Still mean and moody - Jean Jacques-Burnel on Stranglers at Grassington Fest

Grassington Festival headliners The Stranglers.
Grassington Festival headliners The Stranglers.

Interview - The Stranglers’ bass player sounds like he is getting a little angry with me.

Perhaps he really is the same man as 40 years ago when his legendary punk era band was as well known for its various provocative stunts as much as hits like No More Heroes, Peaches, Always the Sun and Golden Brown?
I must confess I sort of hope so.
But it turns out Jean-Jacques Burnel, who’s just back from Australia and has “loads of things to do today," is simply annoyed I’ve dialled him on the wrong one of his two different phone numbers.
Still, this 64-year-old black belt in karate tells me he reckons Harrogate should be able to feel the shockwaves when the original 'Men in Black', who still include drummer Jet Black and keyboard player Dave Greenfield, appear at Grassington Festival on Friday, July 1.
And it's not just because of his famously abrasive but melodic barracuda bass sound, either.
“Our last three albums has seen a huge revival in our fortunes. We’ve been playing bigger and bigger gigs. When we started we thought we would have a limited shelf life. We’re in uncharted territory.”
It’s quite a while since The Stranglers last recorded with original singer Hugh Cornwall, 1990 to be precise.
Jean currently shares vocal duties with guitarist Baz Warne, which is something he did even at the peak of the band's hit-making run in the 1970s and 80s.
I ask Jean, who was born in Notting Hill to French parents and retains his brooding good looks and fondness for cool black shades, if the relationship with Baz was as good as it had been with Cornwall.
“If it wasn’t, he would be out of the band. In creative terms it’s similar to Hugh. We’ve been going so long we’ve become valid again. We’re now seen as legitimate artists.”
But was your behaviour as bad as the press made out in the late 1970s, a time when accusations of racism, sexism, and violence, event, were in the air.
Jean said: “We were confrontational and we did hold our ground. But it was the result of natural evolution rather than for the sake of a prank.
“Some people did hate us in our early days playing small venues. They’d either ignore us or throw bottles at us.”
First formed in 1974 as the Guildford Stranglers, this uncompromising band have managed to have the last laugh for more than four decades now, scoring 23 top 40 singles and 17 top 40 albums along the way.
I tell him that in the small Scottish town where I was brought up, all the kids loved his band as much as any of the ‘cooler’ punks for the simple reason they did great songs.
“The press didn’t give us the respect we deserved but we knew we were outselling The Clash and the Pistols. I’m enjoying my time in the sun now.”