[Originally published by On:Yorkshire Magazine: http://www.on-magazine.co.uk/arts/arts-interviews/baz-warne-the-stranglers/]
The Stranglers celebrated their 40th anniversary last year and marked the occasion with their Ruby Anniversary Tour. The hugely successful tour gave them even more to celebrate as every single date sold out, which is pretty impressive for a band whose most recent new album was released in 2012.
Formed in 1974 as The Guilford Stranglers, the band has come a long way from their pub-rock days to become regarded as one of the great British punk bands. The enduring popularity of the band is clearly shown by their incredibly loyal fan base, affectionately known as their Familyinblack, and many of the die-hard fans follow them from gig to gig on every single tour.
I have always been a massive Stranglers fan – it was the first gig that I went to as an amazing surprise 13th birthday present from my Dad – so I jumped at the chance to have a chat with singer and guitarist Baz Warne ahead of their highly-anticipated March On tour this year.
Firstly – I heard you had knee surgery at the end of 2014. Is everything OK after your op?
Oh, thanks for asking! I don’t want to dwell on it too much but basically I had to have cartilage surgery on my left knee after general wear and tear over the years. The only thing I hadn’t bargained for was the three and a half months it took my knee to recover. But I’m back on form now. The recovery time gave me time to re-connect with the guitar again. Don’t get me wrong, I still love playing but it’s different to gigging – it gave me time to write some new songs and enjoy just playing. That was the silver lining!
From being banned by the BBC during the band’s most notorious period to a performance at the BBC 6 Music Proms in 2013 – has the band calmed down on its ‘japes’ with the media or have you just finally been recognised as one of the great British bands?
Good question. I think we have all calmed down a bit over the years, we are all a bit older now! The irony wasn’t lost on us and we were really glad that we have been welcomed back by the BBC and the establishment. The thing about The Stranglers is that the legacy of the band has definitely endured. Above everything else it is about the enduring nature of the songs and the band without it being about nostalgia. We are the only band from that era who have never split up. Ever. So the band has never been about the money. We all pay each other the same so it is all about the love of the music and our hard work ethic. For the 40 years that the band has been around there have only been seven different members. I have only been there since my mid-30s but I’ve been in the band for 15 years now!
From your hugely successful sell-out Ruby Anniversary Tour last year that led to a Summer Festival Stint (V Festivals, T in the Park, Electric Picnic) – what were the highlights?
This is quite a selfish, personal highlight! But when we played Guilford on March 25th it was actually my 50th birthday and I had 2,500 people singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me! If I had hair it would have stood on end! In general, the vibe was even better from the audiences than usual. We have amazing audiences but it felt even more electric – every gig was a sell-out. Two and a half months of non-stop gigging was exhausting but very exciting. I loved the Festivals too – always great fun and a fantastic atmosphere. It felt revenue busier as we tried to cram everything into nine months as we knew my knee surgery was booked in for the end of the year.
This year you have a 19-date UK Tour in March followed by your first time in Russia. Bet you can’t wait to get back on the road for some live gigs again.
We really do all love the touring. It’s great as we are gigging just because we want to be – we don’t have an album to promote. I just love to see the glee on people’s faces in the audience when we gig. We usually play 25-ish songs on an evening. We’ll probably play seven or eight from this era and the rest from the previous albums. All of the new tracks are accepted as much as the old songs which is great. Since the advent of the internet people are able to access our music far more easily, so even the newest fans know all of our tracks.
Anything else you can tell us about the band’s 2015 plans? You mentioned that you had been writing a few new songs and JJ (Burnel, the band’s bassist) has hinted at a new studio album on your website’s blog…
I can’t say too much but we are looking at a few bits and pieces. There may be a new album in progress but it’s all very tentative at the moment.
What do you think makes The Stranglers one of the must-see live bands for old and new fans?
Not to sound big headed but we are still as good as we ever have been on stage. You are guaranteed a good show. We also refuse to be typecast. Not to sound like I am speaking out of turn but the original line-up’s momentum was lost a little in mid eighties and went more poppy but we are truly back to form now. We do include a mixture of older stuff in our sets which is inevitable. A massive portion of our audience at each gig is made of original, die-hard fans and Joe public who don’t know our full back catalogue so it makes sense to play some of our old ‘classics’. Plus we love playing them. Also it is our relationship as a band. We have been emailing, texting and calling each other constantly for three months since we finished the old tour so we can get set together and agree it all to totally nail it. The whole band has to be interested in playing the set so that we can get the enjoyment out of it as this means an amazing gigs for our fans. We really are like a big family and we love all being together. Jet (Black, the band’s drummer) thought the band wouldn’t last 40 minutes let alone 40-years! The exciting thing about 2015 is that our audiences will be hearing some songs that haven’t been heard for 10 years…and even some that have never ever been heard live. Not fair to play the same set time and time again on fans or on the band. We love that fact that we can go out year after year with nothing really new to promote so we’re very lucky to have such amazing fans. Some of them come to gig after gig and literally follow us around the world on our tour. We had a surreal moment at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland – were sat relaxing after a gig and through the mist came a couple we know from the UK! We’ve also seen the same couple in the USA and Japan – it’s amazing!