Aural Sculptors - The Stranglers Live 1976 to the Present

Welcome to Aural Sculptors, a blog aimed at bringing the music of The Stranglers to as wide an audience as possible. Whilst all of the various members of the band that have passed through the ranks since 1974 are accomplished studio musicians, it is on stage where the band have for me had their biggest impact.

As a collector of their live recordings for many years I want to share some of the better quality material with other fans. By selecting the higher quality recordings I hope to present The Stranglers in the best possible light for the benefit of those less familiar with their material than the hardcore fan.

Needless to say, this site will steer well clear of any officially released material. As well as live gigs, I will post demos, radio interviews and anything else that I feel may be of interest.

In addition, occasionally I will post material by other bands, related or otherwise, that mean a lot to me.

Your comments and/or contributions are most welcome. Please email me at

Saturday 25 November 2023

Stranglers bassist JJ Burnel on how he stays fit: ‘No sex or drugs – just rock n roll’ Daily Telegraph Interview (19th November 2023 - The Telegraph)

 Couldn't bring myself to purchase The Telegraph, but for anyone who missed it here's Liz Kershaw's interview with JJ from 19th November 2023.

You know you’re getting on a bit when your pop idols become pensionable – and that’s if they’re lucky. In recent years, so many of mine have sadly slipped off all too soon to that great gig in the sky. Others have simply slipped on stage. Bruce Springsteen, 74, took a tumble during at least two gigs on his recent 50th anniversary world tour and had to cancel a few nights because of a mystery illness. Earlier this year Madonna, 65, (who also famously had a fall at the 2015 Brit Awards) was hospitalised due to a bacterial infection and had to postpone her 40th anniversary tour. Mick Jagger, 80, meanwhile, takes a preventative approach and travels with a mobile gym and a physiotherapist. 

Clearly it’s a perilous business being an ageing rock star. So what does it take to ensure you’re stage-ready at 9pm when your peers are settled on a sofa with a cup of tea? Bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel is now the last man standing from the Stranglers’ original line-up. 

Next year, at 72, he’ll notch up half a century as the driving force of one of our most innovative and enduring British bands. He lives with his partner in Provence, in his French parents’ old house, but was recently in the UK for the launch of his autobiography, Strangler in the Light, and to rehearse for the band’s Golden Anniversary tour, on which he’ll once again be thrashing his bass, karate-kicking at the crowd and ripping off his soaking shirts to get his pecs out. Fifty years on, Stranglers’ gigs are still mostly sold out – and an energetic business. So how does Burnel stay so fit?

“Touring is exhausting. You have to keep in good shape. It’s all down to respect for the people who’ve paid good money to see us. How many bands are still going strong after 50 years and can sell out the Royal Albert Hall in seconds? I used to be a punk and, as an angry young man, I was very anti-authoritarian and always getting into punch-ups. But this tour won’t be Last Night of the Punks. These days I’m much more disciplined. And I’m not ready to retire yet!

I’m a seventh dan in karate – [one of] the highest rated in the UK – so I’ve always worked really hard on keeping myself fit. I’m always busy with band stuff but I never miss exercising, indoors or out. My “religion” dictates that I do at least one training session every day. I do up to 100 press-ups and sit-ups and work on kicks and exercises to work the different muscle groups – whether I’m in a hotel room or at home, where I also do cold-water swimming in my pool or a nearby lake. Or I walk a mountain trail. But I don’t run because it’s bad for the joints.

The best exercise is to be on my feet on stage. Moving about on stage stops my backache for a couple of hours. I try to give it my all and I lose about two litres [3½ pints] of fluids during a gig – by the end I’m completely drained. 

These gigs will be more than three hours long, and mainly in seated venues, with an interval… or rather a comfort break – a lot of our fans have been with us since 1974. 

All the playing and travelling is gruelling and it’s so easy to let yourself go. So as well as making time for exercise, I insist on eating healthily: mostly protein and greens. I always eat breakfast – usually eggs, sometimes with bacon and brown sauce, but no bread and always fresh coffee. I’ll have a salad for lunch and in the evenings, at home, I like to cook fish, lobster, meat and veg. I’m partial to truffle oil and a dollop of crème fraîche. On tour we have a couple of cooks with us. If I do have to grab any junk food I’m filled with self-loathing!

Being French I like a small glass of rose with my lunch, home or away. But there’s no other booze before the gig. The band do enjoy a well-deserved drink while we chat through our post-match analysis. If we’ve had a really good night we might pop a bottle of champagne and then a couple of bottles of red. But nobody needs a hangover, just plenty of sleep. I’ll usually get to bed by 1am wherever I am and fall asleep to Debussy. And I don’t get up until 11 unless I have to be up and on the road early. I know it doesn’t sound very “sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll” from the guy who was NME’s Stud of The Year in 1977! But still, I hope I’m not your standard septuagenarian.

I was only 21 when I met the other guys from the band. I’d just dropped out of uni when I picked up a hitchhiker near Guildford one night and met his mates, and next thing I was invited to replace him in their band. We all lived hand to mouth above the off licence owned by our drummer, Jet Black. By 1976 we were getting 200 gigs a year in pubs. Jet would collect our 25-quid fee and then treat us to Kentucky Fried Chicken, which I loved back then – though I wouldn’t touch it now. 

I had no fat on me but I wasn’t scraggy. I was a little kid in London in the hungry 1950s, when food was still rationed. But my dad was tall and muscular, from Viking stock, and my mum was tall and beautiful, so I had good genes. So I was already over 6ft at my all-boys grammar school. I played rugby and as I was always getting into fights I’d taken up boxing, so I already had muscles when I discovered a karate club at uni.

As a student I had no idea how to talk to girls. Six years later, when the Stranglers were on stage there for the first time, I was an absolute babe-magnet! There’d be girls queueing up outside my hotel room door. And then top models are all over you and you’re invited to fashion shows and Grace Jones jumps out of a cake for you at a party and famous rock stars’ wives are blatantly chatting you up… It all got so weird. How did I cope? I was like a kid in a candy shop – I just went for it! I’m told I’m still cute, but actually I’m not that bothered about sex anymore. Lower testosterone – it’s a fact of later life.

On this tour we’ll be playing songs from our catalogue of around 200 from 18 albums. We’re playing some of the more obscure ones live for the first time. Back in the day we were trying to be clever and they’re quite complex arrangements and hard to play now. I’m having to get my head – and fingers – round all the notes and regain muscle memory. To be honest, we were off our heads on mind-altering drugs back when we wrote them.

For one whole year, me and some of the other guys decided to take heroin to see if it inspired us creatively. We’d inhale lines of heroin (for a high) mixed with coke (for energy). It did produce a different kind of album! But I was going to bed at dawn and sleeping all day. I was 30 and in a pathetic physical state. As thin as anything, just skin and bones. Dave [Greenfield], our keyboard player, took charge. I went cold turkey, which was grim, and after two or three days I vowed I’d never touch the stuff again. 

What saved me was that I never injected anything. That and karate, which has helped me hold back – though getting injured goes with the territory. I’ve torn cartilage, muscles and tendons, broken bones and had two screws in my leg and done a whole Stranglers tour on crutches. But karate has kept me on an even keel and, as well as keeping me physically fit, it’s a much-needed coping mechanism. A way of life. A philosophy. “Never give up. Persevere. Remain faithful. Respect yourself and others.” I now share this with the students at my Shidokan karate school in London, which I set up more than 30 years ago.

Emotionally, the last six decades have been a real rollercoaster and at times I have struggled with my mental health. At my lowest point I tried to top myself. Our fifth album, [The Gospel According to the] Meninblack, came out in 1981 and went straight to number eight in the charts, but the next week it had disappeared. We were skint. I thought it was all over, so I took myself off to my garage… Luckily I really was a failure! 

Hugh Cornwell, our singer, called me after a gig in 1990 and said he was leaving us. All the band’s assets were then frozen. I had no money. I had to sell my motorcycles to feed my kids. The highs have been getting my pride and the band back on track.

The Stranglers have never been seen as soppy, because we’ve never written love songs. But on our last album, Dark Matters, in 2021, two songs are about love. One [And if You Should See Dave…] for my friend of 45 years, Dave Greenfield, who we lost to Covid. Plus The Lines is about still being able to love yourself when you look in the mirror and have to face up to ageing.

Some of my peers are having Botox and dying their hair. I think they look ridiculous. I just accept the wrinkles and white hairs – as well as a bad back, detached retinas and hearing loss. I’ve yet to write a song about incontinence! 

One thing that I’ve learnt over the years is that you can’t go on stage wasted. If I am tired one morning, that’s a pain, but if it gets so that I wake up every morning knackered, then I’ll think about packing it in. But I have to be doing something. I can’t bear lying around on beaches. I’d still be revving up my motorcycle or hiking with my dog in the mountains. And jamming in a local blues band with a founder member of the Yard Birds. Oh, and enjoying the Telegraph crossword every Saturday! And my little grandkids, aged two and three, who are the real stars now. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m a big softy really.”

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