If you think that there’s something familiar about those mysterious silhouetted figures, those men in black, gracing the back cover of Celia’s debut single… read on.
The most often repeated version of this story would have us believe that The Stranglers manager Dai Davies initially happened upon bob-haired singer Celia Gollin in a nightclub, where she was performing with Rod Melvin, previously of Kilburn and the High Roads. Gollin was at this stage, almost unheard of and who’s recording history only included one previous credit – she had appeared as a backing vocalist on a track of a Brian Eno produced Gavin Bryers album “Ensemble Pieces” in 1975.
In 1977 Dai Davies told Sounds “She was mixing Marlene Dietrich songs with Kinks and Velvet Underground stuff. And she sounded so polite and English and proper that I thought it would be really great to see her singing in front of a nasty dirty rock band like the Stranglers. The contrast would be incredible”.
Despite this musical mis-match, Davies ploughed on with his grand vision, and put Celia into the studio with the musicians closest to hand, or The Stranglers as they were better known. Together they recorded a version of Tommy James and the Shondell’s classic “Mony Mony”, and The Stranglers penned, “Mean to Me”. The single was launched into the world on The Stranglers United Artists label in the spring of 1977.
Despite a press campaign of teaser ads, which more than hinted as to the true identity of ”The Mutations” the record failed to sell. The follow up “You Better Believe Me,” was co-written by Gollin and Jean Jacques Burnel, along with Wilko Johnson from Dr Feelgood, and Terry Williams from Man.
On The Stranglers Ratter blogspot, bassist JJ Burnel recalls the song “Mean to Me” as being “A basic bit of rock and roll because we were just a rock and roll band originally. We had no pretentions, and it’s an unpretentious rock and roll song with misogynistic lyrics from Hugh. We did a version with Celia Gollin. Dai Davies came up with the idea us working with Celia and to lend our kudos and musicianship to this girl he was trying to push. He wanted me to write songs with her, one of which featured Wilko (Johnson) too..”
We don’t know what happened to Celia after her “5 minutes” of fronting The Stranglers in 1977, but there seems to be an alternative version to the start of this story, also from Dai Davies, when he told the same story in Strangled Magazine. This time he would have us believe that Celia was not a new age torch singer he discovered swinging her fringe in a bohemian basement club, but was in fact a rock and roll make-up artist, “She was a make up artist who had done the band’s make up for one of the albums. The Mutations idea wasn’t as successful as we hoped…”