In all great stories there are always characters who go unnoticed by the public even though they have been fundamental, either because of their role in the “shadows”, or because when success arrives, episodes of amnesia appear frequently.
In this case we are talking about Claudine Martinet-Riley.
Claudine worked at Keith Altman Agency, which was a PR agency that handled big bands like The Stones and The Cure and was about to start working with The Clash. Claudine had collaborated with the Who and The Rolling Stones in the early eighties, but she had contributed to launch Jimi Hendrix, Marc Boland and Steel Pulse (a reggae band from Birmingham) in the past.
In London there was a notable French representation linked to the music business. It all started when Claudine gave Bruno Blum (the designer of the first Stray Cats logo) a hand and arranged for him to do an interview with Mick Jagger. It was May 1980. Bruno and Claudine were in daily communication and Bruno decided to talk to her “benefactor” about the presence of a New York trio who had just arrived in London a few days ago. Bruno had the demos that they had probably recorded at one of those explosive live shows that the band played in the Long Island area or in Lee’s garage where they also met to rehearse and, at that time, he had already begun his friendship with the Cats as he was the first person they called when they arrived in London and settled in the squat where he lived near Earls Court.
Claudine told him that she wanted to meet the fledgling rockabilly group immediately, so Bruno passed the Cats his office phone number.
According to Blum, Claudine took their promotional photos, gave them the name Stray Cats, arranged their first gigs, organised everything to make them a success and a big hit, and got them a record deal, so it’s not surprising that their first gigs were attended by the biggest names in the city’s top bands: Joe Strummer and Topper Headon (The Clash), Glen Matlock and Steve Jones (The Sex Pistols), Jerry Dammers (The Specials), Chrissie Hynde, Pete Farndon and Jimmy Honeyman-Scott (The Pretenders), Chris Foreman (The Madness) and Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead).
However, as with all great stories, there is also a different version.
This is the “other” version of Henry Padovani, the first guitarist of The Police, who a few years ago published in his book “Secret Police Man”.
According to Henry Padovani, this was the origin of the contact between Stray Cats and Claudine Riley: Pete McCarthy is an Irishman who befriends Henry – this is the period when he is the guitarist in Electric Chairs, the band that Wayne County formed in London. They met every day in an Irish pub, very close to the squat in Gloucester, where Padovani lives. Pete had many ideas and gifts for music and advised him on such matters. Later, Pete moved to New York to experience its music scene and try to sign some bands to bring him to London. Once there, he started following a band called The Bloodless Pharaohs and specifically their guitarist, a very young Brian Setzer. Pete, convinced of the band’s talent and power of attraction live and that they had a place in the rockabilly revival music scene taking place in England, phoned his friend Henry to tell him about the trio and told him that he would bring the band to London as soon as he could. McCarthy’s girlfriend, who was living in London, fell ill with depression and had to be admitted to hospital.
Pete left New York prematurely and was unable to fly the trio to London, although he left them Henry’s phone number. Once they landed in London, they contacted Pavodani, went to his house in Vauxhall – a district in south-west London – and slept on the floor of the flat. Henry, after listening to the demo Pete sent him, which already includes all the hits that make up their debut album, spoke to Claudine Riley and filled her in on the aspirations of this fledgling New York band.
Slim Jim, in his memoir, recounts the office meeting with Claudine and how they pulled out all the stops to get their longed-for representation, although he also comments that he couldn’t remember who passed him the contact.
How the name Stray Cats came about has also been a source of contradiction, while Slim Jim says that it came to Lee Rocker in London and that it came from the fusion of the nickname “The Hillbilly Cat” that Elvis adopted in his early days and the adjective “Stray” alludes to the way of life they had in their early days in London: wandering around the city, sleeping on the floor of squats, going hungry and with very few resources.
On the contrary, Brian said that they had already been playing under that name in the United States for 6 months.
Setzer first referred to, and corroborated as first contacts in London, Claudine and Henry, specifically, in an interview published on 31 August 1982 by the Delaware-based newspaper The News Journal and written by Steve Morse of the Boston Globe.
The contact with Claudine was fundamental to the Cats’ success, and it’s no wonder that the group was on the cover of the August 1980 NME just two months after landing in the City and with only a few gigs under their belt (Keith Altman also worked for the NME).The Cats finally got recognition with Claudine and, as a tribute, her name appears on the back cover of their debut album, although few of us knew who she was and how important she was to their initial push in the British capital.
However, Claudine’s presence did not mean that the band was not of the highest quality and that their playing, virtuosity, attitude and aesthetics knocked out the audience at their concerts, whether it was a young London punk or Keith Richards.
More information in “Runaway Boys. The Stray Cats Story”
First book published on the exciting story of The Stray Cats.