Published: 04/03/2016 09:46 - Updated: 07/03/2016 10:32

Stranglers in Black and White

Stranglers Inverness gig for 2014.
Stranglers Inverness gig for 2014.

by Margaret Chrystall

ONE of the big moments of last year’s Belladrum was The Stranglers’ main stage set – and bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel is remembering it with just a tiny regret.

"It was a case of coitus interruptus for us," he says.

Then explains: "Belladrum was fantastic. I rediscovered Martha Reeves and The Vandellas and was listening to them.

"But they over-ran their set and so ours was cut short by about 10 minutes.

"And the English have a word for it ..." says the man who is technically a Frenchman.

"Pissed off!"

But he’s laughing.

"We were all a bit disappointed.

"Nevertheless it was a wonderful settting and a great crowd.

"But pretty cold for me," says JJ who now lives most of the time in the south of France.

These days, with the loss of original frontman Hugh Cornwell and retiral of drummer Jet Black, the line-up includes JJ, Baz Warne on vocals and guitar, Dave Greenfield on keyboard and Jim MacAulay on drums.

"At Belladrum we were playing Peaches and Martha Reeves was right behind my bass stack dancing away and she turned to Baz our guitarist’s girlfriend and said ‘These guys really rock, do they have a CD?’."

JJ is laughing – The Stranglers have only been around for forty-odd years, after all.

And though technically they pre-date punk, they’ve a central place at the heart of its history.

But these punks were always something more, a little bit different – their sharp sense of humour and really being able to play their instruments, for two things.

Take the three bass notes JJ grinds out at the start of 1977 single Peaches – as signature a sound of punk that summer as Johnny Rotten’s nasal whine in God Save The Queen.

"They came from having witnessed a dub reggae evening in Acton," JJ laughs.

"Hugh and I had gone there to help with the PA and all these black guys were toasting, kind of pre-rap – talking streams of consciousness over rhythms – and the most dominant sounds were the bass and the drums.

Jean Jacques Burnel of The Stranglers. Picture: Callum Mackay
Jean Jacques Burnel of The Stranglers. Picture: Callum Mackay

"I just loved the space and pledged to copy it – and next day I came out with the Peaches intro which has now been voted the world’s most famous bass riff in Bassist magazine!" JJ laughs.

The band is reviving 1978’s Black & White album for their tour which stops off for its second date in Inverness on Friday (March 4).

Re-learning it is a learning curve, says JJ.

"It was the first album where we allowed ourselves to push our musical boundaries – our first two albums had been in the Top 10 in that first year, 1977.

"We wanted to experiment – and it turned out that we were given complete freedom to do that

"So why not?

"But the challenge is to replicate that more than 30 years later because we’re not the same people and we don’t play the same way any more."

The album is probably best-known for single Nice n Sleazy, but contains the song Death And Night And Blood (Yukio) taken from a line from Yukio Mishima’s novel Confessions Of A Mask. English jazz legend George Melly guests on Old Codger and the band’s cover of Bacharach and David classic Walk On By.

JJ and Baz Warne at Belladrum last year. Picture: Alison White
JJ and Baz Warne at Belladrum last year. Picture: Alison White

And weird time signatures ...

JJ laughs: "There’s one song for instance that suddenly goes from being in 4-4 time to 5-4 – what the hell was that?

"We also had something to prove because we weren’t getting as much attention as the Sex Pistols or The Clash, yet we were out-selling both of those put together.

"I think the only way we could do it – apart from come up with some japes – was to try to lay claim to new music.

"But it became a turning point for The Stranglers and a few journalists have said to me since that it was considered to be the first post-punk album.

"Rehearsing it, the first thing I thought was ‘What the f... was I on then?’

"It’s been a bit of a challenge to reinhabit the head space I inhabited 37/8 years ago."


The Stranglers play the Ironworks, Inverness, on Friday, March 4. Support will come from The Alarm.

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