To Dave Greenfield... with Heartfelt Respect and Gratitude
...Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine saying good-bye to him this way. The horrific pandemic of 2020 that shook the whole world went on to rob us of Dave Greenfield, the legendary keyboardist who continued to add his magical touch to the Stranglers, the one band I have so adored for over 40 years. Until this devastating news arrived, I had been rather worried about the group’s now-retired drummer Jet Black, who reportedly suffered from asthma; but Dave’s unexpected passing caught me completely off guard. I mean, when I saw the band perform in Tokyo last November, he seemed just fine.
Dave Greenfield was arguably the most mysterious of the four (‘original’) members of the Stranglers, that left behind such a rich musical legacy during their golden age (1977-1990). Both Hugh Cornwell and Jean-Jacques Burnel (“JJB”) had the electrifying charisma to serve as the front men, while Jet Black, a rather intimidating mastermind, always kept a watchful eye on whatever was going on from the back seat. Compared to these three, whose characters might have seemed easier to grasp, Dave -- who was the last to join the band following Hans Wärmling’s departure -- essentially asserted his presence through the sheer quality of his performance (skills). Unlike Hugh and JJB, Dave never revelled in provoking the audience from the stage, and even when those two threw off their instruments and jumped into the crowd, Dave simply kept on playing without batting an eyelid. On the other hand, his top-notch keyboard work was consistently at the core of their music. Starting off with the debut single, “(Get A) Grip (On Yourself),” it was Dave who played such mesmerising parts to help make the Stranglers’ classics so unmistakably memorable for the fans across all generations: “No More Heroes”; “Tank”; “Duchess”; “Waltzinblack”; “Golden Brown”; “Strange Little Girl”; “The European Female”; “Skin Deep”; “Always The Sun” et al. Dave was never the one to waste words; instead, he just focused on letting his music speak for itself so exquisitely. In the face of this sad, sudden farewell, I wish to honour his great achievements and extend my condolence with heartfelt respect and gratitude.
My Personal Favourites -- Dave’s Finest Moments with the Stranglers (1977-1990)
“Goodbye Toulouse” [RATTUS NORVEGICUS -- 1977]
In February 2020, I saw Hugh perform solo in Tokyo. It was a joy to hear the selections from “MONSTER,” definitely one of the most satisfying solo albums of his long career, mixed with so many fan favourites from his Stranglers era, including this one. Nevertheless, it was undeniable that the absence of Dave’s keyboard parts made those signature songs sound so helplessly incomplete. With my eyes glued to Hugh up on stage, I kept playing back in my head all those beautiful sounds Dave used to create. I believe I wasn’t the only one.
“Peasant In The Big Shitty” [NO MORE HEROES -- 1977]
Before joining the Stranglers, Dave was said to have sung lead vocals in his old band. The harmony vocals provided by JJB and Dave, as distinctively heard during the choruses of “Hanging Around” and “Walk On By,” were part of the band’s appeal. The synergy generated by the cleverly incorporated odd-time signature, the psychedelic lyrics and Dave’s ominous (?) vocal turned this one into quite an eerie track, which readily proved that they were not just another punk band.
“Enough Time” [BLACK AND WHITE -- 1978]
My proper introduction to their music in the summer of 1978, listening to this album closer and “Threatened” on the radio, was a truly life-changing experience. You could clearly tell the extent of Kraftwerk’s heavy influence here. (As fate would have it, Florian Schneider's obituary was published just a few days after the terrible news about Dave.) The ear-piercing Morse code during the bridge -- translated as, “SOS. This is planet Earth. We are fucked. Please advise.” -- sounds as if it were being sent from the earth in the year 2020.
“Dead Ringer” [LIVE (X CERT) -- 1979]
This live album was the very first record of theirs that I went out and purchased. It was released to coincide with the band’s first Japan tour, with a bonus 7-inch and a huge poster included. Getting myself into frenzy of excitement, I listened to it over and over again. Despite the semi-bootleg sound quality, most of the live versions captured here were far more exciting than their studio recordings. It took a little while before I found out that Dave was actually singing lead on this number, though.
“Don’t Bring Harry” [THE RAVEN -- 1979]
To this day, a large majority of fans point to "THE RAVEN" as the band’s masterpiece, and the sonic soundscape in which Dave’s synthesizers were featured more prominently than ever heralded the arrival of the 1980’s; when revisiting the album after all these years, however, the shadowy timbre of Dave’s piano on this dark tune leaves a deeper impression somehow. As far as I am concerned, this was their (heroin-inspired) classic on a par with “Golden Brown.”
“Four Horsemen” [THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE MENINBLACK -- 1981]
Cited by both Hugh and JJB as their favourite album, “THE MENINBLACK,” was a very experimental and ambitious work indeed, even though it had to be recorded during the band’s darkest days, as they were confronted with one trouble after another. Dave was said to have been very much interested in the occult, but whenever the band went on the road, he was absorbed in doing puzzles endlessly, while the other three kept themselves busy reading. This track, boasting such a sophisticated arrangement (with beats added and then subtracted during the keyboard solo), was obviously Dave’s big moment. As for the twisted melody line of Dave’s vocal, Hugh recounted a rather interesting episode about asking Dave to work it out, as if it had been another puzzle to solve.
“How To Find True Love And Happiness In The Present Day” [LA FOLIE -- 1981]
I’d rather not say anything more about “Golden Brown” at this point. On the album, this song appears out of nowhere with the beautiful sound of the harpsichord still lingering behind, and the way Dave’s somewhat humorous keyboard playing perfectly matched Hugh's phrasing of “happiness” (pronounced to imply “her penis”) was pretty funny (albeit politically incorrect).
“All Roads Lead To Rome” [FELINE -- 1983]
“FELINE,” which was not received well in the UK but became a big seller in France, is one of my favourites, too. I still have a hard time understanding why it didn't sell more copies in Japan. I will never forget the surge of emotion as I listened to “Midnight Summer Dream” for the first time. The band more or less perfected their version of electro pop with this track, I would say.
“Spain～Laughing～Souls” [AURAL SCULPTURE -- 1984]
This was another album that showcased Dave's mastery of synthesizers, making it sound very 80's as a result (for better or worse), but the smooth flow of these three tunes always reminded me of the B-side of “ABBEY ROAD.” “Laughing,” Hugh’s tribute to Marvin Gaye, was one of the most beautiful songs recorded by the Stranglers. Cannot imagine what would have happened had they succeeded in the (outrageous) attempt to somehow talk Marvin into producing their album!
“Too Precious” [DREAMTIME -- 1986]
Compare “Down In The Sewer,” the grand finale on their first album, with this number released nine years later, and it shouldn’t be so hard to note how much their music evolved in that space of time. Many of the fans who preferred the aggressive sound of the band’s earlier years might have deserted by the late 1980’s, but the way Hugh’s guitar, Dave’s keyboards, JJB’s bass, and JB’s percussion meshed so beautifully together in this Latin-flavoured performance gave a testament to just how far the band had come in honing their craft.
“Motorbike” [Single B-side -- 1990]
As for “10,” which turned out to be Hugh’s last stand, well, the less said about it, the better. One of the very few redeeming qualities, however, was how effectively Dave's R&B-rooted keyboard work was featured on several tracks. Even though this cut did not make the finished album (following rejection by Hugh and Jet), the breezy tone of Dave’s Hammond was just too good to miss. I have never been a biker myself, but this track makes me feel like I can easily identify with JJB’s sentiments.
...Thank you, Dave. The amazing pieces of music you left behind will keep shining on like diamonds, long after we are all gone.