Mojo (UK)

"WE REPRESENTE­D THE DEVIL"

During 1977, The Stranglers' JJ Burnel saw punk grow a new orthodoxy. But no one told the dockers...

- As told to Keith Cameron

WE WERE PROBABLY the hardest-working band in punk-business back in the day. We went to Sweden and were escorted out of the country by armed police – they associated us with this devil music from the UK, because none of the other bands had been there. Equipment got trashed, police got attacked. In Britain, when we turned up in provincial towns, we represente­d the devil. So we took it for the team. Even though they wouldn’t let us in their team… There were so many punch-ups. One famous one in Stranglers-lore was the Battle Of Cleethorpe­s. We’d heard 15 dockers from Grimsby were coming to sort out these London wannabes. During the gig I noticed two little punk girls being harassed by these big blokes up front. So I said: “You tough guys, picking on the girls – come and sort us out.” I put my bass down and this huge guy was on-stage – so I tripped him up and it all kicked off. Suddenly the stage was full of dockers. Fortunatel­y, we had back-up. I remember Jet [Black] using his cymbals quite effectivel­y. In 1977 I still identified with punk, despite the fact we had been ostracised since the Ramones gig the year before. I was pissed off – pissed off at being ostracised by people like Joe Strummer, who we’d been having drinks with [not long] before and who we had done favours for and who had done favours for us. Initially, I subscribed to the broad church I thought punk was. Then we’re getting criticised – for being too old, too educated, having synthesize­rs – and what I considered a broad church suddenly had a new fundamenta­lism. What at first I thought was liberating became suffocatin­g. A year earlier we were living in a squat and suddenly we were in the Top 10 for the whole year with our albums, so we suddenly had a bit of money and were being recognised as opposed to ostracised. So there was a personal transforma­tion, but also everywhere you went there was polarisati­on. In the summer of ’77 we were finishing No More Heroes and I was walking down Fulham Palace Road to TW Studios, and saw five blokes standing on the other side of the road. Suddenly this milk bottle just whizzed past me and smashed on the pavement, and these blokes rushed across the road, shouting, “Punk punk punk!”, and surrounded me. I think for all the bands who went through that, it was a baptism of fire. We learnt to front our band and not be afraid of anything. We played Wembley Stadium, supporting The Who. They were very encouragin­g to all the punk bands. I’m sure they would have rather had The Clash but we were a bigger draw. It really was a transforma­tive period. Now it’s become the mainstream. Walk down any high street in the UK – purple hair, tattoos, holes in jeans. The whole of society has been destroyed by punk! But if the music hadn’t had depth, it’d be dead. I heard Strange Little Girl on the radio yesterday – a big hit, which five years previously had been rejected by every single record company. Songs are the currency of now.

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