Ahead of their 50th anniversary tour which will come to the Royal Concert Hall next March, Benedict Watson spoke to JJ from The Stranglers...
Are you excited for your 50th anniversary tour?
I’m amazed we’ve reached it. It’s a bit unprecedented, I still think of myself as a young 20-year-old punk, so to be told it’s my 50th anniversary doesn’t go down so well! But on the other hand, it’s quite a rare thing to celebrate in music.
How would you say the tour and gig experience has changed over the last 50 years?
Well there’s much less violence, so I think that’s a plus. I’ve seen the audiences grow older with us, but then suddenly there’s a new intake, so I don’t know if they’ve been producing kids inbetween, but I suspect it’s something like that.
You’re the only founding member left in the band, how has it been to see the band change personnel so much over the years?
In football, you’ve got teams which remain iconic, and then personnel changes, but the brand of the team doesn’t necessarily change. So it’s a bit like that, we’ve never split up. Provided the replacements come in with the same spirit that’s expected, usually it adds a new dimension to the band.
Are you planning on recording any more music?
Yeah, I’ve got over 400 bits and pieces which I really need to make sense of. This winter might give us the opportunity because we aren’t doing as much this year.
Provided the replacements come in with the same spirit that’s expected, usually it adds a new dimension to the band
That’s great, so the fans have got plenty more to look forward to from The Stranglers?
I think so, there’s some kind of thought that after a band has peaked, then it’s a gradual decline, but I think bands can peak more than once! And I think we’ve proved that.
What was it like to be a part of that early punk scene, and did you get along well with the other bands in the scene like The Clash and The Sex Pistols?
We did at first because we all went to the same bars to see the same bands, and we suddenly realised that hair was getting shorter, jeans were getting tighter, hair was changing colour and things like that. There was a feeling of camaraderie for a very short while, then everyone started to get competitive.
What do you think of the current music scene, is there anyone that you hear that you think you may have influenced?
You always hear inferences from the past, whether it’s Amy Winehouse sounding like a soul singer from the 60s, or bands now. There are loads of good bands out now. But it’s never quite the same because there’s a circuit now, which didn’t exist at one point. I think it’s now become a career option whereas it certainly wasn’t when we started out.
When you were recording Golden Brown, did you know it was going to be that popular?
No, but we had faith in it, that’s why we insisted on it being released despite the record company not wanting to release it. They said punk’s dead, this isn’t punk, you can’t dance to it, it’s got a weird time signature, it’s got a harpsichord in it, no one’s going to like it. So despite the record company, it was a worldwide success, then they had the cheek to ask ‘Ooh, can we have another one then?’, so we gave them something completely different – six minutes in French! Once you’ve found success in a certain formula, there’s so much pressure on you to repeat it, and I didn’t find that very creative.
We had faith in it, that’s why we insisted on it being released
The Cure or The Smiths?
It would have to be The Cure, I can’t stand The Smiths.
Which of your albums is your favourite?
That would be as cruel as asking a parent which is your favourite child, so I won’t comment on that one.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
I was hoping to be a karate teacher, but I’d probably have to have new hips by now!
What’s the best gig you’ve been to?
One of the most memorable ones was when Hugh Cornwell and myself went to a gig by Dr. Feelgood in Guildford years ago, and suddenly we realised what had happened to rock and roll. It had disappeared, and they’d brought it back. It was really back to basics with an attitude.
Joy Division or New Order?
If you were a fruit, which fruit would you be and why?
I think passion fruit, the clue’s in the name.
The Stranglers will perform at Royal Concert Hall on 19 March 2024.
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