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Riots, arrests and ice cream vans – The Stranglers legend JJ Burnel on early Scottish shows ahead of Aberdeen gig

Punk icons The Stranglers are to play the Music Hall in Aberdeen. Photo by Colin Hawkins.
Punk icons The Stranglers are to play the Music Hall in Aberdeen. Photo by Colin Hawkins.

Scottish gigs in the 1970s ended in riots and arrests when The Stranglers crossed the border in an ice-cream van, reveals bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel.

The punk icons had to barricade in their dressing room after a gig in Glasgow turned sour.

The Stranglers stepped in at the last minute to replace an advertised rock act in 1976 – and the Glasgow audience weren’t happy.

Fast forward more than 45 years and the legendary band can expect a far warmer reception when headlining The Music Hall on Thursday.

It will be the band’s final extensive tour of the UK as they promote acclaimed recent album Dark Matters.

The Stranglers founding member – bassist, singer, songwriter  Jean-Jacques Burnell. Photo by Colin Hawkins

JJ said: “We’ve had a few punch ups and riots but I remember one when we travelled to Scotland in an ice cream van.

“It was before we had a contract. We played Strathclyde University and had to lock ourselves in the dressing room as they wanted to lynch us.

“When we drove over the border back into England we all breathed a huge sigh of relief because we were going to get battered.

“I also spent a night in Strathclyde Police Station in Glasgow in the seventies.

“It was just Jet (Black, drummer) being Jet.

“We were staying at the hotel at Central Railway station and eating in the restaurant

“Jet came down late and to attract the attention of the waiters jumped up on the table.

“About 10 minutes later the railway police came in and took Jet and me into the cells before transferring us to Strathclyde nick.

“Last orders at that time was about 10 so everyone drank tons before closing time.

“I remember being in the reception of the police station seeing all these people being dragged in with blood on their faces after punch ups.”

A close connection with fans

Formed in 1974 The Stranglers became associated with the punk movement that exploded two years later.

However, they were always outsiders, even for punk.

They would go on to release a string of top 10 singles including No More Heroes, Something Better Change and Golden Brown.

JJ and the band may be closing in on 50 years in music but they have never gone through the motions.

All or nothing is the mantra on record and live and JJ aims to connect with Granite City fans.

Still going strong with an acclaimed new album The Stranglers are set to play The Music Hall.

He said: “When we play in Aberdeen I want to have a communion with the audience.

“I want to be able to see them and smell them.

“I want them to sing with us and have a smile.

“I’m not on a television screen, I’m a real flesh and blood person playing to people and giving it everything – that’s my idea of a Stranglers concert.

“People will work out you are going through the motions. For years we didn’t play Peaches as I didn’t feel right about it.

“There’s nothing more disheartening than seeing an artist you have paid money to see going through the motions.

“It’s horrible and not what I’m about.”

Poignant tribute to Dave Greenfield

Although The Stranglers shows are always triumphant affirmations of life, this tour will be touched with poignancy.

Keyboardist Dave Greenfield, who was an integral part of the band’s sound for 45 years, sadly passed away in May 2020.

It was a traumatic time for JJ and the band but they have emerged with brilliant new album Dark Matters, an homage to the genius of his friend and band-mate.

Dave plays on eight of the tracks on Dark Matters.

The album, which hit the UK top 10, includes the tribute ‘And If You Should See Dave’.

It contains the poignant line,  ‘this is where your solo would go’.

JJ said: “I thought we’d had a good run but that was it.

“However I realised we hadn’t completed the album.

“That became my obsession. The only thing I could think about doing was complete the mission, complete the project.

“I wasn’t thinking about anything else but completing the album.

“Dave was a human sequencer. I remember him spending three days learning 8,000 notes on one piece of music until he could do it mechanically.

“No one else could do that.”

Never be afraid to take chances

Dark Matters is the sound of a band still willing to take chances 45 years after their debut album Rattus Norvegicus.

JJ said: “Life’s too short to play it safe all the time.

“My philosophy is that if you’re lucky enough to have one success, let alone several,  don’t repeat it.

“If you do it becomes a comfort zone which is really unhelpful creatively.

“It doesn’t help you expand as a person or an artist.

“So try to see how far your talents can go. If you fall flat on your face you learn from it and it is heroic.

“We have fallen flat on our faces a few times.

“If you follow the commercial route that is the tail wagging the dog.

“Surely the dog should be wagging the tail.

“I’m really happy Dark Matters has touched a nerve with so many people worldwide and it is our most successful record in over 35 years.”

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