Born: March 29,1949;

Died: March 3, 2020.

THE distinctive keyboard work of Dave Greenfield, who has died at the age of 71 from Covid-19 following a stay in hospital for heart problems, was a key reason for the success of the Stranglers, who enjoyed considerable fame – and some notoriety – in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They had no fewer than 23 singles in the Top 40.

The group first became known as part of the punk explosion, thanks in part to convenient timing but also to attention-grabbing songs and their preference for hard, provocative lyrics featuring, amongst other topics, substance abuse. Golden Brown, for example, was about heroin.

However, if punk was the music of the teen anarchist – the disaffected, safety-pinned youth who stripped pop sound down to its simplest form and battered it out via raw, angry chords via a cheap amplifier –then Greenfield was not a punk at all. He was too old, for one thing; he was almost 30 when the punk phenomenon took hold in 1978. His moustache, too, was anathema to the punk movement.

His musical contribution was also far more complex than was standard at the time. At heart, he was a progressive rock musician. the Stranglers’ music came to be defined by Greenfield’s swirling arpeggios, his Hammond organ playing or his harpsichord, elaborating on chords rather than spitting them out into the dark corners of the teenage mind.

An occasional vocalist – he was too humble to assume that he should be a regular lead singer – Greenfield may have had no allegiance to the simplistic essence of punk, but he certainly loved music.

In a video tribute the wildlife TV presenter Chris Packham observed: “The Stranglers were a fantastic live band. They commanded a real power, a real energy and a sense of menace. But their music was probably more crafted, certainly earlier on, than many of the other punk bands, and that was down to Dave’s riffs, his keyboards, and all of that side that he brought to that otherwise rough-and-ready band”.

Greenfield had learned to play the guitar at school, thanks to a schoolmate. Together, they formed a band. He then taught himself keyboards, and after leaving school, he moved to Germany and played in bands at US Forces bases. The stint lasted a year; back home, he worked part-time in his father’s printing business, and as a piano tuner.

His focus, however, was always in being in a band. He joined several outfits in the late Sixties, such as The Initials and The Blue Maxi (who had a 1970 hit, Here Comes Summer.)

He found himself at home in such progressive rock bands as Rusty Butler and Credo. “People have suggested that I was influenced by the sound of The Doors,” he said later in one of the few interviews he granted. “But my influences at the time were Jon Lord of Deep Purple and Rick Wakeman from Yes.”

In search of success, Greenfield auditioned for a pub-rock band, The Guildford Stranglers, in 1975, hoping to team up with bass player Jean-Jacques Burnel, drummer Jet Black and frontman Hugh Cornwell.

“I remember when I arrived [for the audition] they only had an electric piano” he recalled. “In those days I preferred the organ as my left hand work on piano wasn’t as good as on organ. But I was obviously good enough (or the best they’d tried), and I got the job.”

Within a week the new Stranglers were gigging at a festival in Wiltshire, working for nothing but the experience. Their reputation grew steadily and when the chaotic punk explosion of the late Seventies made itself felt, somehow the Stranglers were carried along on the New Wave sub-label. “We were certainly more New Wave than punk,” said Greenfield.

Somehow, this synthesis of haunting tunes, angry bass, pub rock and a prog-rock back story proved to be hugely successful. The hits emerged from 1977 onwards, such as Peaches, No More Heroes and Always The Sun, all embroidered beautifully with Greenfield’s baroque organ flourishes. Interestingly, the rest of the Stranglers did not fancy Greenfield and Black’s Golden Brown when it was released in 1982, but it achieved a Novello Award and became a worldwide hit.

It’s fair to say that Dave Greenfield enjoyed the trappings of success – he went on to pilot his own plane, but he never flew too close to the sun, and maintained a low-key lifestyle. Music writer Alexis Petridis says Greenfield was “by all accounts the band’s most approachable and charming member.”

That’s not to say the keyboard player was a stranger to rock-star flights of fancy. When asked once why he wore a pentagram pendant around his neck, he replied: “It represents the microcosm (as opposed to the macrocosm), the relation between the self and the universe. I studied (not practised) the occult quite intensively.”

The old black magic had him in its spell for just a short time but certainly Dave Greenfield encouraged the enigmatic, elusive, impression of extreme ordinariness. What is undeniable however was his sheer love of playing music; he declared that the best thing about being part of the Stranglers was “playing.”

The band had been planning a final full UK tour this summer. Dave Greenfield will not be part of that, but he will be remembered as the band member who gave the Stranglers their signature sound.

Dave Greenfield is survived by his wife, Pam.