HOW much drumming action Jet Black will see when The Stranglers come home to Guildford this month remains to be seen.
The legendary sticksman, who formed the band in Guildford back in 1974, has suffered from ill-health in recent years and much of his on-stage duties are now taken over by Jim Macauley.
“We got Jim in last year after Jet had been forced to pull out of a few gigs,” explains Stranglers singer and guitarist Baz Warne.
“For a lot of the gigs, Jim plays for an hour or so and then Jet comes out and joins us and there’s a good chance that’s how we’ll play it in Guildford.
“Jet is a proper trooper, he just keeps going, but he is 75 now so we don’t want to push him too hard.”
In contrast, Baz is still the new boy – even after 14 years with the band.
“I think I’ll always be the new boy,” he laughs. “But, to be fair, the two previous singers, Paul Roberts and Hugh Cornwell both lasted 16 years. So hopefully I’ll last another two years!
“In any case (keyboardist) Dave Greenfield has only been in the band for 39 years because he joined a year after the others, so he’s relatively new as well.”
Sunderland-born Baz joined the band in 2000, first as a guitarist and then taking over the main vocal duties – and even after all this time he remembers being daunted at first.
“I’d been in several bands before and when I was in Smalltown Heroes we supported The Stranglers on a couple of tours,” he recalls. “So I knew them anyway and kept in touch and when they needed a new guitarist, they asked me to audition.
“That was pretty nerve-wracking but I got the gig, although I didn’t know it would last this long.
“Within two weeks we went to Kosovo to play for the UN troops and that was an eye opener, flying in Lynx helicopters and driving in tanks.”
Baz’s first few years with The Stranglers were taken up with touring but when they decided to write a new album, he felt a slight nervousness again as he was expected to help bass player JJ Burnel write the songs. “JJ is now one of my closest friends but back then I was still a little bit in awe of him,” he says. “I went to his house in Cambridge and one of the main ideas was to see if we could write as a team.
“Right from the outset he sensed I was being a bit too polite. He said ‘Listen, I understand and appreciate your deference but just tell me what you think and I’ll do the same otherwise we’ll never be able to work as a team’. It was much easier after that.”
Baz has been busy choosing songs from the band’s massive back catalogue to play on the current 40th anniversary tour.
“It’s never less than interesting, we call it the black jukebox,” he says. “But I had knee surgery recently and I was in bed for six weeks, so I thought I’ll start now and I listened to everything. I had great fun lying in bed with my computer sifting through everything.”
The band have decided to celebrate their 40th year by playing at least one song from each of the 17 studio albums, as well as a selection of their many hits like Peaches, No More Heroes, Golden Brown and Strange Little Girl.
“In rehearsal we did about 35 songs and we’ll do 20 plus at each show, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it changes as we go. We have to keep ourselves interested as well as the fans.”
The Stranglers playing back in hometown Guildford is always an event – and this year it will also be special for Wearsider Baz.
“We’ve done Guilfest and G Live several times and it’s always a bit of an occasion for the others, although they left the town years ago,” he says.
“Last year JJ and I went out on a kind of historical walk around and he showed me the school he went to and so on. The town, especially the High Street, is very quaint but of course it doesn’t mean as much to me as the others.
“But this year will be special as it’s my birthday – and it’s my 50th!”
Let the celebrations begin…
The Stranglers will play at G Live in Guildford on Tuesday, March 25.