Life as a Strangler

Published: 29 Feb 2012 09:30

Exclusive interview with Stranglers legend JJ Burnel as they prepare for the Dunfermline gig on Friday.

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WHATEVER happened to all of the heroes? Well, in the case of The Stranglers they are alive and kicking.

Particularly bass guitarist Jean-Jacques Burnel. He turned 60 this month but is still living life in the fast lane combining rock star with karate expert.

The Stranglers, since starting in a pub band in London in the early '70s have been an immense presence on the music scene.

They preceded punk but are very much associated with the era before embarking on an adventurous musical expedition which prevented any further attempts to pigeon-hole them.

They have gifted us classics as 'No More Heroes', 'Peaches' 'Golden Brown', 'Duchess', 'Always the Sun' and 'Skin Deep'.

They are now back with a new album 'Giants' to be released on 5th March and their tour comes to the Alhambra on Friday.

When we spoke, JJ had just returned from Japan, had gone straight to band rehearsals in Bath then rushed back to London to take his martial arts class.

"Yes I just flew back then down to Bath left there at eight this morning to take a karate class in Chelsea.

"I was over there for the funeral of a karate legend I knew. Also, my mate's drummer a Japanese guy who has played with us. It was his 60th birthday, a big occasion in Japan He wanted me to do six Stranglers songs with his Japanese band."

JJ is delighted was the initial reaction to their album in the media.

"This record seems to be taking off big time. We're having to go to Paris to do 50 or 60 radio shows and they've asked us to do a dozen live performances.

"After that we've got to go to Berlin because interest's picking up there a well so this record -which hasn't come out yet - seems to be getting quite a lot of attention.

"We've been working on it for two years on and off between festivals, gigs and going off places but some of the ideas stem back to 10 years ago.

"You can't always make a decent song with just one idea and we've been mulling over some ideas for quite a few years."

After touring the UK the band will be off to Europe then South America. "Every country we've been to we've enjoyed some measure of success over the years. It's quite a long career now. It's exciting to discover a new country, visit it, get a taste for it - that's one of the bonuses."

JJ said their set will be a mix of their new material and favourites from the past. "I think we should cover all bases, the older ones, more recent and brand new. I want people to leave Stranglers gigs with a big smile on their face."

Looking back to the early days did he ever think The Stranglers would still be going in 2012?

"No-one thought that a band would last this long. We're entering uncharted territory here." He laughed, "We all thought we'd be dead by the time we were 30. It's just weird."

This longevity is especially remarkable given that many of their contemporaries in the punk era had come and gone in five minutes.

"That's right most things didn't last back then but it seems The Stranglers have just gone on. We've worked at it and we've been allowed artistic freedom which has helped.

"We've been able to explore different avenues, some more successful than others. There's quite a variety in the material. If look at 'No More Heroes' and 'Golden Brown' there's no comparison. You'd think it's a different band.

"When we had success with one thing we would go off in the opposite direction. I suppose we were a bit contrary but we've also been lucky that we've not had the commercial imperative or had pressures to conform commercially or in other way actually."

Was it their early chart success that allowed them this freedom?

"Yes in our case it certainly did. Other people may just have succumbed to the lure of the commercial imperative.

"I think we considered we were more talented than that and were not going to be puppets. We believed we could write in different ways, which seems to have been the case now I suspect."

Have there been times when the band ever considered not going on?

"There have been times when you've worked on an album and it's not gone as well you hoped, it's been dismissed when it's released but The Stranglers are made of stern stuff. We were rejected by 24 record companies before we got signed."

Although the band are often simply classed as British punks they were around before that scene exploded in this country in 1976.

"The guys from the Sex Pistols and The Clash used to come and see us before they'd even set up their bands," said JJ.

Were these groups influenced by The Stranglers?

"I don't know but I know they came to see us," said JJ.

What highlights stick out looking back over almost 40 years of The Stranglers?

"The most obvious being when we were written off and people were saying 'punk's dead now, it's gone and been'.

"We wanted to release a song called 'Golden Brown' and the record company said 'No you can't dance to it and nobody will know it's The Stranglers'. But we forced their hand and invoked a clause in the contract.

"They released it just before Christmas thinking that it would be buried in the avalanche at that time but it went on and on and became a worldwide success so that was one of the stand-out moments.

"When you've been written off by everyone and you can stick two fingers up at everyone. That's always a good one, isn't it?"

What does he think of the current state of the music industry where it appears more difficult than ever for an emerging band to land a recording contract?

"That's one side of it but you also have the internet and you've got YouTube. At the end of the day it's about talent. It doesn't matter how much hype you have or how great you look, eventually people have got to hear your stuff."

The Stranglers' loyal army of fans will no doubt be out in force again in Dunfermline. JJ said, "You get the fans you deserve. It's been symbiotic and we're a broad church.

"We were up in Dunfermline two years ago so we're very much looking forward to coming back. Say hello to Robert the Bruce and everyone up there."

*The Stranglers play the Alhambra on Friday supported by The Popes.

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