INTERVIEW: The Stranglers (Part Two)

In part two of our interview with The Stranglers, Gigslutz discuss martial arts, a United States of Europe and life on other planets with bassist JJ Burnel.

How sick is Baz of the “new boy” tag? (Baz Warne joined as guitarist/co-writer in 2000 replacing John Ellis and following singer Paul Roberts’ departure in 2006, stepped up to provide an even greater input.)

One more year equals Hugh’s tenure. [Baz was/is] a great shot in the arm for The Stranglers. Fitted in perfectly, couldn’t have chosen- like God smiling on the band, we just bounce song ideas off each other all the time, it’s like the early days of Hugh, some of his songs are fantastic and his guitar playing is second to none. I’m very happy with the relationship.

Some fans still harp on about the ‘Cornwell Stranglers’.

Only a few people. I think it’s pretty obvious in the last few years, Hugh or Paul or John, we’re pulling more crowds now than we’ve ever done, so something’s right, and something feels right, it feels right for me and obviously for a lot of the paying public, people pay to come and see us. We have some, I don’t know what you’d call it, a form of communion with our audience, and it’s increasing at the moment so it’s not just old people who have grown up with us, a lot of people did give up on The Stranglers for years and they’re coming back. Something’s happening right.

How has practicing Shido -Kan influenced your philosophy/outlook after years of Kyokushinkai Karate?

Shido Kan means “the way of the Samurai”, the association of the samurai way. He’s (my Master) kept up the intensity of the training, it’s full contact when we fight, not much protection, there aren’t many rules, the fewer rules the more real you can get.

Allowing more room for free expression?

Exactly. It’s helped me no end, helped me physically, keeps my body from degenerating as it’s dying to do, and it also gives me a kind of balance. In the music business you don’t always know who’s your friend, you meet a lot of smart people, a lot of takers who vampire, there’s that sort of vampirism, who suck the energy out of you. It gives me a balance, it develops my senses, I still haven’t got any cynicism – or very little – and I should be much more cynical than I am. It cleans my soul, I don’t have too many negative thoughts, it refreshes me in a way nothing else can do. What I put into it is what I get out, which is not the case with other things in life. It keeps me physically and mentally quite alert.

It also helps with resilience. When you get down time and nothing works for you, it gives you a positive attitude. I never give up, the Japanese won’t allow you to give up, it’s really bad form to just give up on things, it gives me that extra edge, in a band with all the commercial pressures and stuff around you happens. I think it’s given the band a bit of strength.

Does Dave still hold a pilot’s licence?

No, he let it run out. Just as well for the whole of humanity.

Are you still covertly investigating Men in Black/ufology reports?

No, we purposely turned our back on it. Although I have a residual interest in it, I still say the jury’s completely out, they won’t find the missing link because I don’t think it’s on this planet. It’s a healthy scepticism, I’m not going to say one or the other, but I just believe it’s a mathematical impossibility that we are the only forms of intelligent life in the universe, let alone in our own image. I find it extraordinary that human beings can render themselves so stupid and blinkered as to literally interpret what’s been handed down to them for their own good, whether it’s the prophets or whatever you want to call it.
I don’t think we’re the only ones.

The minute we’re born we’re led to believe it’s either black or white, there’s one story that we are the creation of an omnipotent being or we came from this massive collision that kick-started it all. Got to be more than that?

We’re starting to get a bit more of a handle on how old the cosmos is. In mathematics if you’ve got one planet like Earth and you’ve got millions and millions of galaxies surely mathematically the sample has already changed, you’ve got a sample of one. It just doesn’t stand up to reason.

How much will Jet feature on new recordings?

He’s been rehearsing with us, but, he’s knackered after four or five songs, [he] wants to come to most of the shows on the tour and we’ll accommodate him as much as we can. Some stages can’t take two drum kits, but, most days we’ll have two drum kits on, and if he can be part of it for even ten minutes we’ll be happy. We have to play each day as it comes with Jet. In the studio it’s different, the luxury of time, you can be precise. His input is still quite considerable, intellectually. Physically, quite different, but, there are ways round that.

Drawbacks of ageing…

Yes, aging in a not brilliant way, he has kind of abused himself a bit and not balanced it out the other way. Physically he’s not always there, but, mentally he’s still a very important member of the band.

In 1979 JJ released The Euroman Cometh, an album thematically based around Europe. He presciently noted how regions such as Scotland would seek extraction from the biding strictures of centralised control (i.e. Westminster). Considering the outcome of that last year what are your thoughts on it now?

I think it’s an inexorable move and it will just carry on happening, especially since everything, even other parts of the UK, are fed up with Westminster-centric politics. The traditional parties, they’re on the turn, I really do think they don’t have any God-given right to have a monopoly on British politics indefinitely, do they? Before the Conservatives there were the Whigs and other parties. OK, they try to be broad-churches so they accommodate most opinions of a certain leaning.

In the wake of the accelerating Orwellian dystopia do you still believe in a European single state 36 years after Euroman Cometh? Fascist superstate or utopian dream?

The present model is not one I subscribe to and it does need reforming, it also needs to decelerate. I don’t know why they wanted to rush so many things when there is not one homogenous Europe yet, so they’ve created impositions that have put people off and it’s really not. Lot more division when they should have done the opposite. The European idea is a great idea, I think a United States of Europe would be a good thing if all the states were allowed to retain their local particulars and identities, it’s vitally important to people. I think it’s been rushed and created a whole hierarchy of technocrats and bureaucrats which are not responsible to anyone, which I don’t think is good. It’s not a democracy and it’s not transparent, at least if we could see exactly what was being done it would be something. It’s not serving the European ideal, the way it’s going at the moment.

I am still a believer in the ‘European’ ideal however I’m not a supporter of the powers that be of Brussels.

None of the parties at the moment seem to be for anything, they seem to be waiting for others to cock-up so they can go, “Aaaah!  We’re not going to do that.”

That’s exactly right, I think there’s no big ideas, there aren’t huge ideological ideas being fought out in politics or in the streets, it’s all little details “Yeah, I’ll tweak… we’ll spend a little bit more money on the NHS than you lot,” but it’s basically, there’s no big idea.
It’s not like in the ’30s, you had fascism and communism fighting in the streets and that polarised opinion throughout the world, and we don’t have that. The only big ideas we have now are Islamic extremism and so-called democracy.

On the album you also wrote of a “Europe riddled with American values is a diseased sycophantic whore…”

Nothing has changed has it! In fact that is probably more relevant than it has been for the last 30 years. Never mind the quality, feel the width!

Freddie Laker – modern day equivalent? Stelios, O’Leary?

Not quite. Stelios initially would have been, it was quite radical what he was doing and forced everyone else’s hand.

You’ve previously said about Freddie Laker (pioneer of “no-frills” airlines, democratising travel) that the Americans fucked him and it up.

They did. They did it with Concorde and now they doing it with chocolate as we speak. Hershey’s has asked the Americans to limit chocolate imports to the States, so there’s a bill going on and now the Brits are stashing Cadburys, there’s a black market. The Americans are doing it again! They talk about “free” markets and then as soon as they can’t compete with something they put up these protectionist walls.

How do you perceive the notion of a future now? Battersea resembles dystopia. How do you see it?

They’re building the wrong things aren’t they? They’re not building homes they’re building office blocks and malls. They’re not building things to help communities. It’s the new Babylon.

Why do you only use British products?

They are British but European, whether we like it or not we are European, we’re an island off the coast of Europe, millions of Brits who flourish and live round Europe, we all enjoy parts of Europe occasionally, even if it’s just for a week in the sun, or a weekend here and there. We seem to think the Americans are more our “friends” than the Europeans, it’s completely wrong. It’s an illusion and it’s a one-way traffic illusion.

I’m trying to encourage artisans I know or local people. I happen to think Triumph motorcycles are fantastic and I love them, I’ve tried others and I’m quite happy being a loyal customer to Triumph. I’m very happy to find Lucio can make me something I can enjoy playing and which I don’t have to rely on some people in America, I’m very happy that I’ve stuck with a little Kent manufacturer. Originally I didn’t get them because they were British, [I] got them because I like the product than as a result of them being British. I’m quite pleased with that and try to help them along in my modest capacity.

Ever considered another solo album using the Norman English pseudonym?

Look, for many years… I’m quite open about it now, but for many years I was quite embarrassed or ashamed of coming from French parents and I sorted all that problem out, but for a long time I was fighting. I was having punch-ups all the time and I went to a really good English school in the days where you got a grant, and it had pretensions and it was, I kind of actually enjoyed my schooling, but one thing I was reminded of time and time again was that I was a wog. I was from French parents. It took me years to resolve that.

That sense of being an outsider has infiltrated your work?

It probably has, but I wanted to be accepted for many years, then I thought “Fuck it! I am what I am.” It actually brings up another interesting subject in more general terms that if you look at the present generation/second generation immigrants, they’re not a lucky as me, because we integrated. There’s not much difference between a Norman/French or being English/Scottish, not much difference culturally, but I will say I don’t stand out. I don’t have a different colour skin, it was relatively easy for me not to stand out once I was an adult. Nevertheless some of the treatment I got stayed in my mind so I can’t imagine what a second-generation immigrant into the UL who doesn’t have cultural similarities or who has different coloured skin – I can’t quite understand how they would feel now.

I can understand partly why they are seeking an identity whether it’s IS, or extreme forms of another religion, I think they’re seeking an identity, they haven’t been assimilated. Also I have experienced, I had to go to Brussels to give a karate seminar and I went there and I think I’d say 95% of students were second generation Moroccans; they weren’t accepted by their communities in Belgium as being Brussels people, they weren’t accepted when they went to visit family in Morocco as fully Moroccan. They’d been tainted, so they were seeking an identity, even then this is going back 18 years now. I had a couple of guys who were giving me the evil eye and proffering copies of the Koran to me, I suddenly realised these people were seeking an identity, they’re not being accepted by the Belgian people, they’re not entirely accepted as Moroccan people, they’re in limbo.

Dislocated, struggling to get a grasp, leaves you more vulnerable and susceptible to manipulation?


Who would you most like to Karate chop?

*pauses* Vladimir Putin.

Kemper Boyd

The Stranglers are currently touring the globe. Tickets and dates available here. Gigslutz will be reviewing the Manchester date this week.