During the break following the summer schedule and the start of the autumn dates across Europe, we seized the opportunity to quiz JJ about the band’s year so far and the impending tours in Europe, with Simple Minds, the UK and Australia. It’s been a while since we’ caught up with JJ so there was plenty to talk about…
Following on from the huge March On tour, you had a packed summer and will have played over fifty gigs by the end of this year. Is it testament to the esteem in which the band are held that you are still so busy after all these years?
I guess so because we don’t go uninvited. We’re getting offers from all over the world. I thought that this year was going to be quiet so I could concentrate on writing but it didn’t turn out that way! When the offers are there and they’re interesting, and we’re selling tickets, it’s an absolute joy to go to places where people want to see us. Especially because it hasn’t always been the case! People are coming to see us these days and not just to have a go! It’s about fucking time!
How was the Belfast festival gig?
It was lovely and we were treated really well. It was just a good vibe. Belfast has always been a weak market for us, I don’t know why but it’s always been different from mainland UK. I don’t think they appreciate how good we are and I hope we blew a few minds this time. The reception was great.
Is it frustrating that you can’t visit Ireland more often?
It is, absolutely, but we can only go when promoters ask us and they see it as a viable proposition for themselves so we’re always waiting… I don’t think we’ve made such an impression in Ireland as a whole. It is frustrating because, with such great musicians coming from those countries, in all styles, we’d like to put ourselves up against them for comparison. It’s been painfully slow with the North and the Republic for us but we haven’t given up on them. The promoters don’t seem to think that they’d make money from us over there. It’s always been the case. When Simple Minds mentioned that we would be going to Dublin, it was a good opportunity to strut our stuff over there.
They were fantastic I have to say. Playing in Greece is always a pleasure, they are one of the best educated audiences so they understand English and our humour. God knows they need a good sense of humour, a black sense of humour, with what they’ve been going through. The gigs were absolutely rammed. Demographically they are much more reflective of the British audience with a lot of teenagers, whereas some other countries seem to be more our age. Previously money’s been a huge problem but everyone was happy, the promoter must have made some money and we were happy to actually get to Greece again because we love going there. They’re a happy and wonderful people.
You appeared at a pair of biker events this summer. Do you feel proud to fly the Triumph flag at these predominantly Harley orientated events?
The St Tropez gig was a purely Harley event but we went on our Triumphs of course! We were a bit of a sideshow though, we went on too late at night, everyone was absolutely wrecked. It was OK. The ride back for Baz was great. The Portuguese one wasn’t for Harleys only, they’re more sensible than that! It was for every sort of bike, it was huge and was fun to play.
It appears that the French seem to have a love affair with Harleys…
They do down in the South, which is a shame, although I do see quite a few Triumphs down there as well. It’s a bit like Californian weather, they’re probably trying to live the dream…
Yes I did, bless him. He didn’t look very strong. I got the impression that he wasn’t completely with us. He did actually say, and I’ve got witnesses, that they should’ve been supporting us. I think he got it right. He’s always been a honest man. It was a great pleasure turning on all those Motorhead fans, there were quite a few Stranglers people there but it was his show mainly. It was really good and what a wonderful setting… Cornwall is usually off the beaten track as far as UK tours go.
As with last year, the summer contained a week long run of gigs at some seldom visited places which mostly sold out. Is it nice to escape the normal circuit of O2 Academies and visit other places?
It is of course, I personally like a bit of novelty and it is good to play these places. Sometimes those local people don’t travel too much and we get to play to them. Hopefully they’ll want to travel to see us next time. It’s great in smaller venues too. They were really hot and sweaty gigs. I think I lost half my body weight that week, an incredible amount of sweat. York, I can’t remember a hotter gig to be honest!
It gives some of us later fans a glimpse into how it must’ve been in the band’s early days playing such tiny venues…
Yes, you’re right. Even Baz has always loved playing little clubs too so it reminds us of those early days. We cherish that education that we had, that’s one of the things that has given us strength and longevity because actually we did a lot of that. Now we can still do it in smaller venues and it keeps us grounded, it is a grounding experience.
Yeah but we’ve then made quite a few enemies with the powers that be. We’ve made a lot of friends too. Unfortunately, that’s the baggage we come with as we have pissed off quite a few people over the years. Some people have got very long memories, I’m pleased to say. People like Simon Cowell, he said ‘the worst evening I ever had was when I was taken to a Stranglers’ gig’. That’s a badge of honour, I’m very proud of that. One quote that was left out of our last tour programme (NB 4240 tour) was from Phil Collins who said ‘The Stranglers? Never liked them!’ Fantastic, what a badge of honour. Listen, who wants to see The Stranglers on TV, when you can see them live?!
At the end of the summer, you & Baz both travelled across to Belgium by bike for the Verviers festival with a pair of bike journos in tow. How was it?
They were motorbike journos so they’re a different kettle of fish. They just want to ride their bikes and see if we’re the real thing or just posing about. It was great fun. The journo was absolutely spot on and the cameraman astonished me. The new Triumph has cruise control, at one point I’m on the motorway and suddenly I see him beside me at about 70-80 miles an hour, no hands on the handlebars, holding the camera, sideways on taking shots of me!
We rode out from the UK, stayed south of Bruges and then Baz joined us the next day. We then rode around Brussels and down into the Ardennes, which is a beautiful, hilly part of Belgium. The gig was one of the most enjoyable gigs this year, and it was hot. There was a heat wave in Belgium if you can believe that! We started at 11.15 at night and it was rammed in the town square, about 8-9000 people there. It was a joy.
In a couple of weeks you are heading out to Europe for tour including ten French gigs and also visiting four other countries. How do European audiences differ from UK ones?
They don’t have a British sense of humour (laughs), some of them get it. They treat musicians more like artists whereas, in the UK, they treat us just like old mates. The demographic is changing, it’s getting more varied out there as the UK one has become. The audiences are not so rock and roll as the UK ones, the UK is probably one of the most rock and roll countries full stop.
Immediately after your return from Europe, you have been invited on tour with Simple Minds for their five UK/Irish arena dates in late November. Do you find it complimentary to be taken out on tour with a band of their stature?
The thing is that it’s a compliment that a band of their stature admitting that they are huge fans of us and for one of them to admit that he was actually in awe of us in the studio is a lovely thing. It’s a very honest and exposing thing to say, they don’t have airs and graces and I appreciate them for that. We recorded a version of Grip with them, I thought that they added something to it. There were three of them and three of us, Baz, myself and Dave and their drummer, Charlie and Jim. Baz sang the first two lines of each verse, Jim the second two and they alternated in the chorus. I really like the version…
The spring British tour has just been announced which showcases the whole of the Black & White album. The songs on the album feature some complex arrangements and time signatures. Are they challenging to play?
Some of them are, especially when we’re so far away from those days now. It’s a good thing to be challenged by yourself, from your past. Also before we get completely passed it, I’d like to relive that moment and show that we can still do stuff from our creative peak. We raised the bar creatively with Black & White. We were at our creative peak around then because we did three albums in less than eighteen months, we had four albums out in just over two years. We were much more creative then than we are now. I would like to relive that moment…
We have been playing some of them recently, Toiler, Curfew, they are great fun to play. The others get a bit more daunting you know. It’s always rotten when someone asks you that question!
Well, here’s another! From a personal point of view, which is your favourite studio album?
If you ask me on a different day, I’ll give you a different answer. I think it’s anything between The Raven, The Meninblack, Black & White and Giants. In other words, I don’t really have a favourite album, some that are in a group of my favourites. But one over-riding one, I don’t.
You must link them with your personal experiences at those different times?
That’s right. You associate them with personal things, music does that. You associate certain music with a time in your life that you cherish. They live in a special compartment, whether you were young or losing your virginity, the first gig you ever went to or whatever. They are important, that’s one of the powers of music, it’s not just the soul making you tap your foot, it’s that you associate songs with a times in your life which stay there forever. It’s evocative, it reminds us of things that hopefully put a smile on our faces and in our hearts…
Would you like to revisit any of those albums at some stage in the future?
If we’re going to do Black & White, then why can’t we do Meninblack? I still want to do Meninblack as a ballet, I need to find a choreographer. I’ve written much more of a story to the Meninblack recently… There’s all kinds of things that you can do. With such a repertoire that The Stranglers have with seventeen albums to choose from, well, a couple we might ignore (laughs)! There’s a lot to choose from and it’s always difficult what to leave off preparing a set. We’ve been doing much stronger sets recently. On UK tours we’ve been doing an hour and fifty because we love playing stuff and there’s so much good stuff to play…
Also, I’ve started having a whale of a time singing again, with Paul going and Baz coming has made me enjoy singing. The essence of The Stranglers being two singers, one does a bit more than the other but, from my point of view, I’ve rediscovered the joy of doing it. I had no joy for a few years to be honest and I didn’t know what to do. But anyway, I rediscovered the joy and it’s reflected in the numbers of people coming to see us and the interest in the band worldwide. You can’t fool people, they can tell if you’re going through the motions. At the moment, people drop their jaws when they come to see us, the band are a really powerful thing, live it just works. We’re bucking the trend. I’ve seen bands who reformed or been together for forty years, they’re either going through the motions or a bit world-weary. It sounds dated. With The Stranglers, we’re fortunate not to be like that.
With all this time spent touring have you had any opportunity to work on new material with Baz?
Yes, that’s what we’ve been doing for the last five days (NB Baz and JJ had just spent some time together). All the time we’re collecting ideas, it might be just a riff, a lyrical line or something. We’ve got a few fully arranged pieces which we’re going to start rehearsing at soundchecks in Europe I think. We’ve got four or five other ideas that we need to fully develop. It’s a good start.
Is there a chance of any of the new tracks getting a live airing in March?
I think that new material might be premiered in March, before we record it, that’s the plan…
The Aussies are good value and it’s a beautiful country. What more can you say… We’ve had some good adventures in Australia in the past, read my autobiography!
Hopefully next time won’t be as eventful as your first trip there in ’79. Any stories pop to mind about that thrill packed tour?
That was just outrageous. My abiding memory is spending the last two days in my hotel suite with seven girls thinking I’d died and gone to paradise! The tour was rather eventful… The four of us having a post gig drink in one of our rooms and twenty three cops bursting in because Jet had said something naughty to the police at the gig. There were loads of antics, that’s a whole chapter in itself – Australia!
Thanks to JJ for taking time out to speak to us immediately before he flew out to Japan. It looks like the coming months for the band will be incredibly busy…