Interview: Jean Jacques Burnel, bass guitarist and founder of the Stranglers

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JEAN JACQUES BURNEL, bass guitarist and founder of the Stranglers, is still touring and working on albums with the band.

Born in London to French parents, he spent two to three months in Normandy every year and grew up bilingual, before starting the punk band in 1974 that went on to have 23 UK top 40 singles and 17 top 40 albums, including Peaches and Golden Brown. Now 57, he lives in London with his Scottish girlfriend. He is playing in Edinburgh with the Stranglers at the HMV Picture House on Friday as part of the Edge Festival (

Describe your perfect weekend.

On Friday afternoon I jump on my Triumph motorcycle, go to the gym for a couple of hours, then have an aperitif with my girlfriend and cook. Saturday morning, I can't tell you – this is a family newspaper. But I have a triumphant awakening, then caf au lait and porridge – I'm a softy southerner and have sugar with mine, but my girlfriend is Scottish and likes salt on hers. We work out for a couple of hours, rowing and swimming, then I teach a two-hour karate class. On Saturday night we watch DVDs (Daniel Auteuil is a favourite) and listen to all types of music. My son has introduced me to the pleasures of downloading. On Sunday, another triumphant awakening, then lazy coffee, fruit – melon, peaches and strawberries – then the gym again, newspapers and a late lunch.

What would you do if you ruled the world?

I would end up being a vigilante. Anyone who is rude would have a bullet in the back of the head. Harsh, but fair.

Who did you last receive a text from and what did it say?

My son, asking me to teach him how to produce in the studio.

When did you last feel sorry for yourself?

Watching Glastonbury. Everyone – even Status Quo – has played Glastonbury, but us, because we're banned. Many years ago we were asked to play when it was a CND thing, and I knew from my studies that CND was financed by Moscow, so we said we don't want to be involved. They've held it against us ever since.

What do you wish you'd never done?

Beaten up a few people. I teach karate so I've sorted out that side of myself, but when I was younger I was very thin-skinned. I wanted to fit in and be English, but wasn't allowed to be, so became an aggressive, violent little sod with a chip on my shoulder. I now understand how immigrant kids feel. They want to be part of this culture but are bullied, racially abused and not accepted. I discovered karate was a path to enlightenment and peace. My karate master in Japan, Kancho Soeno, is very gentle and the font of much wisdom. The Japanese are into Zen and Shinto, nature and ancestors, and the idea that things improve with age. In the West our bodies degenerate and we get narrow-minded and materialistic, yet we should be going the opposite way, getting fitter and stronger and less dependent on material wealth.

Would your mother be proud of you?

Yes, I think she's quite proud. My dad would have been, because I've stuck at stuff.

Who would you like to say sorry to?

My kids. Because I wasn't there much.

What one thing would improve your life?

I'm in love, so my life couldn't be improved. I met her ten years ago, but only convinced her to look at me three years ago. She's a sensible Scots girl and my reputation put her off, but I eventually won her round.

What purchase have you spent most on, apart from a car or property?

I've had a succession of motorcycles.

What is your earliest memory?

Being in the Albert Hall with my parents, seeing Spanish flamenco music. It was magical. I played there later with an orchestra, and my mum came to see us.

Should you vote? If yes, how did you vote?

I didn't vote last time as I was in France and hadn't organised a postal vote, but I think it's the most important thing. I'm from a generation whose parents suffered so much for us to maintain suffrage, and I believe that if we sacrifice that, we have only ourselves to blame. I'm not tribal, and decide on the personalities and issues involved.

What worries you in the wee small hours? Sometimes I worry about my band.

When did you lose your virginity?

When I was 16.

What is your most treasured possession?

It was my virginity. I tried to get laid for years!

Do you regret the Nice 'N' Sleazy tour with go-go dancers?

No. The girls wanted to strip, and it was made to look as if we exploited them. It was more them saying, 'We'll show them who's the boss.' I lived with two of the girls, they were my flatmates, and they got some friends together who were strippers. They made us do it!

Do you have any plans to retire from touring?

No, but we do have a few problems regarding Jet's health. He's 71 and has heart problems, and was on life support a while back. I'm hoping he'll come to Edinburgh. We still love playing.

Will you do another album?

We've started writing stuff, so there's no reason not to.

Is Golden Brown about Chinese heroin?

It's about human failings and burning the toast.

Which is your favourite Stranglers track?

I don't have one.

How do you feel about a new generation of fans? It's thrilling because you get stuck in your own demographic. Sometimes in some countries it's only your own generation, but in others lots of teenagers come along. They have access to the internet and are a bit cynical – they think we're the real thing as opposed to copyists. It's lovely to know there's interest from young people. Our last two albums were well received and renewed a lot of interest, so we're not just a nostalgia band.