Jean-Jacques Burnel on The Stranglers’ latest tour, the Guildford scene and his influences

The Stranglers live in 2016 - JJ Burnel is left of the picture (Photo by Warren Meadows)

The Stranglers live in 2016 - JJ Burnel is left of the picture (Photo by Warren Meadows) - Credit: Archant

Bassist and songwriter Jean-Jacques Burnel is a founder member of the band once known as The Guildford Stranglers. He speaks to Duncan Hall

Why is this called The Definitive Tour?

Everyone has been asking if this is the last Stranglers tour – over my dead body! It’s the tour which defines us, how we want to be defined.

Has it been tough to tour without Jet Black [The Stranglers’ original drummer] behind you?

Jet has been there since the beginning – but he always had health issues. Over the years it has got worse and worse – five or six years ago he had to be rushed to hospital before a soundcheck. He is a good deal older than the rest of us, and he’s been a very naughty rock and roll boy. We used to call him The Hoover…

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Wasn’t Jet the person who brought the band together?

He did and he kept us together. He supported us until he was completely broke. We drank his off licence [The Jackpot in Guildford] dry and he had to move into a squat! We travelled around in his ice cream van for three or four years – he’s an integral part of our story and still is. The off licence was at the bottom of Farnham Road near the bus station. Now it’s just offices. Our first ever gig was at The Star at the bottom of High Street.

What was the Guildford scene like at that time?

For us the scene was dead. We were desperately trying to get support slots at the university but they weren’t open to us. The salesmen at the local music shop used to look down their noses at us and laugh at our dirty jeans and torn leather jackets. We didn’t have the credible equipment that semi-pros used to have – but we were on a mission. We were filmed at the University of Surrey for a TV series Rock Goes to College, but that was in 1978 when we were famous and successful. After two numbers we smashed our gear up [the band was protesting over their fans not being allocated tickets. The show became notorious and was never broadcast]. We had built up a lot of resentment towards various people around Guildford. I went to school in Guildford so had a huge attachment there – my parents had a restaurant in Godalming.

Were there any musicians who influenced you at the time?

Godalming was where I had my rock education – there was a pub in the high street [The Angel], which should have a blue plaque on it. Bands like Free and Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac played there regularly. They hosted the Gin Mill Blues Club. As a 15-year-old, I wasn’t really allowed in the pub, but they sneaked me in. I used to go there every Sunday seeing all these bands.

What music do you listen to?

We are in the middle of recording and writing a new album so I’m listening to that more than anything else at the moment. When I get tired of listening to our new stuff, I play some Erik Satie or Astor Piazzolla, the inventor of the modern tango. On Giants [The Stranglers’ last album] we did a metal tango inspired by him.

What was the last film you saw?

I don’t go to cinemas at all any more because the last time I went I had a punch-up with people eating crisps. There was a whole family sat right behind me – I really wanted to listen to the movie and they were munching away.

What book are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just finished Conn Iggulden’s books about the War of the Roses – they are historical novels, and he’s really done his research. It’s been a real education. I love historical novels – you learn lots of things from being entertained.


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