The Stranglers

Worthing Assembly Hall, Stoke Abbott Road, Worthing, Friday, July 10

WHEN he was playing with The Stranglers at the height of the punk explosion Jet Black was something of an anomaly.

While the likes of The Sex Pistols were barely out of their teens the drummer was well into his 30s, with a business career under his belt. Perhaps inevitably as his band’s 40th anniversary loomed the now 76-year-old began to struggle with health problems.

Following the sold-out Ruby tour last year he has stepped down, allowing Jim MacAulay to take over the drum stool he has deputised in since 2013 on a more permanent basis.

It means guitarist and vocalist of 15 years Baz Warne is no longer the new boy on the scene - although Black still has an influence on the band he co-founded with Jean-Jacques Burnell and former frontman Hugh Cornwell in 1974.

“With the best will in the world everybody gets older,” says Sunderland-based Warne, who first joined the band as a guitarist in 2000.

“Your stamina and strength goes, and it’s difficult to keep up with a band like we are. It takes a lot of energy.

“Jet hasn’t travelled abroad with us for a while when we were doing shows in the US, Australia and Japan.

“I spoke to Jet half-an-hour ago, he gives us all his fond good wishes, but he would rather The Stranglers progress without him than not be at all. His leaving has been a gradual process – inspirationally he will always be a touchstone and totem for us.

“Whenever he can make an appearance he will.”

And with work currently underway on The Stranglers’ 18th album - the follow-up to 2012’s Giants – the band isn’t looking to stop anytime soon.

“We are writing and recording demos amongst ourselves,” says Warne. “Both JJ and I are constantly writing. Giants was acclaimed and received as one of the best Stranglers albums ever when people might have thought we were dead and buried. We have still got plenty to say, we’re still accomplished musicians who have been around the block many times, but it is a way of life.”

Warne sees 2004’s Norfolk Coast album as a turning point in the band’s latter-day career.

“When I joined the band in 2000 they were still embattled in touring and keeping the pot boiling, keeping everyone in work,” he says.

“After two or three years we thought we should get our fingers out and start writing some new stuff. We were trying to find a direction. I think the boys would agree with me that all the mid-1990s albums could be boiled down to one good album. They were patchy at best. It needed a kick up the backside.

“We realised Norfolk Coast was going to be a knuckle sandwich, old-style hard-hitting record. Lots of bands make directionless patchy albums with songs that go off all over the place. We were determined not to go down that route.”

As the new bloke on the scene Warne was integral in pushing for the new direction – admitting he spent a lot of time bonding and drinking with the band.

“Pretty soon we realised it was going to work,” he says.

The dynamic changed again in 2006 when Paul Roberts left, 16 years after replacing original Stranglers frontman Hugh Cornwell.

“It’s no secret that towards the end Paul wasn’t happy,” says Warne. “There was friction from certain elements and quarters of the band. When he decided to leave we didn’t know quite what to do, whether to replace him and keep it as a five-piece.”

The solution came almost accidentally in the rehearsal room.

“In the run-up to Paul leaving there was a lot of bad blood, and he would often turn up late to rehearsals,” says Warne. “The boys wouldn’t hang around waiting – we would play with me and JJ filling in on vocals. I remember thinking I was enjoying it.”

The first time the new four-piece line-up of Warne on vocals and guitar, Black, Burnell sharing vocals and bass and keyboard player Dave Greenfield played was at a festival audience of 10,000 people.

“We haven’t looked back for nearly ten years,” says Warne. “There were long instrumental passages when we were a five-piece when Paul didn’t have anything to do. Now we need all four elements of the band to make it sound like it does. It’s gone from strength to strength.”

In recent years The Stranglers have toured the world, sold out their 40th anniversary Ruby tour and even played with the 50-piece London Sinfonetta in 2013 as part of the BBC 6Music Prom at the Royal Albert Hall.

“We’re trying to challenge ourselves,” says Warne. “We have to stretch a bit to keep ourselves interested. We rehearse up to 40 songs for each tour, and on any given night we will play 25 of them. If you see the first half-dozen shows of a tour they can be up to 50 per cent different every night.

“You have to stick your arse out in the breeze every once in a while – it’s what makes it live, exciting and unique.”

Doors 7pm, tickets £25. Call 01903 206206.