New Musical Express, February 10th, 1979

4 STRINGS OF FURY

 

And so, little grasshopper, you have come to consult the Oyama...

 

ENTER THE STRANGLER

 

Jean Jacques Burnel (black belt bass, 750 Bonneville, hand, foot and mouth registered as deadly weapons) vs. Phil McNeill (who once fell off a Vespa and knows someone with a complete set of Kung Fu International)

 

In a hideous fight to the death - four pages of unarmed combat and a 2 ½-hour interview. Let battle commence...

 

Jean Jacques Burnel is not the easiest man to contact. A couple of weeks ago I arranged to meet him at "a girlfriend's place" so he could play me his solo album, 'Euroman Cometh'. However, he wouldn't tell me the address while he was in his publicist's office: could I phone between seven and eight, he'd give me the address, I'd get a cab over there.

I phone at 8:05. A woman answers.

"Hello, is Jean there? This is Phil McNeill."

"You were supposed to phone between seven and eight." Click, whirrr...

I re-dial. "Hello, is Jean there? Jean, it's Phil. Yes, I realise it's not actually your place... Yes, I am coming on my own...Why do I want to hear your album? Well, so I can do an interview about it, of course..."

Eventually, I find myself ushered into a terraced house flat in Acton, West London. Jean introduces me to the three girls he lives - sorry, stays - with. And how fitting: two of them are professional strip-tease artists! The Stranglers interview is underway.

 

The Stranglers are active. The live album is due any day now, a film is on the verge of completion, a Japanese tour starts next week, Burnel's solo album is scheduled for March 30 release with the likelihood of a few solo dates to accompany it. Hugh Cornwell's solo album is half completed, and The Stranglers' fourth studio set is almost ready for recording. So they're talking to the media. While Hugh Cornwell and Jet Black have spent the last week or so lurching around the nation's radio stations, Burnel has handled NME and Sounds. (The Stranglers won't talk to Record Mirror because of a personal issue between them and one RM journalist, and Melody Maker won't talk to The Stranglers because, it's said, they're all scared of 'em! Talk about creating your own paranoias...)

However, I did manage to catch up with Cornwell on the phone at least, during a one-night stop-over at the Heathrow Hotel, and gleaned the facts about his solo album. As yet untitled (it seems the title Cornwell wants is possibly somebody's trademark, and he's awaiting permission to use it), it is virtually complete: seven tracks down, put together in Los Angeles just after Christmas, and another three to go.

The only people involved in the record so far are Cornwell himself and one Robert Williams, 24, Captain Beefheart's drummer these past two years. ("Beefheart was out in the desert in his trailer while I was over there," says Cornwell.)

Williams, who Cornwell met in San Francisco last summer, plays drums, bass, Moog and exotic percussion, and shares arranging chores with Cornwell, who handles guitar, bass, Moog, Mellotron and vocals. There may yet be a couple of "guest" appearances...

So what's it like?

"It's hard to describe," Hugh replies.

"There's a lot of ideas I've had hanging about for a while which might not have been compatible for The Stranglers."

Is it all four-minute rock songs?

"Well, there's a couple of epics on it...one dedicated to Fred Frith (former Henry Cow guitarist). There's one about bacteria, called 'Bacteria Cafeteria', and there's another about a girl in a freak circus, called 'Wrong Way Round'."

And then there's 'Big Bug', the epic adventures of Leon Trotzky and the train on which he lived after the Russian Revolution, building up the Red Army and shuttling from one battle-front to another nonstop for 2 ½ years, including seeing-off an English naval squadron who Cornwell reckons were intent on invading Russia in 1919. Should be quite a toe-tapper.

He's hoping for a mid-summer release date - to tie in with the 60th anniversary of Trotsky's train's finest hour, presumably.

And what of Cornwell's other activities?

You may recall that last year he was producing both The Pop Group and Leila and the Snakes. Well, he did the Pop Group session - a five-track demo - and it got them a contract with Radar. Tactfully, he says he "hasn't heard anything further" (the group are now being produced by Dennis Bovell of Matumbi). As for Leila and the Snakes - a Los Angeles band - they completed an album with Hugh but then split. Undaunted, Hugh says he'd now like to produce an English band, though he hasn't got one in mind yet. Cornwell is also the Strangler who's been most involved with their film. He did in fact finish editing one version just a week or so ago, based around the band's Battersea Park gig last summer and featuring echelons of strippers simulating simultaneous orgasms to 'Nice 'n' Sleazy', but that's now been scrapped. Thirty minutes of The Stranglers onstage "gets tedious", says Hugh, so they're now using the live footage as the skeleton for a 50-minute movie which should be finished next month.

Cornwell claims that TV networks in America, Australia, Japan and Germany have all expressed interest in showing the Strangs' skin-flick, but if the ten-minute clip I saw last week is anything to go by, British TV won't go anywhere near it. Pens ready, men - but don't write up and complain till you've read the interview. There's more to a G-string than meets the eye...

 

Jean Burnel is fighting fit. Literally. He's just returned from a couple of month's karate training in Japan, where he studied under one of the masters of the martial arts. (His name escapes me now, but I recognised Burnel's description of him last week when the Evening Standard asked Britain's top judo expert Brian Jacks who he reckoned was a real martial arts superstar.

"The Japanese Oyama who created his own version of karate," Jacks replied. "In one fight he met a bull, ripped out a horn from the roots and then killed the bull with one blow." The very same.)

Burnel's six-week stint, he informs me with relish, took in such pleasant pastimes as running five miles through the snow - barefoot, of course. On his return to England, JJ picked up a black belt.

Over the course of our two meetings - the evening at the strippers' house, spent playing a tape of his album which he then consented to lend me (like persuading him to part with his most precious possession), and a 2 ½-hour informal interview - we covered a lot of ground. So I've left the meat of our second conversation intact - 'Euroman Cometh,' 'Black And White' (underrated and neglected in the Press), sexism - and fished out the rest. Briefly:-

The live album, 'X-Certs', was recorded because "it's the end of a period as far as we are concerned musically, so we thought it would be nice to have a compilation of the period of the first three albums. And rock'n'roll's about live stuff."

Neither Jet Black nor Dave Greenfield is doing a solo album. Jet is "working on a new recipe for hamburgers."

And The Stranglers are no longer managed by Albion.

"That's a very unpublicised thing," says Burnel

. "We don't attempt to capitalise on legal hassles like other bands.

"We've been in the middle of a lot of litigation. Captain Birdseye (Derek Savage) and Dai Laughing (Dai Davies) were intent on building up a huge empire. They wanted all this Oxford Street stuff and the expense that goes with it - all kinds of things: publishing companies, their own label. They used The Stranglers to make a huge empire. "We managed ourselves for a couple of months; Ian Grant's managing us now."

Oh yes, and Jean Jacques reckons NME has betrayed him. Again. The first time was over the Xmas centre-spread, when he apparently only posed on condition that there wouldn't be any words attached. Much to his disgust, we went and labelled it Stud Of The year. (You think he'd be flattered...)

The second occasion was two weeks ago, when we ran his Systems article. Here we said he'd contributed it off his own back, whereas in fact he says we asked him to write it. So that saves him the bother of coming round to give Neil a good kicking - or rather, a good chopping. Okay?

 

Eerie electronics, dark chiming guitar, pulsing bass, dour intonation: "Je suis descendant de Charlemagne/Je suis descendant de Cromwell/Je suis descendant de Bonaparte/Je suis descendant d'Adolf Hitler/ Je suis un Eurohomme..."

Euroman Cometh, trailing a dozen three-minute electronic pop songs in his wake: 'Euromess,' 'Deutschland Nicht Uber Alles,' 'Tout Comprendre,' 'Do The European,' 'Freddie Laker Concorde Airbus,' 'Triumph Of The Good City'...get the drift?

It's definitely a weird one - shades of Kraftwerk, Eno, even early Velvets. Terribly moderne and nothing remotely like The Stranglers.

Yet it's all highly accessible: strong melodies, modish repetition, pleasant textures...not disco, but undoubtedly a big seller.

Burnel's not claiming any great breakthrough: as far as he's concerned, it's an alignment with the most potent force in music today, Eurorock. Why did he make it?

Because he knocked out a track in 40 minutes whilst messing about, and thought if it's that easy, why not make a whole album?

Instruments used include drum machines, bass, guitars, Moog and Korg synthesisers, piano and harmonica - all Burnel's own work plus isolated contributions from Brian James, Lew Lewis and drummer Kerry Adams. He's hoping to take that unit on the road in April to play a few small club dates.

Subject matter ranges from a lament for Jan Pallac, the Czech student who burned himself to death as the Russian tanks rolled into Prague (coincidentally, I interviewed Burnel on the tenth anniversary of his suicide), to an attack on Arabs taking over London ("I consider it a cultural imposition," he snaps. "It's anathema to me as a European"). There's even a Eurodance - 'Do The European' - which is slated for single release. Odd track out is a lightweight R&B cut called 'Pretty Face', and old Beat Merchants number.

But the cleverest has to be 'Triumph Of The Good City,' an instrumental set to the rhythm of Burnel's Triumph Bonneville (geddit?) ticking over in the studio. In the midst of all the vilification of their brutish attitudes, it tends to be forgotten that The Stranglers often play brilliant music. Take another listen to 'Black And White.' It's a killer, no two ways about it.

Anyway, like it or not (and I don't always), 'Euroman Cometh' should be The Stranglers' fifth straight hit album. Here's the scam.

Do you listen to a lot of electronic music?

Not that much. I listen to anything that happens to come my way.

There seems to be a lot of influence - or a lot of similarity, anyway, to the likes of Bowie, Kraftwerk, Can, Neu, Magma...

Magma? They're a French band, aren't they? I think there's a style of music which one can describe as Eurorock, like Can and Kraftwerk and Dusseldorf and Jean Michel. I wouldn't put Bowie there. As everyone knows, he ripped off Jacques Brel something rotten. Don't you think people are gonna say that you've ripped off people on your album? I don't really care what they say.

What's 'Euromess' about?

It's about Jan Pallac, believe it or not. And it's also about, uh...Well, basically I hate all yer pretentious SWP people. I think socialism as they spout it is reactionary and old-fashioned, and it irritates me because it's just a waste of talent sometimes, a waste of young people's energies. It's negative.

Are you a socialist?

That has to be substantiated I think, because the term now as far as I am concerned is an aligned term. I'm very much into the Triumph Workers' Co-operative. On the album sleeve I mention something to that effect actually - another pretension. But then it seems some people think a rock'n'roller should be seen and heard and not heard, if you see what I mean. So people aren't allowed to talk, they're only allowed to sing. I would disagree; anyone has got a life outside what people consider to be their sphere - otherwise you make politicians a professional class, which I don't consider them to be. I think every citizen's got a right to mouth off - but it seems when I mouth off I'm labelled pretentious.

Of course, you're in a privileged position.

I certainly am. And I'm using it. I mean, a lot of people got into Mishima (Yukio Mishima, foremost Japanese post-war novelist) since we mentioned him, and a few other people have started coming out about it - because it was a very taboo subject. Mishima in Japan is till taboo, but now people are starting to talk about Mishima again like they're starting to talk about Hitler again in Germany.

Japan is still not allowed to have an army, is it?

Oh yeah - they've had an army since the war, man. It's like the Territorial Army: it's called Jieitai. They're not allowed to have tanks; they have what they call Special Vehicles, which have caterpillar tracks and armour plating and long guns... Mishima was urging a return to an army, wasn't he?

No. The day he committed suicide - seppuku - he was urging them to throw off their American shackles and regain their national self-respect. During the samurai days being a trader, a businessman, was the lowest of the low - it was much lower than being a peasant. Money was totally obscene.

You support individual races or nations returning to their own roots...

Yeah, that's why I resent SWP and all Moscow lovers and Washington lovers. I don't see anything wrong in finding and digging the best things from one's own roots - Which is why I consider myself to be a European.

Is that what you're saying on 'Deutschland Nicht Uber Alles'? My German is virtually non-existent, but I seem to detect a line there about Germany becoming an American colony..

I'm saying Germany should not become an American colony. Germany should be strong and united. There'd be less race hassle now if cultural groups respected each other. Self-awareness makes you aware of other people: that's the first thing you learn when you start in the martial arts. I used to have no respect for other people, I used to get into brawls all the time, and now I hardly brawl at all.

The better you know yourself, the better you respect other people. And it's the same with nations and cultures.

I think one should revert to greater self-respect, instead of wearing UCLA T-shirts and fancying an American car and pretending one's living in the '50s, greasing one's hair up and singing with American accents when one lives in Canvey or something.

But you still play American music. Basic rock'n'roll is American music.

I feel the evolutionary period is sufficiently extended that European rock'n'roll and British rock has got its own identity. We have created a new race. All dogs come from the wolf, but would you say that a poodle is a wolf?

'Triumph Of The Good City' - that appears to be your favourite track.

No. It's my favourite motorbike. Firstly, I must say that the Triumph Workers' Co-operative at Meriden is successful. It's the biggest selling 750cc motorbike in the world, though they only produce 3-400 a week, which is nothing in assembly line terms. Also the Bonneville is the least sophisticated motorbike in the world. It's the most reliable, it has an aesthetic of its own. It also has a rhythm of its own.

Riding a motorbike is a very sensual thing. It's very physical - no two ways about it. Riding a machine which is quite light in itself but which can go fast and you can control and you can clean...the whole trip, the whole sub-culture around bikes: you can either use a motorbike as transport or use it as a form of sensual release.

Anyway, all that Freudian shit aside, the Triumph Bonneville is basically a 30-year-old engine design. It's also one of the main reasons why the British motorbike industry disappeared: they weren't competing with the Japanese. But for some reason there were sufficient punters in the world who want something which is not sophisticated - I mean, you have to jump on it, you have to kick it over, you can't use a button to start it. And it vibrates like fuck. There is something intrinsically powerful and dignified about it. Triumph were going to close down completely...

Yeah, and there was a sit-in. Y'see, real socialism as portrayed by a workers'

co-operative can't work outside of a capitalist society. I don't know if you've read any of the reports from the farm co-operatives in the Ukraine or in Georgia, but they're totally corrupt - mainly because of the high burden of obligation towards the central government: the characteristic Communist state, very centralised government. In order to institute that 150-year-old dogma - ie, nationalise all means of distribution and production - you have to have a centralised state.

It's totally incongruous with what modern society should be aiming for. To me, it's fascist. Real fascist, as opposed to wearing black leather jackets. (Laughs).

And the Workers' Co-operative is working very well, because everyone is part of it and there is a real distribution of wealth. The wealth created by a successful venture is distributed totally evenly.

Would you like to see the same principles applied to the business you're in?

Well, as far as The Stranglers are concerned, it does - because there are four of us in the band and so four credits all the time. However, just like the Workers' Co-operative there are specialists brought in from outside who do not share in the profit-making. Like they have a marketing specialist - a guy who makes sure that people know about the Bonny - and he's paid a salary.

'Pretty Face' seems very out of place in the album. Who's on it?

Brian James on guitar, Lew Lewis on harmonica, a guy called Kerry Adams on drums who used to be in a band called Chelsea - he's now studying philosophy at Sussex University - and myself on bass. Lew also plays on 'Euromess', which is the Jan Pallac track. That Jan Pallac thing...it's a piss-off that people like these SWP twerps always use existing capitals as their frame of reference. Like Russia - all these SWP twerps - and the opposite, Fonz freaks. To claim that Russia is the great liberator, as still some old-fashioned unionists believe, is just unrealistic. Also, I'm supporting Czech nationalism there, or Czech-ism.

What do you have to say about the Anti-Nazi League?

Well, as most people don't know, it's a wing of the SWP, which immediately puts its motives in question. But 'Anti' 'Nazi' 'League' - it's a very good term.

Don't you think it's been successful in its original aim of showing up the National Front as minority party?

No, on the contrary, I think they've blown the National Front out of all proportion. I'm convinced of it.

I think it was already being blown out of proportion. And then when 80,000 people demonstrate against it, that shows it to be comparatively minor.

Well, it's people losing their historic perspective then - or maybe they just don't wanna know. Everyone's heard of Mosley...no, probably not...but Mosley was a threat. That's the difference. Oswald Mosley was touted for a long time as a prospective Labour prime minister, then as a Conservative prime minister. He was very radical, obviously, and he was a bit of a megalomaniac - but filling out the Albert Hall for nights on end with members of the British Union of Fascists, having special trains from all over the country coming to their rallies, and having pitched battles in Cable Street - that was much more of a threat.

Also, people didn't have the experience they were going to have later of the war, and the implications that the Nazis were the losers...

The implications that the Nazis were the losers?

Yeah. You imagine hypothetically if you had been a Nazi for 20 or 30 years now, part of a Thousand Year Reich. I wouldn't have been conceived - because I'm a Norman by race, and the majority of the French would've been got rid of; certainly the objecting French people.

But you being British...even in Mein Kampf he said he'd rather have a partnership with the British.

You have been quoted as saying you were a Nazi.

No. I've been slandered by Tony Parsons, been called a Nazi, but I've never been a Nazi. You were actually quoted in NME...

Yeah, and I've also been slandered in a book (The Boy Looked At Johnny). And a lot of my friends have been called Nazi homosexual SS youths, locker-room homosexuals, so I think we've been slandered quite a bit. But I don't think we've done too much about it. I think one of the quotes was in a very colourful poster mag, New Wave News, which Julie Birchill was contributing to. I guess it was because she needed pin money. She's married, isn't she? Maybe they needed some more furniture money, and I guess she descended to those depths...

What she wrote for that I reckoned was really good. I have to agree that the book is not good journalism - it's cobbled together out of quotes and anecdotes from previous pieces taken out of context. But his feature on you was really excellent.

It paints a very interesting picture. But maybe he's a surrealist or something. (Laughs). Which brings us to 'Crabs', and then we can wrap up 'Euroman Cometh' - which also seems a very bizarre song to come after all the, uh, intellectual weight beforehand. Intellectual weight? God knows what you do every day, man. You must keep your eyes open, surely. Anyway, 'Crabs' is - how can I put it? - it's a piece of journalism. It was the original one on the whole album. It was an instant expression of the state of affairs at the time...which by the way is no longer the case.

 

Let's go on to 'Black And White'. You appear to prefer the 'black' side - the other day you asked me if I ever listened to it.

Well that to me is more of a test on people's tolerances. I think it's more psychedelic. It's not so easy listening.

Where did you write it?

In London and on the road, then we stayed at a farm outside Peterborough to rehearse it. I remember NME being snide enough to say we were getting it together in the country - which was partly true.

It seems logical, listening to the album, that that might have been what you did, because it has moved totally away from your previous preoccupations, which were very London, very personal. I wonder if had you released it as your first album you might have got a much tougher response to it, because at that time there was such a big thing about 'street credibility', everyone was writing about people living in tower blocks and so on... That's true in a way. There's no denying that one's experience changes and therefore your responsibility to your environment changes. I don't go down the Coleherne (a gay 'cruising' bar in Earls Court) any more. I don't doss round Earls Court any more... Did you used to go down the Coleherne?

I've been once or twice, yeah, and had very funny experiences there. I used to live about 200 yards from the Coleherne with Choosey Susie - Princess Of The Streets, one and the same lady - so we used to go down there.

Weird society...

Yeah, it's a bit sad. It's a lonely society; it's a vacuum. So obviously we're not likely to write another 'Hanging Around'. What are the tracks on 'Black And White'?

'Tank', 'Curfew', 'Robots', 'Sweden'...

Yeah...God, The Stranglers aren't supposed to think about things! (Laughs) No, it would be utter pretence for me to pretend to be a street band, because I ride a motorbike, I don't catch a bus as often as I used to. I don't play...well, we still sometimes play small clubs...but we play bigger places where there's a few thousand people there. So maybe we're totally irrelevant to the people today. But I don't think so. What involvement do Dave and Jet have with the lyrical preoccupations?

Not so much. (Pause) Nothing. They don't write lyrics, but they bring up a lot of ideas and discussion. It's very equal musically.

'Tank' was a very surprising track to me, because it seems to be mocking macho obsessions which you yourselves have propagated in the past.

Really? 'Tank' has been totally misinterpreted.

How?

Well, if you're too thick to understand it then (a) we've failed abysmally in communicating with you, and (b) er, you're thick.

I take it as a piss-take.

Yeah? Well it's not actually: it's anything but. You should ride a motorbike more often. A lot of the songs on 'Black And White' could easily be dismissed as little fantasy stories... Well they're not. There's nothing fantastic about implying weaknesses in various things - for instance, in 'Curfew' one of the implications in the lyrics is that Scotland is independent, because the government of England has fled to Scotland, and our troops are fighting with theirs. The European ideal requires that Scotland is independent. The same goes for Wales. No one seems to have got that.

What's your response to The Rude Kids' "Stranglers" single?

I think it's great. It shows that there is life in Sweden after all. In fact we'd just like to have this opportunity to say we're trying to convince Jet to go back to Sweden because we'd like to play in Sweden.

Jet had bother in Sweden?

We all had bother in Sweden. The cops just let the Raggere stomp all over us. Four hundred Raggere smashed up quite a few grands' worth of our equipment the first time we were there, and we managed to blow up a few of their cars with petrol bombs - with molotov cocktails. That's all we had.

Our road crew are pretty tough and they got pretty stomped over. Suddenly a few hundred of these people with their '50s type trip came straight for the gear - they didn't say nothing, they went straight to the gear, smashed it up. The road crew jumped in and they beat them up. The promoter had locked us in the cellar, which was the dressing room, so we managed to get out of that and go round the side and blow up a couple of their cars.

We were forced to end the tour - no gear - and we decided to go back, 'cause we wanted a rematch on better terms. The only thing they would've understood was if we beat them. So this time we were armed to the teeth. We had petrol bombs ready before the gig. And they smashed up our road crew's van during the concert, which we happened to make a free gig because we blew out the promoter 'cause he wouldn't provide any security over our vehicles outside.

The cops were outside, and they could see the Raggere doing it, and they just let 'em 'cause they're scared shit of 'em.

One thing led to another. We went back to the hotel and they wouldn't serve us food although it was an hour before closing. And Jet just totally flipped. He picked up a table - he's a strong big boy y'know - and he threw it through a plate-glass window. And they still refused to serve him - we did ask nicely at first - so then he smashed up the bar with a few chairs. And they still didn't wanna serve us, so then he went out and came back with one of those video type games - a whole thing standing about this high from the ground - brought it into the restaurant and smashed the whole thing.

We were forced out of Aldeburgh that night and had to drive to Stockholm - by which time Jet had tried beating up a few people on the way, aggravating a few Swedes, going up to their faces and saying, "Your country's boring"...

To cut a long story short, three of us don't mind going back there 'cause The Rude Kids - it's good fun. We'd want them to support us too. It's just a question of convincing Jet. In 'Curfew' you say: "Maybe I'll find love when there's nothing to do", which would seem to imply that love is simply an alternative to boredom.

Yeah. I think it's a superficial western self-indulgence. When they talk about woman-man love, I think it's a red herring.

Don't you think it's a basic drive of humanity?

No. Do you?

Yeah.

Everyone creates their own driving forces, whether it be illusion or reality.

In 'Threatened' you say: "If your existence is not threatened in any way..." and leave it open, which I take it to mean equals death.

It originally arose from a conversation with someone saying, "Oh look at these modern buildings - aren't they horrible." I couldn't find them horrible. I couldn't feel anything for them; they were just there, which was sufficient justification for them.

People always expect you to have an opinion about something, whether it's important to you or not. But there are things I don't see why I should have an opinion on - specifically in 'Threatened' it's aesthetic things.

I don't recall the line in the song.

"I don't think things can be pretty or ugly/All that you can say is if they threaten your existence in any way."

What about the line "Bring me a piece of my mummy" - which I don't think these days is the sort of line or gesture that works. At one time it did. Like The Doors - the melodramatic sort of line. "Mother I want to kill you"...

No, I just wanna fuck my mother basically. Always have done. Not so much now because she's getting a bit older, she's losing her grip on her looks. She's a cute little French girl.

 

The next section seems to be headed WOMEN. How do you react to accusations... Your accusations. You started the whole ball rolling.

This is not my accusation though: that your chauvinism is actually repressed homosexuality. How do you react to that?

Um...I'm still sitting here twiddling my fingers. People are bound to think all kinds of things; for some reason they seem to spend a lot of time thinking about us, our personal habits and idiosyncrasies. What can I say? Maybe I'm a latent homosexual. Who knows? Make me an offer I can't refuse!

Your use of strippers onstage...

Yes, I think you've met a couple of them.

Is it a Statement, or is it Pure Entertainment?

Well, what do you think? It's a statement for people who get uptight; it's entertainment for people who don't.

How do you feel about it?

To me it's an entertainment. I get highly entertained by women stripping for me, I must admit - much more so than when I see a guy stripping, but we did have a couple of guys at Battersea.

But you are obviously aware that anything you do is a political act.

Yeah. Anything anyone does is political. But if you do it with people looking then it's a bit more overtly political - that's what you're trying to say, isn't it?

So what are the politics behind it?

(Makes V-sign) That basically.

To whom?

To everyone who's knocked us about that, but mainly the people who get so excited about their own insecurities, their gender insecurities: guys who want to speak for the poor exploited strippers - our mates, as it happens - or a few women. The majority of women I know didn't find the strippers that entertaining: I think they would have preferred it if I'd stripped, which just about says the same thing as what we did. In fact I got a few letters saying we'd've preferred it if you'd stripped...

At the same time, when people have accused you of being sexist or chauvinist you've defended yourselves by saying it's a challenge to women to liberate themselves.

Sure.

Which would seem to indicate that you actually mean the opposite of what you're saying. I certainly believe in equal opportunity in all things. I also believe there is a natural hierarchy to ability in certain thins - ie, a hod carrier has got a better chance of being a male than of being a female, because he's physically stronger. But there's no reason - apart from the social aspect - why women have been encouraged to pursue certain activities: they're given a doll at birth whereas a boy is given a cowboy outfit. I don't see anything chauvinistic about our empiricism in those things.

Almost everything about The Stranglers emphasises the machismo of man...

Yeah? Like what? (Pause) Okay, I tend to agree with you.

Which contradicts what you just said.

Not at all. We are four guys onstage, and if you find our physical presence that machismo, I can't deny it.

It's not just your physical presence - it's your songs as well: beating women up, bring on the nubiles...

When have we written about beating women up?

'Sometimes.'

No, we wrote about beating a woman up. Hugh wrote it in fact about hitting a girlfriend of his, which might have been a sad crossroads for his relationship with that particular woman but it just so happens he hit that particular woman. Nowhere in the song does he advocate it as a policy for all people. It's like, if you want, Play For Today in 3 ½ minutes: it's like a piece of real life, and if you can't handle real life then you shouldn't listen to The Stranglers, go and listen to Genesis.

But most of your other songs are taken not to refer to specific incidents...

Well, 'Nubiles' is a generalisation. Obviously one would discriminate about the choice of nubiles for the Ultimate Act, but it's ... a statement of idiosyncrasy, if you like. Hugh happens to have this thing towards under-age girls; he'll get arrested for it one day, but that's his quirk. Under-age girls seem to dig having an elder educator...maybe they should lower the age of consent. Nubilicness, as espoused by The Stranglers, has developed into quite a philosophy: a kind of aesthetic.

What do you fuck? Do you fuck girls, men, what?...

It's not a case of what you fuck, is it? It's a case of what your attitude is to the sex as a whole.

Well then none of our songs shows that attitude.

They certainly appear to.

Be specific. You can't - you see, you've created this whole mythology around us, and it's for you to explain yourself, my dear boy.

'Bring On The Nubiles', 'Sometimes', 'Ugly', 'Princess Of The Streets', 'London Lady' - and using strippers onstage - it's all women as sex objects, women should be dominated, women are second rate citizens.

I think you're just using any excuse to get excited about, your insecurities are coming out. It's inverse paranoia. It's like these people that are so afraid of the race relations thing that there's a reaction against it, they go out of their way to be friendly to black people or whoever is being discriminated against and they end up being patronising. Animal lovers are sometimes guilty of it. I think you're treating women too much like animals (laughs).

I don't think we should aim at creating a new gender of male. Too much emphasis is put on a woman's sexuality, and not enough on her technical and intellectual ability. We've always been attacked for treating women as sexual objects, but in bed a woman is a sexual object. When she's a computer programmer, you might look at her legs when she's walking away from you, but you treat her as a computer programmer.

If I find myself in bed with another living thing, I tend to treat it as a sexual object... And I tend to be thanked for it. I'm thinking of having an intellectual discussion on the rights and wrongs of euthanasia tonight in bed; I'll try not to bring sex into the conversation.

But it's not sex people object to...

Oh, the implication is that there's some kind of puritanical backlash against our bohemian wanderings...

Certainly that might be an underlying factor, but at the same time your critics are correct... So it would be okay if we happened to write a real song about hitting a bloke - we wouldn't be sexist there - but we are sexist because we wrote one song about hitting a girl? What would we be if we wrote songs glorifying male peni - "Oh yeah I really dig sucking off biggest cocks around ooh-ooh" - what would we be then? I think we'd be equally sexist according to your criteria.

Although, yeah, in an ideal world neither would be sexist, the fact is that in this world attitudes to the role of women in society are not going to change while people are reinforcing stereotypes of women as bodies first and intellects, if you like, second. Possibly in isolation what The Stranglers do would be fine - but you're not operating in isolation. You're operating in a society where virtually the whole of the media puts forward this image of women as just bodies. And you're just reinforcing what The Sun's saying every day.

I think men should certainly be appreciated for their bodies much more than they are. But you can't create change overnight: it will take many years for people to start appreciating a man's shape and form as a sexual thing. But presumably you would not be into that either.

That's not so. The appreciation of the sexual form is fine - except it dominates society's image of women.

I see what you're getting at...

The Playboy Philosophy, or The Stranglers Philosophy, as it would appear to be... You insist on this Stranglers Philosophy - your head is still where it was at two years ago as regards The Stranglers and women. The fact that our art has involved writing about specific women in a certain way, is nothing to get uptight about.

That might have been an arguable position after 'Rattus Norvegicus', but...Look, I can appreciate the strippers onstage as entertainment. I can appreciate the strippers onstage as a stand against censorship. But unfortunately there is a more important consideration, which is that it reinforces a sexist image of women.

Nothing The Stranglers are gonna do, or even the media is doing, will affect the evolution of women's roles. It's a red herring to talk about a stripper as being dangerous; I can't see how you can be into rock'n'roll if you think that a female stripping onstage is dangerous - you've fallen right into The Stranglers' trap.

Rock'n'roll is about cocks and jiving and the odd bloody nose...and about people like us talking seriously about the social order.

But I thought you thought rock could be a vehicle for change.

I just said that actually. Discussing the social order. Yeah, I think it is - but I think you've got too much copy out of women and The Stranglers. Suffice to say that petitions should be made up against every rock'n'roll band in the land: The Stranglers shouldn't be singled out.

Yeah - as I said in the review of 'Black And White'...which I do regret to some extent. I think I went too far in the other direction, I was very snotty about other journalists, very self-righteous: "This is my issue, I raised it"...

I'm surprised you didn't get your face punched in.

 

I've got some old quotes here from Hugh about how important the new wave movement was - "and we feel part of that. If we didn't feel we could contribute to what's happening now we'd split." What do you think you have contributed? What do you think has happened?

Well, we've kept a lot of journalists in a job. And a few record company people. We've also stimulated a lot of people to write and to think, and we've stimulated a lot of people to write and to think, and we've educated a few people; we've learnt ourselves, a lot of things. We've played more gigs than anyone else - still - so we've taken rock'n'roll to probably more people than anyone else. We've made asses of ourselves a few times and we've brought a lot of attention to ourselves. We have been quite, uh, an enriching part of the British rock'n'roll culture for several years now. We've been active.

What do you think you still have to contribute?

The same as before, but we've got a different local now.

Do you think that movement of which you were once a part...

Well that movement which we considered ourselves to be part of, didn't want anything to do with us. Which was fair enough. But we still have a movement, and we still are a forum for debate and a forum for animosity and all kinds of emotion. Whereas who else is from that period? Not many.

We're on our own. We've always been on our own - and it looks like we're always gonna be on our own. (Laughs) Which suits me fine, because I've always been on the outside myself and The Stranglers are an outside band - we're the outsiders. We're never odds-on favourites for anything, we're no one's blue-eyed bous, and we're still there, cutting off our noses to spit our faces. Some people have said we're very self-destructive - like the TV things, walking off on the BBC (Rock Goes To College) just because of the ticket thing. I certainly think on that that universities should change their whole club trip, get the law changed. Enough bands now have done that kind of thing to warrant the National Union of Students considering it. I think campuses in general have got an obligation to the area, not just the students - that's why there's quite a lot of non-student resentment towards students.

You used to say you wanted to do something useful when you were rich... Well when I get rich I might do that.

You must be rich now.

Unfortunately not. That was one of the reasons for the managerial switch. Also now we're running our own affairs - with Ian, but it's all our own money. So like the last six months of money has had to all go to being our float really. Also we're being sued by a lot of people: the sums involved are up to forty grand. It's because of various gigs we pulled out in the past - a long time ago - when we found out it was to students only, like Exeter University.

Also giving away 100,000 singles and then releasing it a few weeks later as a single is not the sanest commercial enterprise. People seem to forget that. They say, "Oh, 'Walk On By' only got to No.20 in the charts" - they forget that five weeks previously we gave away 100,000 of it.

You seem to have become quite solid stanchions of the music business Establishment. Ah so? Well I'd like to see Thin Lizzy fuck up a Rock Goes To College programme or any of those other bands. I can't see us being stanchions of the Establishment; I think we're stanchions of something, but not of the Establishment, because the Establishment doesn't get knocked by the Establishment. And the Establishment - which is you and all the media and the actual business - especially in the last nine months has treated The Stranglers like lepers.

In what way have you been treated like lepers - apart from the media? Well that accounts for quite a lot of it, but there's a few record company in-things, grouses which have been settled.

And when are The Stranglers going to break up?

When we start repeating ourselves and getting boring, which some might say was two or three years ago. (Laughs) But then, it's a good job we don't listen to the media. I think we're very healthy. We're still self-destructive, which has got to be good when you've had three gold albums...and a few more coming up. Usually you start getting self-propagating and self-protective, don't you? But we're still the most self-destructive band in the world. So when's the ritual suicide onstage?

Ah...It takes some people 30-odd years to convince themselves to do it.

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