THESE days, the month of March means one thing to fans of The Stranglers - the annual UK tour, and this year is no different.

The Meninblack are undertaking a 19-date tour of the UK and Ireland during the month (OK, the first date – in Belfast – is in February; but who’s counting.

Co-founder and bassist JJ Burnel tells me that all is well within the band.

“We’re all very good and having a good time.” He tells me whilst having a short break in France (JJ is half-French).

“We’ve been working on lots of new stuff too. Up to now about six or seven pieces and we might do three or four each night on the tour. The songs are still developing, but our mojo is definitely back.”

He explains further about touring in March.

“We did a March tour about eight or nine years ago and it worked for us. It seems like people are starting to go out again in March after all the conflab of Christmas.”

“It’s now become a traditional tour, whether we have an album out or not. It seems to be symbiotic with the fans – and other bands have started doing it too.”

When The Stranglers tour with JJ on bass, Baz Warne on Guitar, Dave Greenfield on keyboards and Jim McAuley on drums; they have no shortage of material with hits like Peaches, No More Heroes, Duchess, Five Minutes and Golden Brown, as well as tracks from their seventeen studio albums to choose from.

But the band still likes to keep themselves fresh – and us too, as JJ tells me.

“We’ll definitely be playing some new ones, and some old ones we haven’t played for a while. It’s fun for us as musicians to go over the older stuff.”

“And we are really looking forward to this tour, we can’t wait to get out there.”

But it doesn’t end there, this spring sees the release of a documentary film about the band.

“Yes,” says JJ. “During April, there will be some special screenings all over the place – not just the UK. The film will be shown, followed by a Q&A with the Director and in some places Jet Black and maybe one or two of the band.”

“To be honest, I haven’t seen it yet. I don’t want to have any commentary on it or have any influence on the finished film. I hope it’s gonna be ‘warts and all’, and I certainly don’t want it to be a propaganda film.”

He continues. “Once it’s been released, it’ll be entered into some music film festivals. Apparently, it’s not been a ‘cheap’ exercise either. The most expense has been acquiring old footage; some people charge around $20 a second!”

JJ mentioned that Jet Black, the band’s co-founder and original drummer, will be at the screenings. Jet, now approaching his 81st birthday, hasn’t appeared with the band since 2015.

“His health’s not great,” explains JJ. “But he’s still an active member of the band behind the scenes. He mentored Jim (McAuley).”

Also – you mean there’s more? – the band have presented a prestigious award to The Star Inn in Guildford.

The PRS (Performing Rights Society) Music Heritage Awards are given to those live music venues across the UK that have played a crucial role in helping to create music history, by giving now-famous acts their first ever gig and helping them on their way to success.

On 21st December 1974, the newly-formed Stranglers played their first live gig at the 400-year old pub.

“We’ll all be there and we’ll play three or four acoustic numbers.”

And there’s another reason why the band will be there.

“I got really interested in the event when I heard that some developer was building nearby and had applied for a noise abatement notice to stop the pub playing music.”

“What a ****.” JJ says, obviously angry. “What these people forget is that live events produce so much income. It’s not just kids making a loud noise – they are the potential music stars of the future.”

The band are celebrating 45 years in the business this year. Does JJ feel pride or amazement that they’ve lasted this long?

“Both actually. We have worked hard at it and kept going when others gave up. We’re still one of the hardest working bands around and I challenge anyone to come up with a comparable discography.”

“We’ve never repeated ourselves. It’s all about creativity and believing in what you do.”

The rest of 2019 is shaping up to be busy as there are festivals and tours coming up, as well as the new album.

“All the ideas are germinating. Since we don’t have any commercial implications there’s no rush. We are our own strict quality control standard and we’ll create something that will last – no fillers.”

The Stranglers will be appearing at the O2 Academy, Bournemouth on Monday 25th March.

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

Martin Hutchinson.