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Baz Warne Interview PDF Print E-mail
Written by Tom Lynn   
02 09 2010
ImageSince joining The Stranglers in 2000 after John Ellis' departure, Sunderland's Baz Warne has experienced just about everything possible with fellow band members Jean-Jacques Burnel, Jet Black and Dave Greenfield, including a casual appearance at this year's Glastonbury where they played to 75,000 people. It's a far cry from his days in Sunderland jamming with his brother Chris, but Warne appears to hold both memories in equally high regard. Tom Lynn popped out for a chat with the guitarist and vocalist, and found out everything you'd want to know about Baz Warne. Here goes:

TL: I know this is a big question, but can you give Floatation Suite an overview of your musical career from being a kid to the present day - and all the highs and lows in between?

Blimey, that is a big question. In a nutshell I started playing guitar when I was 10 with a guitar that was originally given to my brother Chris as his 9th birthday present. He got bored with it to start with and I sort of ‘borrowed' it from him and started to learn to play chords and little riffs and stuff. I got my first proper electric guitar when I was 13 with money saved up from doing paper and milk rounds in the Chester Road area - I went to Thornhill School in Sunderland. I played down through my early teens with little bands made up of mates from school and Chris who had picked the guitar up again after watching me struggle with it when we were very young and had become quite a player himself, and we just pretty much played guitars in the house every day after school and all day at weekends. We were well keen!

I auditioned for the job of 2nd guitar player in the Toy Dolls in 1983 when I was 19 and ended up being the bass player instead and I stayed in that band for 18 months. We toured the U.S. twice later that year, and I think that was pretty much the turning point for me and I realised that this was what I wanted to do with my life. After leaving the Dolls I started thinking about forming a band of my own - or our own, and playing 6 string guitar again, which was really my thing. After a couple of false starts we settled on a line up and the natural choice for singer was Chris, who had become a really good rhythm guitarist and who still has a much better voice than me, the swine. So we formed The Troubleshooters, doing all the finest dives the North East had to offer (and there were plenty of those). We did the Old 29 nearly every month for about 2 years.

Later we changed the name to Smalltown Heroes, and got signed by EG Records (Roxy Music/ T. Rex/ King Crimson/Killing Joke) in 1994 and toured with anyone and everyone for 5 years, which is where I met The Stranglers in 1995. We did a UK tour with them that year, and then a European tour with them in 1997, and became best mates. The Heroes broke up in 1999 after nearly 15 years all told, and I settled back into Sunderland life with my then wife and young family, doing acoustic gigs with my mate Dave Taggart and formed a retro rock covers band called the Sun Devils which turned out to be a total blast and which lasted nearly 500 gigs in and around the region.

By this time The Stranglers had called saying they were looking for a guitarist and I auditioned in London and got the gig in April 2000. 10 days later I was in Kosovo playing with the band for the peace keeping forces out there, and what an unforgettable experience that was. We flew in helicopters, drove Challenger 2 tanks, fired live rounds from captured automatic weapons, and lived in billets with the troops...and all with a full troupe of dancing girls, a magician, jugglers and the bluest comedian you ever heard. We played to over 30 different nationalities over 3 nights in a basketball arena in Pristina and finished the whole thing off in Skopje in Macedonia. What a trek that was. I didn't know anybody really, including the band, but that mad unpredictability and willingness to go to places off the beaten track and see the real world is something the band have never shied away from and we still do it to this day. The singer left the band in 2006 and we reverted back to a four piece for the first time in 16 years - and so now it's 3 of the original members and me.

TL: Who were your main influences growing up as a kid in Sunderland?

As a young kid growing up my main influences, I suppose, came to be anything that was loud and had guitars in it. I remember seeing bands like Status Quo and Free on Top of the Pops in the early 70's and loving the raw loudness of the guitars and all the hair and sweat flying around and even then thinking, "I'd love to do that." Later on the punk thing came along and although a lot of it was crap there was enough to satisfy a young lad in a Northern town. and to say that you didn't have to be great to do it - and I identified totally with bands like The Ruts, The Clash and The Stranglers. I was never a massive Pistols fan but liked Steve Jones' sound. Big and raw. Later on I wanted to be much better and so started listening to rock bands like UFO and Thin Lizzy, but I still kept that raw edge to my playing. If it's too polished then it's soulless in my opinion. Now I just admire someone who can play, be it Paul Fox, Mick Jones, Hugh Cornwell, Olga Toydoll, James Honeyman Scott, Angus Young, Neil Young, Gary Moore, Edward Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan or Brian Setzer.

TL: Where did you used to go locally to watch music and what were are the best gigs you have seen in the North East?

Well I mentioned The Old 29 earlier and, if anyone can truly remember what it was like especially on a Saturday afternoon when the bands played, they'd know that it was a special place...at least it was for me. Man, what a shithole it was. I went there every Saturday afternoon for about 6 years to see who was playing and get my education. I must have seen hundreds of bands there. My mam knew that by this time I was hooked on music, and so she let me go down there with another lad who lived down the street and was slightly older. She knew his mother and she used to make him promise not to let me drink while I was there, but he usually bought me half a lager and I just stood in the corner taking the whole thing in and listening to the music. Friday nights were spent at the Mecca for the headbangers night (it was a quid to get in before 9pm) and there was always a band on at midnight. I saw Budgie,Vardis, Ozzy Osbourne, UFO, Diamond Head and loads of others there...and the Stranglers in 1980. Happy days, man.

TL: Sunderland has gained quite a reputation for itself in music circles in recent years with the progress of bands like The Futureheads and latterly Frankie and The Heartstrings etc. and the very successful Radio One Roadshow- what's your take on the current scene and what does the city need to keep progressing musically? Who are your local tips for the top?

Well funny you should mention that - I've just done a short documentary for the BBC about the music scene in Sunderland and some of the bands that come from here, which is going to be shown in October. I interviewed The Futureheads, who are all down to earth working class Sunderland lads, and another band who're very good called Field Music. They create song stunning songs. They both co-exist in a joint rehearsal/recording facility right in the heart of the city, sharing the costs and honing and recording their very original and brilliant music. Both bands tour the world, including the US very regularly and feature heavily in critics lists as ones to watch. Frankie and the Heartstrings I'm not too familiar with, although I have heard the name and know the parents of one of them. The music scene in Sunderland has always been healthy though. You just had to know where to look, and the music that's been made here over the years and continues to be made here is informed by the city itself I think, in that it's always very original sounding and I've always said slightly left of field too. Quirky in a way but never less that interesting and if you listen to home grown music you'll know what I mean by that. It's always had a two fingers up attitude and I love that.

TL: You are now an integral part of The Stranglers, an iconic group. How did that come about and what was the audition process like?

It's a pretty well documented story by now, but I got a call from a mutual mate who had crewed for both us and The Stranglers saying they were looking for a guitarist and JJ Burnel had mentioned me. He used to watch us from the side of the stage most nights and liked my playing, and as they didn't want to advertise and be overcome with a deluge of hopefuls (and waste time and money) they just called people they knew, one of whom was me. I initially turned it down because my wife had just got me back after years of touring and asked me not to do it.

In all the years we were together she'd stood by me and never tried to stop me in the pursuit of my dream, or asked me not to do anything, and I felt I owed her, you know? Our kids were babies and it was nice to be home nights with them all and living a relatively quiet family life bringing them up and being a husband. So I called them and told them I wasn't coming, but cockily said to give me a call after the auditions if they were still stuck. It niggled away at me for a weekend, you know. What if? The next day I took my daughter to school and hadn't been home long when the school phoned and said that she was complaining of an upset stomach. I didn't drive in those days, so I put my hat and coat on and set off walking back to the school to get her with a minidisc player in my pocket with the songs the band had asked me to learn before I decided I wasn't going - and no sooner had I pressed the play button No More Heroes came on in all its glory and I remember thinking to myself, "Are you mad boy? You have to give this a crack." So I got home, called the missus for her blessing which she happily gave because she could see what it was doing to me, and then called them and told them I'd be on the train the next day and asked if I could audition last because I was coming the furthest. I borrowed £100 off a mate for a ticket because I was on the dole, and he only loaned me it on the condition that he could come with me. We travelled to London on Apr 6th 2000 and I got the gig on the spot. The lads tell me it was because I could play the solo on Golden Brown flawlessly that I got it, and I remember Jet Black falling over the kit jokingly after I'd done it as if to say, "Thank Christ for that - someone can play it!" Apparently there'd been some less than accurate renditions, shall we say. I still can't quite believe sometimes that day was over 10 years ago...

TL: How were you accepted into the band? What can you tell us about your fellow band members?

Ah they're all good chaps. Been there, seen it and done it all, and still aren't satisfied. It's their individual personalities that go to make up that totally unique collective sound. I was taken under their collective wing immediately and treated equally right from day 1. We've done an awful lot of gigs since I joined, all over the world, and you really get to know people in those situations; travelling, eating, writing and working together. Jet, of course, is the elder statesman and historian and is a mine of information on anything you want to know about the band. He's helped me immeasurably over the years with projects and things I've been asked to do. He also has volumes of scrapbooks which are priceless, stretching right back to the very beginning of the band and he can tell you in the blink of an eye how many gigs you've done - it's 396 at last count for me I think. Dave is a true eccentric and is one of the nicest people you could wish to meet. I stay at his house in Cambridgeshire a lot and we drink in his local over the road where he's revered and always respected (which of course he laps up). We sometimes do unannounced duo gigs there and it's hilarious. Him and his missus are very genial hosts, and his quirky, instantly recognisable keyboard style is an extension of  imself - inventive and slightly mad.

JJ is probably the one I'm closest to in terms of everyday stuff. I've lived with him on many occasions when we've been writing. 8 months in Somerset, 2 months in Cornwall, 3 months in Bath, and we play the odd acoustic duo gig together. I stay with him a lot too and we went to the World Cup in 2006 together to see a couple of games. We speak most days and there's always something to say. He likes Sunderland too. He's stayed here with me a few times and did a warm-up show for an acoustic tour he was doing in 2000 at the Ropery.

TL: What was Glastonbury like this year then?

Glastonbury is arguably the biggest festival in the world, yet it was our first time there. I was told what to expect but you don't really experience it until you're there if that makes any sense. It's absolutely enormous and as you drive in it looks like a medium sized medieval town with its flags, masts, pennants and tents...and nearly 170,000 people. We played in glorious sunshine on the Other stage on the Friday afternoon and were very pleasantly surprised to find 75,000 people there to watch us. Needless to say much of these types of things go in a blur but I do remember we played really well and got the crowd right behind us. That was definitely one of the highlights so far. There are quite a few of them to be honest.

TL: What've been the highlights of your time with the group to date then? Where is your favourite gig venue and why?

Playing in Paris earlier this year on my birthday, the releases of the 2 studio albums I've been involved with since I joined (especially the last one which had my singing debut with the band), the first trips to Australia and Japan. Loads of things. My favourite venue? I love playing everywhere, and we've played in some astonishing places, but if I had to choose one city it would probably be Glasgow. You can't beat the vibe up there to be honest. It's always fantastic.

TL: You've written quite a few tracks for The Stranglers. Which self-penned songs are you most proud of?

The first song I wrote for the band was a song called Dutch Moon which appeared on the Norfolk Coast album along with 3 others I'd written. I was quite pleased to get 4 originals on the 1st album I'd been involved with since joining. I presented it to them after being in the band for about 2 months and was pretty nervous about it at the time. They have had a hit or 2 after all, you know? But they liked it enough that it stuck around for nearly 4 years before we dusted it off and recorded it for the album. I think my favourite up ‘til now, and one of Dave's all time favourites  is a song called Relentless which I wrote for the 2006 album Suite 16. I still listen to that sometimes and I'm really pleased with the way it came out and the attention the boys gave to it when we were recording it.

TL: Finally, what is your greatest ever music-related memory?

If you're talking in terms of the greatest in the very literal sense of the word, my best memory has very little to do with me. I've got dozens of treasured music memories involving some of the things I've done but for true greatness I think it has to be my mam. When we were much younger we emigrated to Vancouver in Canada with my dad's job in 1974 - supposedly for good - but came back two years later when it didn't really work out for him. While we were there though we had an amazing time just being kids in such an incredible country, and my mam and dad were much younger then too, of course. They're pretty musical themselves and liked to go to gigs and restaurants and all that. In 1976 my mam went to Seattle in Washington State on a coach trip with some women from the neighbourhood to see Elvis; and to this day, with all the people I know in this business and all the people I know who just love music, she's the only one who's ever seen him live.

She was 36 and ended up being dangled over the balcony by her ankles by the girls she was with because he was wiping his brow with little satin hankies and handing them out to the housewives down the front, and she wanted one! She even shouted his name and he looked up at her and said "I hear you honey. You be careful up there." She didn't get a hanky, but do you know anyone who can beat that? I don't. My mam had a mini but very public conversation with Elvis, and when I go to visit my folks she still has the ticket stub in a little frame on the sideboard and gets this far away dreamy look in her eye when you mention it. It was overweight, rhinestone, hamburger Elvis but he still looked pretty good and it was him, you know? Very, very cool.

If you're looking to see The Stranglers, their Black And Blue Tour begins on 4th March 2011 at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Here are their full listings:

4-Mar-11, Newcastle, O2 Academy
5-Mar-11, Glasgow, O2 Academy
6-Mar-11, Edinburgh, Picture House
8-Mar-11, Liverpool, O2 Academy
9-Mar-11, Nottingham , Rock City
11-Mar-11, London, Hammermsith Apollo
12-Mar-10, Leeds, O2 Academy
13-Mar-10, Leicester, O2 Academy
15-Mar-10, Oxford, Regal
17-Mar-10, Cambridge, Corn Exchange
18-Mar-10, Brighton, Dome
19-Mar-10, Birmingham, O2 Academy
21-Mar-10, Norwich, UEA
22-Mar-10, Portsmouth, Pyramid Centre
24-Mar-10, Bristol, O2 Academy
25-Mar-10, Sheffield, O2 Academy
26-Mar-10, Manchester, Academy

All dates are £23, except London which is £25 London), are on sale now and available from:

www.gigsandtours.com/0844 811 0051

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