Bassist of British band speaks discusses longevity, reputations and the best ways to have fun
Published: November 22, 2016 Leslie Wilson Jr, Special Features Writer
The Stranglers don’t need an introduction, unless you’ve been living under a big rock all these years. But then again you wouldn’t know about organic food, flat-screens, the IPL or the fact that they put a man on the moon, either.
The Stranglers go a long way back. They were one of the undisputed pioneers of the British punk rock scene in the 70s. And despite all that music lovers have had to cope with all the years since, their music still resonates in most parts of the world.
They don’t just represent punk music. They are it’s flag-bearers. And they will be playing great songs, lot of them, during their Dubai concert.
Gulf News tabloid! spoke to founding member and bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel…
The rise of The Stranglers in the seventies happened as punk tock began to make an everlasting impression on the British music scene. Looking back, how crucial was it to have got the timing right in order to be a part of that electrifying movement?
Well timing in life is everything, isn’t it? Timing and your relevance to the vibe is the fundamental thing in all of life. There was is a kind of syncrocitity about what happened in the mid 70s. There was an awful lot of energy around and it was concentrated at the same time, at the same place
When you listen to The Stranglers of the 70s and the contemporary band what do you hear? How have you moved forward over the years?
I think we have just evolved as a band. The music is a reflection of us as people and song writers, especially. We’ve grown older, yes, but I hope the music reflects the people who are making the music. It would be very disingenuous of me to still pretend to be an 18-year-old punk.
Your reputation of having a bad attitude brought you into conflict with the authorities on occasions but did the accusations help fuel your lyrical prowess and dark humour?
That’s not quite true! We were a reflection of the times we lived in, and we still are, I hope. We were just reacting to situations. People were trying to burn us, without having the chance to listen to our music. We were fighting against prejudices and also that was quite a violent period. We only had so many ways of defending ourselves. Yes, some people might have seen us as rude or rebellious, but we were just reacting to a situation.
Apologies for bringing it up, Jean.
No it’s good. It just stimulates the discussion.
I liked that fact that you were funny and absurd and chose to experiment beyond the common music fan’s comprehension.
There’s something called British sense of humour. Some people just missed it, the irony. Because you have to look at the world in a certain way and we looked it in a way which we perceived it was, which was ironic, because you have to have an element of truth in what you observe. A lot of people missed it.
Golden Brown was arguably your biggest hit. What did it do for The Stranglers’ reputation?
It is a song that doesn’t necessarily define us. It redefined us in the eyes of the public. But actually it’s the only song of its kind in our repertoire. We haven’t been playing it recently but I think we will play it in Dubai. Elsewhere we’ve not been playing it simply because we’ve got so much material to choose from. If you go to a Stranglers concert I don’t think you would expect to listen to an hour and a half of Golden Brown.
You played in Dubai some year ago, what can fans expect from your concert this time around?
I think we will attempt to cover all bases ’cause I think it would be disingenuous to neglect any song that we feel strongly about.
Having been a big part of the ground-breaking punk movement, does it disappoint you that most of today’s music is played by a computer. Whatever happened to the guitar virtuoso?
I’m not too bothered, music has to be made somehow, somewhere. So computers are used as instruments to make music. But that’s not the problem, It’s the operator. If you give a guitar to someone who can’t play it its going to sound awful. It’s the same thing with the computer. I think most computer music is not played very well. What is becoming impoverished is the level of creativity. Also because I think it’s the tail wagging the dog. A lot of people want success easily and quickly. So, I guess, it what makes our music stand out. A lot of today’s music is sterile and useless.
How much of fun is it being a musician, a real musician?
It’s great to be able to make a living from doing something that like so much and to be recognised for it is surely the most fulfilling activity. A lot of people love playing music but they don’t necessarily have made a success at it. I have seen many talented, or perhaps more talented musicians than me, not making a success of it.
The fact that the band has been together for such a long time have you guys had to reinvent yourselves in order to stay relevant?
I think from the creative process that’s fundamental. That’s why sometimes I don’t write for a few years and when I do write it’s a completely different person writing the music. That’s not a natural evolution tough but I like it to be a bit of a shock because you are the result of everything you have assimilated and lived in that time. That’s the way I prefer to work.
When did The Stranglers realise that they had something special?
[Laughs.] The eureka moment! I’m not really sure. I’m not sure If I can answer that correctly. It dawned on me slowly that we were not as bad as people made out and that we were kinda special in our own way. Because everyone who has done anything creative, in painting, writing, it should represent their uniqueness because everyone is unique.
What has it been like as a Strangler, the last couple of years?
The demand for The Stranglers has been exceptional this year and we’ve been all over the world. We’ve even had to turn down a lot of offers because otherwise you just become a robot or that sort of thing.
The last 12 years or so, since the Norfolk Coast album (a released in 2004), the popularity has increased. I think people have reassessed The Stranglers and the last three albums have really turned people’s opinions of us around.
What an incredible journey it has been. Did you ever think you would have survived it all?
You don’t. You just dream. You never know what life has in store for you. When we started out, most bands lasted very long. Even when we started out the Rolling Stones had only being going for 12-14 years so we’ve kinda entered uncharted territory.
What sort of a buzz do you get everytime you go out on stage?
It’s still the best thing in the world that you can do with your clothes on.
Any message for your fans ahead of the Dubai gig?
I just want people to come with an open mind and a desire to have a good time and to communion with us. It’s going to be great fun.
Don’t miss it