The Stranglers: Giants

The Stranglers

Legendary Stranglers bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel can remember the exact moment his band split off from the pack.

“It was the American Bicentenary of their so-called independence from the UK,” he recalls,”and we were asked to represent London [at a commemorative concert]. The American band were The Ramones. That put a few noses out of joint, because of all the up-and-coming bands, we had been chosen.

“After the gig, I had a bit of a punch-up with the bass player from The Clash, Paul [Simonon]. He was drinking with a couple of The Sex Pistols. And it ended up handbags at ten paces, you know, in the courtyard. On one side of the courtyard were The Stranglers and a few friends, and on the other side of the courtyard were The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, The Clash and the press. That polarised things from then on.”

To this day, Burnel believes The Sex Pistols and The Clash disliked his band because it sold more records than theirs (“we were outselling them on every front,” he boasts), and because they were proud of that fact in a time when ‘selling out’ was considered a cardinal sin.

“It's just such a form of snobbery, isn't it?” Burnel sneers. “If you're getting involved in something, you want to be successful at it! But there was this inverted snobbery at the time, and there was quite a lot of bullshit. People hiding their middle class backgrounds, adopting accents which weren't natural to them... revising their CVs, you know? We didn't hide behind any bullshit.”

Burnel insists this isolation — this process of “separate evolution”, as he calls it — from other UK bands helped The Stranglers forge their own sound on tracks like ‘Golden Brown’, ‘No More Heroes’, ‘Peaches’ and ‘Always The Sun’, and encouraged them to stick together when their contemporaries split apart.

“If you have the will to continue, and you are not subjected to the inferences of your peers, and you're not following the herd, of course it's going to give you a different identity... you know, there are so many different directions you want to explore. There are so many different fruits you want to taste, if you have the inclination in the first place. You want to experiment, and you want to push yourself.

“When you love music, you don't become tribal. You try all kinds of stuff. A lot of times you fall flat on your face, but sometimes you hit the nail on the head... for instance, the record company didn’t want to release 'Golden Brown'. They said to us at the time, 'you can't dance to it, it doesn't sound punk-y, it's not The Stranglers'. And we said, 'fucking release it, you motherfuckers!

"We actually used lawyers and invoked a clause in our contract that forced them to release it. They agreed to release it just before Christmas, thinking it would drown in the tsunami of commercial releases just before Christmas, but it just kept going and going and going. It became a worldwide hit. So after that was a huge hit, and it became the most played record of that particular year, the record company — in their usual brilliance — said, 'can we have another one?' So they went from not wanting us to release it to wanting us to follow it up with the exact same kind of thing.”

Needless to say, the band didn’t acquiesce.

“We thought, 'fuck 'em', and we gave them a seven minute single in French,” Burnel laughs, “which was actually a hit in other countries, but not in the UK, and they were pissed off. We came to blows, metaphorically speaking, with the record company, and we ended up giving them another song they had turned down five years before. Like many other record companies, they'd turned us down at one point — we got turned down by 24 record companies, which is quite demoralising, when you're starting out.

“So we gave them a song they had actually turned down — they'd actually sent us the classic letter saying 'it's not for us, thank you very much' — and they released it and it was a hit! It was a song called 'Strange Little Girl'. So we'd managed to shake off any preconceptions about us as a band.

“'Strange Little Girl' and 'Golden Brown' and 'No More Heroes' are all in our pantheon of songs, and they're all completely different... we've gone up lots of different avenues. Some of them have been cul de sacs, but we've just come back down and gone 'round the roundabout again.”

The Stranglers are still on that roundabout — Giants, released earlier this year, was their most acclaimed album in decades — but they’re on it without founding member Hugh Cornwell, who left the group in 1990. A reunion is not on the cards.

“What would the point be?” Burnel asks. “Give me a reason! Money? We don't need it. Artistic necessity? I don't think so. We've moved on. One of the great disappointments of someone who's a music fan is when bands get together again for the wrong reasons. I don't know if you saw The Police a few years ago, but it was tangible that they hated each other. It was tangible on stage that they hated each other! The result was not very comfortable and not very pleasant. It just topped up their pension funds. We're not really into that.”

The remaining members of the band haven’t got an end game in mind. There will be no grand Stranglers farewell tour, no bitter bust-up. Time will simply take its toll eventually.

“I think it's called natural wastage,” Burnel says wryly. “We can't call ourselves The Stranglers if any more of us drop off. It wouldn't be credible anymore, it would just become a franchise. But the shelf life? We can still deliver, physically, on stage. That's been reflected this year. It's been our busiest year in over 30 years. We've played to really big numbers all over the place.

“(But) let's be realistic about this, we'll just die eventually. We know we're not going to fall out, because we would have fallen out years ago. We get on really well. I think we've had about 5 rows in 35 years, and we always kiss and make up.”

The Stranglers and Blondie and The Saints Tour Dates

Sat Dec 1 — Derwent Entertainment Centre (Hobart)
Mon Dec 3 — Sidney Myer Music Bowl (Melbourne)
Tue Dec 4 — Adelaide Entertainment Centre
Thu Dec 6 — Enmore Theatre (Sydney)
Mon Dec 10 — Townsville Entertainment Centre
Thu Dec 13 — Brisbane Riverstage

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