Thursday, 24 February 2011

The best of Brits - and based in Bath

One of these is me, the other four are Stranglers

The best of Brits – based in Bath
At last week's Brits, many groups old and new were rewarded for their contributions to the country's important and highly-successful music scene.
But, once more, one band – who spend as much time in Bath as any other place so probably deserve to be called an honorary 'local' one now – were ignored yet again.

For, despite having more than 40 top 40 records in a near 40 year career The Stranglers were nowhere to be seen at the annual Brits love-in.

They are, however, very much likely to be seen in and around the city at the moment. For the two main songwriters of the iconic rock outfit – bass guitarist JJ Burnel and guitarist Baz Warne – are currently busy writing new material from a rented house in Bath while also rehearsing with the rest of the group in a nearby village in advance of their 'Black & Blue' tour.

The band have found the Bath area to be an inspiring place to conduct their activities and as Baz explained in a blog on the Stranglers' official website – – the city is a good place as any to get up to all things 'strangled'.

"It's a lovely place and very conducive to work which is just as well because we have masses to do," he explained.

"Bath is a great place to drink and eat and the view of the city from the top of the hill where we are is breathtaking. I even went to the rugby too – not my thing but a great day out."

The band have centred themselves in Bath to be close to their long-time base at a farm near Norton St Philip where they are now putting the finishing touches to their set for another lengthy British tour which includes a visit to Bristol's O2 Academy on Thursday, March 24.

Speaking to the Chronicle JJ, the only member of the band to play every single concert in their long history, said that he and his fellow Stranglers had lost none of their enthusiasm despite the fact that they are now in their 37th year as a hardworking outfit.

Indeed, the band have no actual 'product' to sell on this tour – they are simply doing it because they love to play live and they are enjoying seeing their audience grow in both size and enthusiasm.

"I still see The Stranglers as being on a mission," he said.

"I think you get the audience you deserve – and we've got a great audience. If people have filtered through all the prejudice and negative speaking about The Stranglers in the past and still want to come and see us, even though we're never on the TV or the radio these days, then that says an awful lot about those people.

"We love playing live and I want people to see that and leave a venue thinking 'that was awesome'."

The Stranglers' history has been one of massive ups and sometimes spectacular downs but even the fact that they are not as commercially successful now as in their heyday when they had huge top ten hits like Golden Brown, Peaches and No More Heroes, is actually regarded in a positive light as JJ explained …

"I don't want The Stranglers to be dictated to by the commercial big cats. Of course there's a commercial element to what we do but I think more now about The Stranglers' legacy which helps to keep us focused and interested.

"It's great that we no longer have to be rushed into making new records to please a record label – it means we can exercise quality control and only release material when we are really happy with it".

As a result of this belief in only releasing new music when the band think it is good enough (rather than the market demanding it), the band have already said that they won't release a new studio album until 2012. Several new songs were written in Bath last year and the vast majority have already been ruthlessly discarded as not being up to the required standard.

Now, newer, stronger material has been written and, somewhat unusually for the band, they intend to incorporate some of it on their forthcoming live shows.

"It will be interesting putting together our set list for this new tour, '' said JJ.

"This is not just a 'greatest hits tour' although there will be a few of those songs in there because they're important to the people who come along. What we also want to do though is play some of our older material that we haven't been able to do in the past for various technical reasons and also drop in some new songs to gauge the audience reaction.

"It's great for us having so much material to choose from. We can really enthuse ourselves sorting out a set from all our material – it prevents a bunch of old geezers like us from going stale".

Baz is also looking forward to giving fans a chance to hear new songs they have never encountered before. He says: "It's an oft-forgotten process, playing new songs before they're recorded, and we're keen to develop some of the stuff in the good old fashioned way by road testing it. It keeps you on your toes".

The excitement the band still clearly feel about getting on the road again is perhaps remarkable considering how long they have been together.

The three original remaining members of the band – JJ, keyboard player Dave Greenfield and drummer Jet Black – have been together since the early 1970s and even the 'new kid on the block', Baz, has now sailed past his ten year anniversary. So, after all that time, do they ever get fed up with each other?

"It never happens,'' said JJ. "Baz and I have built up a really good song writing partnership and we enjoy each other's company socially. The whole vibe of the band is so much better now – Jet is so funny and Dave's a lovely guy – and we get on really well and I think it does show on stage.

"It's all really good – akin to how it was in the old days".

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