Punk survivors keep edge in a scene with no more heroes
Golden frown ... the Stranglers, with Burnel far right, could be one departure from the end. Photo: Tim Scott
IT WAS revealed this year that the Sex Pistols, the one-time enfants terribles of the English music scene, had been approached to appear in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.
The band declined the invitation but Jean-Jacques Burnel, bass player with fellow British punk band the Stranglers, points out that the Stranglers would never have been considered for the event.
''We would never be asked - we're still considered too edgy,'' Burnel says. ''The difference is the Sex Pistols are a boy band who've managed to master one record in 35 years and are a bit of a comedy act and we're not seen in that way, yet.''
The Stranglers famously fell out with the Sex Pistols and the Clash after Burnel took a swing at the Clash's bass player, Paul Simonon, after a gig in 1976.
''I had a set-to with Paul,'' Burnel says. ''It was handbags at 10 paces. There was one part of the courtyard where there was a couple of the Ramones, the Clash, the Sex Pistols, a few other bands and their journalist friends, and on the other side there was the Stranglers. After that, there was a polarisation of opinion.''
It was an incident that set the foundation for the Stranglers' outsider status, even within the punk scene.
''It isolated us from people we'd previously hung out with and who'd previously been coming to see us,'' Burnel says. ''We developed a bit of a siege mentality after that. The press was entirely on the side of the Sex Pistols and the Clash. So the following year, when we out-sold everyone [with the band's 1977 debut album, Rattus Norvegicus], it just helped increase our isolation. We developed a ghetto mentality - we'd do better than anyone else.''
When the Stranglers toured Australia in 1979, the band found itself attacked on both sides of the political spectrum: the Queensland Police Force confronted the band in Brisbane, while feminists in Sydney protested against the band's sexually charged lyrics.
On The Mike Willesee Show, the Stranglers were provoked into uttering a profanity, which led Molly Meldrum to ban the band from Countdown.
''I think we became more proactive in that way as we felt more isolated,'' Burnel says. ''It was always good fun provoking people. We had a slogan at one stage: 'Truth through provocation.'''
Singer Hugh Cornwell left in 1990, claiming the band had run out of creative inspiration. Burnel, drummer Jet Black and keyboard player Dave Greenfield continued on, initially recruiting John Ellis on guitar, who had played with Greenfield and Burnel in the Purple Helmets, and Paul Roberts on vocals. The Stranglers reverted to a four-piece when Baz Warne, who had originally replaced Ellis on guitar, took over vocal duties.
The band's latest album, this year's Giants, was greeted with some of the strongest reviews since 1984's Aural Sculpture.
''I ignore the reaction when it's shit and bathe in it when it's good,'' Burnel says.
''So I've been having some good baths recently.''
With Black unlikely to tour due to his ongoing serious health problems - a consequence of his lavish appetite for food and the rock 'n' roll lifestyle - Burnel admits the Stranglers' days are numbered.
''We're dropping off one by one, so I might be last man standing, like Captain Nemo,'' he says. ''I don't think we can credibly call ourselves the Stranglers if one more member leaves.''
The Stranglers, Blondie and Machinations perform on Thursday at the Enmore Theatre.