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Friars Interviews

Jet Black
The Stranglers

friars appearances 11/12/76

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 then developed.

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 subconsciousness.

The 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, never has. 

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 incidents?

The "fair share" no doubt, would very likely have to be part of our present survival.

I 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 viewpoints etc?

Newspapers.

Daft question time: I guess recording Sweden in Swedish was obvious, but how did Don’t Bring Harry in French come about?

Alcohol!

You 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.

If 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.

Your remaining 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 on?

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.

Thank you.

Must have been brilliant playing the Roundhouse in 2007 celebrating the Rattus album with the same set list as the gig 30 years previously?

Yup!

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 2011 tour?

It was all that 'bad' publicity!

I 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.

Ta!

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.

 
 
 

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