Baz Warne, vocalist and guitarist with The Stranglers chats with Kevin Cooper about the theft of his motorbike, playing bass on Nellie The Elephant, rehearsing the Black And White album, and their forthcoming tour of the UK.
Barry ‘Baz’ Warne is the current guitarist and vocalist of The Stranglers. Earlier in his career, he was the guitarist and front-man of numerous bands. He formed the Troubleshooters in 1985, who released two singles before changing their name to the Small Town Heroes in 1992. In 2000 Baz was invited to audition for The Stranglers, whom he had met in 1995 when Small Town Heroes supported The Stranglers on tour. In 2006 he took over the role of the lead vocals and The Stranglers became a four piece band. Now in the band for over 15 years, he can truly say that he is one of The Stranglers.
Taking time out from his busy rehearsal schedule to talk to Kevin Cooper, this is what he had to say.
Baz good morning how are you?
I’m very well my friend how are you?
I’m very well thank you and let me just say that it is good to speak to you again.
It’s always a pleasure Kevin. So tell me what’s the weather like down there in sunny Nottingham today?
It’s a good day today with hardly a cloud in a very blue sky.
That’s good. Well here I am looking out over a beautiful calm North Sea complete with a blue sky, fluffy white clouds, sun and seagulls. It’s all really rather nice (laughter).
The last time we spoke was the day after you had been down to Long Eaton to pick up your new Triumph Tiger Explorer XC motor bike. How are you finding it?
Yes that’s right Kevin I had been down to see Pete Cox in Long Eaton. I have to tell you that I have had some trials and tribulations with it since then. Whilst I was away on tour over in Europe last November it got nicked out of the garages underneath the apartments where I live. The good news is that I got it back with minimal damage done to it. You can’t steal, ride and start a motorbike like that unless you have got the keys and the codes and all of the bits of shit, so that was a bit traumatic. I garage it now with a friend because as you can imagine I am away an awful lot. I am actually moving quite soon which will be a relief and the bike will be safe then. I will be able to garage it somewhere else just in case these little bastards come back and try to steal it again (laughter).
Unfortunately Baz it’s the way of the world, if they want it they will take it.
True Kevin although I seem to think that the bastards knew that I wasn’t around. Where I live is pretty secure and there were a few little bits and pieces which indicated that they may have had some inside help. It’s a fourteen grand motor bike and unless you have got everything that you need you physically can’t start it. If they had tried to go into a dealership to get a new key or anything like that a flag would have come up and the bike would have been flagged as being nicked. They stashed it, covering it in branches, leaves and fucking bracken in case it had a tracking device on it, which it actually does.
And then they came back a couple of days later to see if it was still there. If it had have been they would have taken it away, broken it up and sold it for parts. Anyway I got it back but we never did catch the little bastards who did it but we will, I’m sure that we will. When we got back from the tour I went downstairs to thank the concierges because he had been quite helpful to the police and he showed me the CCTV footage of these two little bastards stealing my bike (laughter). But like I say I have got it back and it is now once again as good as they day that I got it. Anyway enough of that shite (laughter).
Is it the same bike that JJ (Burnell) has got?
Almost, the version that JJ has got is not the XC model but to look at them they are practically identical. I like it because it is a big 1200cc touring machine which means that me and my girlfriend can get away on it quite a lot.
So apart from the grief with the bike just how is life treating you?
Very well thank you. We have just spent possibly the hardest rehearsal period that we have ever had in memory down in Somerset rehearsing the Black And White album, doing that over and over and over again in a confined space at quite high volumes. Whenever we go down there we take a cottage for two or three weeks where we all live together like when Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer took the mickey out of Slade (laughter) it’s a bit like that. We are all living together in this cottage and we have all got our chores to do (laughter). Very often we would finish work and go and have a pint in a little country pub, go and get some dinner and then tumble into bed at 9 o’clock which is unheard of for us and certainly for me (laughter).
We had to put the hours in because we have only played Black And White once before which was at The Stranglers Convention back in 2011. There was one song which we had opted not to play but now of course we have got to do the whole thing. What I will say is that it was very interesting but also very tiring. I came home after a fortnight of that and I spoke to JJ yesterday and the two of us agreed that it was the hardest rehearsals that we have done for some time.
You are going out on the road to tour the whole of the Black And White album. Is that something that you enjoy doing because it seems to have become the norm now touring a whole album?
It’s certainly a challenge. I mean remembering when Black And White originally came out I was actually fourteen years old (laughter). I have got nothing to do with the album whatsoever. In actual fact it was the very first Stranglers album that I bought and then after that I went back and bought the first two. Over the years we have played quite a few songs off the Black And White album; there is probably only three of four songs off the album that we haven’t played on a regular basis. It’s an interesting concept and it has certainly stirred up a lot of interest.
As you know we tour every March now and with each progressive year we always think right, this will be the last one. You can’t help but think that people are going to get sick of it. I always think to myself ‘are we trying to fucking milk this thing too much’. But you know what, they come out in their absolute droves. This year we have opted to play a couple of larger places in London and Manchester simply because of the response that we have had in the past years. Those gigs have already shown massive promise so it is interesting. I think that people like to see an album played in its original sequence and they like to see just how these songs have stood up over the years. If the last couple of weeks is anything to go by then let me tell you, these songs have stood up fantastically.
We had a great time and there were big smiles all round when something was achieved. When we finished at the end of the day Dave Greenfield in particular would always say ‘that was a good day’s work’. So we are all quite satisfied with that. But what you have to remember Kevin is that it only constitutes forty-five minutes so we have rehearsed another entire set as well. So the whole evening will be close to touching two hours actually all told. We have got some interesting production going on together with great lights and to be honest with you before we went off to rehearse there is always a bit of trepidation of, will this work will this not work. But after three days we came out and let me tell you Kevin once a little progress has been made, man does that ease your mind. I came home feeling lighter than when I went and that had nothing at all to do with the West Country Cider (laughter).
Putting you on the spot do you have a favourite track off the album?
That is very difficult for me to say. If somebody put a gun to my head and I was pressed into choosing just one track I would have to say Hey! (Rise Of The Robots) which has always been one of my favourites. I also love Death & Night & Blood, but then again I love Threatened, I love Curfew, I love Sweden (All Quiet On The Eastern Front). When you sit and look at these songs in a list you just think to yourself bloody hell (laughter). To be honest with you Kevin I will say that in my opinion Black And White wasn’t an absolute cast-iron, stonewall classic. There are two or three songs on there that are fillers in my opinion if I am honest.
But if you are looking at an album of twelve songs from that era; of that time, then you are looking at an album of twelve songs where nine of them are absolute classics on there. I mean that is pretty damn good in anybody’s book. Again I will stress that this is just my opinion. I know that a lot of people like the more obscure and very dark stuff on the Black side of the album. To me it is a bit of a challenge to listen too but it is great to play.
So picking you up on that, where would Black And White sit in your list of favourite Stranglers albums?
Well it would certainly be in the top three. I have always had a soft spot for the No More Heroes album. I know that a lot of people go on about Rattus Norvegicus which to me as a debut album there is no finer. But I have always loved No More Heroes, and I love songs like Peasant In The Big Shitty, which is probably my all-time favourite Stranglers tune. It is so sinister and dark with a different rhythm to it. Dave sings it of course which also renders it a bit spooky as well (laughter). So I would certainly say that Black And White is there in my top three without a doubt.
Staying on the subject of touring albums, the next album release by The Stranglers was Live (X Cert) which was recorded live at both The Roundhouse Chalk Farm and Battersea Park. Will you tour that album or will you go straight onto The Raven?
(Hysterical laughter) I think that people are going to expect us to do that Kevin but as you know that has never been a Stranglers trait. Between you, me and the goalposts we have actually got plans to write and record a totally new album this year.
You are a bugger because you told me last year that you and JJ were writing new material (laughter).
(Laughter) in that case Kevin we are all buggers (laughter). To be honest with you we didn’t realise that people would still be clambering to see us playing live just as much as they are. Me and JJ are amassing new material all of the time. I have got notebooks full of ideas and I know that he has too. I was over at his place recently and we just sat around playing acoustic guitars for a whole week, while putting little notes and sketchers down. We really need to be away from all of the distractions of life so to speak, in somewhere that is pretty isolated. That is just the way that we work and unfortunately we just didn’t get that opportunity last year.
Grabbing snippets here and there whilst amassing a small body of ideas is one thing but sitting in proper solitude with recording equipment and hashing these ideas out and trying to formulate them into songs is quite another thing. I have already said to the rest of the guys that I don’t think that we can possibly tour again without playing two or three new songs; road testing them like we used to in the old days. Play them before we record them whilst ironing out the wrinkles and everything. That unfortunately didn’t happen simply because we didn’t have the time. I know that probably sounds like a cop-out but it is true.
We need to sit and really properly have two or three totally uninterrupted months because that is how me and JJ do it. We then take what we have come up with to Dave for his input together with whoever is going to be drumming. (Laughter) so if I said that to you last year Kevin and I am again saying that to you this year, I’m sorry and I just hope that I am not saying the same thing to you next year (laughter).
You have just mentioned drummers, I have to ask you how is Jet’s health?
Well I spoke to Jet around two weeks ago now, he sounded fine but what you have to remember Kevin is that Jet is a seventy-seven year old man. His health is fine but every year as we start the run-up to the March tours we are always concerned about just how much Jet is going to be able to do; will we see him will we not. Being honest Jet doesn’t even know. As you will know with all best laid plans there is always a risk element involved. We have taken Jet on tour quite a few times in the past and he has fallen ill earlier than we would have wanted, and we have had to replace him.
Jet is pragmatic and realistic enough to realise that he is not dependable now and that is purely and simply down to his age, nothing else. I know that it rankles him and I know that he is twenty-one years old in his head as we all are but Jet can only do what Jet can only do. So it remains to be seen if he will join us at some stage during the tour.
On the subject of the tour, you are being supported by The Alarm which is, in my opinion, a great choice.
We have been friends with Mike Peters for many, many years now. He’s a top man is Mike although I do know that he has had his health issues together with his trials and tribulations and everything. When were toured with Simple Minds last December we were playing in London and Mike came backstage to see us after the show. He looked exactly the same as he always has in fact I looked at some photographs that had been taken of Mike back in 1983 and he looks just the same; he has never changed the bastard (laughter). He is a lovely down to earth fella and we are looking forward to having him along. A good rousing kick up your arse special guest band, it can’t hurt things.
You are once again playing here in Nottingham at Rock City on Monday 7th March. You obviously like playing there?
To be honest with you Kevin, the best thing about playing Rock City is that it is one of those gigs that you simply must do. It has arguably been on the circuit longer than any other venue in the country that I can think of. Whenever we play Rock City there is always a fantastic turnout; the crowds are always enthusiastic and I am told that the ticket sales for this year’s gig are doing far better than they have in previous years, so onwards and upwards.
Let me take you back to 1984 and The Toy Dolls version of Nellie The Elephant. Just what part did a certain Barry “Baz” Warne have to play in that?
(Hysterical laughter) bollocks. Yes alright, you’ve got me, I will just have to come clean and admit that I actually played the bass on that record but if ever you tell anyone I will hunt you down and kill you, bastard (laughter).
On that note let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me Baz.
It’s been, as usual, an absolute pleasure speaking to you Kevin. You take care and I will see you in Nottingham. Thanks very much and bye for now.