The Stranglers nearly made the mistake of ignoring their 40th anniversary.
Never a band fond of playing the game – notorious for physical violence and general stroppiness in their early years, now they’re older their lead singer says they remain “actively cantankerous” – the four piece had to be cajoled into marking the milestone with a tour and a box set last year.
Frontman Baz Warne says the reaction to the anniversary, which highlighted how affectionately the group are regarded, took them by surprise.
“It was a milestone and we are not given to worrying about that kind of thing. But I think people responded to the fact that no one believed this band could make it to 40 years.
“Jet Black (Stranglers drummer) was saying to me the other day that he never thought they’d make 40 minutes. We were treated like returning, conquering heroes everywhere we went. The affection this band is held in is remarkable really, especially considering we can be a bunch of old gits, but I think people like to see bands that are human and make mistakes.”
It has been 25 years since singer Hugh Cornwell, the voice on most of the band’s 23 top 40 singles, left the Stranglers.
The hits dried up without him but they have always remained a live draw for fans wanting to hear classics like No More Heroes, Peaches, Golden Brown and an epic version of Walk On By that was a jukebox favourite for drinkers in the 80s (if you wanted as many minutes of a song as possible for your money, it was always a good choice just before closing time).
Baz, who joined the group in 2000, says they try to juggle between giving more casual fans the hits and pleasing the hardcore that want to hear rarities.
“We steadfastly refuse to wallow in the nostalgia everyone else seems to love. We have to make concessions, there are songs people have to hear, but we have 18 albums to choose from and we like to pull out some surprises.”
Baz grew up in Sunderland and got into the music industry when he was 19, playing for Toy Dolls during their mid 80s moment in the spotlight when their unlikely cover of Nellie the Elephant saw them on Top of the Pops.
His memories of trying to make it big in the 80s sound more like something from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet than glamour.
“Well, it was a bit like that,” he laughs. “I remember we were so skint that one time we had two gigs in a row in London but we couldn’t afford a hotel room to stay over.
“We went down one night, drove home and got back at six in the morning. We had a few hours kip and then drove back down to London!
“There was no internet then so when you went on tour in Europe you literally had no idea where you were going. And you nearly always drove. I remember we flew once from Newcastle Airport but it was like a garden shed back in the 80s.
“It was a different time but we were young and I have incredibly fond memories of it. For me the key is that it gave me the start of a life in music and I feel very lucky to have had that. I tried life in a normal job for a little while and I was hopeless at it. It just wasn’t for me.”
The 51-year-old, who is more than 10 years younger than anyone else in the band, says he has no idea how long The Stranglers can carry on for. Jet Black has struggled with ill health and often appears for only a handful of songs.
“He’s been in rehearsals and he’s been OK” says Baz. “Ultimately we will play as long as it’s fun. We have 250 years of experience in this band and that means we can really play. None of us want to stop doing that until we have to.”
The band play Newcastle O2 Academy on March 12 and it’s a date Baz is particularly looking forward to.
“My guest list is canny long in Newcastle” he laughs.
“I don’t tend to tack people on around the country but I do in Newcastle and I like to have a bit of Mackem/Geordie banter as well. It’s good to light the touchpaper and stand back sometimes. That’s the Stranglers way.”
For tickets to the gig visit www.o2academynewcastle.co.uk