IT’S summer 1985 and The Stranglers are performing to a crowd of around 40,000 in Athens, writes Joe Nerssessian.
Outside a police car is ablaze as rioting fans try to break into the Panathenaic Stadium. Depeche Mode were hiding under the stage while Boy George was being attacked by bottles, recalls a cackling Jean-Jacques Burnel.
It’s 44 years since Burnel founded The Stranglers (originally the Guildford Stranglers) alongside Jet Black, Dave Greenfield and Hugh Cornwell - who left in 1990.
They arrived in the boom of the British pub rock scene, jostling, snarling and at times exchanging punches with their more media-friendly punk peers, Sex Pistols and The Clash.
And as the genre’s bubble subsided and those bands around them split, The Stranglers stayed firm.
Burnel, who turned 66 last week, cites the Athens performance as his favourite memory in the band’s four decade history, but concedes there are so many it changes every day.
It’s all a lot calmer now, of course. “We don’t get arrested every night and I’m not getting laid,” he says.
He’s just off the plane from France, where he resides. The band head off around the UK in March and show little intention of slowing down - although drummer Jet has now officially retired at the grand age of 79.
“He’s enjoying his twilight years,” Burnel says. “He’s alright, his body has given up and he’s on the last run home. There aren’t many 80-year-old drummers out there, he did everything he was supposed to do in rock and roll. We did call him The Hoover.”
It really was sex, drugs and rock’n’roll for the band, It all seems a long way away from the current music scene, where an argument on social media can become headline news.
“Everyone wants to be successful now, they play safe, there aren’t many innovators, people taking risks.” Burnel says. “They’re talking about careers now. When we started, you were lucky if you lasted two or three years. Everything is more business-like and showbizzy. ”
The sterile nature of the current music industry makes him even more determined to continue with The Stranglers, who are working on a follow-up to 2012’s Giants, the band’s best and most acclaimed album since the mid-Eighties.
But, being a band of pensioners, he admits they often discuss mortality.
“We talk about one day The Stranglers will no longer be, and it would have been 40 years over of our lives - and that’s a weird concept but you have to be realistic,” he says. Burnel hesitates, then adds, “But unless I die in a motorcycle accident or someone in the band dies, we will carry on until we bore the pants off each other.”
As a band, they also split everything equally, Burnel says. Success and failure felt the same to all.
It’s hard to simply accept Burnel’s ‘everyone’s out to get us’ mindset. But he’s adamant it existed.
“We just pissed off so many people, having punch-ups with people, irritating the f*** out of journalists.
“At one point, we polarised opinion so much that the press were supporting The Clash and The Sex Pistols. They did have nicer clothes than we did but that’s about all,” he says.
“There are fashions and trends and when that happened we were classed as the bad boys but we had the last laugh, and we’re still laughing.”
The Stranglers begin their tour at the Olympia in Dublin tonight