Following 2014’s spectacular, sell-out Ruby Anniversary Tour and accompanying celebratory box set album release, Giants & Gems, The Stranglers are now preparing for a new tour which brings them to Cardiff in March.
“We worked like absolute swine’s last year,” says vocalist and bass player Baz Warne, “With the fortieth anniversary, we had a massive British European tour and by the time we'd got into the festivals I’d had some trouble with my knee. We finished festivals in August and in September I had to go under the knife for an operation which put me out of action for three months. Of course after that happened it was Christmas holiday time, so we're all looking very much forward now to March.”
Baz who hails from Sunderland joined The Stranglers fifteen years ago after working in the music industry for the best part of two decades. “I first picked a guitar up when I was about 9 and it’s never gone away,” he says.
Baz rose to prominence as a member of The Toy Dolls who scored a hit in 1984 with their rendition of Nellie the Elephant. “I was actually playing bass on that record,” he laughs, “but I'd left the band by the time it came out which I was quite pleased about! I was only 19 and it gave me the thought that maybe I could do this for a living, so after that I formed a band with my brother and some other lads from Sunderland (The Smalltown Heroes) and had some minor success a couple of albums and a few singles. Then I met The Stranglers in 1995.”
Five years later, Baz was asked to join The Stranglers alongside long-time members Jet Black, JJ Burnell and Paul Greenfield. Along with Hugh Cornwell, Black, Burnell and Greenfield had scored over 17 chart hits in the late 1970s and early 80s including No More Heroes, Peaches, Golden Brown and Walk On By.
“They were like the soundtrack of my youth really,” remembers Baz, “I used to be a newspaper delivery boy and part of that was delivering papers like Sounds, Melody Maker and NME. The Stranglers used to be featured regularly in there and occasionally you’d capture a glimpse of them on Top of the Pops or you’d hear them on the radio.”
Does Baz have any particular memory of his first Stranglers engagement? “It happened so fast, we didn’t have time to think about it. We went out and played for the peace-keeping forces in Kosovo in 2000 and I had about 10 days to acclimatise, learn the songs and meet the guys. It was a real baptism of fire. I didn’t really think about it so much until the end of the first gig when we had the first unwinding beer, thinking "...I've just played a gig with the Stranglers! You’d remain a stone not to get some kick out of it, which I did in the early days”.
Being a member of The Stranglers doesn’t give you chance to admire the scenery for too long, they continue to be one of Britain’s most successful live bands and have conquered new territories in recent years. Resisting genre tags they have played The BBC Proms.
“The Proms was a thing we very much embraced,” says Baz, “They were trying to cross over between BBC 6 music to BBC Radio 3. They said “who are a pop band with classical baroque influences?” and they asked us to do it. We rehearsed with the London Sinfonietta at Maida Vale. It was completely sold out, a bit of a culture clash, but amazingly enjoyable, a real cherished memory.”
The organisers of Glastonbury Festival also gave in to fan pressure in 2010 by inviting The Stranglers to perform “There were 85,000 people there just to see us. The post-gig reviews came out a few weeks later with The Stranglers announced as one of the top five bands to see for the whole weekend. Strangely enough, they won’t have us back.”
As The Stranglers begin rehearsals for their forthcoming tour, I ask Baz if there could be any new recordings in 2015. “There are always tentative plans,” he says, “there’s a lot of anticipation for the tour and that always fuels us, so it’s a case of striking when the irons hot. There’s every chance.”
And what can fans expect from the forthcoming Cardiff show? “To coin a cliche expect the unexpected,” laughs Baz, “Although we've been together a long time, it still refuses to be a nostalgia trip for us otherwise we wouldn't bother writing and recording new material. So there will be a mix of old and new. There will be some hits in there and some surprises. Being The Stranglers, anything can happen at our gigs and often does!”
- Catch The Stranglers at Cardiff University on March 10. Tickets are available from gigsandtours.com / 0844 811 0051
- A version of this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during January 2015.