“Aye, son, he’s one of the originals,” says his sage companion.
Whether he means one of the only two remaining founder members of the 70s survivors on stage, or an original talent who went on to inspire some of the greatest bass players of the last four decades, is unclear but both are undoubtedly true.
JJ still looks fit and lean at 63 as he sways onstage with his low slung bass, in contrast to his gaunt and emphysemic fellow founder Dave Greenfield, only two years his senior, behind the keyboards.
Drummer Jet Black, 76, who has been plagued by ill health in recent years and has semi-retired to intermittent light duties on the riser, won’t be joining us tonight but he is replaced by an able and energetic understudy.
And The Stranglers still rock.
And JJ’s bass is indeed still very fat and very loud.
His piercing 100-yard stare and charisma easily distracts from the pantomime antics of The Stranglers 21st century singer Baz Warne, who minces round the stage adding smutty innuendos and camp flourishes to some of the band’s best-loved output.
Few bands could survive the departure of one singer, let alone two, but The Stranglers power on like a determined freight train. It may have lost a few wheels and have more than a few screws loose, but it still has a fully working engine of classic tunes and coach loads of equally barmy fans trailing behind it.
The Stranglers pitched themselves as the missing link between pub-rock and punk-rock, never quite comfortable in either and often treated with disdain by punk purists, but they have never been dull.
Greenfield is still here, and his prog-rock keyboards still set The Stranglers apart from the three-chord wonders of the era, never-more prominent than in the haunting Ivor Novello-winning hit Golden Brown.
Baz does a pitch-perfect rendition of Hugh Cornwell’s original vocal, then ambles front and centre for the delicate guitar solo, jiggling and pouting amongst the glitterball lights like an ageing burlesque.
He segues straight into Always The Sun, camply heading an imaginary ball to the cowbell every eight bars, much to the delight of the eager skinheads down the front. It’s not clear whether their severe trim is the result of the razor or mature male pattern baldness. His inclusion of an obvious but unnecessary penis joke into the song’s once sublime social commentary prompts JJ to abandon his disaffected cool for a second and mouth the word “knob-head” across the stage.
Baz is clearly more at home with The Stranglers’ smuttier punk output like Peaches and their newer rockier tunes than their more commercially successful output, which he dismisses as “fluffy 80s pop songs”, but everything hangs together well as long as you don’t take your punk too seriously.
The Stranglers were never meant to be taken seriously anyway, as evidenced by the barrage of knickers thrown on stage followed by a pair of stained oversized Y-fronts, which Baz displays gamely and thanks the audience in his North-East England tones, looking and sounding like punk-rock Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown (Google him, America).
JJ steals the show back by the encore, whacking his bass violently to make it vibrate and feedback with all the tension and drama of an operatic overture. Then the familiar bass rattle kicks in and The Stranglers close with No More Heroes which leaves everyone, from the gangly teenager to the fluffy 80s pop fan to the unreconstructed skinhead, going home satisfied.