TONIGHT’S Stranglers gig at Portsmouth Guildhall follows last year’s sell-out ruby anniversary tour marking an incredible 40 years of the punk era’s most eclectic and uncompromising bands.

Wild and rebellious off-stage and on, The Stranglers have always drawn on a wide range of musical genres, from pop to prog, metal to jazz, creating their own distinctive style.

They have created some of the most memorable pop and rock tunes of the past five decades, from the strident opening bass solo of No More Heroes to the lilting harpsichord strains of Golden Brown.

But I’ve had a bone to pick with the mean and moody men in black for 30-odd years. I have first-hand experience of them turning up late, fans throwing bottles and – after introducing their big hit at that time to huge cheers – refusing to play it.

Baz Warne, who joined the band 15 years ago, makes no apologies for this.

“They can still be quite contrary chaps. There have been a few occasions when we have refused to play the No 1 hit Golden Brown – the biggest thing of the early 80s. Sometimes when we go to festivals we won’t play it – just because we can!”

“That’s a bit rebellious!” I laugh.

“Well, when you get to our age there’s a lot less to be rebellious about,” says Baz, who at 50, is a relative youngster in the band. “The others are in their 60s and one is in his 70s. It’s still all the originals – plus myself – but we still make an almighty noise that leaves your eardrums ringing.”

Past 50 or not, The Stranglers still ooze attitude.

“Attitude still counts for a lot in a band like ours. It wouldn’t do to go on stage in yellow dungerees and pink Doc Martens!”

These days you find three generations of families at Stranglers gigs but Baz still says: “Expect the unexpected.”

“We’re not promoting anything this time so we’ve just decided to keep it as eclectic and fresh as we can. We play to please ourselves as well as the audience, and we have to keep ourselves interested; it’s never just a nostalgia trip, we don’t go out there and simply churn the hits out.”

So while there will be newer material from the last three albums, there will be numbers that haven’t been played for 25 years, and there might even be a couple that have never been played before.

“I think in one massive respect that’s why The Stranglers are so timeless. The music captures a moment in time that people have fond memories of but we still take pains to not wallow in nostalgia. We take time to record and write and we have had the best reviews ever. It’s timeless because they are all great songs and instantly identifiable.”

Asked to describe or categorise the music he says: “It’s all kinds of sounds. I don’t think The Stranglers was ever punk. There was a lot of punk elements and punk attitude but the band’s been recording and going since 1974 – two years before punk happened. We already had a distinctive style and gave it more of an edge.

“We would say we were ‘punk’ (Jet would) just to get a gig. In fact we’d say we were country and western just to get a gig! The Stranglers are completely unique – no one sounds like that and no one ever has.”

In their heyday the band were notorious for their wild antics. They once sparked a riot during a gig in France – two members ended up in prison where they shared a cell with two murderers. Another time they were escorted out of Sweden by armed police after kicking up a fuss at a hotel because they weren’t serving hot food.

Another gig saw strippers on stage in Battersea Park. The band even took the “artistic” decision to take heroin for a year.

Baz tells me that they still always drink a glass of champagne or two when they come off stage but adds: “These days after a gig we are more likely to have a glass of claret, put the slippers on and watch Match of the Day. That’s not to say we don’t have our moments. At the show anything can happen.

“You hear the roar, the lights go down, we walk on and the whole place ignites and even though it sounds like a cliche, that’s when you feel most at home. Wild things still happen on stage – it mostly tends to be verbal: a lot of people think it’s good to shout things. Thankfully most people are okay.”

“There is not so much abject violence in the crowd now... it can be very exciting. One of the strange things about days gone by is you would get more of the men having a punch up – now you have to watch out for the women grabbing your behind!”

How long does he see The Stranglers going on for?

“We are all as in love with it as ever. We still have plenty to say – social commentary. There’s lots of things that get on our nerves. So we will go on as long as possible. If the Rolling Stones can do 50 years why not us... but I plan to quit before I look like Mick Jagger!”