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Music News

Burning Up Time by Nic Howden

Burning Up Time by Nic Howden
With a new album and a documentary pending, funding in fits and starts from the beleaguered Pledge Music re the latter, the Stranglers kick off their Back On The Tracks dates this week. It will be the band’s last March tour, Jean Jacques Burnel, the man behind the most bruising, brilliant bass lines in rock ‘n’ roll, tells SupaJam. 
 
“It’s spring and there’s change” Burnel sings, aptly, in Water, first drop from the band’s forthcoming, as yet untitled, 18th album. 
 
The Stranglers have never played by the rules. Despite category-hungry critics’ notoriously narrow minds pushing them into ‘punk’ ‘new wave’ pigeonholes, no two records in their considerable canon sound the same. And, introduced to the set in March last year, Water’s time signature, its lyrics inspired by the Arab Spring and its bass-led menace augur well for the Stranglers’ last chapter(s). 
 
Talking to the Metro newspaper in 2009 Burnel suggested the band’s big tour days were coming to a close even then. Drummer Jet Black, the pulse of the band, was 71, not in the best of health, and that seemed to be that. 
 
Instead though, Black tutored/mentored his drum tech Jim Macaulay in those timely chops and the thickset, now similarly bearded youngster has reinvigorated the Stranglers as a touring proposition; hitting the kit with Black’s verve and just a little bit harder too. So the finish line was pushed back 10 years, and counting, the band touring every March, through the Giants LP release, in 2012, through their 40th birthday and beyond. 
 
Succinctly, the Stranglers sell out 3,000, 4,000 and 5,000+ capacity venues up and down the country, kicking light and dark corners from their catalogue around the room with undiminished edge, vitality and conviction. 
 
“Go and see this band,” film director David Boni, who is wrapping the Stranglers’ biopic, told Ex Pat Radio this month. “They give it their absolute all. They’re nearing the end of this part of their career but they’re going a 100 miles per hour and I find that incredible.” 
 
Typically uncompromising, Back On The Tracks will road test more material rather than trying to hide it from the iPhone generation.
 
“We’ll be playing up to four new songs a night,” Burnel nods. “You go to see what a band has done, I think, across the years. If we did the whole LP, like we had to in the Rattus Norvegicus days because that was all we had, people wouldn’t want to know.”
 
Burnel goes on to confirm this will be the Stranglers’ last spring turn. “It’s been great for nine years but it’s time to do something different. I want to shake things up a bit. I don’t how long we’ll go on for, but the motivation is still there.” 
 
And it needs to be. After Back On The Tracks finishes at the Manchester Apollo on March 30, and a short break, the Stranglers play festivals Stateside, in Belgium, France and Britain before undertaking a full European tour. Further dates, supporting Alice Cooper in arenas through October, have just been added so studio time in 2019 will be hard to find. 
 
“We have seven identified tracks we’re working on at the moment and we’re waiting for a fallow period [to get them finished],” Burnel says. “A few record labels have approached us about the album but I’m not sure we’ll go that traditional route. 
 
“I was surprised by what’s happened to Pledge. That was something we had considered. In terms of the film, we feel a sense of responsibility. We don’t want anybody paying for something they don’t get and we’re trying to sort that out.”
 
English Towns
With a few notable exceptions, the Stranglers play Academy Music Group venues, reshaping the stage in their own reflection. 
 
“There’s some feng shui involved,” Burnel says, “but just throwing money at production is not very creative and not very Stranglers. If you can make an impact without spending too much, that’s an achievement. And when you fill these bigger halls too, there’s still a degree of sticking your fingers up at a lot of people.
 
“We’re doing Scunthorpe for the first time because the tour [was originally going to start] in Scotland and we needed somewhere in the north of England for production rehearsals. 
 
“[Baths Hall] has been upgraded. Our crew will be in there for a couple of days making sure everything works, experimenting with things, so we thought we should play a show there too.”
 
Stranglers’ tour names are to the point, March On and Ruby recent cases in point, and with Burnel’s brazen disregard for the wants of the US market, which dates way back, it’s unlikely Back On The Tracks is any nod to Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, despite the two acts’ propensity for performing. 
 
“Our lack of subtlety is subtle,” Burnel chuckles. “I’m grateful for a few things the States has given us, like security, like rock ‘n’ roll, but I don’t see why I have to suck America’s cock.” 
 

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