Killer instinct: Stranglers frontman Baz Warne on Irish dates

The Stranglers kick off their 'Definitive Tour' with three Irish dates next week. David Roy speaks to singer/guitarist Baz Warne about fronting the much-loved English punk veterans for the past 12 years, choosing local alternative heroes Therapy? as their opening act and why the 'Meninblack' still have plenty left in their tank

The Stranglers (with singer/guitarist Baz Warne, second from right) kick off their latest tour in Ireland next week
The Stranglers (with singer/guitarist Baz Warne, second from right) kick off their latest tour in Ireland next week

HI BAZ, are you looking forward to kicking off the new tour in Ireland next week?

We love playing in Ireland and I've never even been to Limerick before, never mind played there. So that's going to be very interesting. It's fantastic to play somewhere you've never been before on a British and Irish tour – I'll have to write a Limerick especially for the occasion!

The Stranglers played in Belfast last summer with Stiff Little Fingers at their 40th anniversary gig at Custom House Square. A lot of people said you stole the show – how was it for you?

We just went and did our usual thing to be honest, and it was an honour to play with Fingers because they've been mates of ours since Adam was a lad. I think actually the strength of that show prompted a few promoters to take a punt and get us back out there in our own right.

To be honest, I've been in the band 18 years now and every time we play Belfast it's great. I remember we played a place in Andersonstown about seven or eight years ago [at the Feile] and the roof came off – it was an absolutely unbelievable show, that. So yeah, we always really enjoy coming back.

How did you come to choose Therapy? for the support slot on this tour?

We ran into them again in Holland a couple of years ago when we were doing a show together and got on really well. Then when we were putting the feelers out about who we should have as our guests [for this tour] and somebody said, "Therapy?". It was like, 'what a great idea!'

Andy and the others are all good lads, so we're really looking forward to catching up with them. Therapy? are younger than us but they're still seasoned old boys who know what's what.

It's great to have professionals like that with us. On tour it's just like a big travelling circus, a big party. Everyone helps everyone out. We know what we're doing, they know what they're doing and we'll bump into them on days off and get drunk if we can!

The Stranglers recently returned from a run of seven Australian dates with The Ruts, how did things go 'down under'?

It was interesting to say the least. The gigs were superb – we were only down there about 20 months ago and it's very rare that you go back to Australia so quickly, but we went back and played to bigger crowds in bigger venues and had a great time.

There were lots of incidents – I got burned to within an inch of my life on the beach in New Zealand, but other than that it was great fun and very successful.

The upcoming run is being billed as the 'definitive tour' and is set to focus on material from the soon to be reissued first six Stranglers LPs, from 1977's Rattus Norvegicus to 1981's La folie, which include favourites like No More Heroes, Peaches, Golden Brown, Something Better Change, Duchess and (Get A) Grip (On Yourself). How do you put the setlist together?

What we normally do is start emailing each other little notes and suggestions around October so that we've got a good palette of probably 30/35 songs which we'll rehearse in January.

Then we usually have a little 'top and tail' in February, which unfortunately we weren't able to do this time around because we were on tour, but we did play quite a lot of the stuff in soundchecks in Australia.

As usual, there will be the songs that you must play – and we all know what they are – and there will be obscure stuff that only the real diehard fans will know and which the band themselves have never played live in a lot of cases.

We always like to throw in a few curveballs just to see the look on people's faces. There may even be some brand new stuff – you never know. It'll be an interesting and varied set, put it that way.

The band have always continued to make new music. Is it hard to maintain the balance between celebrating the past and embracing the present?

Although I've made three albums with the band [Norfolk Coast (2004), Suite XVI (2006) and Giants (2012)] it would be very easy to jump back and just be a nostalgia trip: bust the old tunes out, get the money and go home.

But The Stranglers have never been about that. You don't just want to hark back to the past: there's a present and a bright future for the band as well.

You originally joined the band in 2000 to replace John Ellis as a guitarist, but ended up taking over vocal duties as well when original lead singer Hugh Cornwell's replacement Paul Roberts departed in 2006. Do you think having a few years already under your belt helped fans accept you as the new Stranglers leader?

Very much so. I had six years with Paul in the band and did maybe 250/300 shows, so it was nice just to stand at the side and play and learn and get a feel for stuff.

Then when he left, it was acrimonious – and towards the end of his tenure, he would invariably be late to rehearsal. The other boys didn't want to wait, so I would sing and JJ would sing the old ones that he used to sing.

One day we all kind of looked at each other and kind of thought, 'this would work really well'. So when Paul left, we had a dilemma about whether to replace him or carry on as a four piece.

We had three weeks before our next show, so in the end we just locked ourselves away and – it was apparent after the first week that we could do it with just the four of us.

By the time of the gig, people still didn't know that Paul had left the band: we stepped on the stage and by the third or fourth number people realised he wasn't turning up.

It was a decent sized crowd of about 10,000 and luckily they all got behind us. Afterwards, I think we got as close to a group hug as this band will ever get!

The Stranglers play Dublin's Olympia Theatre on March 1, The Big Top in Limerick on March 2 and The Ulster Hall in Belfast on March 3. Tickets available now via Ticketmaster (Dublin), Dolans.ie (Limerick) and Waterfront.co.uk (Belfast)