Very few people ever get to meet their favourite bands, but Barry “Baz” Warne took it a step further, and actually became the frontman of his favourite band, The Stranglers, in 2006, after becoming their guitarist in 2000.
I ask him if he listens to much modern punk. “Not really. I think punk has become a very lazy, generic term, you know? I mean you take a band like Green Day, that kind of stuff, I think that’s just kind of ‘Punk by Numbers’ to me, if I’m being honest.”
Calling previous frontman Jet Black a “guru godfather” for the band, he tells me that “he’s in good health, but he’s nearly 80, so his touring days are probably behind him. But sometimes when we’re on tour, he’ll show up at the show to surprise us. So, he always keeps in touch.” He goes on to elaborate of his guru nature: “he’s our inspiration. If we have any questions about something new in the band, we’ll come to him.”
I get more specific, inquiring as to what he believes made the Stranglers different from the other bands of the era. “I think it was undoubtedly the quality of the songs, and the signature sound. I mean, nobody sounds like The Stranglers. They made finely-crafted songs that were popular, that you could hum along to; they were catchy.” He concludes, “I think it was the originality; nobody has sounded like The Stranglers, before or since, and I think that’s very important.”
I relate to him when he says that Black and White was the first post-punk album, and I ask if he believes that makes The Stranglers as important to the genre as Joy Division.
“It’s got that stark, brutal sound to it. It always reminds me of black and white cities in the north-west of England, with the rain pissing down.” He goes on to tell me that he “was never much of a Joy Division fan. I mean, I can understand how Joy Division crossed those boundaries,” before somewhat adding, “and of course the guy took his own life, which sort of cemented their myth.”
Moving the subject to the band’s new-wave material in the 80’s, and how he felt about it as a fan of the earlier records, he shares that “I think ‘Golden Brown’ was a very poppy record. Back then that was just seen as a natural transition, and it’s kind of gone full circle now; it went from the snarly, punky, aggressive edge, it went through the pop thing and all these different styles and individual ages.”
Not even stopping to breathe, he immediately begins to discuss the pressure on the band from their record company in the 80s. “You know, someone decides to make the hair look nice, bring your cheekbones out, make you into a pop group. But now we’ve gone full circle, and we play loud stuff now. I mean, a lot of what we’re rehearsing for the tour, it’s taking a more aggressive approach, and I think that’s where our hearts lie.”
I ended the interview by asking him how The Stranglers had been affected by digital downloading. “I think everybody’s been affected. I mean at the end of the day, it’s really an issue of how you buy your music, how you obtain it, where you get your music from. I think people just like the idea of going online, finding something you like, clicking, and getting it sent to them through the air. To me, that’s very sad, because I just have such fond memories of getting some money, hopping on a bus to the town centre, and buying some things that I can tangibly and physically hold in my hand, you know? Take it home, smell the record sleeve on the way home on the bus, and then getting home and putting it on. That’s all gone now, and I think that young people really don’t appreciate that. I mean, I honestly believe that the album will be extinct in five years; people just want to pick and choose individual songs, and for myself, if I want to hear an individual song, I will always buy the album, because I want to know what the rest of it sounds like. But people are so spoilt these days with just being able to go online, click on something, and buy it for 79p, and have it, completely unaware that it’s affecting artists as well. It’s affected everyone, and it’s becoming clear that this is just a changing business.”
(Image: 365 Bristol)
The Stranglers are about to embark on a tour in support of their newest record, and will be stopping at the O2 Academy in Leeds on the 17th March.