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Jean Jacques Burnel - The Stranglers PDF Print E-mail
Written by Simon Malarkey   
13 01 2011
Image"Are you a Mackem or a Geordie?"

I thought I was supposed to be asking the questions but, as many interviewers have found out in the 36 years that original member, and legendary Bassist, JJ Burnel has been with the band, you had better be on your metal when you're dealing with The Stranglers. The band may well have slipped off your radar, which is surprising, as they're one of the only original punk-era groups still around. As The Stranglers are well into their 4th decade in the business, have sold over 16 million records and had 24 top 40 singles, it should be no surprise that they still attract packed crowds whenever and wherever they play. But how would you know that?

The fact is, that they're the Millwall FC of Rock ‘n' Roll - you know, the home of that famous East London defiant roar "No-one likes us and we don't care"? Well, it couldn't apply to a band more aptly than it does to The Stranglers. "They simply ignore us", said legendary drummer Jet Black recently. The ‘they' in question being, of course, the great and the not so great, of the music media, which seems to have made a concerted and collective effort to erode all memory of The Stranglers from musical history. If it wasn't for those pesky punters turning up in their ten's of thousands, they would have succeeded.

So, back to JJs question then:

SM - I'm a Mackem. I'm sure you know the difference, having (Sunderland born singer/guitarist) Baz Warne in the band
JJ - Yeah, I know the difference - he reminds me all the fucking time! It's beyond me, all the tribalism but I have had explained to me the football, the history and the background. Everyone from the NE has a lot of passion. That region produces a serious amount of passion and loyalty - the spine of Britain I'd say. From a Stranglers point of view, I'm grateful for an injection of North Eastern blood. He does a great job for us and a lot of old time Stranglers fans have said he was born to be in the Stranglers. Others who've come and gone might not have been, you know. A partnership made in heaven - we've become very close mates. I've come up to Sunderland with Baz just to hear the stadium roaring away!

You've shared a flat with Wilko Johnson (ex Dr. Feelgood and Ian Dury guitarist) and Baz Warne, both bald, certifiably insane guitarists. Did they do the washing up?
Do you have insider information?

No, simply a man's intuition
When I lived with Wilko, his girlfriend used to do it, but the only row I've had with Baz in 10 years was about the washing up. Now then, Baz has influenced me definitely, but I've influenced him cos he's become a biker. But he's not riding any old bike, oh no. He's riding a Triumph!

Your love of bikes is well known - Why Triumphs?
They are the best, they're British, they're reliable and they sound sexier than any other bike.

Was your famous late 70's Bonneville your favourite?
It had a good sound but it was an unreliable fucking oil leaking machine. Now Triumph has got everything right. They've got the largest R+D dept outside of Japan and its working. The new bike is slaughtering its BMW rival so, as a biker, you've got to have water in your veins to not be proud of that.

"God is a Stranglers fan"

How did it feel to play Glastonbury after all these years?
Pretty cool. We were fortunate to have one of the best days of weather ever on the Friday afternoon.

I heard you went down a storm
We did. Everything combined, which confirmed my belief that God is a Stranglers fan. There were 85,000 people there and they all stayed.  They were all ages, all singing the songs and we were given an hour, so I've no complaints.

You're touring the UK in March; will there be any new material available before then?
Yeah we'll be trying out some new songs live before recording them, which we haven't done for along time.

Any themes on the new album?
Not as yet as we've discarded 20 odd pieces, but we've got 4 which we'll know will make it. Of these 4, 1 has a lovely Stranglers thematic guitar line. One's called Freedom is Insane, about being on a desert island and not wanting to leave it. We'll also be playing some really old stuff which has never been played live before.

Which tracks? Any hints?
Nah, we'll keep the surprise going

Any release date
Next year - 2012

Any collaboration in the pipeline?
No, I'm only thinking about The Stranglers at the moment.

Any dates you're particularly looking forward too?
I'm looking forward to all the dates. Baz and I are chomping at the bit, to be honest with you. Actually, we'll be in the North East for a couple of days before the tour starts (1st date, Newcastle Academy, Friday 4th March) doing all the full production rehearsals,, so we're really looking forward to that.

You've got alternate Dutch/Belgian acoustic gigs coming up after the British tour. Any chance of some UK acoustic gigs?
We'd love to. It depends on the offers - we're viewed differently abroad compared to here. Sometime it's good and sometimes not so good. They don't know about all the shenanigans that have gone on.  I'd love to do some more acoustic gigs as I think much of our stuff lends itself to being played acoustically. We get a percussionist along so it gives us a bit more of a groove.

I met a man from Toulouse last week - he reckons the band is so popular in France because "the Stranglers are good to get wasted too".
(laughing) Well that's true, I've certainly got wasted playing in the Stranglers on many an occasion.

What's your ‘going out' music and what's your tipple?
Well to be honest, I don't go out much as I teach karate in London 3 days a week. I also made the mistake years ago of going out all the time and fucked up my marriage. So now I've become a bit boring - I enjoy staying in or if I go out, I'm riding my motorcycle in all weathers... and cooking

Well on that note, please forgive the banging and crashing in the background as that's my new kitchen getting installed
That's great - I love cooking too.  So if I spend 2 or 3 hours in the kitchen I find that therapeutic. Providing you're doing it for someone other than yourself, it's an act of love. One of the most giving things you can do,


You've got a convention coming up later this year featuring various live set ups. Will we see the return of the brass section, used at various points in the 80/90s.?
Ooh, I hadn't even thought of that, but that's an interesting one isn't it? We try and do different things at conventions - they're a real good laugh. We'll see.

I hear your son taught you to download music. Were you showing off to him when you released your last track as download only?
(laughing)- No I was jumping on the bandwagon. Yeah, he's showed me how to do stuff.

You started using Fender Precisions when you first started out but you've since tried Wal, Steinberger and other makes. Are back on the Fenders full time?
No I use Shuker now. He's based in the Yorkshire Dales and it's a hand made Fender P copy, and its better. I just got so fucked off with the Americans' attitude - when you get people like Flea from the Chilli Peppers saying I'm the best bass player in the world and still Fender don't do me any deals, I thought fuck it, I want a British artisan who can make guitars and can make me something which is an improvement on something I've always loved. If I can source stuff more locally, I'm up for it. My guitar is British, my Bike is British, my strings (Rotosound), my amplification (Ashdown), all British.

How did you get the bass sound for the opening of Toiler on the Sea?
Well, it's just me, you know.

What's your favourite intro to a Stranglers track?
Oh, Baroque Bordello (from 1979 masterpiece, The Raven) - no doubt about it. I love it. In fact we're trying to play on this tour. Complicated guitar bits.

Baz will be thanking you for that
Yeah, hah! He has already. He's been doing a lot of homework.                                 

Peter Hook recently said that you were about the only bass player he rated. Who do you rate both as an artist and as a musician?
Well some of the best artist/musicians are complete and utter tossers but a couple of guys I admire are Flea and, Jack Bruce - guys who I find scary.

"We pissed off so many people in the past just by being honest and we've been suffering the consequences as a result"

What do you think of the X factor?
I haven't been able to stand watching it for more than 5 or 10 minutes. I think it has a place, I'm sure, but it's not a journey I'd have liked to have done. The school of hard knocks is the best school as far as I'm concerned. It's not reality TV, its unreality TV. I don't know why these arseholes judging it are qualified to judge.

What did Xmas mean to you?
It meant long walks with my beloved and a different pace of things

Good to see Wilko Johnson is supporting you on tour.
Ah, my old mate. Did you see that film (Dr. Feelgood's recent Oil City Confidential bio pic)?

Yeah, loved it. After the success of that film, is there a ‘Story of the Stranglers' in the offing?
A lot of people have mentioned it but they seem to get cold feet. I think the subject is just too broad and scares off a lot of broadcasters. They'll do it posthumously when we'll be dead and it'll be safe the... but at the moment they still don't think we're that safe.

You have a lot of connections with Normandy and the English West Country....
Yeah, I'm an English born Norman

Does that include a love of cider and smelly cheese?
It does yeah, absolutely

I was at the Livarot (small town in Normandy, which makes a beautiful, but extremely stinky cheese) festival of cheese last year.
Aarrggh! Livarot! The Cheese festival! That's famous. My girlfriend has been begging me to take her there, what time of year is it on? I have to go.

You've said that Kancho Soeno, your Japanese Karate Master, is the font of much wisdom. How has that helped you over the years?
In the 20 years I've been connected with him and he's teachings, I've become like a duck. So many things just pass over me now, which aren't important, so I don't waste so much energy beating the crap out of people or getting offended. I just can't be arsed but, you know, I'm only human. It's given me a different view on the world and I'm not the centre of it. My time is limited so it puts things in perspective.

Which album did you enjoy recording the most?
Well,  The Raven wasn't a bad one, although I did try to kill myself during that. I think I was ready to die so I was happy. I woke up 2 days later feeling shit and I tore up the note.

ImageAlbums like The Raven and The Meninblack, still sound fresh over 30 years on. They have great songs of course, but it was clear that you were ahead of the game with technology and production. How do you rate those albums now?
Oh, I still think they're brilliant. We had to invent lots of things which, a couple of years later you could buy off the shelf. We had to improvise - it was early days for sequencing etc. Maybe we tried too long trying to get a snare sound (laughing)

After using Jet's ice cream van in the early days, what has been your favourite mode of transport to a gig?
A helicopter - that's quite fun.

Your gigs are always loud, boisterous and entertaining and most importantly, packed... why do you get no recognition?
Don't know - maybe we're too real. We pissed off so many people in the past just by being honest and we've been suffering the consequences as a result. Those people are probably editors or producers now. We're true to ourselves and that's the main thing. You get the audience you deserve so people who like the Stranglers have sifted through all the bullshit and a lot of lies and prejudices about us and have listened to us with their own hearts and free will and come to their own decisions.

Is that why there are still so many people who come to the gigs?
Well yeah, and that's without any airplay and without being on TV etc., so it's really heart warming and you know, we all have a good time. It's a communal good time.

At some of your early gigs you had a unique way of disposing with unwanted stage invaders (usually a swift karate kick did the trick). Have you changed your ways?
Not really, I mean we don't really get those problems so much now. I mean for one year we seemed to be fighting for our lives every night, so we got used to dealing with situations ourselves, without the help of bouncers. Now people come and see us and they want to have a good time. If anyone does jump on stage it's usually to try and copy my walk.

Finally JJ, I've been playing the bass for 30 years and you were my inspiration to take it up so, cheers mate!
That's great, thank you ever so much Simon. See you in Newcastle.
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