Jean-Jacques Burnel, the Euroman speaks his mind
“I could kill you with one blow or put your eyes out.” Jean-Jacques Burnel informs me.
Since The Stranglers bassist is known to have floored more than one journalist in his time, and since I am a feminist nervously expecting a clash with Jean-Jacques Burnel over his group’s attitude to women, and since furthermore I am the easily-intimidated type, you may take it that this not-so-idle boast was guaranteed to keep me meek of mouth.
Actually, Mr Burnel wasn’t on this occasion in one of his more menacing moods. He’s quite nice and friendly, really, if a blatant tease and an incorrigible leg puller.
He was telling me about his judo prowess. Already a black belt, his expertise was boosted by a spell in Japan last Autumn training with a master.
Fortunately for more than a few citizens and representatives of the music press, an important lesson of judo is that it teaches self-discipline and restraint.
You’re not supposed to use your skill to mutilate people willy-nilly just because they aggravate you. Good thing, because there are certainly a lot of people and things that make Jean-Jacques mad.
Nowadays the biggest bee in Burnel’s bonnet is Europe. French by birth, British by education and European in outlook, he’s all for it.
In fact, as his first solo album ‘Euroman Cometh’ demonstrates, he’s obsessed with it.
One of the keys to Jean-Jacques support of Europeanism is his indignation at what he sees as the infiltration of America on the British and Continental ways of life. This, after all, is the man who once said, “Americans have small brains.”
Since I am an American who was brought up on a diet of Micky Mouse, Coca-Cola, Big Macs and bubble gum, I surreptitiously check out an escape route in case he starts to get personal. but he’s in full philosophical flow and doesn’t get down to any specific cases of abuse.
“They say don’t generalize, but governments act on a nation’s behalf and I don’t dig Americana.
“We’re Europeans and we don’t need American TV, for instance, crammed down our throats. I think it’s kind of led to feelings of inferiority about our own culture and that’s very bad.
“There’s a growing European nationalism, and I’m one of the people trying to foster that. Who wants this country to become a place living off its stamps and tourism?”
‘Euroman Cometh’ happened as a solo album because, as is often the case, Burnel didn’t have a home to go to at night when The Stranglers were recording the ‘Black and White’ album.
“When everyone had left and I didn’t have anywhere to go at midnight I stayed over in the studio some nights,” says Jean-Jacques.
While he was there he naturally started fiddling around recording things by himself. The songs, he wrote here and there over nine months, although, “It really only took about six days altogether to do them.”
Some of the tracks are obvious in meaning – ‘Euroman’ and ‘Do The European’ for example. There is also a number about ‘Freddie Laker (Concorde & Eurobus), a song in German which is a retort to the anthem ‘Deutschland Uber Alles’ and says Germany is not above everything, and one track on which J.J. uses his beloved Triumph mototbike to provide backing noises!
There is also a song in French. “It’s pornographic. That’s why it’s in French, because English people might get offended.” He recites it to me and I am suitably embarrassed. (I don’t parlez the lingo, but everything in French sounds suggestive to me)
“Most of it’s very electronic and there’s an R&B track from 1963.”
So does the solo LP indicate a split in The Stranglers? “I can’t say the rest of The Stranglers would approve of some of the album. I’m a bit fanatic about Europe and the others have reservations about it. But without dictating terms it’s an influence on The Stranglers, because I’m a fourth of the band.
‘Euroman Cometh’ is Euro-Rock, which is a style that has evolved that is distinct. I think The Stranglers together are moving more to Euro-Rock.”
Of the new live Stranglers album, ‘X-Cert’, Burnel says: “It’s the end of a period for The Stranglers. We got a lot of letters asking for a live album and we had recorded a lot of gigs.”
“And since this is the last time they’ll hear this kind of thing, we wanted it live rather than sticking masters together in a compilation.
“We’re the only true underground band”
“I think we’re the most unpopular band in Britain in the media,” Burnel comments with some pleasure. “It must piss them of that we’re a success. It doesn’t bother me. I kind of dig being the outsiders.
“The media, which is quite responsible for success, had no part in our success. It makes me feel self-righteous. It makes me confident that we’re the only true underground band.”
And with a brief flash of humility from a hard-core sexist he adds, “And we’re not blue-eyed boys. We’re ugly.”
“Oh, I don’t think you’re ugly” I tell him.
“Well, we’re not God’s gift to mirrors.”
interview published in Smash Hits 1979