05/08/2014 Ian Chaddock
JJ BURNELThe legendary bassist talks the band’s secret to success, how punk and rock changed his life and his brush with extravagance. Read the rest of this interview in the new issue of Vive Le Rock (no.20), out now!
You’ve had more chart singles and a longer run of success than almost any other band of the ’70s. How did you do it?
“I find a lot of people now are seeking success for the sake of it and the trappings of success. We’ve had a lot of success but have still managed to stay a bit underground. We’ve played some big festivals this summer, especially T In The Park, and then we’ve played a few clubs too. That keeps us healthy and alert. Also, you don’t rest on your laurels. We’ve sort of managed to get the balance right a lot of the time, not all the time but a lot. We enjoy all aspects of it and it keeps us on our toes.”
Looking back at punk and what it’s done for you and the Stranglers, it must have changed your whole life?
“That’s true. We entered unchartered territory a few years back because when we started we were just a few guys trying to make music together. You progress one rung at a time – you get your first record and we had a bit of success with that. You don’t expect it to last too long so you try and enjoy it while you can. But then forty years on, we’re still doing it. It’s unchartered territory because it didn’t say that on the packet. I think it said ‘Sell by date – three years from now’. There’s a perception that after your second album your band will start to go downhill. Why should bands go downhill then? There’s a weird perception in this country about rock music that after your third album you start coasting. But as a person you develop more insight as you get older so surely if you can transfer that into your musical output, surely it’s even more valued?”
What’s been the most extravagant thing you’ve ever bought yourself, if I may ask?
“Funny story. Three or four years ago I was offered a V12 Aston Martin convertible at a pretty good price. It wasn’t brand new but there weren’t many miles on the clock and it was a V12 Aston Martin. I thought, ‘great! I can have this.’ I’ve always wanted a fancy car, I can be the rockstar in the fancy car instead of riding on motorcycles all day. But then I thought, ‘well hold on, problem is I do prefer riding on motorcycles around London, it’s a much better way to get around. So where would I be able to drive it? Also, there’s the paranoia that someone scratches it and you’ve got three grand’s worth of work to do. I don’t have a garage.’ All that paranoia. So I phoned my mum up and said, ‘mum, can I leave it in the south of France? It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.’ That’s where she lived and pose up and down the coast and impress the girls. She said to me, ‘son, firstly, it’s extravagant and secondly, it’s for the man who has everything, and you ain’t’. (Laughs). So she put me back in my place and I didn’t get it.”