“I think it’s what’s known as an embarrassment of riches”, frontman of The Stranglers says in advance of their ‘Classic Collection’ tour.
Baz Warne, 52, is the vocalist and guitarist for The Stranglers, one of the UK’s most influential bands. With record breaking sell-out tours they have amassed a large following and I was excited to chat to him about what the ‘Classic Collection’ means to them, collating new material and how his perseverance got him to where he is today.
You’re about to head out on tour and will be presenting the ‘Classic Collection’ to coincide with the re-release of the entire Stranglers studio album catalogue from 1977 – 82. Does this mean to an extent the set-list has already written itself?
“I think the Classic Collection means different things to different people. I think to the layman so to speak it would just be all the hits… It would be very easy for us to just go out and do that year after year after year because there were so many big hits back in the 70’s and 80’s. Classic to us just means, well, ‘classic Stranglers’ and all the facets that we have. Whether it’s obscure stuff, we have quite a lot of progressive stuff, ‘punk-floyd’ if you like. Classic to us just means all the songs that we like. I think for the more die-hard Strangler fan, for which there are quite a few I’m lead to believe, if we were just to go out and do the old hits every year that would just become extremely tedious very quickly.”
How do you prepare for a tour?
“We’ve rehearsed for about a month and we’ve picked and chose songs… What we normally do is get to October and November and the emails start flying around and we start doing a little bit of homework. We don’t all live in the same country either anymore, so we have to plan these things. We got together in January for quite a while and by that time we have a pot of about 35 or 40 tunes which we knew we’re thinking about doing and then as the tour progresses we’ll pull stuff, or we’ll add stuff, it never stays the same. By the time we get into the 6th show it will be quite different to the way it started. I think it’s what’s known as ‘an embarrassment of riches’.”
You’ve written a quite a few songs for the band, do you have a favourite?
“A couple of songs I wrote, the very first song I ever wrote and presented to the band was a song was called the ‘Dutch Moon’, which I was very proud of, I loved the way that came out. I think they were expecting a three-chord punk thrash, but we got a lot of subtlety and some lovely movement in there… Another would be ‘Relentless’ which was 10 years ago I think.”
Do you have new material on the way?
“We’re actually right in the process of amassing and correlating some new material as well. I don’t know when it’s going to see the light of day, but we are going to start and I’m hoping I’ll write another couple of songs I really like as well.”
Did you want to be anything other than a musician when you were young?
“I know it’s going to sound like a cliché but I really don’t think I did. From as far back as I remember… I remember seeing bands like Status Quo, maybe on Top of the Pops in about 1971-72 with the guitars and the hair and whatnot and it left a huge impression on me. I was always interested in guitars and music. When you’re a kid I supposed it’s because it looks cool, you think “wow I’d love to do that”. As I progressed up through into my early teens at school I managed to get hold of an electric guitar and never really looked back. To the point where it came to making decisions at school as whether to go into the medical side, which my father did, so I took all the relevant sciences to try and achieve that and when I got to the age of 16 I thought “fuck this”.”
So, what did your dad think about you becoming a musician then?
“He was less than thrilled to start with I have to say. You know, He had that old attitude “why don’t you get a normal job to fall back on?” type of thing, you’ll never make a living from playing guitar and then I went in to the house when I was 19 and told him I was going to tour America with a Punk band I was in and I had nothing but 100% support from my parents from that moment on… That’s a good question actually, as I don’t look back on that very often… I have been very single minded, very purposeful and now I’m in my 50’s and I’m still doing it.”
You auditioned for The Stranglers in 2000 and immediately set off to play in Kosovo and then across Europe with the band…. What did it feel like to join this hugely successful band and suddenly be touring as their front man?
“Yeah it did actually, I knew them from a couple of tours I’d done with them in 95-97 in a support band as special guests as we were and I kept in touch with them and they needed a guitar player it’s as simple as that. I think if they had advertised they would have had 150 guys try, 145 who probably couldn’t play. So what I think they did was just got in touch with people they knew. I went to London and auditioned and got the gig straight away and the next thing I knew, 10 days later we were in Kosovo, playing for the peacekeeping forces, it was kinda a baptism, total whirlwind, I didn’t know the crew, I just got dropped into it and here I am now 17 years later.”
Do you still feel like the ‘new boy’?
“(Laughs) To be honest no. they made me feel so welcome, after I don’t know a year or two I felt like I’d always been there and very accepted. I mean I think it’s more the press and the media really that will make you feel like the new boy. Everyone wants to harp back to the year, of course that’s perfectly understandable, I’ve been in the band now longer than any of my predecessors.”
Do you have a favourite song you like to play live?
“Well, all of them really, again that sounds like a cop out but I do have a soft spot for the bands version of “Walk on by”. Which is very guitary and Dave [Greenfield] and I, we get to show off a little bit, go “Hey, hey look at me!” which is always good. There’s a couple of really early tracks like “Good by Toulouse” which has always been one of my favourite Stranglers songs… For this tour in March we’ve picked songs that haven’t been played in decades. We’ve picked some brand new stuff and some old stuff and we’ve mixed it up to keep ourselves interested.”
You have The Ruts DC supporting you, are these friends of yours, how did it come about that they would be joining you on this tour?
“Yes, a band we’re friends with, the original Ruts played with The Stranglers way, way back in the day, unfortunately there’s only two of the original members left alive, the drummer and the base player. The Ruts were always a great band… they didn’t wear the regulation uniform, there were a lot of things going on with The Ruts… I haven’t seen the guys for about two or three years… but I look forward to seeing the guys. I’ve been online and it’s still as raw and they’re not kids any more so they’ve got a real controlled aggression which I like to think that we have as well, which only comes with mellowing over the years really.”
Being from Sunderland, do you support the music scene in there?
“Yes I do, I don’t out very often to see bands…but when time allows, there’s been some fantastic bands. One of the main bands at the moment for me is called Field Music. They’re absolutely brilliant, (laughs) I don’t know where they get their ideas from. Every time they bring a record out I buy it religiously. I know the guys as well so I get on the phone “how the hell did you come up with that?” The local music scene has always been very good.”
You have a great support network of fans…
“We have some fans that arrange their entire holidays around The Stranglers tour and we’ve had them fly from all over the world and take their holidays in one swoop so they can come to all the gigs and it’s very much a social thing. They all meet up and get very drunk and enjoy the music… some of our gigs now as we’ve been going for so long there are several generations of fans coming along.”
The Stranglers are touring the UK from March 9th to April 1st.
Full details at here