The Stranglers - Men in Black and White, O2 Academy, March 17

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For this years’ tour, The Stranglers – usually known as The Men in Black – will be The Men in Black and White.

The band are performing their 1978 album Black And White in its entirety.

March has now become the traditional month for the band’s annual UK tour and it starts tonight in Perth, Scotland and finishes on March 26 at the usual Manchester show – and includes a gig at Sheffield’s O2 Academy on St Patrick’s Day, Thursday, March 17.

Strangely enough, the album is not celebrating any particular anniversary, but founder-member and bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel – known as JJ – explains why they are performing this, their third, album.

He says: “It’s because it signified the departure from our earlier sound.

“The first two, Rattus Norvegicus and No More Heroes, were effectively recorded at the same sessions and were basically our live set.

“However, Black and White was when we started exploring and fulfilling our potential.

“It was our post-punk album and we were developing as writers and performers.

“At the time, it was a commercial risk, but we were a lot younger and didn’t care.”

The risk paid off and the album reached number two in the charts.

The album contains some of the all-time Stranglers’ classics like Tank, Toiler on the Sea and Nice ’n’ Sleazy. The band’s excellent cover of Bacharach and David’s Walk on By, which was voted number three in BBC Music’s Top 50 Greatest Cover Version poll, was given away with the album as a single.

And with a surfeit of brilliance, JJ understandably finds it difficult to pick out and stand-out tracks.

“To be honest, I’m too involved with them,” says the 64-year-old.

“I think they’re all fantastic and I’ve fallen in love with them again.”

JJ, along with bandmates Dave Greenfield on keyboards, Baz Warne on guitars and Jim McCauley standing in for Jet Black on drums, has been rehearsing hard for the tour.

“We’ve broken the back of it now,” he says. “For the first few weeks we were a bit frazzled.

“In order to do the Black and White album you have to get in the headspace of 35 years ago. It’s really edgy and we were thinking ‘what were we on to do that’.

“Then there was the discovery of coming face to face with your younger self.”

As well as the album, The Stranglers will also be playing a selection of carefully selected tracks from their long and illustrious career.

“It’ll be quite different,” says JJ, “and not what people expect.”

From their early days, when they were lumped in with the New Wave explosion – when in fact they had already been around a few years – the band has continued to court controversy while producing ground-breaking music.

The band has survived the loss of one of their frontmen and have never split – continuously touring and recording new material.

And they are already looking to the future.

JJ says: “We may do The Raven next year with some new material which we are working on. It’s an interesting album that one.

“However, my big ambition is to do something based on the Men in Black album.

“I’ve written the story and I’m looking for a choreographer. It’s going to be a ballet, because it’s a love story.”

In the shorter term, the band has plans for later in the year.

“We have some festivals in summer, after our tour of Australia and New Zealand.

“We enjoy doing them and we always try to do new things.

“Then there’s the new album; we’ve started work on it, but we’ve got a bit distracted by the touring – hopefully it’ll be out next year.”

n The Stranglers play the 02 Academy, Sheffield city centre, on March 17. For tickets, priced from £24, visit www.sheffieldacademy.co.uk