ROCK / A tough act to follow: After 15 years, The Stranglers have a new line-up. Mark Wareham met the men who replaced Hugh Cornwell

Hugh Cornwell first left The Stranglers in 1980 when he visited Her Majesty for a few months in Pentonville. For a couple of nights at the Rainbow the band replaced him with some seven lead singers, including Toyah Wilcox, Ian Dury, Wilko Johnson, Billy Idol and Jake Burns. Ten years later, Cornwell left for good and the band settled on a mere two replacements, the lesser-known guitarist John Ellis (The Vibrators) and the completely unknown vocalist Paul Roberts (Big Wheel, as distinct from Jake Burns' Big Wheel).

Almost two years on, The Stranglers have released a new album, Stranglers in the Night (see review, p13), and are about to launch a full-scale tour. Historically, the omens are not good for The Stranglers Mk II. Precious few established bands have changed their front man and continued to meet with success, Genesis being perhaps the only exception (though if pushed you might include Marillion).

To add to the pressure on the new boys, The Stranglers had rocked along unchanged for a full 15 years while such punk contemporaries as The Sex Pistols, The Damned and The Clash either died, burned out or got bored. Hugh Cornwell, Jean Jacques Burnel, Jet Black and Dave Greenfield formed one of the most settled line-ups in rock 'n' roll. According to the fanzine Strangled, 1992 is the band's '15th Anniversary World Convention Year' (making them sound more like a philatelist outfit than one of the originators of punk), though they've actually been around as the Guildford Stranglers since 1975 and celebrate their 18th birthday tomorrow.

The new singer, Paul Roberts, was 14 when The Stranglers formed and had yet to join his first band, MPSG. He started playing percussion but tired of air-drumming (they had no drum kit) so switched to vocals. Then, he remembers, 'I had contracts with small indie labels with strangely named bands - as one does - like Acute Dog, Who Shot Susan, and Deutschland Uber Alles, who were great. We lasted about a fortnight. A short-term project . . . ' Between bands, he blew up helium balloons for children and worked as a boat skivvy in Greece. There was a sniff of stardom with a group called The Word who were offered a deal by Rusty Egan but, naturally, they split up prior to signing.

Roberts claims to have followed The Stranglers since 1977, 'listening to them, putting my own stuff together and poisoning Hugh Cornwell's food'. Until two years ago, he was still beating the pub-and-club trail with Big Wheel. He dropped in with a demo tape to see a record manager who, it transpired, had moved. Instead, he found himself in the office of Colin Johnson, The Stranglers' manager, who told him that Hugh Cornwell had just quit. 'So I said 'I'll do it' and threw my own tape aside. I met J J (Jean Jacques Burnel) a couple of days later and they put me through a series of tests. 'Can you read?' was the first thing J J ever said to me, and I said, 'Yeah, sure'.' After a few days in the studio Roberts was offered the job, having undergone the usual initiation ceremonies, which weren't as humiliating as you might imagine - 'I quite enjoy shagging older men.'

The guitarist John Ellis, the other half of the new Hugh Cornwell, has been an unofficial Strangler since Day One. 'The first time I met them was '75 or '76 in a school hall in Tottenham where The Vibrators and The Stranglers played to a combined audience of two people and a dog. Ever since then I've floated in and out. When Hugh got banged up I did a couple of shows, and then I played on the last tour before he quit.' He has also played with Burnel's two sidekick projects, Purple Helmets and The Euroband.

Despite his connections, when Ellis first played as a full member on last year's club tour it felt more like a baptism of fire. 'It's the sheer panic you go through in deciding whether you're going to cut it or not. If it had gone badly, it could have got out of hand. Stranglers fans aren't known for being polite . . .'

You could say that. Early Stranglers' gigs were little short of pitched battles. Thugs would turn up, not to scrap with other punks, but to take on the band, who would respond by setting on the audience with fists and mike stands. Burnel estimates that 75 per cent of their gigs in 1976 ended in bloodshed. Not that the terror tactics were restricted to fans. The Stranglers always maintained a healthy loathing for the press. Interviewing them used to be more hazardous than watching them play. Legend has it they once tied a French reporter to the outside of a pylon on the first level of the Eiffel Tower, and then took pictures as he begged them not to let him die.

When the band tour nowadays, the only hangover from punk is the odd phlegm merchant.

Roberts: 'I spent three weeks being gobbed at last year.'

Ellis: 'Nah, that wasn't hardly bad at all.'

Roberts: 'It wasn't like getting flobbed on in the Seventies when it was hanging off your gear.'

Ellis: 'These days people gobbing at us run the risk of being sorted out by the band . . . It's no longer acceptable.'

Roberts: 'We did go and sort a guy out in Coventry last year . . . Luckily he was within reaching distance. The floor had to be mopped about four times. Y'know, it's not 1977, we don't do this any more.'

Gobbers apart, the new Stranglers are pleased enough with the fans' initial acceptance of the changes. Whatever the critical reaction from press and public, the band's core of die-hard followers are loyal enough to keep them on the road and into the 21st century (they're already close to selling out the London and Glasgow shows on the coming tour). They see no point in not carrying on. The Stranglers' second coming is an altogether scaled-down operation. They've formed their own label, Psycho Records, and are taking a hands-on approach. In the past, major record labels have not had the band's best interests at heart. Last year, arriving at an airport in Portugal, they were met by a reception party of men in suits from Epic who appeared unaware that the band had left their label some six months previously.

'At least this way,' says Ellis, 'if it screws up we've only got ourselves to blame.' Also, promises Roberts, there'll be no expensive videos. 'They don't make shit songs great . . . Basically, you can't polish a turd even if you spend a hundred grand filming it.'

The Stranglers tour Europe from 29 Sept

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London