photo copyright Chris Gabrin
The Stranglers were one of the very first new wave bands to play Friars in
late 1976 and it was clear the band was on the up. One year later they had
two massive top ten albums on their hands and they never looked back. As
they prepare for a major UK tour, we caught up with the band's legendary
drummer, Jet Black.
Thanks for talking
to the Friars Aylesbury website. Going to Friars matters first, The
Stranglers made only one appearance at Friars in December 1976. The band
was definitely on the up and certainly brought new wave to Friars with a
bang…….talking of which, I am led to believe you have memories of this gig
that may not be your favourite…..
I can confirm that Friars is the only gig in the band's 37 year history
where a bottle landed on my head and broke into a million pieces. I've
been like this since then. Thanks Friars!!
Of the new wave acts
coming through, it seemed The Stranglers were only going to go one
way….huge. The Rattus Norvegicus album remains a masterpiece and going
into the top five so quickly was no mean feat at that time and No More
Heroes also came out in 1977 – it must have all been a bit mad?
It certainly was, after what at the time seemed to be decades but was
actually a few years, we were taken by surprise at the speed at which it
Whilst I didn’t
appreciate (being a lot younger then!) it then, many saw you as having
been heavily influenced by The Doors, the obvious reference point being
Dave Greenfield’s swirling organ sounds. What other influences did you
have certainly with some of the early material?
Dave says he didn't
really know of The Doors apart from 'Light My Fire' and as for other
influences, there are/were none that I was aware of, though it probably
existed there somewhere in amongst it all, unbeknown to our collective
band courted controversy with journalists (I’m sure JJ wasn’t on
everyone’s Christmas card list!), like many of their contemporaries, but
the lyrical content of certain songs seemed to cause tabloid outrage. A
sign of those times? I’m referring to things like Peaches which had to
edited for kiddie friendly Radio 1, Ugly, Bring on the Nubiles etc. Also
JJ’s incident with a journalist in Iceland etc.
We certainly did
court controversy. A band has to do 'something' to get noticed! One
can't create a career solely on music, it just doesn't work like that,
Related to the
above, I’ve read David Buckley’s authorised biography 'No Mercy' on the
band and it’s safe to say that the band had more than their fair share of
The "fair share" no
doubt, would very likely have to be part of our present survival.
think Black and White took the band to a new level, but is it true your
management felt you’d lost your way? Seems like you found it to me. There
is some great stuff on that album, there is no filler at all.
Can't now say for sure, who thought that and who didn't, but at EVERY
juncture, someone hated what we were doing.
Did it seem unusual
that relatively early in your career around 1979, and whilst you were
having huge success, that JJ and Hugh were making solo albums? Did that
give the band fresh impetus in its own way?
It had nothing to do with anything. They made solo albums, I made
furniture and Dave went down to his local pub!
The Raven took
things musically higher, the lyrical themes were still quite dark and
venturing in directions people then still wouldn’t tread, nuclear devices,
Iran, aliens etc. The Iran references from the time are obvious, but where
were the lyricists drawing inspiration from – presumably political
question time: I guess recording Sweden in Swedish was obvious, but how
did Don’t Bring Harry in French come about?
were seen as anti-establishment and you must have got a huge thrill about
playing those Rainbow gigs in 1980 when Hugh was indisposed? It was seen
as a big “fuck you” to everyone at the time.
A lot of people didn't want to see us survive. Indeed many actually hated
us and everything about us. We could only choose between folding, or
saying 'fuck you', so that's what we did.
anyone didn’t know anything by the Stranglers, the Meninblack album must
have help change that as WaltzinBlack was widely used on TV (Keith Floyd’s
cooking show mainly), but again used alien and religious themes, basically
a concept album. Whose concept exactly? Was it a joint one or the vision
of one person in the band?
The idea sprang
mainly from my interest in the UFO thing. It then went on to explore many
popular mysteries, in which we were all interested.
The one song that
came to define The Stranglers, from the next album La Folie was Golden
Brown. Not overly typical of Stranglers stuff and apparently about heroin?
Yes, quite atypical,
and yes about all things Golden Brown.
You continued to
evolve, but where did the ideas for Feline come from using acoustic guitar
for starters – it is comparatively quite mellow for The Stranglers?
Just a phase we were
going through. We have never been an outfit that thought the best thing
to do was a repeat of the 'last' album.
albums up to 1990 consolidated the success and fanbase. I can’t imagine
you saw it coming, but Hugh leaving apparently seeing the band as a
creatively spent force must have been a huge shock for everyone. You
couldn’t have seen it as that? Obviously more than meets the eye I guess.
Presumably for the remaining trio there was no question of not carrying
I don't know that
anyone has ever seen or heard Hugh's real reasons but there seemed to be
no reason NOT to carry on.
You’ve made nearly as many albums since then as you did before, so
creatively no issues! There’s some really good stuff there. There’s stuff
on Suite 16 and Norfolk Coast that just don’t stand out of place and could
easily be recognised as ‘classic’ Stranglers tracks.
have been brilliant playing the Roundhouse in 2007 celebrating the Rattus
album with the same set list as the gig 30 years previously?
In the modern era,
in your fifth different decade as a Strangler, it must blow you away that
you can still fill big venues – I mean Hammersmith sold out and now the
It was all that
know you haven’t been so well the last couple of years, how are you now?
Alive and kicking!
Jet, thanks for
talking to us and good luck for the 2011 tour.
This interview and its
content are © 2011 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not
be used in whole or in part without permission.