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The Stranglers: "We're just part of the British music institution"

Emily McDonnell discusses the key to longevity and the legacy of punk with Baz Warne of the iconic 70s rock group

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After forty very successful years of album releases, touring and line up changes, The Stranglers, deriving from Punk origins, are one of Britain's longest standing bands. I chatted to Baz Warne, singer and guitarist, about his experiences with the band for the last fifteen years.

So you joined the band in 2000, how did that come about?

When they were out on the road in the 90s, I was in another band from Sunderland called Small Town Heroes, and we went and supported The Stranglers, on two separate tours - one in '95 and one in '97. So I knew them, and when they came to audition for a new guitarist in 2000...they rang around people who they knew, and one of them was me, and I jumped on the train from Newcastle, went down to London, got the job on the spot.

Did you find it a challenge following on from Hugh Cornwell as a vocalist?

Well, it was a gradual process for me because when Hugh Cornwell left in '90, they replaced him with two guys, they replaced him with a singer and a guitarist, so there was five of them. So when I joined in 2000, I just replaced the guitarist, and so there was five of us until 2006, and then the singer quit, and it was "well what do we do, do we replace him with another guy, or do we try and do it ourselves?" The bass player used to sing in the original line up, and so we thought OK, let's give it a go, and it worked tremendously well, and so we are now nine years down the line, and it feels to me like it's always been this way. I had the good fortune to stand at the sidelines, play guitar for six years, and do backing vocals, and kept my feet in and properly understand the workings of the band and what makes everyone tick. It was kind of an apprenticeship really. This line up goes from strength to strength, and the audiences really love it again, everywhere we go we are selling out, and it's a real high for us.
We don't want to revel in nostalgia all the time.

Do you think the changes in the line up of the band have influenced the direction of the music?

I would almost certainly say yes, certainly in this last incarnation, when I joined the band, we kind of needed to find a direction, all the albums that we'd made in the 1990s, they were pretty good, but I think if you boiled them all down you'd get one really good album. So I think a bit of fresh blood coming in, I was that fresh blood, but you know, fresh blood in any circumstance, in an office, in a management team, or even a football team, when you introduce somebody new, things can move. So we hit upon a more of a back to basics, back to roots, kind of rock heavy driving sound. I think once we'd written the first tune, we released how well we could work together, it naturally just seemed to flow back again. The last three albums have got some real kick arse moments on them.

The Mail on Sunday described you as 'Britain's longest-lived punk band' and you have frequently been praised as one of the greatest punk bands by many like Kate Moss, U2 and Joe Strummer - do you think there is still an underlying Punk influence in your music today?

Yeah I do, I think mostly the reason people see The Stranglers as a punk band is because they came up through that era. This band started in 1974, two years before anybody even thought of punk rock. There was a punk in the band, the bass player was certainly a punk, there certainly was some punk ethos, some punk attitudes, but the keyboard player had long hair and smoked a pipe for Christ's sake, that's as un-punk as you can get. So there's a few crossovers there, but they stood apart from The Clash, The [Sex] Pistols, The Ramones, all these bands that were punk bands. There was a little bit more to The Stranglers, apart from anything though, they were older. This band has never split up, the only band that I can think of that has never split up.

Following on from that, as many bands of the Punk era have disbanded now, what do you think sets you apart from those bands in that you have lasted such a long time?

Well, from the last fifteen years, we get on incredibly well, everybody's much older now so, we've still got the fire in our bellies, there's no doubt about that. You can deal with people more as an adult, you understand why people are doing what they do, when you're a kid it's all just like "oh, f**k this", you just do what you want to do. The secret is to just get along, as the years have unfolded, everyone realises just what a treasure the band is, and how influential the band is, some fantastic timeless records have been recorded. We're just a part of the British music institution.

Do you think that people still cling to the Punk image of The Stranglers or are they more accepting of how you have evolved your new sound?

I think there's elements of both, there are quite a lot of the older fans out there, but since we went back to this line up in 2006, we've got to the stage where we can sell everywhere out, even the big London venues. A lot of the older fans are bringing their children down, I mean the demographic of our audience is staggering when you're on that stage, old, new, everybody's there. I think if people want to see The Stranglers, we're not a nostalgia act, we appreciate the fact that we must play songs from our history, that's a given, there are songs that we have to do. Picking the set list is a really pain in the arse because there's seventeen albums and forty years to draw from. A lot of people like to hear the more obscure B-sides or the third track off the second side. Not everyone wants to hear the commercial pop hits. With the Internet and the accessibility of everything, people kind of make their own minds up.

Do you tend to still end live shows with songs like 'Golden Brown' or 'Peaches', or do people expect you to, or do you end with your more recent songs?

We always end with 'No More Heroes', and when there have been occasions when we've deviated from that people really get upset, and it's like "oh come on you've been listening to this for the last forty bloody years." And as soon as we start mixing stuff up and doing something different, you only have to get messages from people saying "you want to see what's going on on social media, and just because you didn't finish with that song..." So, we have to do 'Golden Brown', we're aware of that because it was the band's biggest hit, and if you play to 2000 people, there will be 500 Stranglers die hards, and 1500 members of the general public, that don't really want to hear that song. There have been occasions where we haven't played 'Golden Brown' just to p*ss people off, and it really does! We're aware of it and we take a lot of time and effort picking the set list, and we don't want to revel in nostalgia all the time, we do play new stuff and it all sits really well and goes down well.
The secret is to just get along.

In the past, the band has listed The Doors as a core influence, would you say that that is still the case?

I think the surprising thing about that was that they weren't an influence on our keyboard player, and that's where the comparisons were drawn. A lot of people say that we sound like the 'Punk' Doors, but our keyboard player really didn't listen to The Doors very much, I think it was the bass player that had The Doors influence. I can certainly see the comparison, but if you were to ask our keyboard player, they never really were on his radar. They used to actually call the band 'Punk Floyd' because of some of the long arrangements and strange time signatures and things, a lot of other bands couldn't do that, they couldn't do waltz times and all this type of thing, and that's maybe why The Stranglers' music has endured so long.

Do you know where the name the Stranglers came from and what it means?

At the time when the band formed, in '74, there was a famous American serial killer called the Boston Strangler. He was going around strangling young women, and The Stranglers came from Guilford, so they called themselves The Guilford Stranglers, and all the time the 'Guilford' was dropped, and it was just The Stranglers. I love the name, as soon as you hear it it's like "oh wow".

What has been your biggest challenge as a band?

In the early days, just being heard, having a voice. It's ironic that a couple of years ago we did the Proms for the BBC with an orchestra, and twenty five years ago, the BBC would not touch this band with a barge pole, it's strange how the establishment has come round. The biggest achievement is just to keep going and to be successful. And over so many decades and changing climates, it's always been relevant which is really something to be proud of.

What do you think is next for The Stranglers?

We've got a lot of touring to do this year, we've got some arena shows with Simple Minds at the end of the year, and in the middle of all of that we're busy with collating ideas and record for a new record. There's always a lot to do, it never stops.

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1 Comment

david gibson Posted on Saturday 28 Mar 2020

This is basically why "The Stranglers" were, and continue to be a big part of my life.
As a 12 year old in 76', I can remember the dramatic change both in the sound that was developing, and the content of the lyrics.
Attitudes were changing, youth needed direction, and the bands of that time gave not only them a platform, but gave us an identity we could relate coin a phrase "it was a breath of fresh air".
When I say I love "The Stranglers", I mean that in all aspects, they lifted me, made me laugh, cry....with joy!!
I wouldn't describe myself as a fan...more, really as a part of "The Family" as that's how the band have endeared themselves to us, and we to them.
Long may we be blessed by the enthusiasm, the charisma, and the energy that emits from this band of four, a band who have defied time, and still continue to stand and be counted quite rightly as British music icons.


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