TO say that time has mellowed JJ Burnel would be an understatement.

The legendary Stranglers bassist, once famous for his violent outbursts and unruly behaviour, is still

selling out venues across the UK in record time, but nowadays he plays with a smile rather than a

snarl on his face.

JJ is in France when I call, gearing up for the next UK tour, which returns to the O2 Academy in

Bristol on March 19.

“It’s become a bit of a habit really, coming to the same venues at the same time of year. It’s a

necessity really!” laughs JJ.

“It’s good fun, and our chance to communicate with the people, our fans. It’s all about entertaining

people. It’s a kind of reciprocal arrangement between the artist and the audience. The material

hasn’t really dated and everyone still gets the same buzz.”

Last year marked the band’s ruby anniversary, “and we wanted to celebrate that, to make a point.

We wanted to make sure that we did at least one song from every album – even the ones that

bombed! It did mean that we couldn’t play too much off Giants [their most recent 2012 release], but

looking out across at the crowds they didn’t seem to mind. They were all still out there, bouncing up

and down and having a good time. It also gave us the chance to vary the stuff we play; recharge a


“We enjoy it. We all get on fabulously well and like to spend time playing around with new ideas but

rediscovering old stuff is all part of that, especially with Baz, who obviously wasn’t there first time


And despite, or perhaps because of, the passage of time, JJ is now more comfortable in his skin than

ever before.

“We were definitely a punk band to start with, but that was because it was all kicking off in the same

parts of London as we happened to be in and all our mates were in it. The trouble really started with

the American bicentenary celebrations in 1976 and The Ramones were chosen to represent the USA

while we were chosen to represent the UK. There was a bit of a fracas that night between us and a

couple of guys from the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The Clash… Let’s just say the others didn’t like

that, and the press were certainly not on our side!”

“It’s probably because we did everything wrong back in the beginning that we were allowed to

develop properly. We did the opposite of what the record companies wanted and were still more

successful than most of the other punk bands of the time. We saw it as a badge of honour. By 1978

we had already screwed things up with the BBC and were banned from every Student Union in the

UK. There was a lingering resentment but we didn’t really care.

“Golden Brown has become mainstream now but at the time we had to invoke clauses in our record

contract to get it released. The record company thought it would drown in the wave of Christmas

releases but the opposite happened. Then, when they wanted repeat success with the next single

we gave them a seven-minute epic – in French [La Folie].

“We have never been formulaic or showbizzy and people like it, because they don’t have to be

cynical. People see too much of that nowadays; perhaps it’s the natural reaction against the X-Factor


“We won’t be doing quite as many big shows this year, but that’s for no other reason than we want

to concentrate on a bit more writing and recording.”

The Stranglers may still gig like youngsters, but there is a dark cloud hanging over the band as

drummer Jet Black’s health problems continue to get worse.

“He’s not well, and hasn’t been for a long time,” agrees JJ, “but he is still very much part of our

make-up. He plays as much as he can, even if he does have to go on the oxygen when he comes off

stage! But he certainly still has an opinion and we respect that.”

The Stranglers play Bristol’s O2 Academy on March 19.