dark Matters, their first studio album in nine years.
Introduced by the lyric “And if you should see Dave, say Hello…” the poignant but upbeat single has a shimmering melodic beauty reminiscent of The Byrds, states that Greenfield “didn’t fear death” and contains the simple, affecting line “This is where your solo would go…” as it draws to a close.
“We wanted to celebrate Dave’s life,” bassist JJ Burnel tells Classic Rock, “and hopefully people can hear our love for him in it.”
An ever-present member of The Stranglers since he joined the band in 1975, Greenfield’s distinctive, virtuoso keyboard playing gave the Surrey punks a unique, instantly-identifiable sound. He passed away on the evening of May 3, 2020, aged 71, having tested positive for COVID-19 one week earlier, during an extended hospital stay where he was receiving treatment for heart-related problems.
Before his admission to hospital, Greenfield had contributed to eight tracks on Dark Matters, The Stranglers’ 18th studio album and their first long-player since 2012’s Giants. Dark Matters was recorded over the course of two years at the band’s studio in Somerset and in Southern France, and was produced by long-time collaborator Louie Nicastro, with founding Burnel and frontman Baz Warne completing the album remotely during lockdown, adding If You Should See Dave… as a tribute to their friend and bandmate.
“Our only wish was to complete it as a fitting tribute to his life and work,” says JJ Burnel. “I consider this to be one of our finest recordings.”
Speaking to Classic Rock from his home in the south of France on the first anniversary of Greenfield’s passing, the 69-year-old bassist is in an understandably reflective mood as he talks about the album and his memories of his late friend.
“Obviously when you’ve known someone for 45 years and then they’re not around anymore it leaves a gaping hole in your life,” he says quietly. “With the way Covid-19 hit there are thousands and thousands of people experiencing a similar sense of loss this year, and my heart goes out to all of them, because, for all of us, the pain is going to linger for years to come.”
“Dave was vulnerable, he didn’t have much lung capacity, and in the months before his death I could see that he wasn’t in great health,” Burnel reveals. “So we decided that we’d book one full, final tour for the band, and it was my hope that Dave would still be able to continue playing, if not with the same intensity and the same demands upon him, once we’d finished that tour. I wanted to look after him, but it didn’t work out that way, sadly.”
Asked if the album’s first single is indicative of the sounds explored on Dark Matters, Burnel says, “not really.”
“The songs on the album haven’t been on an assembly line, so to speak, because we’ve been amassing them over the years and we consider them all strong songs in their own way,” he explains. “There’s no real theme running through the album, we wanted to treat every single song like a gem… he said pretentiously! [Laughs] The single isn’t the most commercial track we’ve ever done, but I think it has a kinda West Coast sound to it: its obviously slightly melancholic, but we wanted to celebrate Dave’s life, not wallow in grief and sorrow.”
While reluctant to bill Dark Matters as a swansong for The Stranglers, who’ve racked up 24 UK Top 40 singles and 18 UK Top 40 albums in a career spanning six decades, Burnel acknowledges that the group haven’t been as productive as he might have liked across the past decade, and says, “in another eight or nine years I might be fucking dead myself, who knows?”
“Have you ever heard of a musician who wants to quit while they’re still capable of making music?” he asks rhetorically. “I’m not knackered yet, and for me, the desire to write music, and the buzz of playing that music to people, is as strong as it ever was. I’m driving to the UK next week to record two alternate versions of one of the new songs, a kind of torch song, so I’m re-recording the words in French, and in Japanese, and I’m excited to get back into the studio.”
“The lockdown was challenging for me as much as anyone else I suppose, but I’ve been able to get on my motorcycle and go up into the mountains near my home, so i didn’t feel too penned in. But I’m more than ready to get back to business now, to share these new songs and honour Dave’s memory.”
Dark Matters is scheduled for release on September 10 on The Stranglers’ own Coursegood imprint, via Absolute, and is available to pre-order now.
The track listing for Dark Matters is as follows:
2. This Song
3. And If You Should See Dave…
4. If Something’s Gonna Kill Me (It Might As Well Be Love)
5. No Man’s Land
6. The Lines
9. The Last Men On The Moon
10. White Stallion
All pre-orders for the album through the band’s official website will receive a special bonus CD, Dave Greenfield – A Tribute. This bonus disc, featuring eight unreleased live recordings, was selected by the surviving members with a view to celebrating Greenfield’s unique talent. It includes two of the new tracks performed by the keyboard player, live versions of the four Stranglers songs that Dave is famous for having performed vocals on, and one of the last ever recordings of the band from their 2019 Japanese tour.
The Stranglers will undertake a 47-date ‘full final tour’ of the UK and Europe in 2022, in Dave Greenfield’s memory.
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THE STRANGLERS The Men In Black (1981 UK 10-track vinyl LP, glossy gatefold picture sleeve. The sleeve shows minor wear and the vinyl appears barely played LBG30313)