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Interview: Baz Warne of The Stranglers on drugs, UFOs and gaffer-taping a journalist to the Eiffel Tower ahead of Cheltenham's Wychwood Festival

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: April 22, 2014

By Jonathan Whiley

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The Stranglers

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BAZ Warne of The Stranglers could not be more apologetic after missing our original interview slot because he was asleep.

“I’m so sorry,” he says, the clock now ticking to 1.30pm. “I was fast asleep, we had a bit of a late night.

“We were at a gig in Guildford which was amazing.

“There were thousands of people singing happy birthday, I felt like the Queen.”

By late he means 4am as he celebrated his 50th birthday with fellow band members.

When I enquire further I half expect tales of dancing girls and wild parties like a scene out of Hollywood blockbuster The Wolf of Wall Street.

In their heyday the band were notorious for their wild antics.

They once sparked a riot during a gig in France – two members ended up in prison where they shared a cell with two murderers – and on another occasion they were escorted out of Sweden by armed police after kicking up a fuss at a hotel because they weren’t serving hot food.

Then there’s the gig which saw strippers on stage in Battersea Park and the ‘artistic’ decision to take heroin for a year which sparked an alien-themed album.

“The UFO thing was in the late 70s and there’s no other way of putting it, the band were into heavy drugs and it was a heavily drug-fuelled album and a hard listen,” says Baz, who joined the band in 2000 – his first gig was in Kosovo when they played for UN troops.

These days, their antics, it should be said, are not quite as crazy – even if there is a birthday involved.

“We had a couple of bottles of Champagne in the car but we leave the crazy things to the guys in their 20s,” the guitarist and singer says.

“We’re never going to be pipe and slippers guys and we did have our fair share of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.”

I should be on my guard. On one occasion lead singer and original member of the band JJ Burnel took a journalist’s trousers off and gaffer-taped him to one of the girders on the Eiffel Tower in Paris after he became fed up with his demands for an interview.

“It’s a true story,” Baz says in his strong northern accent – he hails from Sunderland and was a former member of band The Smalltown Heroes.

“In 1979, JJ Burnel sought retribution on a French journalist so they went up to the second floor, which is really high and pulled down his trousers and put him on one of the stanchions and just left him there.”

Thankfully the rock band responsible for hit songs such as Golden Brown and Peaches won’t be up to the same mischief at Cheltenham’s Wychwood Festival next month with a headline slot on May 30. Their focus is very much on the music and celebrating 40 years in the industry.

“We’re really looking forward to it,” Baz says. “It’s great to do regional festivals. We’re doing T in The Park and V this year too.

“It’s very dependent on the weather and whether people have had too much to drink or eat or they’re having sex in a tent and that creates a certain vibe but it can be fantastic if everyone is there crowded around the main stage.”

Despite dubbing the band a “ragtag bunch of old farts” Baz says that they’re lapping up the gigs and enjoying being on stage.

“We’re actually playing to a new audience and that makes you think why should we give it up,” he says.

“In Leeds there were 2,000 odd kids.

“We couldn’t believe it, it was quite something to behold.

“But it’s nice that the older fans, the die-hards are now introducing their families to our music.

“Stranglers music is woven into the very fabric of British life, it’s a bit of an institution and without sounding like a cliched hippy, we’re getting so much warmth and love right now.”

Despite that, the band are not oblivious to the sands of time.

“It’s a cardinal sin to become complacent, to think that everything will come up smelling of roses,” he says.

“There is a morbid fascination with this tour, one of the best-selling, and it’s because our drummer is 75 and we don’t know whether it will be our last.”

The Stranglers are at this year’s Wychwood Festival in Cheltenham which runs from May 30 to June 1.

Tickets start at £40 for adults, £30 for concessions and £8 for children.

Kids under five go free but must register for a ticket. For more details, visit www.wychwoodfestival.com

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