The Stranglers

Still busy after 41 years, The Stranglers are in the middle of an extensive UK tour which involves a rare visit to York. They will be playing to an already sold out Fibbers on Monday 13 July so we took the chance to pose a few questions to guitarist and singer Baz Warne about set-list headaches, Glastonbury scraps, classical music cross-overs and what he likes to listen to his spare time.
By Jane Howkins and Graeme Smith


You’re playing in York on the 13 of July, what can the audience expect from the show?

Well I think the old standard cliché: the answer is the unexpected. Well, something old, new, borrowed and blue, I suppose. We do a cross-section of stuff. We won’t do brand new stuff. We won’t do absolutely ancient stuff. But then sometimes we do do brand new stuff and absolutely ancient stuff, so it depends what sort of mood we’re in. I think the first and foremost thing is that we have to play to ourselves. It’s always a chore, or difficult rather, trying to put a set list together. We’ve got seventeen albums to draw from. There’s so much that we can use. In the Spring we did a very varied set and I think there’ll probably be more of that.

Yes, I don’t envy you having to pick the set list!

There’s a fine line between what you want to do and what you need to do. This band is such that we just do whatever we want anyway. We always have.

You’re doing a pretty extensive UK tour including a lot of smaller venues with a lot of sold out gigs. Is that something you prefer to the larger venues?

It’s always nice to get back to it. I mean, that’s where we once started. To be honest with you, the venue can be as small as they like as long as we’ve got plenty of room on stage. That’s not always the case. It’s one side of the coin. Festivals are a great things to do because you’ve got open spaces and fresh air but you’ve got no real Stranglers fans per se, it’s just Joe Public. When you play smaller clubs and shove a couple thousand people in there who have just come to see you, the atmosphere is just electric, because they’re towns that we haven’t visited very regularly. In fact I’ve never played in York with The Stranglers. I’ve played in York many times with other bands, including the old Fibbers, but we’ve never done York in the last fifteen years, so it’s going to be very exciting. We’re looking forward to it.


I’m sure the people of York are as well.

Yeah, well, I think it’s sold out. I don’t know what the capacity of the venue is because I’ve never been there. It’s a new Fibbers, isn’t it?


Yeah, they moved this year. It’s a good size and the stage is a good size too.

Great. Traditionally we’ve always done Leeds, Sheffield and places like that, but York is something that I’m particularly looking forward to because it’s literally on my doorstep.


The band has been around for a long time in various incarnations. What do you credit your longevity to?

Probably the enduring quality of the songs. When The Stranglers first started they were older than a lot of the other so-called punk bands around in the day. I never thought The Stranglers were a punk band anyway. We had a keyboard player with a droopy tash for Christ’s sake! So it wasn’t exactly The Clash or The Pistols. They were older, probably slightly wiser, although looking back at the antics that we got up to in the day, there’re a few people that would dispute that!

Overall and above everything else it was just the enduring quality of the songs and the way that the fans are very loyal and passionate. This band has endured its ups and downs, like all bands have. I mean, it’s 41 years now. That’s an awful long time to be in a rock and roll band with other people. There’s been the ups and the downs and the fights and the arguments and the scraps and the punch-ups. There’s also been some incredible highs.


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The Stranglers receiving a Daily Mirror Pop Club award in 1978

We’re all very close. We’re tight as a unit. We’re very good friends. Geographically it’s difficult for us to socialise because we’re spread all over the place but when we get together, it’s never less than exciting and a really good time. We still feel that the band are valid, that we’ve got things to say. We still write and record new material, and you still get that sort of eighteen-year-old lurch in the chest when you realise that you’re in something that’s actually really good. That never goes away.


Creatively we’re on a high and we’ve got something to say and I guess that’s why we still do it. The minute that we decide that we don’t enjoy it anymore and don’t want to do it then we’ll stop. It’s quite simple really. It’s not rocket science. We all do it for the love of it and we don’t really need to do it for the money or anything else. It’s just that we love it and hopefully it’ll go on for quite a few more years.


What do you think of the way the music industry has changed over the years?

It’s almost unrecognisable from when the band started and even from when I joined. The accessibility of music now is what is ruining it for a lot of people. I’m not saying music shouldn’t be accessible but if somebody mentions to you ‘this is great’ you just go on YouTube and find it. As for buying things, people just go on Spotify and create playlists.


The formats have changed. When I was a kid I would get on the bus, go down into the town centre, stand in the queue with the rest of the people who’d gone down to buy the record that had been officially released on that date. Then you’d sit on the bus on the way home and you’d read the sleeve, smell the sleeve. It was a whole tangible, different experience. Plus it sounded better.


There’s pros and cons to everything. I mean the accessibility of it, there’s nothing you can’t find really on the Internet. I’ve trawled it myself looking for rarities and things. People have told me that I’m on there from 1983 and I’m thinking how the hell has that got on there? From those points of view it’s fascinating.


As a business, it’s no secret that the music business is run by accountants these days. They want a return on their investment within a year. There’s no nurturing or helping bands along anymore. You need to turn a quick buck and get an investment back. You can probably tell I’m not a fan! I’m not a fan of today’s music industry even though I’m in it. We’ve been around for so long that we can kind of, not exactly write our own rules, but we’ve always done it our way and there’s always people out there that are willing to let you do it your way. That’s another reason to keep going I guess.


When you were starting out, who influenced you, and who would you recommend younger audiences check out?

How long’s a piece of string? For me it was always mostly about guitars. I’m a vocalist now and a guitarist but I was always a guitarist first and foremost. When I was a kid I was probably more into hard rock. The bands that grew up with were Status Quo, AC/DC, Motorhead, who we just played with last weekend at the Eden Project in Cornwall which was great, right across the board to The Clash. I was always a big fan of The Ramones.


Then you’ve got Neil Young, singer/songwriters, Johnny Cash, Burt Bacharach, Dusty Springfield. There’s a fabulous band from Sunderland called Field Music who I absolutely adore, and they remind me a lot of the stuff I was listening to when I was younger.


XTC, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Led Zeppelin, how long’s a piece of string really? I am quite a fan of virtuosity and I do like to watch someone who can seriously play the shit out of a guitar, but by the same token for me it’s always been song lead. I’m all for the song. If a song doesn’t require a specific guitar part then I’ll just stand at the back and sing and not play guitar. It’s all to do with the band. Those kinds of things have always been dear to me. I’ve always been interested more in the song, but if there’s a really cool riff and some great guitar playing in it, then more’s the better.


You’ve done a lot of shows over the years – are there any that particularly stand out for you?

Aye, to be honest with you, probably the one in more recent times would be Glastonbury in 2010 because there was some previous history between The Stranglers and the Glastonbury people, the Michael Eavises of this world. I do believe that, way back in the 80’s and 90’s when it was just starting, I don’t even think it was called Glastonbury, one of our boys got Michael Eavis against the wall by the scruff of the neck and called him a ‘trendy, lefty twat’ or something, I can’t really remember but people have long memories so they steadfastly refused to have us on.


And then in 2010, the deal was made and we went on on a Friday afternoon at about two o’clock and [the weather] was like it is today [hot and sunny]. There was about 80,000 people who’d turned out to see us which we could not believe, considering the year before in the same slot on the same stage Lady Gaga played and she got about 25,000 people. We got three times that for an old British rock and roll/punk band, so that was a real highlight. Of course, you only get an hour and when you’re enjoying it so much, it goes over in a heartbeat. One minute you start and the next minute you stop and you’re drinking champagne and sweaty, patting each other on the back backstage.


That would probably be the most recent one. But I’ve had many. Probably the first time I played in New Zealand, which is about as far away from the UK as it’s possible to get. Australia, Japan, all the different places. Great memories. But Glasto from 2010 is probably the most recent definitely.


Your last album Giants was released in 2012 to critical acclaim. Are you working on any new material at the moment?

Well, funny you should say that, we are knocking some bits and pieces of stuff about. As I’m sitting today waiting for these interviews to come in, between them I’m sitting with a guitar and a piece of paper with an idea that I’ve got. It’s an ongoing, never-ending thing, mumbling stuff down and making notes. While we’re so geographically apart, we have to specifically organise time to get together but I do believe we’re going to be looking at some quality song writing time in September, hopefully, when all the festivals have finished. As to what it’ll be, when it’ll be, I have absolutely no idea! Which is actually quite the way I like it. It’s nice to have a bit of spontaneity. Yes, is the general answer to that. Talks are afoot!

In 2013 you played at the BBC proms, which is better known as a classical affair. How was that?

It was fantastic! A lot of the roots of English music go back to the Royal Albert Hall, when you think of some of the things that have happened there. First and foremost, it was just a privilege to play there. Secondly it was an honour to be asked to do something so off the wall as far as we’re concerned.


I think the whole premise of it all was between BBC Radio 6Music and BBC Radio 3, who are more the classical side of the beeb. There was a kind of argument between them: did a cross-over appeal for pop musicians into the classical world and vice versa. One of the producers there just decided The Stranglers would be the perfect band because we’ve rock leanings and classical influences. I mean we write waltzes, Golden Brown is a waltz, and different things like that. Looking back now on the face of it, it seemed like quite a natural choice. At the time it was both exhilarating and very daunting. Don’t get scared or nervous anymore but when you step out onto that hallowed stage it’s quite an experience. We had a huge string section behind us as well. Something always to tell the grandchildren!


What’s next after the tour?

We’ve got hopefully a little bit of time together in September to try and get some new material together. October there’s a few personal bits and pieces going on. The bass player, who’s a Shidokan karate master, goes to Japan in October to spend the month there training and fighting. And then in November we’ve got a huge European tour and then at the end of it we’ve got five arena shows with Simple Minds.


In 2016 there’s another British tour, an Australian tour, so onwards and upwards. We’re mad for it. We’re still hungry for it and it’s great to be busy at our time of life.


Any last words for the fans?

No, just get your arses along and enjoy it! We’re going to enjoy it so I hope they do to.


The Stranglers play at Fibbers on Monday 13 July 2015, doors 7.30pm