THIS year is an important one for The Stranglers. It’s hard to believe but 2014 sees the band celebrate their 40th anniversary.
And to help commemorate the fact, the band will be undertaking their ruby anniversary tour of the UK during March.
Amazingly, the band still has two founder members in bassist JJ Burnel and drummer Jet Black; keyboard maestro Dave Greenfield joined the band in 1975 and guitarist Baz Warne is a newcomer, having been in the band a mere 14 years since the departure of original singer and guitarist Hugh Cornwell.
The Stranglers, after dropping the ‘Guildford’ from their name, started out in the pub-rock boom of the mid-70s before unwittingly being lumped in with the New Wave movement, despite the band categorically stating that they were never a ‘punk’ band.
Hits followed, with the likes of Peaches, No More Heroes, the snarling Something Better Change and Duchess all reaching the upper reaches of the charts. The band also showed a more melodic side with Golden Brown, which got to number two in the charts.
Although they had been classed as part of punk and New Wave, the bands’ members were older than their contemporaries, with drummer Jet Black becoming the elder statesmen of music.
Today, with Burnel and Greenfield being in their early sixties, Black will be 76 this year – and is still drumming.
“I’m doing OK at the moment,” he says. “Knocking on a bit, but doing well.”
Black, who started out as a jazz drummer and originally ran the band from his Guildford off-licence, is bemused that they are still so popular after all this time. “It’s a strange feeling,” he reflects. “It’s all about numbers, we are still seeing pretty big crowds when we play.”
He adds: “The shows are always the fun part, it’s the travel that’s the bugbear.
“But when you see all the faces, it suddenly makes it all worthwhile.”
They earned a reputation for being the bad boys of rock (a title they probably deserved after all the antics they got up to), for instance they allegedly once got a journalist so drunk in Iceland he was strapped into a wheelchair and missed his flight home.
Also they allegedly gaffer-taped another journalist to one of the struts of the Eiffel Tower with his trousers down; and they were arrested after the French gendarmerie claimed they incited a riot in Nice.
But now they are respected as talented musicians – and rightly so.
Warne’s guitar work can be both fierce and delicate, and Greenfield’s keyboard swirls are legendary.
Burnel still stalks around the stage pounding out the rhythm on bass, while Black holds it all together at the back.
Partly, it’s because the band are all older, but Black says: “Over the years, we have all become more professional and we take the business of music more seriously.”
Burnel however, can’t resist a dig at their detractors’ as he posted the following message on the band’s website.
“On this, the occasion of our ruby anniversary, I would like to take this opportunity to stick my fingers up to everyone who wrote us off and dismissed us.”
He does pay tribute to the bands’ followers. though, by adding: “I would like to thank those who saw beyond the words of the critics and drew their own conclusions.”
He ends the statement with: “He who laughs last, laughs longest and loudest...[In 2014] we will make a lot of noise with our friends.”
Fans of The Stranglers also have a number of commemorative releases and reissues to look forward to, but Black has no details as yet.
For the tour, the band promise to cover their whole career with tracks from all 17 of their studio albums featuring in the set.
“We’ll cover the whole history of the band, and while it’s all top secret at the moment, you are likely to see something new,” says Black.
And the band have no intention of packing it all in just yet.
“Only when people don’t want to see us any more,” he says.
Despite his age, Black also wants to carry on, although he has had some health problems in recent years which has seen him performing less with the band.
And, summing up the last four decades of music-making, he says: “The last 40 years have been totally engrossing. It’s very much a full-time job and career.
“I certainly have been fully occupied.”
The Stranglers will be bringing their Ruby Tour to the O2 Academy, Leeds on March 21. Tickets are available from www.ticketweb.co.uk.