March is one of the best months of the year, for not only is it the beginning of Spring, but it’s the month of the now traditional annual UK tour by The Stranglers; and for that reason alone, the title of the tour ‘The Stranglers March On’ is particularly apt.
Speaking from a French villa where he is rehearsing for the tour with guitarist and singer Baz Warne, bassist and founder member Jean Jacques Burnel is happy with the way things are in the band.
“Yeah, we’re in a good place at the moment. All our detractors have died or have given up the ghost. We are now getting respect and are really enjoying playing live. (He laughs) We certainly have lots of material.”
And that respect is certainly due. Since they formed 41 years ago, the band have never stopped touring and recording and they have produced classic hits like ‘Golden Brown’, ‘Peaches’, ‘Duchess’ and ‘Five Minutes’.
“We’re a successful band but not commercial – we’ve always been true to ourselves.”
JJ, along with keyboard player Dave Greenfield and drummer Jet Black, have been together since 1975 (Dave was the last to join the band), and Baz has been with them for almost as long as original singer-guitarist Hugh Cornwell.
“Our only concern really is Jet,” laments the bassist, who turned 63 in February.
Jet will be 77 this year and has been having health problems for a number of years; he no longer tours abroad with the band and his UK appearances are limited to a couple of songs at selected shows.
“He wants to keep drumming,” says JJ, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
“We take it on a day to day basis and we count our blessings if he does just one song.”
But the band has a substitute drummer in Jim Macauly.
“Jim’s great,” JJ enthuses.
“Jet has been mentoring him and he has been accepted by the fans – and overall we’ve had seven drummers in total standing in for Jet over the years.”
Conflicting reports have stated that once Jet retires from the band, The Stranglers would also end. JJ has a diplomatic – and hopeful – answer.
“Well, it’s not a problem yet as Jet is still very much involved in the band, he still records and is very active behind the scenes.
“But my take is that when Jet is completely out of the band we would finish, but Jet himself would like it to continue. As I said, he’s mentoring Jim and is trying to convince me to carry on.
“I remain to be persuaded though.”
Last year, the band celebrated their 40th anniversary with a massive UK tour and a concert at the Olympia in Paris that was filmed for DVD (and although Jet didn’t play at the Paris show), there are four tracks on the DVD from the gig in Manchester which Jet did play on.
“I really enjoyed the Ruby tour,” says JJ.
“We managed to do at least one piece from every one of our seventeen studio albums; not only that but we beat all our attendance records at every show,” he adds with a hint of pride.
“And the Olympia show I personally think is the best filmed concert of The Stranglers ever. Everything was spot on and it captured the production perfectly.”
And what can we expect this time?
“A few surprises,” he says with a grin.
“We are playing a few songs we haven’t done in ages and I’m having to relearn stuff I haven’t played in over 30 years – that’s what I’m doing at the moment with Baz.”
And will there be any new material?
“Well, I’ve got about 125 ideas for riffs and melodies, plus Baz has a lot too and we’ve played a few things, but I don’t want to be distracted from preparing for this tour.
“We’ll be concentrating on producing intelligent songs and will start the recording process in earnest once we return from Moscow.”
Oh yes, the band have been invited to play in the Russian capital.
“Yeah, we haven’t played there for 16 or 17 years – before Baz joined in fact and there’s been many changes over there since.”
But before then, the focus is on the UK tour.
“That’s right, it’s become a very pleasant habit for us every spring. We have an audience and each show is a kind of communion.
“We’re not selling anything.We are musicians and we love to play and we’re just having a bloody good time.”
The Stranglers will be bringing their March On tour to the Leeds O2 Academy on Tuesday, March 17. Tickets are available from the box office and all the usual agencies.
Oh, and Jet? Make sure you persuade JJ to continue what is now a well-respected and revered British institution