JJ Burnel and Rick Wakeman slug it out
Now here's two unlikely bed fellows!
In a recent issue of the UK based 'Classic Rock' magazine, all attention was turned to 1977, in this another Jubilee year. And so it was that our hero and anti-hero came face to face to discuss the music scene of '77 from the perspective of the punk and prog, the two genres that these two musicians were so prominent in.
Unfortunately, I don't have the article (a transcript would be welcome), but it's a good excuse to share this great photo!
UPDATE: Here's the Transcript (thanks to Josh)
"Let me ask you a question. What's this all about?'' Stranglers bassist JJ Burnel, looking about as healthy as a 60 year old can, is leaning forward in his chair and enquiring with some intent as to why he's sitting next to the rather less buff, 63 year old former Yes keyboard player and all round prog overlord Rick Wakeman.
Allow us to explain. As part of Classic Rock's celebration of all things 1977, we decided yo bring together two men from opposite ends of the musical spectrum to find out what things were really like on the frontline all those years ago. In 1977 Wakeman had spent six months in Queen's Mountain Studios in Montreux working on Yes's Going For the One album. In stark contrast, The Stranglers were preparing to release not one but two albums, six months apart: Rattus and No More Heroes. For Yes it marked the end of their imperial phase, For The Stranglers, it was the beginning of theirs.
Surprisingly, given the fences that divided them back then, when the 2 meet, they greet like old friends. It turns out this is because they are old friends, their paths having crossed several times over the years. ''1977, then,'' booms Wakeman, settling back into his chair. "I'm not certain either of us will remember that far back..."
For JJ, 1977 would have been the start of an adventure, whereas Rick had, to put it bluntly, been round the block a few times.
RW: (Laughing) Thank you.
JJ: Well, for me it was the start. It was the 1st time we'd released and album. We felt something was going on. A bit of a revolution. And with every revolution you chuck the baby out with the bath water. It was a Year Zero for many people, so anything that had gone before was automatically excluded. It was only years later that people actually started admitting to having anything before Year Zero.
How long did that take?
JJ: A long time. I do remember Captain Sensible at the time, without any irony, admitting he liked Abba; and when I saw the Sex Pistols playing old Monkees covers.There was a dichotomy between what people were doing and what they were claiming in the press. A lot of the bands claimed punk had nothing to do with drugs. I was like "What!?" We used to get called hippies for smoking dope. Because everyone was broke and tight, speed was the drug of choice because it was cheap.
What was 1977 like for you, Rick?
RW: In 1977 I'd just rejoined Yes and we were recording Going for the One in Switzerland, which took 6 months....
JJ: 6 months!! We recorded our 1st 2 albums in 10 days!!
RW: A lot of time was spent with Alan White going skiing, Steve Howe tuning his guitars, and trying to wake Chris Squire up. But Ahmet Ertegun came to us and said "I don't know how much longer I can keep funding records like this." We realised that this was the last bastion of prog rock as we knew it. We were aware of punk. I'd seem it coming a few years earlier when I saw The Tubes and took them to A&M, who signed them.
JJ: Oh really? We used to love The Tubes.
RW: We were aware that something was going on. And what happens when something new comes along is that it kills off what went before it, at least for a bit. When prog came along, it did away with the old beat and psychedelic groups, the way the beat groups had done away with the crooners before them.
JJ: When something new comes along, everyone wants to be a part of that peer group, to the extent that they'll deny their history. It's only when they've gained some confidence that they can start to admit where that history actually came from. Up until that point it's almost un PC to admit your influences. But you can tell that just by listening to the music. On our 1st album, the nearest thing we had to a prog rock song was Down In the Sewer. That was about 11 minutes long and it was a suite. Prog Rock, essentially, even if it was prog a la Beefheart & The Doors.
How did you get away with that?
JJ: A few people accused us of being hippies. But there was a lot of hypocrisy involved at the time. Like people claiming to be working class when they weren't. I remember Joe Strummer crying on my shoulder when we were the 1st band to support Patti Smith and the Ramones. He was in a R&B called the 101'ers and was going "Oh, I wish I had a band like yours." He used to live in the Notting Hill squats at the time. No-one knew his dad was a diplomat.
Was there a rivalry between the punk bands at the time?
JJ: Not at 1st. Not until success kicked in. I remember meeting Steve and Paul from the Sex Pistols when we supported Patti Smith in '76, and all Steve said to me was "We're going to be famous in 6 months time. I like your haircut!" Then a year later I remember having a punch up with them and Paul from the Clash at the old Dingwalls. That's when the rivalry seemed to start - when we started outselling everyone.
Did that kind of rivalry exist in Prog, Rick? Did you have any dust ups with ELP or Genesis?
RW: No, the press tried to stir things up, between myself and Keith Emerson especially. But we were great friends and we used to laugh about it all. We let it go on because it fuelled press.
But that rivalry did exist between prog bands and punk bands?
JJ: We used to laugh at things like Pink Floyd taking years to make an album. But we've just taken 2 years to make Giants. The creative process can take time, because you're not an assembly line. And you have a life outside of the band as well.
The two world did occasionally meet: Freddie Mercury bumping into Sid Vicious in the studio, members of Led Zep turning up to punk gigs...
JJ: I don't really recall fraternsing with any bands from the previous generation apart from Dr Feelgood. When I was a kid, I'd go and see bands like Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac and Black Cat Bones, who became Free, and I felt that kind of vibe in Dr Feelgood. Dave Greenfield was a prog rocker though. When I 1st met him he had platform boots on, his jacket had frills, and he had long hair and what we call a semi pro moustache. He introduced me to In the Land of Pink and Grey by Caravan. I did like that. I do remember John Anderson though. Is he still into elves?
RW: Jon had his own little world. When he doesn't like what's happening in the real one, he retreats into his own one. He's a big fan of yours though, JJ. We were touring together last year, driving around in the same car, and listening to all sorts of music. We played some Stranglers, and he said to me "You know, there's a few of their songs that Yes could've done." He was right. Certainly something like Golden Brown.
JJ: I'll tell you something about Golden Brown that I've never told anyone before. It actually developed out of a prog rock suite. We were recording La Folie, and Hugh and I were pissed off because we seemed to be writing all the songs. So we said to Jet and Dave: "Right, you 2 are going to write a song. We're off to the pub. Have it written when we get back." We fucked off to the pub all afternoon. Now with Dave being a prog rocker and Jet being a jazzer, when we got back they presented us with this six part piece of music. And we were like: "Fucking hell, we can't record this." We went: "Don't like that bit...don't like that...oh, wait a minute, we could do something with that." And the part we did like formed the basis for Golden Brown.
1977 has retrospectively been cast as the year of Punk, but the biggest selling albums of the year were Bat out of Hell and Rumours. Has there been a bit of rewriting of history?
RW: Well up until 1942 the Germans were winning WW2!
JJ: Have you seen these re-runs of TOTP from 1977 lately? What a load of shite! Its like Karaoke Central.
So 1977: was it fun?
JJ: It certainly was. I knew a year later that things were changing though. I had a bank account, and I went in and the teller was a young girl with green streaks in her hair. The great British assimilation had begun.
RW: It becomes mainstream.
JJ: Yes. It had become the norm. And nobody turns a blind eye.