Wearsider Baz Warne happy to see things in black and white for Stranglers tour

From left, Stranglers frontman Baz Warne with Jet Black, Jean-Jacques Burnel and Dave Greenfield.
From left, Stranglers frontman Baz Warne with Jet Black, Jean-Jacques Burnel and Dave Greenfield.

Not every Wearsider is happy to see things in black and white, most of them preferring to view things from a red-and-white perspective, but Baz Warne is delighted to be getting the chance to do so.

That’s because the Sunderland-born Stranglers frontman’s current job is to perform the band’s album of that name in its entirety just about every night, along with a selection of other songs drawn from a back catalogue stretching back to 1977, and not only is Black and White one of his favourite of the band’s 17 LPs, but it was also the first of theirs that he bought.

Back then, Warne, brought up south of the city centre in Thornhill, was a teenager, and it was an early part-time job of his, as a paperboy, that introduced him to the band he was destined to join 22 years later after reading about it in the long-since-defunct music newspaper Sounds, a revival to the New Musical Express and Melody Maker at the time.

“I would have been 14 when it came out, so I’d have been at school and would have had to wait until the weekend to go into town to get it,” recalled the 51-year-old.

“I can remember getting the bus into town to buy it at a record shop in Sunderland called the Spinning Disc.

“I used to be a paperboy and I used to deliver Sounds to a guy on my round. I’d read bits of it sometimes, and that was where I found out about Black and White, and I decided I had to have it.

“It was the first Stranglers album that I bought, and it signposted me back to the first two. I’ve still got it.

“It was a seminal album. It was very different to the first two and went off in all sorts of different directions. It’s one of the greatest albums of that time.

“Punk was dying on its backside at the time. Everyone was trying to look like Sid Vicious, with studded leather jackets and spiky hair, and this was something different. It’s not really punk at all.”

Black and White was a No 2 hit after hitting the record racks in May 1978, their joint highest chart placing to date, along with No More Heroes, released in September the year before, though not their most popular, that being their debut, the platinum-selling Rattus Norvegicus, a No 4 hit put out in April 1977.

Most of its dozen tracks have become staples in the Stranglers’ live sets over the course of the 38 years that have passed since it came out, but there were a few Warne hadn’t played prior to rehearsals for the current tour other than at a convention for fans in 2011.

“Nine of the songs on Black and White are regular features in our sets, so we’re familiar with them, but there were three songs we don’t play, and when songs don’t get played, there’s generally a reason for that. It’s because they’re difficult,” said Warne.

The three difficult customers on Black and White were In the Shadows, Enough Time and Do You Wanna, but they have all now been mastered, he said, adding: “We’ve properly delved into them and learned them, so we’re ready for the tour.

“We’ve only played Black and White all the way through once before, for a convention in 2011, so taking it out on tour is going to be interesting.

“It’s become quite a popular thing playing an album all the way through, but just because we’re the Stranglers and we’re contrary sorts, we took against it.

“Now just seemed to be the right time, though, and it is a classic album, and it’s aged well.”

Only the 12 songs making up the original vinyl version of Black and White will be played in the portion of the set devoted to running through it, and not the three songs on a bonus seven-inch, white-vinyl single included with the initial limited-edition run of the LP, but one of them, their version of the Dionne Warwick hit Walk on By, a No 21 for them in 1978, will feature in the other half of the show.

Warne is glad about that, he says, as the Stranglers’ take on the 1964 Burt Bacharach and Hal David song, a No 9 hit for Warwick is a personal favourite for him.

“It was fantastic,” he said. “From a recording point of view, it’s got to be one of the Stranglers’ high watermarks.

“I have loved that song ever since I was a kid, and that was a great version.

“They’d been playing it for years, then it just ended up as a single.”

All 12 of Black and White’s tracks might be present and correct on this tour, but there will be one conspicuous absence.

This will be the band’s first headlining tour of their homeland without veteran Jet Black, alias Brian Duffy, since the former ice-cream man and off-licence boss founded the band in Surrey in 1974.

Now 77 and in poor health, he had been restricted to brief appearances at a secondary drum set in recent years and didn’t feature at all during the band’s last tour as special guests of Simple Minds in November and December.

“This will be our first tour where we don’t have him at all,” said Warne.

“He is 77, after all, and he’s been more of a totem or a talisman than anything else in recent years. You can look after yourself or whatever, but you can’t cheat old age.

“We talk to him all the time, and we ask him things.

“He’s given us his blessing, and he wants us to carry on and do what we have to do. He’s happy to see the baton being passed on.”

Taking over from Black at the drum stool is Jim MacAulay, previously the band’s drum technicician and, given the brevity of Black’s appearances over recent years, their de-facto drummer since 2013.

That means Warne, recruited in 1990 as a guitarist and promoted to frontman six years later following the departure of Paul Roberts, the band’s first replacement for original vocalist Hugh Cornwell, is no longer the group’s new boy.

Making up the rest of the quartet are founder member Jean-Jacques Burnel on bass and Dave Greenfield, recruited in 1975, on keyboards.

No new material is imminent, but Warne – set to move from Sunderland to West Yorkshire after the tour, starting last night, March 3, in Perth in Scotland and taking in Newcastle next week, ends in April – is confident that there will eventually be another Stranglers album to follow up their last one, 2012’s Giants, a No 48 hit.

“We have been interested in getting stuff down on tape, and we have been discussing it, but, live, our resurgence has been going from strength to strength, and we want to strike while the iron’s hot and just keep playing,” he said.

“We have always wanted to be valid, and great songs though they are, we don’t want just to be playing all our old stuff for ever.

“It was great, for example, to play some somgs from Giants alongside our older stuff a few years back.

“Hopefully, we’ll be looking at some new stuff later on this year.”

To coincide with the tour, a limited-edition, double-disc vinyl version of the Black and White LP is being released, and a 17-track CD, Black and White Live, featuring concert and rehearsal versions of all 12 of the original’s tracks, plus five bonus songs, will also be out.

After Black and White, the Stranglers went on to rack up a further five top 10 albums – Live (X-cert), a No 7, and The Raven, a No 4, both in 1979; The Meninblack, a No 8 in 1981; Feline, a No 4 in 1983; and 1990’s Greatest Hits 1977-1990, also a No 4.

They’ve also hit the singles chart’s top 10 seven tines – with Peaches and No More Heroes, both No 8s, and Something Better Change, a No 9, all in 1977; Golden Brown, a No 2, and Strange Little Girl, a No 7, both in 1982; European female, a No 9 in 1983; and a cover of the Kinks single All day and All of the Night, a No 7 in 1988.

Tickets to see the band at Newcastle’s O2 Academy next Wednesday, March 9, cost £27. The Alarm will be supporting. For details, go to www.academymusicgroup.com/o2academynewcastle or www.thestranglers.net