By way of previewing Stranglers upcoming “March On” Tour (full details here) Dave Jennings last week spoke to Baz Warne. Looking forward to the Roundhouse gig which will feature LTW boss John Robb’s band the Membranes as support.
Winter may still be doing its worst, but there are five very special meninblack whose thoughts are already turning to early spring. They are joined by thousands of devoted fans up and down the country who are currently securing tickets, finalising travel plans and daydreaming about the set list that will await them.
My limited music knowledge has led me to a conclusion about Baz Warne. I cannot think of another example in the history of contemporary rock, of someone who has played as big a part in the renaissance of such a well-established band. The Stranglers are now firmly entrenched as one of the essential live acts on the circuit and are finally receiving the critical acclaim that they have deserved for years. Rather than increasing, the average age of their audience seems to be getting younger every year and their festival appearances see huge crowds in front of the stage and rave reviews afterwards.
Baz took a few minutes out from the preparations for the March On tour to chat to me about what we can expect over the magical month of March.
Louder Than War: Baz, how does a band like The Stranglers prepare for yet another tour?
Baz: We prepare in our own way, I’ve actually just been playing some stuff on guitar now, either learning or holding down tunes. I’ve just spent the weekend at JJ’s place in France where we put some ideas together, then we tend to get together in the West Country in February and spend around a month getting it all really tight.
You have a back catalogue that is eighteen albums strong, and every single song is probably somebody’s personal favourite. How do you go about preparing a set list?
JJ and I do the set list. Even though I’ve been in the band fifteen years I’m still the new boy and one of the benefits of that is I tend to have more of an open mind about our back catalogue so I can suggest songs with a fresh pair of eyes. One of the main criteria is that we’re not a nostalgia band. We have eighteen albums worth of material that we can revisit but we also have a lot of new stuff that is well received. We have younger fans who got into us through Giants and they actually prefer the more recent songs.
We try to play some stuff that we haven’t played for years, if ever. I ask the others when the last time was they played some of the songs and sometimes they think they have but can’t remember when. Emails have been flying around since last September with ideas for the set and we haven’t got anything to promote on this tour so we have a bit more freedom too. Also, with a younger drummer we’re a bit more confident with some songs that are quite challenging. Basically we have a wide cross-section of songs to draw from and we can throw in anything.
Will there be any surprises from the distant past?
Yes – I guarantee you, but you’re getting no more out of me! (Laughs)
Sometimes I think your life must be fantastic, others I don’t envy you at all. What is the reality of touring like for you?
Some aspects of it can be a real drag, particularly if you have a lot of promo to do during the days. We try to avoid doing interviews the day of shows as that can be draining. We were touring France a couple of years ago and JJ and myself were doing acoustic appearances during the day as well as the gig at night and that was just too much looking back.
Basically, you only need to be fit for two hours a day, the time when you’re on stage. The rest of the time is spent making sure that we do all we can to stay in peak condition and get comfortable hotels and decent transport. These days, you have to eat sensibly and get your rest because ultimately you have a duty to your audience. We know that we can’t go arsing around somewhere when there is a crowd of two thousand people in Lincoln or somewhere who have made a lot of effort to see you on stage. We have a duty to our audience and we are very aware of that. Some bands, I won’t name them, piss me off. They go out on tour and basically aren’t interested, they piss about and never give their all. That is not the Stranglers way at all, this band doesn’t do bad gigs.
I love it and I know JJ and Dave feel the same. We just love getting out there and meeting people. I know it’s a cliché but without our fans, who are absolutely brilliant, we wouldn’t be here. The idea of not being able to deliver a good gig when we say we will is anathema to us. Obviously, over the course of the tour bugs do fly round, you can’t avoid it, but we’re all professional and thankfully we always manage to deliver.
I will never lose that buzz I get when the house lights go down and The Waltinblack starts, but what’s it like for you?
I’ve just had a shiver go down my spine when you said that! Out on that stage is my home and I just love it. We get a five minute call from our manager and make our way to the backstage area and the adrenaline is really pumping. By now JJ and I have got our earpieces in so we can hear the audience shouting and singing through the stage mics. Obviously the lights go down and we hear the cheers as Waltzinblack starts, we just look each other and think “right, let’s fucking have it!” It’s a feeling like no other and we go out and deliver, as I’ve said before, this band doesn’t do bad gigs.
We took the family down to see you in Cognac a couple of years ago and the atmosphere there was just the same – brilliant. It’s one of my favourite ever gigs, The Stranglers under a beautiful summer night sky in Southern France, what more can you ask?
I remember that gig very well, it was an amazing night. I think there was a crowd around fifteen thousand there and all I kept seeing from the stage was a giant screen with my head on it! Fantastic night! The French market is the second biggest we have, obviously the JJ connection helps there. It’s a bit early to say which festivals we’ll be doing this year, the offers start to come in around late February and March. We’re hoping to have a successful year like last year where we did some great festivals like T in the Park and a brilliant one in Ireland, called Electric Picnic, which was my favourite. At the end of the summer I had knee surgery, some cartilage problems, but that’s all fixed now so you’ll see me bouncing around on this tour.
Is there a particular favourite track of yours to play live?
Well, I know a lot of old Stranglers fans think “oh no not that again” when they hear it, but Golden Brown has always been a favourite of mine. I always remember the first time I ever heard it on the radio years ago, I was just blown away, I love it. I think many people know this but my all-time favourite Stranglers track is actually Goodbye Toulouse which I always love to do. Walk on By is another favourite as basically Dave and I get to indulge ourselves with that. There are some songs on the set list for this coming tour that I’ve been pushing for a while and I can’t wait to get my teeth into them.
None of us ever get bored doing this, the songs mean so much to us and to the people who come to see us. You might see JJ on stage and he’s got his thousand yard stare on but that’s because he’s so absorbed in what he’s doing, at one with the music. It’s an absolute pleasure and a privilege to get up on that stage and play these songs for people and we’re all very proud to be able to do so. I enjoy every single aspect of this job, well maybe not all because we’re on BBC Breakfast Time in a couple of weeks and that means a six o’clock start would you believe!
Any songs that are difficult to play live?
None really spring to mind to be honest. There may be a couple but I think we’re all honest enough now to just come off stage and say to each other “look, why are we doing this one, it’s not really working?” We’re professional enough to have that conversation, but back in the day I think it would have ended in a blazing row backstage if someone didn’t want to play a particular song. I don’t really like Something Better Change to be honest but that’s just my view and I know it’s one a lot of people love.
Who would you describe as your influences on guitar?
Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved listening to anything with guitars, I’ve just always been obsessed with it. It’s probably the look of it, like a cross between a machine gun and a cock. I loved seeing people like Angus Young, Francis Rossi and Hugh Cornwell and what they could do with it, the range of fantastic sounds that came from it.
The guitar just fascinates me and it always will and I just love listening to it. Someone like Django Reinhardt, when you consider the sounds he made using only two fingers of his left hand, it’s just amazing. You’re never too old to learn something and I know I will still be fascinated by it, and keep working at it, until the day I die. I used to give guitar lessons until I joined the band, just to keep my hand in, and more often than not I’d end up learning something from the people I was teaching, a little trick or something I’d never thought of before.
I became interested in flamenco guitar so I learned that and we obviously have some more gentle stuff like La Folie for instance. Having said that I love nothing more than cranking the amp right up and some of the songs on this tour coming up have got some great grinding guitar sound, so be warned!
I have to ask if there are any plans for a new album.
There are tentative plans yes. The thing is now we don’t have a record company breathing down our neck so it’s removed deadlines etc. Nothing is certain but ideas are floating around between us. I would say it’s getting close, we’re certainly thinking about it, put it that way.
What about Jet, will we be seeing him on this tour?
Jet will do what he can when he can. He’s a massive hard worker and he’s never shirked away from anything but with the best will in the world you just can’t cheat old age. He told Classic Rock Magazine that he has given us his blessing to carry on without him, he’s sort of ready to hand over the baton to Jim, our new drummer who’s been really welcomed by the fans. I know a lot of the old fans say it’s not the same without Jet, and they’re absolutely right but there comes a time when you have to ask yourself a simple question; do you want to see The Stranglers without Jet or just accept that you’ll never see them again?
A bit of a change to the tour ending this year, you’ve moved from the traditional tour ending venue of Manchester to Glasgow?
Manchester is brilliant and it had become something of a tradition to end the tour there. This time we just thought why not have a change and finish up in Glasgow. Have you ever seen The Stranglers in Glasgow? I urge you to consider it because, brilliant as Manchester is, Glasgow is just another level, it has to be experienced to be believed. We’ve had nights there that defy description to be honest. A lot of old Stranglers fans from London may charter a plane or book out whole train carriages to get up there, it’s that special. It promises to be an amazing end to what we hope will be another amazing tour.
With that Baz left me to dream about a live outing for songs like The Man They Love to Hate, Down in the Sewer and School Ma’am, and to check out travel details for Glasgow.
Full Stranglers tour details are available on Louder Than War here.