By Martin Hutchinson

THE annual UK tour by The Stranglers is upon us.

They will be performing tracks from their extensive and acclaimed catalogue at venues throughout the country during March.

Special guests for the tour are the band Therapy.

Unlike many bands that have been going for over forty years, the Stranglers – formed in 1974 – still has two of the classic line-up present in the form of bassist J J Burnel and keyboard player Dave Greenfield.

The lead guitarist of the band is Baz Warne, who has been with them for 20 years and the drum stool is the domain on Jim McCauley, who stepped up to the mark after original drummer Jet Black retired from playing with the band.

"Jet is still involved in the band," JJ tells me. "And he is also the band's archivist. He has mentored Jim and has his 100 per cent blessing."

The fans too have accepted Jim.

"That's right, the fans love Jim and he's been fully accepted. He actually drums a bit harder than Jet and was an injection of new blood into the band as there is always the possibility of going a bit stale."

Happily, The Stranglers can never be accused of being stale.

"No. We still have something to say and are still working on new material."

JJ, just back and recovering from the flight from Australia, tells me that the recent tour 'down under' was a great success.

"It was fantastic," he grins. "Our audiences are getting bigger, and they have realised that we're not just a nostalgia act. We are a hard working band that always gives 100 per cent."

It was a bit gruelling though, as JJ explains.

"Yeah, it was pretty intense. We did seven shows and 12 flights in 15 days."

The Stranglers came to prominence in the late seventies with hard-hitting rock songs like Peaches, Five Minutes and No More Heroes and their image was of a gang of menacing musicians.

They had their biggest hit with the controversial Golden Brown which just missed getting to Number One in the Eighties.

Echo: The Stranglers - Photo by David Boni

The band's live show is full-on energy with song after song blasting out to their ever-growing band of fans.

"The set changes all the time," JJ states, "Of course, there are songs we have to play, but this years' set will be different to the one we did last year – and we take a proper production with us to make it more of a show."

And we are in for a treat this time.

"We're playing a new piece this time. The set list is always completely arbitrary and I'm sure people will recognise one or two of the songs [he laughs]. But the shows are a form of communion between us and the fans – a celebration. We're not flogging a new album, but we are working on something that we hope will be finished around September and released next year."

And it's a special year for founder Jet Black, who will be 80 years old this year.

"We will celebrate it, but not on the tour. Jet would vomit at that, although secretly he's be pleased."

As always, JJ and the band are looking forward to the tour.

"Absolutely. The spirit of the band doesn't want to disappear and we're probably better than ever." JJ says.

"We're older, but we have a lot more to offer – the proof of the pudding is in the eating with all the shows that we sell out."

And they don't compromise.

"We've always made the music that we want to. We've never been told what to do. Some have tried, but we tell them to 'f*** off'."

With a months' worth of dates, the band does have a few places they are particularly looking forward to playing, as JJ explains.

"Yeah, there are quite a few places we enjoy playing, because of the reception we get; places like Scotland, Manchester, Birmingham, Southend and Leeds. Mind you, it's the same at most of the places we play – it's party time!"

And there are still ambitions to be fulfilled.

"That's right. I'd still like to play South America – never played there. We booked tours there, but they always got cancelled – or even China, that'd be good."

"And we're still seeking to make the perfect record – still not done it yet."

Speaking of new records, the band is spending time on finishing their follow-up to the 2012 album Giants.

"Yeah, we haven't booked in too many shows after the UK tour as we are working on the new album – it's the main thrust of the year."

"There's also a movie (hopefully) next year. A documentary, as they've found loads of old footage."

The Stranglers, with special guests Therapy, will be bringing their Definitive Tour to The Cliffs Pavillion, Southend on Tuesday March 20.

Tickets are available from the Box Office and all the usual agencies.