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JJ BURNEL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Dominic Pilgrim

Location: in a pub in West London, 18th January 2006. 

  • Norfolk Coast, how did it do?

It did very well. In both commercial and critical terms, which is very rare for The Stranglers. We either get critical or commercial but never both.

  • It was global as well, wasnít it?

Yeah. The only place we didnít release it was the States. The offers we got from The States, in terms of releasing and touring, were insufficient. And it takes an awful lot into get into America now. I wonít go there just to spend three months farting about. Frankly I donít see the point. Iím not desperate to break the States.

  • How about sales, what were they like? Compared with the other recent albums?

They were about, in percentage terms, 3,000 percent greater than the last album.

  • How about compared with In The Night?

Yep. Better than that. Much so. Itís the best of the new line ups.

  • Do you put that down to the critical acclaim, or better songs, or what?

I think itís an element of three things: John Ellis isnít in the band any more; the album is probably closer to what people wanted from the Stranglers; and also the material is good. Itís taken a bit longer, but the material is quite eclectic and quirky and still out there.

  • Is Bazís contribution a big factor in that?

I think so, but youíve got your ear closer to the fans, the hardcore fans, the ones that have progressed with us -- not just the ones that have grown old with us. The ones who have seen the evolution, and who donít just whitewash us -- the ones who are also critical in their own way. I mean I think youíd be able to tell me better. I think some people were quite unsympathetic to John Ellis.

  • Do you mean in terms of the writing, the playing or the dynamic?

Itís a combination of things. The dynamics. The way people perceive somebody. Baz is so likeable. And he looks like he should be in the Stranglers.

  • True. When Baz came into the band there was a general reaction of ďwow, this is more like itĒ

Why? Because they didnít like John Ellis?

  • Well, I think itís fair to say there is a divide among the fans on John Ellis. The way he played and the way he embellished a lot of the solos. A lot of fans didnít like that. But Baz plays the same guitar as Hugh; is truer to the original. He doesnít try to prove what he can do.

Yeah. Youíre right. He treats the older songs that he wasnít involved with like classical music. He respects their arrangement, so to speak. He respects them note for note, like maybe they should be. He doesnít interpret them. I think a lot of our songs have taken on the element of classical pieces in a way, and people donít want them to be fucked about with too much. You can change the mood of a song, sure, but you canít go rewriting whole parts, not unless you originated it in the first place.

  • Why did you part company with John Ellis?

I think thatís been well documented.

  • Not reallyÖ

No?

  • I donít think the whole story has gone down on record as such.

ErÖ well Ö Letís just say, we were going to Kosovo, and John felt that he should, maybe, be remunerated a bit more -- for going to a danger zone. So, basically, we had a disagreement.

  • And you needed a new guitarist.

Yeah, we recruited Baz. He was the obvious choice. He did his first gig in Pristina Ö about ten days later. His band Small Town Heroes had supported us, so I knew he could play all The Stranglers songs.

  • Going back to Norfolk Coast there were more positive vibes about Paul Robertsís contribution to the album.

Yes, I think Paulís singing was more disciplined than ever before and more focused. The results were better. Sometimes, less is more.

  • In a way he was the John Ellis of vocals.

A bit flowery at times. But he was much more disciplined on Norfolk Coast. It worked.

  • Live heís getting better reviews as well.

Well itís a happier band to be honest. We all get on well. Much better.

  • And the writing of the album. Did you do the majority?

Just about. Bazís writing has come on, I really enjoy his writing. And Paul chipped in with a song. And it all worked much. And weíre working the same way this time. For the new one.

  • Tell us about the new one. You say you culled most of the tracks last autumn.

About five or six have been killed but parts of one or two of them have been saved. There was one song called Camden Afternoon which Baz still likes, but needs a bit. Itís about the woman who got killed at Euston station. She was having a coffee and her bag got nicked, she chased the guys and she got hit by the car she was chasing, went on the bonnet and then they run her over.

  • Happy song then?

Yeah, itís about a couple of scum bags. Itís meant to be very sleazy. It didnít quite work out. But Baz is working on it because he believes in it butÖ Thereís another one and everyone likes the riff, but I must have been in fourth- or fifth-former lyric mode when I wrote it. Itís about George W Bush. And I always revert to fifth-former mode when I write about him. So we culled that, and a few others.

  • So where are you now?

Well, weíve got four songs fully recorded. Done. And Jetís drumming on one of them is fantastic.

  • So heís drumming then?

Well he drums and he uses machines, itís the modern way, he likes to do a synthesis of the two.

  • How often do you meet up at The Farm?

We meet up every week -- although, we havenít for a month. Weíre starting again this week. Cos some of us celebrate Christmas -- Jet doesnít.

  • How would you characterise the sound of the new songs compared with Norfolk Coast?

Quirkier and janglier. Jingly janglier.

  • One of the things the fans have been saying that would have made Norfolk Coast an absolute classic is the seven- or eight-minute, album-closing extravaganza.

Ah. The classic epic. I agree. 

  • Any chance of one for the new album?

Thereís a chance. Iím trying to work on one. Itís a bit of a challenge, getting disparate arrangements and connecting them together in one thing. I like that, Iíve always liked that.

  • The early albums all had one.

Well, you had had Sewer, Toiler On The Sea, School Mam.

  • Genetix.

Genetix, Hallow To Our Men, The Raven. Iím working on one, yeah.

  • Do they need more collaboration?

Well, theyíre all collaborations. And they still are. I mean I came up with all the parts for Down In The Sewer and Hugh wrote the lyrics, I came up with the parts for Toiler and Hugh wrote the lyrics, heís probably said this all in his book, Hallow to Our Men, same thing, although The Raven was all mine actually.

  • The song everyone wants back in the set.

Is that right? Maybe I should write the next song all by myself. Lyrics and parts. Easier said than done.

  • Raven part two?

[LOL] Well theyíre also good fun to play too.

  • Thatís what we miss, that tumultuous endingÖ

Yeah, itís a good idea. Iíd like to think I could come up with one, but I donít know until itís recorded. They developed over a period of time. Walk On By did, and with Down in The Sewer the last part of that arrangement came at another time. You need a bit of time to develop them really.

  • When is the DVD [of Shepherdís Bush Empire, 2005] out? Any idea?

No idea. I believe the audio is finished. Itís just the video editing to do, which can be a long process, with 12 cameras. It will have the semi-acoustic set, the movie, the gig and the 2,000 nutters who were there. It was good vibe, a good night.

  • Is there a 5.1 surround sound track or just Dolby 2.0?

You know, I donít know actually, I imagine it will be the best they can do.

  • Well if they have any trouble with the sound I could sort you out with a good copy.

There is a bit of cheating on the audio. Max Bisgrove is mixing the it. There are a couple of mistakes. Heís lifted a verse and replaced the mistake. Itís not honest, but I think after a while, without that it would become an irritation. Like a scratch on the record, you wouldnít want to hear that every time. You donít wanna hear crap gigs over and over.

  • So youíve filled in the bit on Goodbye Toulouse when you stopped playing then?

Yeah, I think theyíve done that.

  • So, the future then. Youíre hoping the next album will be better?

I hope so. Iím counting on it. Because Norfolk Coast set up a new benchmark for us and itís a standard Iíd like to maintain.

  • And touring?

Well, we were scheduled to finish the album last November. And we had made tentative plans to release in February, and we had tentatively started booking halls all over the place. Come November we only had two or three songs done.

  • In the old days you would have just released an EP.

[LOL] And also itís quite a physically hard thing to tour now, especially in view of Jet and youíve gotta respect that. So we never know when itís gonna be the last tour. Itís a worry with Jet really. Heís incredible for his age, and heís incredible full stop.

  • Heíll be 68 this year wonít he?

Is he that old? I canít believe heís carrying on. And heís still a rock n roller. Heís got a young girlfriend and he still contributes, and tours and travels and god knows what else he gets up to. Thereís no healthy living for him. But you just donít know how much the body can take. But he hasnít mentioned giving up and he loves playing.

  • If he stopped playing would you consider another drummer?

Iíve thought about it and I havenít come to any conclusions. Whether people would accept another drummer, I donít know. We have had loads of drummers. Jetís health has been an issue for ever. Mind you I might get taken out in a motorcycle accident so anything can happenÖ

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