Since their early days as seventies punk rock rabble-rousers, The Stranglers have been mainstays of the British music scene. Now over 45 years on, the lads are still finding the time to hit the road and make music. Back in Nottingham for their latest UK tour this month, we sent our man LP Mills for a chat with guitarist and frontman Baz Warne, to find out what these perennial punks have been up to.
Thank you so much for stopping to chat with us.
Not a problem – what else would I be doing on a miserable Tuesday morning?
Probably more than I’d be doing. So what have you lot been up to?
Well we’re just ramping up to the tour at the moment, rehearsing and the like. There’s plenty to do and it’s an exciting time, y’know? We’re all back together doing what we’re supposed to do, which is playing instruments and being in a band.
You come to Nottingham quite frequently when you’re touring. What do you think of the city?
Oh we come every year – it’s one of the highlights of the tour, really. Generally it’s one of our earlier gigs in the tour, but it’s always great fun. It’s an old historical city, I know that Dave Greenfield and his wife like to stick around the city a bit after the show and check out all the bars and that. It’s a rock staple, isn’t it? Rock City, Rescue Rooms, all that.
Rock City has actually been done up since you guys were last in Nottingham – are you looking forward to checking out the new digs?
Really? ‘Cos going back 25 years it was a notorious sh*t hole, especially backstage. Honestly, you’d have to get your wellies out. We did see that they were selling off bits of the old floor and we thought “you’re f*ckin’ joking”, but it makes sense when you think about all the famous boots that have been on that stage – I mean, Rock City’s a bloody institution isn’t it?
The Stranglers have been touring since the mid seventies, but you yourself joined in 2000. What’s it like coming up to your twentieth year with the band?
Yeah, when the band first started in 1975 I would’ve been eleven, so I was probably just playing football and growing hair in weird places. To be fair to the boys I’ve been embraced and brought into the fold, I’ve been made to feel very welcome. Obviously joining was a big deal for me, and of course getting a new member in can be tense, but here I am coming up to my second decade with The Stranglers. Of course, I had hair and a waistline when I started, but otherwise it’s all been good for me. I’ve actually been in the band longer than the original guitarist.
How do you guys keep it fresh after forty-odd years of making music?
One of the things is – and it might sound a bit strange – but we’re all really good friends. We all work very well together, we all spend a lot of time together outside of the band – I was married towards the end of last year and the whole band came to the wedding. That’s one of the main factors, because if you start looking at your itinerary like “Ah I’ve gotta spend time with these b*stards”, you’re never gonna have a fresh outlook to the work. We enjoy it, too – even now we all enjoy playing the songs, the thrill of writing new material. That moment when you put a new track out and you’re looking around to see these big smiles – you never lose that. When you do lose that, that’s the time to stop.
Do you have any favourite tracks to perform? I’m personally a big fan of Waltzinblack.
That’s a proggy weird one, that. The boys will be surprised to hear that – they were in a strange place in them days. Well there’s one track on Suite XVI called Relentless that we like to play as one of the newer ones, and it’s kind of become a modern Stranglers classic. Going back to the old ones I personally love Goodbye Toulouse, which has got everything you associate with The Stranglers – big guitar solo, weird proggy keyboard bit in the middle – does wonders for me like, ‘cos it gives me a minute to stand back from the mic and not do any bloody singing. I suppose the right answer would be “I love them all”. That’s a cop-out, isn’t it?
Nice and diplomatic. Are there any songs you’re sick of playing?
Not really, y’know. There are songs you can play with your eyes closed – just something you can go into autopilot for. Probably the biggest hits of them all would fall into that camp. But it’s still great to see people’s reaction to Golden Brown, which still draws a lot of the lay-man who might not necessarily know the band too well. We don’t like to be one of them bands that f*cks people over by playing entirely new material because people just go home feeling disappointed. You can be as contrary and controversial as you like, but at the end of the day you’re still in this job to please people.
Do you find that you’re still getting new fans with every tour?
Oh definitely. Because we’ve been going for so long we’ve got some of the original fans who’d have been teenagers in the 70s, and they’ve all got families now that they’ve introduced to the band. I mean, these old school fans are fanatical – they’re the reason the word “fan” was invented – so we get a lot of these guys bringing their kids and the like. It’s weird because you’ll look out into the crowd and see the same faces come back every year, so you see these six and seven year olds who used to be put over the barrier to be kept out of harm’s way now standing in the middle of the mosh pit. There’s a huge demographic now, and there’s a massive ease of access with things like YouTube, so people can just check us out now.
Your last studio album was in 2015 – are you guys working on anything new?
Absolutely, we’re right in the thick of it. We’re obviously rehearsing for the tour and everything, but we’re working on some new stuff and it’s coming on in leaps and bounds. We’re all living in this house like something from the geriatric Young Ones – someone does the cooking, someone does the cleaning – but through all of that we’re getting on with it. We don’t always come together at the same time. More often than not it’ll be me and JJ Burnel going back and forth via email and over the phone, and then once we’ve deconstructed all of our ideas – and let’s face it, most of it’s sh*t – we get the lads in and we hammer it out. Sometimes it takes an afternoon, sometimes you’re working on it for two or three months. That said, it’s all looking very promising, and everyone’s really excited. It’s so nice to look around the studio and see that same smile you used to make when you were all 21 and had just written something cool.
And what can fans expect from the Back on the Tracks tour?
The cliché would be to “expect the unexpected”, wouldn’t it? Nah, I don’t want to give owt away, but we’ve really polished the setlist. There’s so much material to go through, so it’s all about finding the balance between catering for people off the street who might just know the name, while catering for the hardcore fans who might want to hear the newer stuff.
The Stranglers play Rock City on Monday 11 March