The Stranglers bassman picks his peachiest tunes: “It’s the nearest thing to an orgasm in music”
This was radical when it came out – everything from the bass solo, to using the volume knob on the guitar for creating that vibrato or tremolo effect, to the fact that it doesn’t really have a traditional chorus. It sums up the sudden self-awareness of teenagers at that time, and it hasn’t dated in my opinion. I would have been about 13, [watching it on] Top Of The Pops or Ready, Steady, Go. Unlike other bands at the time, The Who seemed to be quite aggressive, and I picked up on that. It was the first time I’d heard the bass played like that, and it was very exciting. I mean, rock’n’roll has to be exciting, otherwise it’s just background music.
“Jumping At Shadows”
BLUE HORIZON, 1968
Duster Bennett I remember seeing as a 15 or 16-year-old in a pub in Godalming. Every Sunday there was a blues club in the back of the Angel pub in Godalming High Street. Duster Bennett actually recorded an album there called <Bright Lights…> and I was there! He was a one-man band, so he had a guitar, he had a kazoo, a harmonica, a bass drum which was activated by his foot, and a hi-hat – all four limbs were playing. And he had an incredible voice. He looked more like a skinhead, but “Jumping At Shadows” is a beautiful blues song, it’s got slightly different chord progressions. Fleetwood Mac’s version is great as well, with Peter Green.
“The Girl With The Flaxen Hair”
RCA RED SEAL, 1974
It’s a piece by Debussy. However, I discovered it getting very stoned in my early twenties, by way of listening to a guy called Tomita, who was a Japanese synthesiser pioneer. He did an album of Debussy’s music on synthesiser, which fucking blew my mind – it’s so modern. “The Girl With The Flaxen Hair” is a short piece, only about four minutes, and it peaks at just the right time. Every time you hear it, you’re holding your breath until it reaches that crescendo, and then the release… It’s the nearest thing to an orgasm in music. You blow out a breath of air when it’s peaked. And then you probably want to have a cigarette or something!
“Over Under Sideways Down”
I’ve got the privilege at the moment of playing with one of The Yardbirds. Jim McCarty lives a few villages away from me [in Provence], and he’s still an incredible drummer. So every week we play together, trying to reinvent some old blues things. “Over Under Sideways Down” is just a cool R&B track, talking about the zeitgeist: “<Cars and girls are easy come by in this day and age>”. I’ve been reliably informed that the bass on the outro, which I really love, was actually not played by Paul Samwell-Smith but by Jeff Beck. It’s always the one I want to play with Jim McCarty but he won’t let me! But hey, I’m playing with one of my heroes.
Kraftwerk actually prevented us from getting to No 1. The Stranglers were at No 2 for several weeks with “Golden Brown” but then they re-released this fucking record called “The Model” – which actually is great! They were so influential with the lack of emotion in the delivery and the attempt to de-romanticise music. They were at the forefront of the synthesiser revolution, which I really liked, especially since we got so much flak at the beginning of The Stranglers for having a synthesiser, which was considered heresy by the other bands of our peer group. Synthesisers had been around since the ’60s in various forms, but when they became part of the mainstream it brought a whole new dimension to music.
I’ve never really liked jazz fusion. But I was listening to John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra recently because it was foisted on me, and I was quite impressed. If you write a list of the top five British guitarists, John McLaughlin is one of them. Anyway, Billy Cobham played with him in Mahavishnu Orchestra, and then he did some solo stuff with a guitarist called Tommy Bolin, who was in Deep Purple at some point and died when he was just 25. This track is acrobatics, which sometimes puts me to sleep. I think, ‘Get over yourself’ – you’ve got to have the emotion in there too. But this one excites me so much. It’s electric musicianship [pushed] as far as it goes.
“Bull Doze Blues”
This one was introduced to me recently by Jim McCarty. I’ve always liked the three main singles from Canned Heat: “On The Road Again”, “Let’s Work Together” and “Going Up The Country”. I was jamming on “Going Up The Country” with Jim and he said, “Ooh no, you’ve got to hear the original,” which is “Bull Doze Blues” – I think it was about the building of the Hoover Dam. And it introduced me to a lot of older stuff from the ’30s. It’s great to discover that the origin of something you think is quite classic anyway, is something even older. A lot of those ’60s bands lifted generously from the blues and “Going Up Country” was lifted generously from “Bull Doze Blues”.
“I Threw It All Away”
It’s one of my all-time favourite songs. I know to look at me, you wouldn’t think I was a Bob Dylan fan, and I find most of his output leaves me cold. But that particular song hits the nail on the head for me. It’s quite humble, and I’m sure we could all identify with the lyrics and the sentiment of the song. Also, the playing’s loose – it’s completely the antithesis of what The Stranglers do, for instance. Not that I know much about his previous music, but certainly there are a couple of tracks on Nashville Skyline that are listenable, as far as I’m concerned. You can like a song by someone and not necessarily pursue it further and become a fan.
JJ Burnel’s book Strangler In The Light: Conversations With Anthony Boile is out now, published by Coursegood