The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

A Quietus Interview

Mr Dojo Rising: JJ Burnel Of The Stranglers Interviewed
Julian Marszalek , March 4th, 2014 05:20

Julian Marszalek looks beyond the ugliness, violence and 'intellectual thuggery' to find punk's genuine outsiders. Portraits by David Boni

Even after all this time, JJ Burnel possesses the ability to unnerve. It's shortly after 2pm on a rare sunny day in West London and Burnel, looking forward to his club sandwich, is discussing the karate class that he'll be holding that evening. Now a 6th dan black belt, Burnel is a practitioner of Shidokan karate.

What, wonders The Quietus, is the difference between Shidokan and the more traditional form of Shotokan karate?

“Shidokan is full contact karate,” explains Burnel. “There's no fucking about. I've seen blokes get knocked spark out.”

This of course should come as no surprise. Of all the bands that rode punk's seismic wave at the end of the 1970s, The Stranglers were the ones least likely to hold back. The most malevolent of that initial burst of furious, spitting energy that exploded as a reaction to the bloated monster that rock had become, The Stranglers polarised opinion in ways that none of their contemporaries did. Indeed, not only were The Stranglers derided by the press, they were also scorned by many of the bands who, not so long ago, had stood shoulder to shoulder with them.

Not that The Stranglers cared. Even by punk's own obnoxious standards, The Stranglers didn't just set the bar; they cleared it. Refusing to be spat at, the band would gleefully hurl beakers of piss from the stage onto unsuspecting perpetrators and their propensity for violence was unparalleled and one that went beyond the confines of the concert hall. Journalists with a low opinion of the band were subsequently slapped about, beaten up, kidnapped and, in one case, debagged and gaffer taped to the Eiffel Tower 300 feet above the ground.

Crucially, it was The Stranglers' musical sophistication set them well apart from the Class of '77 though. JJ Burnel's running and frequently leading basslines pre-dated Peter Hook's by several years while Dave Greenfield's nimble fingered and often arpeggiated keyboard runs floated in and over Hugh Cornwell's scratchy Telecaster and Jet Black's solid timekeeping. Far from the orthodoxy of the day that punk bands couldn't play their instruments, The Stranglers revelled in their musical ability and dexterity.

But what a strange collection of individuals they were. Singer-guitarist Hugh Cornwall, a biochemistry graduate, had previously played bass for Fairport Convention's Richard Thompson back in the 60s while Dave Greenfield sported a moustache and a bowl-headed hair do sharply at odds with the prevailing fashion of short and spiky locks. Burnel, a classically trained guitarist with a notoriously short fuse, was obsessed with karate and kept the company of biker gangs. Most bizarre of all was drummer Jet Black. A successful businessman with a fleet of ice cream vans and an off-license to his name, Black was in his late thirties by the time he joined the band and his musical pedigree included a stint drumming for Julie Andrews' mother back in the 50s.

Among the furore caused by accusations of boorish behaviour, sexism and violence, it's easy to forget just how funny The Stranglers could be. Theirs was a humour fuelled by the absurd, the grotesque and the surreal and one that was as black as the clothes they wore. Material such as Down In The Sewer' or 'Ugly' (She laced my coffee with acid/Normally I wouldn't have minded/But I'm allergic to sulphuric acid') still manages to induce a hearty guffaw despite the passing of time.

Yet by the time of their third album, Black And White, The Stranglers had moved on to darker themes and subject matter. The rise of fascism was tackled with 'Curfew' while elsewhere the concerns of nuclear fallout formed the basis of 'Enough Time' and 'Death And Night And Blood (Yukio)' was an ode to gay samurai author, poet and playwright Yukio Mishima. Its follow-up, The Raven, saw The Stranglers expanding both their musical prowess and subject matter that included the Iranian Islamic revolution, genetic engineering and heroin addiction. It also found The Stranglers first dealing with the idea of the Men In Black, aliens from another world who control the actions and fate of the human race. Factor in drugs, an unhealthy interest in Nostradamus, the occult and the apocalypse and The Stranglers were on the verge of collapse.

It's important to remember that during that heady period of 1977 – 82, The Stranglers notched up more hit singles and albums than the bands they'd run with. Given the quality of the material and the band's relentless tour schedule that picked up an ever-growing groundswell of support, this is hardly surprising; The Stranglers were always a band for the suburbs and areas beyond the vagaries of metropolitan fashions.

Despite the departure of Hugh Cornwell in 1990, The Stranglers carried on as a quintet before settling back into their four-piece line-up with Baz Warne taking singing and six-string duties. Their last few releases, most notably Suite XVI and Giants, found the band getting backing into their stride whilst garnering a new generation of followers.

Celebrating their 40th year in existence, The Stranglers are about to undertake their ruby anniversary tour. Now aged 62, JJ Burnel is no less an imposing figure than the one that broke out of Guildford but his temperament is considered, intelligent and funny as he tells The Quietus of the band's turbulent history…

A lot of Stranglers music concerns itself with themes of travel and voyages. How do you view the voyage The Stranglers have made these last 40 years?

JJ Burnel: Obviously, I can't be completely detached from it but if I were an observer, I'd be, 'What the fuck?' And for a band who've done all the wrong things we've survived all of our contemporaries and sold – what? – 40 or 50 million albums. Really, I think, how the fuck did that happen, because we did all the wrong things: we didn't bother too much with America but we're the biggest selling live act in the UK. SJM, who are one of the top promoters, said that we were the best-selling band last year.

I think there are a few reasons for our success. I suspect that one of the reasons is that when you start a band you start as equals and mates and then the balance changes with a lot of these bands because one person is the songwriter so then when the money starts to come in there's an imbalance. The dynamic changes and you're not all equal and so the attention and the focus changes. I know some very bitter musicians from some very well known bands who didn't get the royalties. When you're successful there's enough there to share and when you fail you share in the failure. Surely there must be a smarter way of doing things so that's one thing that we avoided.

And the other thing we avoided was selling our souls to the American market. We started doing quite well there playing to 5,000 people a night and I couldn't stand it. The longest we did in America was three months and we used to go once or twice a year and it was doing my head in. I just didn't like it very much. I missed my girlfriend and one time I came back from three months in America and it took six months to lose all the weight I put on!

Then I was looking at bands like The Clash and U2 and The Police who'd be there for nine months in order to crack it – because that's what you need to do and once you've cracked the States you've got your pension sorted – and I'd see them in their cowboy hats and cowboy boots and I thought, that's not where I'm fucking from! That's not what I'm about!

Another reason [I didn't bother with America] was meeting Marc Bolan. Our PR guy, the legendary Keith Altham, introduced me to him and he said, 'Do you know the worst thing I ever did? It was going to Los Angeles.' And he was right. The first time I went to Los Angeles I hated it. The people there are only interested in success and money and it was just completely alien to me. I couldn't wait to get back. In fact, one time, I was so adamant about getting back quicker I made a point of insisting that the record company flew me back on Concorde. So when I said to Dave, Jet and Hugh, Yeah, it only took me three-and-a-half hours to get back and I drank champagne all the way' and they said, 'Well, we drank champagne for seven hours so fuck you!'

How did that voyage begin?

JJB: By accident, really. I was earning about £24 a week which was enough to pay for my bedsit in Guildford and to save a fiver a week towards my ambition. I had a letter of introduction from my karate teacher to go to Japan and that's what I wanted to do. I had this van-driving job and one day, coming back from karate, I gave a lift to some long-haired guy and he turned out to be an American guy who'd come over from Sweden with a band; he was a Vietnam draft dodger and the band had come over to seek their fortune and they ended up living in Guildford above an off-license owned by a fella called Brian Duffy who then went on to be Jet Black.

So I drove him to this off-license in Guildford and he said, 'Thanks for the lift and come on up for a beer and meet the rest of the guys.' So I went upstairs and there's Hugh, there was Jet and a Swedish guy who was the bass player. I then went home and didn't think any more of it and a couple of weeks later there was a knock on my door and it's Hugh looking quite disconsolate. I must have given him my address but I don't remember doing it so I said, 'Come in' and he goes, 'My band has all fucked off. They've gone back to Sweden.' So he came in, saw my guitars and he saw my songbook so I sang him a song called 'Go Buddy Go' which I'd written when I was 15. And he said, 'Look, I've got a bass guitar because the Swedish guy has fucked off and left it. Do you want to play with us? I've got a drummer.' And I said, 'Well, alright, but you've got to realise that I'll play with you for the craic but I'm going to Japan in six months' time.' As it turned out, every six months I gave it another six months and things started to get interesting.

Things started to build up around the end of '75. We started getting a few people interested in us like the guys at [North London music pub] The Hope And Anchor. They'd have bands in every night apart from Sundays but they decided to open up on Sunday nights as our residency. The first time we played on a Sunday night I remember there was no one there and we heard some footsteps come down the stairs and this guy took a seat in this empty cellar and we played our set to him. The following week he came down with a dozen people and it picked up from there.

This was around the end of the pub rock explosion and we benefited from that; it was a brilliant school to learn at. I look at some of the lists of people who'd played at The Hope And Anchor and in one week there'd be Dire Straits, Dr Feelgood, Ian Dury and Shakin' Stevens so it was all a really good education for a band.

And then in '76 we played about 190 gigs. We had management who ran the Nashville Rooms, which is now the famous Three Kings pub, and so we also had a residency at the Red Cow in Hammersmith as well as The Hope And Anchor so we had at least three gigs a week. We started to build up on that and so we ended up being the first British band to support Patti Smith and then the first British band ever to support The Ramones. We represented London and they came over representing New York so things picked up.

Did you feel at the time that there was a change in the air?

JJB: Mmm. Oh, definitely. We felt a change in the air when Hugh and I went to see Dr Feelgood in Guildford and my jaw dropped! It wasn't very sophisticated music but fuck me, it really threw a punch! We realised that this is what rock & roll should be. Not like all these long-haired guys with loads of pedals and who were up their own arses. But there was definitely a change because things were quirkier, not just stuff like country rock.

I then realised that something was happening because one day, Dai Davis, who was our manager at the time and he'd co-managed New York Dolls with Malcolm McLaren, said to us after one of our Red Cow gigs, 'There's some people here who want to meet you and they're managed by Malcolm McLaren' and it was Steve Jones and Paul Cook from The Sex Pistols. The first thing Steve said to me was, 'I like your haircut' and then he said, 'We're going to famous in a few months' time.' And they were accompanied by a girl called Chrissie Hynde who said, 'You need a new lead singer' and I thought, 'We don't even need any roadies at the moment!'

But the demographic started to change. The people who came to see us had shorter hair and were wearing more leather jackets. We were the obvious candidates to support Patti Smith. I remember Joe Strummer was hanging out with us for a bit when he was in a band called The 101ers and they gave us a few gigs at the Elgin when they were moving up to the college circuit and I remember him crying on my shoulder one time when he was really pissed. He said, 'I wish I had a band like yours!'

Despite The Stranglers being the first British band to support both The Ramones and Patti Smith and hanging out with members of The Sex Pistols and The Clash, the band was viewed with suspicion and derision within the burgeoning punk movement and the press. Why?

JJB: Initially there wasn't. It was later on. It was actually after a Ramones gig one night; they did two gigs – one at the Roundhouse and one at Dingwalls and in those days I didn't drink. So after the Dingwalls gig someone poured some wine down my gullet and we were walking out in single file and passed Steve and Paul from the Pistols and also Paul Simonon from The Clash. Simonon, in those days, had a bit of nervous tic where he was gobbing everywhere and he did it just as I walked past so I thumped him.

Of course there was a bundle and Steve and Paul are having their pints knocked about so Paul [Cook] attacked me and we were thrown out by the bouncers into the courtyard there and it was The Stranglers and friends on one side and The Sex Pistols, Ramones and The Clash and press on the other side and after that it polarised opinion. Although we were playing all the gigs, the Pistols and The Clash had the clothes and the look so they were the ones going on the front covers and we were the ones going out of London. We were seen as representing the punk thing and of course we bore the brunt of the anti-punk thing.

Plus there was the fact that Hugh and I had admitted that we'd been at university and unlike a lot of people we admitted to smoking dope. All the other bands were saying, 'No! There's no drugs involved!' and that was a lot of bullshit.

There was an incredible amount of violence surrounding The Stranglers at the time. Was this the result of a siege mentality?

JJB: Yeah. When we started getting ostracised by all the people we thought were our mates, the press started taking sides and started to slag us off. Of course, when our first album, Rattus Norvegicus, came out, we outsold everyone and they were really cheesed off. So we'd start hearing things like, 'They use keyboards so they can't be a part of this and they're using synthesizers so they're definitely not a part of this new thing' and that kind of stuck. But it was good for us because it meant that we didn't have to subscribe to any new orthodoxies or new forms of fundamentalism and we could do what we want.

Sterling Morrison from The Velvet Underground said something to the effect that once they realized that they'd be ignored by the mass media they could do what they wanted. Was this a philosophy adopted by The Stranglers?

JJB: We just allowed ourselves to follow our musical noses. We weren't straightjacketed by expectations. I remember on the first album there's a 6/8 waltz on it and there's stuff that's prog rock, really, like 'Down In The Sewer' and it was full of everything that inspired us in the first place. When you're a young band, your first album usually reflects your obvious influences and you find your own identity later on.

It's quite strange how The Stranglers seem to have been written out of punk history. I was looking through Jon Savage's England's Dreaming and the only mentions of The Stranglers are those of just a footnote…

JJB: Well you know what happened with Jon Savage, don't you?

You punched him, didn't you?

JJB: I sort of slapped him about a bit and ever since he's been re-writing history. Of course, whenever they want to bring out a consultant on that period they wheel him out. He's made a professional career out of being an expert on all that. TV, books, whatever, we've been written out of it but that's OK. It bothered me at the time but does it bother me now? Not really. I mean, who's the last man standing, you know? We are. And perceptions change big time. The last 10 years our demographic has changed considerably; we're attracting a lot of teenagers and much younger people because to them, all that stuff are badges of honour: they've had spats with the press, they've tied journalists up – fantastic! No one does that any more! No one commits commercial suicide any more and they all play safe so yeah, it's become a bit of a badge of honour, I think.

There's a lot of humour in The Stranglers' music and a huge sense of the absurd. Did it annoy you that this aspect of the band was overlooked or misinterpreted?

JJB: A lot of people just didn't get it. We were intentionally being humorous and ironic but a lot of people seemed to have lost their sense of humour around then. They just took themselves so seriously. People believe what they want to believe and they'll be shocked if they want to be shocked. For instance, in '77 we had a single called Peaches' which was fucking banned by Rough Trade because apparently it was sexist. It was the first time I'd encountered political correctness. They wouldn't stock our record and said that we were sexist and …ist this and …ist that. It was putting ourselves into character and that character was a bloke looking at birds. It was observational. Loads of our stuff is observational.

I remember a few years ago we did the 30th anniversary of the release of Rattus Norvegicus and we played at the Roundhouse and did the same set that we did 30 years previously and the people from The Independent or The Guardian came along and said something like, ''I Feel Like A Wog' makes me feel more uncomfortable now than it did 30 years ago.'

From where I'm sitting, it still is an uncomfortable listen. I can see where you're coming from but it's the fact that you've got a white person using that word…

JJB: I've been called a wog. Lots of white people have used that against me all my life. My parents were French and the English used to call me a wog: 'You fucking wog!' Because 'wogs begin at Calais', apparently. That was the expression. So to me, it's a word of abuse against me.

Do you regret the Battersea park gig? What was the thinking behind getting strippers to perform on stage with you?

JJB: By the time we played Battersea Park, 'No More Heroes' had been Top 10 and we'd been accused of being sexist. My girlfriend at the time lived in Acton with her sister and a girl called Linda who was a stripper. They came to my defence. Linda was a professional stripper and she said, 'Can I strip to your song 'Nice And Sleazy'?' so we said, 'Yeah' and she did it in Brighton. As the furore around the sexism accusation increased, she said, 'I've got quite a few girls who'd love to strip at this Battersea show you're going to do.' And my girlfriend's sister, who was 16 at the time, she wasn't a stripper but she said, 'I want to show who is empowered here' so she volunteered. So we had a line-up of four professional strip girls and Jane, my girlfriend's sister. So it was their decision to do it and then of course we got accused of exploiting them!

Rattus Norvegicus, No More Heroes and Black & White were released within a 13-month period. Did you feel as if you were playing against the clock or was it a creative explosion?

JJB: It was a mixture of the two. I mean, the material for the first two albums we had before we recorded Rattus… We'd been writing and playing for three years before then and you do accumulate material. It was quite arbitrary what was going to be left off Rattus… and then suddenly you went from being quite impoverished to having as much time as you needed in the rehearsal studio so yeah, the creative juices were flowing. Black & White was the first album we did from scratch.

And then we started traveling and going abroad and that fuels the creative juices as well. We started having situations abroad and seeing things and it worked.

The Stranglers notched up more hit singles than any of their contemporaries at the time. To what do you attribute this?

JJB: Well, I think there was a bit of snobbery from some of the bands who didn't want to appear on Top Of The Pops. We'd grown up with that show so that was what we were aiming for. We certainly didn't have any of that middle-class, university snobbery about being on Top Of The Pops that some of the others did. One day people will say, 'Hold on! The Stranglers were the most talented of the lot and they had the best singles.' And we played more than anybody else and that built up a really solid fanbase, I think. It wasn't about getting the cover of NME or Melody Maker because we never got that anyway. It was meant for the people and so when you brought out a record they were more loyal.

Your singles always had an undercurrent of nastiness and ugliness about them and it was almost like a form of intellectual thuggery…

JJB: Yeah, I can buy into that. And? I mean, what's the problem with intellectualism and thuggery? I think the appeal of that is that it's a bit unusual in the UK and here they don't like their thugs to be intellectual as well. Here they think that rock and roll bands should be noble savages or nihilistic or self-destructive but not all those things; it's got to be one or the other. So if you're intellectual you're an art-school band and if you're a thug then you're in a rock band but when you combine the two it's a bit unusual.

The period leading up to The Raven found the band experimenting with heroin. What was the hypothesis?

JJB: We sort of got into it by accident and very quickly it became the driving force. Initially we though, right, let's take it for a year and see what happens. How naïve can you be? But our saving grace was that Jet and Dave gave up after a week and thought, fuck this for a game of soldiers. But Hugh and I never fixed it; we never shot up. At the end of it we did an album called The Gospel According To The Meninblack which was kind of weird but I like it. And that was nearly the end of us and few months later we decided to do another album which was La Folie.

By this time the record company had changed because United Artists had been taken over by EMI and Andrew Lauder, who'd been our mentor and who'd signed us and Buzzcocks and all sorts of bands had left and started Radar Records which released then released stuff by Elvis Costello and he then eventually set up Silvertone. When we released …Meninblack, the people left at the record company didn't know what to fucking think and were secretly pleased that it had bombed so we said, 'Right, we'll fuck them right off' and insisted they released 'Golden Brown' which they really didn't want to do. They did not want to release it. They said, 'You can't dance to it and it doesn't sound like The Stranglers' so we evoked a clause in our contract and they had to release it. They released it just before Christmas hoping that it'd drown in the tsunami of Christmas releases but it just grew and grew and became a worldwide hit.

So they asked for another 'Golden Brown' so of course we gave them a seven-minute single in French called 'La Folie' and thought, suck on that!

'Golden Brown' was the band's biggest hit and is now a radio staple yet it's about heroin and darkness. Do you think people like to be seduced by darkness?

JJB: The lyrics don't glorify smack. I think they can be taken any way you want, you know? Everyone knows what it's about but I think it's a multi-faceted song. 'Don't Bring Harry' is an anti-smack song. Smack didn't work for the band or physically. I thought, fuck that, I'm going to give it up. I did and Hugh had to give it up because he went to prison.

1980 was a bad year for The Stranglers. Hugh was arrested for drug possession, lost his appeal and was sentenced to eight weeks in Pentonville prison. Then the whole band was banged up after a gig in Nice descended into a riot…

JJB: And all our equipment was stolen in America: Dave's Hammond organ was nicked, my guitar, Hugh's guitar, everything! And we weren't even insured and we didn't know that. The manager had forgotten' to pay the insurance. The cheapskate.

Did it feel as if things were spinning out of control?

JJB: Yeah, definitely. But what do you do? You run away or you face things and deal with them. By then, though, we had such a siege mentality that it was us against the world so as a band we stuck together. There wasn't any in-fighting; we just stuck together.

Speaking of control, The Gospel According To The Meninblack is an album concerned with religion and its possible link with extra-terrestrial beings who control the world. Was this a genuine belief on your part or was this a metaphor?

JJB: No, it wasn't a metaphor, it was an actual belief. I'm open to suggestions but no one has disproved the theory yet that we might be from some external influence. They still haven't found the missing link and they probably won't. And if you look at world religions gods are very human, aren't they? All these ancient religions like Greek, Norse and North American all see gods not as we see God and they're very human with the same frailties where they fight amongst themselves and that's very interesting. And then you mix in Erich Von Däniken's theories and conspiracy theories and universal enigmas and we came up with …Themeninblack. Why not?

You followed that up with La Folie very quickly. Was that a reaction to the poor response that …Themeninblack received?

JJB: Yeah, I think so. Funnily enough, the only place it was highly rated was America! They thought it was a work of genius. Which of course it was but no one else saw it that way!

So many of your contemporaries were gone by the 80s. How and why did you manage to outlive them?

JJB: A lot reasons: money, a lack of success or too much success and the frailties that come with it and that's what happened to Hugh eventually. He succumbed by surrounding himself by too many people who don't tell you the truth and then you don't like it when people do tell you the truth and that's not helpful. It's very unhealthy. Drugs and, dare I say, a lack of talent. And a lot of these bands didn't have the group ethos and also, going to America; that'll kill bands. That'll kill British bands, trying to crack America. That's just a no-no.

Hugh wanted to crack America but I couldn't be arsed. It just wasn't my scene. And I suppose that's why we're still around!

Why did Hugh leave the band and how much of a blow was it to The Stranglers?

JJB: Part of the reason was that he suddenly started to want to have success at any rate and at any price. So he suddenly got himself a stylist, he got his own lawyer, started going to the Groucho club and mixing with those Saturday night people and then he got himself a casting agent. Just what the world needs really – another singer who thinks he can act. He loved all that and started going out with models and you could see a pattern emerging. He was listening to the call of the sirens.

Also, we started not getting on so well, probably because of those reasons. So then I got my own studio and he got his own studio so instead of collaborating and spending time with each other and having fun and coming up with these crazy songs, we started offering our demos to the band separately. And then he wanted to do solo stuff and then one thing led to another so he gives me a call – I beat him up once but that should've been forgotten – because he had things on his mind. He had all these opportunities – he even did a play with Bob Hoskins. I think he thought, yeah, that's where my future lies.

I remember the last year we were together, we were all rehearsing and then one of the crew brought in a copy of the magazine Cosmopolitan with Hugh in it. And it was so funny because when he came in to the rehearsal room it was really difficult not to say anything. This feature kind of started off, 'After a hard week in London, Hugh likes to drive his white Range Rover down the M4 down to his little country pile. Here he his wearing a jumper from Moschino and shoes from blah blah and here he's wearing…' and it was like, 'Fuck! This is funny but a bit embarrassing as well.' It was like four pages of him modelling jumpers and stuff. He wanted all that.

How easy a decision was it to carry on being The Stranglers after he left? You were one of those bands that were very clearly defined by those four players…

JJB: Yeah, that's what I thought; I thought it was the end, too, but Jet and Dave refused. They said, 'Fuck him! You've written most of the next album anyway. Let's do it.' It was a bit rough for the first few years after Hugh left and it's only really in the last 15 years since Baz joined the band and we became a four-piece again that something's clicked. Not only with us but also with the public. The audiences have come back and a whole new audience has been made. We trod water for quite a few years, yeah.

You're right about the audiences coming back. I remember the size of the crowd at your Glastonbury set in 2010…

JJB: Wasn't that a beautiful day? We had a whale of a time! And then we found out we were regarded as one of the top three bands of that weekend and that we had a bigger crowd than U2! Which was great because we'd never been allowed to play Glastonbury.

For that gig, we begged them to let us play because they've got long memories there. We declined them back in the 80s and the reason we declined them – and I hasten to add this because no one likes a smart-arse and we were exceptionally smart – was that when I was a student all my generation of students were complete left-wing Trotskyite middle-class revolutionaries and I was always suspicious of unilateralism. You know, a peace movement that says, 'We'll give up our nuclear weapons and you can keep yours.' In other words, the West will disarm and the Russians will maintain theirs. That's unilateralism, not multilateralism. And that never made sense to me.

I was convinced there was something behind it so we declined to do Glastonbury then because it was involved in CND; that was the point. We said, 'We don't really want to be associated with CND.' Not because I'm a war-mongering nuclear psychopath; I just felt there was something suspicious about it. Then there were hints about [former CND chair] Monsignor Bruce Kent who was somewhat dodgy and then Glasnost arrived and sure enough – all of the pacifist, unilateral peace movements in the West had been financed by Moscow. It's been proven. Absolutely. They were financing all the peace movements in the West. I felt vindicated by the fact that Michael Eavis still remembered!

How much longer can The Stranglers continue?

JJB: Not long. It's down to Jet, really. He doesn't play with us most of the time anymore. When he played at Glastonbury, that was 50 minutes and he was on oxygen at the end of it. Three weeks ago when we rehearsed with him, his left arm was paralysed and it's been quite a few years since he's played the full gig. We've had a couple of his little dauphins and protégés play in place. We're hoping that this time round he'll play five or six songs but he can't do more than that. Even on something like Golden Brown' he's on oxygen afterwards.

He's going to be 76 this year and he's got heart problems and he was on life support two summers ago for two months. He's got lung problems and diabetes which I'm sure will explain why he'd suddenly become violent in the old days and in restaurants as well. If his sugar levels dropped he'd destroy the place and get us escorted out of the country. He's a health hazard, poor Jet. You know, in the 80s his nickname was 'Hoover' and I think the chickens are coming home to roost.

But he wants to do those few numbers on the tour. He's sort of our totem – so long as we know he's backstage or there with us. When he can longer contribute – and I don't think that's long – then there will be no more Stranglers.

Any regrets?

JJB: Well, I've a few regrets but nothing fundamental. I probably would've beaten up a few less people; I feel bad about that.

The Stranglers are on an extensive tour of the UK for the rest of the month. The 11CD box set Giant & Gems: An Anniversary Collection is released on Parlophone on March 23