Tuesday, July 23, 2013

2013-the story so far...

Halfway through the year give or take, and the present quiet offers a chance to reflect on the last few
Baz Cognac 2012
months, a look forward to the coming one, and then on into next year…

The British tour was, as always, a great time…We had nothing to promote commercially, and it was a chance to just get out there again, see everyone, and play… Using Jim McCauley for most of the set and then Jet coming on for the last 30/40 minutes or so was a risk, but a chance we felt we could take, and after a few teething troubles early on in the tour, we straightened the transition out and it worked very well we thought…and it seems a lot of you did too judging by the comments and reviews we received. I passed a milestone with my 500th gig, and as you can see from the footage was completely taken by surprise...As always, too of course, you’ll never please everyone, but we’re used to that and plough on regardless…as you’ll know by now. We were happy with it…

Then a breather…a knee operation for JJ on his left cruciate ligament…then off to Canada for the first time since being there as a 5 piece in 2004, the U.S. for the first time in almost 20 years, and my first visit there with the band. It’s been well documented by now that it was a hard slog in places, as all tours are, and wasn’t as seamless as we’re used to in the organisation department, but the shows and unending enthusiasm from the fans and media alike made it a trip to remember for sure…

Everywhere was packed with whooping, hollering yanks and braying Canucks and it was a pleasure to see the faces of people who feared they’d never see us play there again… Cancelling Detroit was a decision that wasn’t taken lightly of course…pulling gigs never is, but we had no choice as at that stage we couldn’t physically get into the United States and the entire tour was at risk had we not done so…In our parlance Detroit ‘took one for the team’…it couldn’t be helped and again, we’re sorry…hopefully we’ll be back…

And so now, during what has been a very quiet summer for us, we’re moving into August, the Royal Albert Hall, and a couple of nice local festivals, one of which we’ve done before… When we were first asked to do the Proms it all seemed a little unreal…for a band that has thrived on bucking trends and moving in the darker fringes of British music, courting controversy whilst still having hits and enjoying huge popularity, it almost seems like some sort of perverse vindication…The BBC, pomp and circumstance, and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’…

Err...maybe not...
The band have played at the RAH before of course, but it’s another first for me and I’m looking forward to it immensely, as are JJ, Jet and Dave…we get to play with a very big orchestra this time, as well as live simultaneous broadcasts on the beeb…and as I write this it’s very close to selling out…Hip hip….

Two festivals follow then we break for a while as preparations are made for next year…don’t know what they’ll be, where we’ll be or what form much of it will take…but we’re plotting, planning and scheming…and when we know, so will you… Enjoy the rest of the summer…

Baz/23rd July 2013

Baz Cognac pic thanks to Phil Martin
Baz Philly pic courtesy of Mitchell Smith

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Black and White-track by track

Thirty five years after the release of the band's third album Black and White, JJ revisits the album's tracks and associated b-sides:

Hugh's lyrics with my music I think. I can't remember much else about it. It's a hard one for Dave to play live, depending on where he is through his bottle of Cognac at the gig! The whole of the album was written (at Bear Shank Lodge) at Oundle and it was a very snowy winter. Everyone else went away for Christmas but I didn't cos I had nowhere to go. I was left at Oundle by myself.

Sleazy was written about our experiences with the Amsterdam Hells Angels in the autumn of '77. One of the Finchley Boys rode my Triumph over to Amsterdam and I went with the band. The Amsterdam Angels treated us very well, too well, and we ended up at their Chapter house, which had been donated by the Government to keep them out of town. After the Paradiso gig, I remember Jet going back to their club house on the back of a Harley. I went with the President of the Angels in his huge, American car and we got stopped by the Police. He gave me a large bag of white powder to look after while he got out of the car and went and pissed on the police car's front wheel! Back at their compound, we shot guns at a prison which was being built. Quite scary!

Outside Tokyo was completely Hugh, even the waltz music. Normally, all the waltzes were mine but I don't recall writing the music.

Again, my music and Hugh's lyrics. We'd had a few set to's in Sweden by then with the Raggare (Swedish 50s influenced youth movement who drove old American cars) and had already been escorted out of the country under armed guard, for our own safety.

By then, we'd heard Devo and we really thought they were on to something musically. I remember talking to Lora Logic from X Ray Spex (who guested on sax on the track) and telling her to feel free to play whatever she wanted on it. We wanted that musical freedom that Devo had on this track.

I was left to my own devices over that Christmas and that's how Toiler came about. Toiler was one of my epicy instrumental things. I had the whole piece, all the parts of it and, as the others were away, I actually started rehearsing it with Dennis from the Finchleys on drums. I remember going into the rehearsal studio there and trying to get him to play the drums on it.

When Hugh got back after Christmas, he had a bit of a bad holiday. He'd gone with a Japanese girl to Morocco and he added his very recent story to my music when he came back after the break.

The lyrics are mine. We were going through a Cold War spell at the time and it was just me imagining how it would be if the Russians actually made it through to the West. There was a general fear that the Cold War was going to escalate into an invasion. We'd gone to Germany and realised that, at the time, Germany was completely inthralled with the Americans. They had lost their strength and had gone very pacifist. There are references to the 'American dream'. So, the song was imagining what would happen if it all kicked off...

Musically, we thought we'd be clever as we added one 5/4 bar into the song.

Threatened was another of my lyrics with Hugh's music. One night I went out with some people and they had opinions about everything, they were all too opinionated. I thought if it doesn't threaten you, what's the point in having a fucking opinion about something? Basically that was the idea behind the song.

My music and Hugh's lyrics and Dave's amazing vocals. I don't remember him explaining the meaning of the lyrics to me at the time. Definitely my riff though.

Death and Night and Blood was completely me, the title comes from a quote from Yukio Mishima. He was full of contradictions, he was homosexual but was married with kids, he was a highly rated writer but he wanted to make a statement with his body, which he did by becoming a body builder and taking up karate and kendo. He was also slightly misogynistic and leaning towards the fascistic.

He also had his own private army The Shield Society which enabled him to get access to a General's office at army headquarters and to incite the Japanese 'Self Defence Force' (as they weren't allowed to be called an 'army') into action. He barricaded himself in the office and then addressed the gathered troops but his speech was drowned out by the sound of helicopters and the soldiers jeering. He went back inside and commited suicide by Hari Kari.

At the time, (Julie) Burchill and (Tony) Parsons wrote a book called The Boy Looked At Johnny and in it they described me as a 'Nazi, homosexual thug'! That's unfair, I'm not a thug!!! They were part of the Socialist Workers and, in their minds, if you weren't with them, you're a fascist. That was typical of them really...

In The Shadows started as a jam, which was originally twice as long as the finished version. It was a piece of improvisation went on for about 12 or 15 minutes! I spent about 12 hours with Martin Rushent in the studio editing it down. I also wanted to add a dub reggae type feel so there were delays and cutting in and out added on to it.

We actually improvised the lyrics which were about paranoia and fear. We wanted it to sound like Captain Beefheart which was why we sang in low voices. It was originally released as the b side of No More Heroes and was a taster for what was coming next. We felt it fitted the whole album concept of Black and White as it felt dark and 'late at night' so we included it on the album too. I liked it as it was something new, a real departure for us...

This was about the same paranoia, about how we felt about the times that we were living in, the zeitgeist. In fact, the whole of Black and White was quite paranoic. It was also fueled by the fact that we'd had all that success the year before, and we were now getting slated by the press. That fed into our general consciousness, it was us against the world!

The morse code solo at the end reads 'SOS. This is planet Earth. We are fucked. Please advise'. We thought we'd be clever and include morse code to send that message out...

We played it live on the tour at the time, but I'm not sure how managed to do it. We tried rehearsing it for the Weekendinblack convention in 2011 but we just couldn't get it together. It's one of the very few things that I don't know how we originally constructed it...


We didn't write it! Walk On By was a leftover from the days when we had to play cover versions. We'd play our own songs but, before people started throwing bottles, we throw something in that they knew! The solo section became a vehicle where we could extend our musicianship and it got longer and longer. Everyone played a solo in it and that became a trademark in some of our other songs in the future, like Genetix, where the four of us are playing totally different things. The instrumental section was a nod to Light My Fire by The Doors, that was the template that we used for the solo piece.

We used Tits as our weapon when something went wrong or against us! We'd circle the wagons and give people what they don't want. The song was taking the piss out of everything and it worked for us on occasion. We used it against the Finchleys when they tried intimidating us at the Torrington that first time. We weren't been forced off stage like they'd done with other bands. We also did it at the Roundhouse when we supported Patti Smith the first time. Old school sabotage...

A basic bit of rock and roll because we were just a rock and roll band originally. We had no pretentions and it's an unpretentious rock and roll song with misogynistic lyrics from Hugh. We did a version with Celia Gollin. Dai Davies came up with the idea us working with Celia and to lend our kudos and musicianship to this girl he was trying to push. He wanted me to write songs with her, one of which featured Wilko (Johnson) too..

This was a blues type song which came about because we were pleasantly surprised having just met George Melly. We'd met him making an Arena programme for BBC2 where he had described us as the 'inheritors of Dadaism'. Hugh wrote the lyrics for him specifically for him to sing, with references to his self-confessed sexuality of previous years. During the recording at TW studios, with Lew Lewis (harmonica player), he also surprised us getting out a small tin and rolling spliffs! We didn't expect a bloke of his generation or ilk to be like that. It was all very chummy and we kept in touch with him for a few years...

An inoffensive little song with my lyrics about a girl. We wanted to do the fastest song we could ever do. Punk by numbers, tongue in cheek and a bit throwaway really...

The title is a play on words, with Hugh's lyrics about social secretaries at colleges who wouldn't book us. It also relates to the well documented Rock Goes To College incident which was considered commercial suicide at the time. The track went on to become Yellowcake UF6 although the riff also resurfaced on Do The European as I was working on Euroman Cometh at the time.

JJB/18th May 2013

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Basses and bad backs!

Some bands don’t rehearse much and it shows. Some consider it to be part of their slightly chaotic or  anarchic charm. Others will play strictly the same set every night and, after a while, the audience will sense that they are merely going through the motions. We are often accused, if that is the right term, of being as tight as a duck’s arse. Since I haven’t had said pleasure I usually take it as a compliment.

I prefer for the Stranglers to rehearse much more material than is necessary so that we can chop and change our sets as and when we feel like. Another advantage, as I see it, is that I can feel much freer with my instrument and I don’t have to keep looking at it to see that I’m playing the right notes. In that way the bass player can groove with the music. I absolutely love to dance when I’m playing, 'Daddy dancing' to some but, ladies and gentlemen, "thems my own legs!"

I don’t always get it right, there is the occasional howler but bollocks it’s rock and roll! Obviously when there is the odd bum note then I repeat it just to show that it was meant and no mere accident. Of course...

However, before this last “Feel it live” tour, we rehearsed more than ever. Some days we had to actually play two whole sets. The end results makes it look effortless but there are many hours to make it look thus. The only problem for me was that some evenings my back was killing me. My bass is quite a heavy thing and without the luxury of being able to move around so much in a small rehearsal room and maybe playing 5 or 6 hours it was starting to be an issue.

I called Jon Shuker to see what could be done. The great thing about a close relationship with an artisan manufacturer is that personal contact.

For many years I used the Fender Precision. I eventually got fed up with the fact it was a distant and remote manufacturer and was determined to find a British manufacturer who could follow the Fender P blueprint or, indeed, improve on it. I found him in the shape of Jon Shuker. For a few years now we have been collaborating on a JJB four string bass which has a great sound, is British made and is custom built.

In fact, I’m trying to have as much locally made equipment as possible. If something is better than my locally made equipment the challenge is for our manufacturers to improve and beat the competition. At present I use Rotosound strings (Kent ) Ashdown amplification (Essex) and Shuker bass (Derbyshire).

Now it was time to update my bass to accommodate my back issue...

Near the beginning of the tour I took delivery of a somewhat modified JJB bass. What a difference. Jet immediately said after the first show that he heard it that it was the best sound he had ever heard from my bass. It was much lighter and balanced. Jon will still be making the original JJB spec fender p type model but this one will be my spec from now on.

So now, with Jon’s permission, for all you bass anoraks out there, here are the new specs...

JJB/4th May 2013

Thanks to Louie N. for bass & case photo

J J Burnel P bass original body

The body is made of two woods, dense white ash and lighter swamp ash, 3 pieces in total. The centre section is made from white ash where the neck, pickups and bridge are fixed, the reason is as the new body - the dense ash in the centre section is where all the main components are bolted, the theory being that the denser ash gives a more defined sound, stronger bass response and brighter trebles, overall a more aggressive sound with stronger sustain and more harmonics.

The wings are made from swamp ash which is a lightweight ash, traditionally used for guitar and bass bodies in the past, but it lacks a little in sound but helps with weight. The idea in the original body was to emulate the sound of the 70’s black P without the extreme weight of a soild white ash body (which is what it is made from and certainly helps the sound) but to get closer to the weight of the green bass, which I think was all swamp ash.

The body was finished in the same way as the new body.

J J Burnel P bass Neck

The neck is made from rock maple, with a rock maple fingerboard. It has a truss rod that is adjustable at the body end, accessed behind a small cover in the scratchplate. Two lengths of carbon graphite rods are installed either side of the truss rod, these dramatically increase the strength and stability of the neck, making it extremely strong and solid, also the carbon graphite increase sustain and harmonics, eliminate deadspots.

The headstock is slightly thicker than normal, this increases sustain and neck strength. The frets are made from stainless steel, this makes the bass brighter, but the main reason is to reduce the wear as normal nickel fretwire is just not up to the job…..! The nut is made from brass, this gives a brighter sound to the open strings, a more fretted note sound, also it is pretty much unbreakable and brass is self-lubricating, so doesn’t pinch the strings.

On the Mk1 bass the headstock was fitted with Gotoh GB2 tuners which are extremely well made and will last a lifetime, one of the best tuners on the market. On MkII we went for Schaller bml lite tuners which are the lightest tuners available and are made by one of the most respected manufacturers of guitar hardware, not cheap because they are made from lightweight alloy and cast carbon resin.

The neck is finished is satin polyurethane lacquer


J J Burnel P bass


The basses are fitted with a gotoh 203 bridge, which is a traditional bridge but with huge improvements, the outer saddles run in grooves that stops any side to side movement, the baseplate is much thicker than normal, a heavy duty bridge!


The pickup is custom wound to suit JJ’s sound, its based around a ’62 pickup but slightly overwound to give it more output and a stronger midrange and a more aggressive attack. The pickup is complemented by the bass construction giving an increased dynamic range, fuller more defined low end and a crisp, strong treble response.


Just a volume and tone. The tone control is set to cut more treble than usual.


New bass spec – No. 1 mkII

34” scale

20 frets

44mm nut width – neck measurements taken from green bass

rock maple neck

maple fingerboard

two way adjustable truss rod

carbon fibre neck reinforcement – 2 rods either side of truss rod

black face and side dots

jumbo stainless steel fretwire

brass nut

Schaller bml lite tuners

Black neck hardware

Satin neck lacquer

White ash and lightweight alder chambered body (as previously described)

Polyester basecoat

Wet look gloss black polyurethane topcoat

Black scratchplate

Custom wound P pickup

Volume and tone

Chrome body hardware

Gotoh 203 bridge


Original bass spec – No. 1 mkI

34” scale

20 frets

44mm nut width – neck measurements taken from green bass

rock maple neck

maple fingerboard

two way adjustable truss rod

carbon fibre neck reinforcement – 2 rods either side of truss rod

black face and side dots

jumbo stainless steel fretwire

brass nut

Gotoh GB2 tuners

chrome neck hardware

Satin neck lacquer

White ash and swamp ash body (as previously described)

Polyester basecoat

Wet look gloss black polyurethane topcoat

Black scratchplate

Custom wound P pickup

Volume and tone

Chrome body hardware

Gotoh 203 bridge


J J Burnel P bass Lite body

The body is made from two woods, a dense white ash and lightweight alder, six separate pieces of wood in total. There is a solid centre section and two chambered ‘wings’. The centre section is a sandwich of the ash and alder, the ash is the upper piece where the neck, pickups and bridge are mounted, the rear the alder. The reason for using the ash on the top is that all the main components are bolted to this dense wood, the theory being that the denser ash gives a more defined sound, stronger bass response and brighter trebles, overall a more aggressive sound with stronger sustain and more harmonics, using the alder on the rear keeps down the weight but also the alder has a more full range sound and adds an amount of warmth to the sound.

The wings are lightweight alder, the upper bout is chambered to lighten the body further. The chamber starts just forward of the forearm contour and stops just before the top horn and is routed to two depths so that the rear contour can be carved. Then a top laminate of alder is glued over the upper wing, this is 6mm thick, which is a fair bit thicker than a top would be for a bass that’s chambered for acoustic reasons, this is because it tends to get thumped often…..

The lower wing is also chambered but just forward of the waist and up to the lower horn, so that the cavity for the controls can be routed from the front without breaking into the chamber.

The wings are glued to the centre section and the bass routed and carved. The body is finished in a polyester basecoat then a gloss black polyurethane topcoat. So all in all quite a complicated build for a P bass, but when together this makes for a bass that weighs only 7 ½ lbs.

The other main change to the first model is the tuners, this bass has Schaller BML lite tuners, which are the lightest tuners available, made from lightweight alloy and cast resin.

We’re looking to develop the bass further, looking into the possibility of a carbon fibre cased neck with a maple board.

Jon Shuker


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Feel It Live round up

JJ @ Manchester (Warren Meadows)

As I sit here with my crutches by my side, I suddenly find myself with a bit of enforced time to reflect on our latest tour.

I must explain that, immediately the tour was over, I had an appointment to reconstruct my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) which I tore last August whilst training. It is just a reflection of how busy the Stranglers were last year that this was the first opportunity that I had to have the operation and recover in time for more action on the Stranglers front.

So, apologies to anyone who thought that I wasn’t jumping as high or as frequently as usual. Like Steve of the Finchleys!

A successful tour. Even more people came to see the Stranglers this year than last, according to SJM-our promoters. and bearing in mind that overall the numbers on tours throughout the UK this year are 10% down on last year. In anyone’s book, that was a success.

We even managed to play in a few places like Carlisle and Salisbury that we haven’t played in for ages. I remember last time in Carlisle some bloke threw a pint of beer over me, which elicited what I imagine he expected, only for the police to come looking for me at the end of the concert following a complaint from said miscreant! I left through one door, they entered through another! Keystone cops!

Even the last gig in Croydon, which we thought would be a bit of an anti-climax since it was added to the itinerary after the Roundhouse sold out so quickly, and was after what has become our traditional last nighter in Manchester AND is a seated venue, turned out to be a great night. So many familiar faces. Quite a few people came to several of the shows, all over the country. I suspect there are some very understanding spouses all over the UK. 
Feel It Live-photo Dave Sims (Baby Dave)
This tour we managed to change the set more times than usual. This in part due to the fact that we had to learn and rehearse two sets, one for just Jim alone, in case or when Jet didn’t participate, and one including Jet. And only Jet can play Genetix. It was already decided beforehand which gigs Jet would be able to make and which were just logistically impossible for him to do. Some stages just couldn’t handle two drum kits on at the same time. Our road crew who can probably play the instruments better than any of the band found it to be the best tour that they had been on. And these guys don’t only work with the Stranglers.

Graeme Rennie in WA (Nichola R)

However, all good things have their counterpoint and the first of these was the news that an old friend and fan of the band had finally succumbed to his cancer. Graeme Rennie died on March 9th. Graeme had met Nichola Still, who had been helping out with SIS many years before, through the Stranglers (In fact I’ve since learnt that quite a few couplings are on account of The Stranglers). Graeme was a Scot and Nichola was from the south coast. They had decided to emigrate to Perth in western Australia and were living the dream. Theirs was most definitely a love match. They had even bought their tickets to come and see the Stranglers in Sydney and Melbourne in December when we were playing there with Blondie. That would have been a five hour flight but, sadly. due to his illness they had to cancel...

At the beginning of the tour it was announced in France that someone that I had known years previously had passed away. Some of you may remember Taxi Girl. They supported us on, I think the second La Folie tour . And had made quite an impression. I had actually produced their first and only album 'Seppuku' and had had to bring Jet in to do the drumming on the album following the death of their drummer at the age 19 just weeks before going into the studio. Daniel Darc had since the demise of Taxi Girl forged a considerable reputation as a poet and recording artist. Our paths had crossed a few times in the intervening years and his loss will be keenly felt.

As many of you also know, my dear friend Wilko Johnson, who was my flatmate in 1977 and was a mainstay of the original Dr Feelgood, had also announced just before the tour started that he would be embarking on his last tour after being diagnosed with non operable cancer.

Good news and bad news. The only connection is that both fill me with wonderful sweet memories.
JJB/13th April 2013