IT MUST have been one of the most daunting jobs in rock music – taking over from a legend like Hugh Cornwell to front The Stranglers.
But somehow Baz Warne has made the position his own, so much so that even long-time fans who have followed the band since their Guildford origins have accepted him.
“As always, I get my fair share of knocks from those who just want to see Hugh Cornwell, who’s now been out of the band longer than he was actually in it, but it’s nice that they’re saying that,” he says.
“If they want a band at all, if they want The Stranglers, then this is what The Stranglers is.
“We’ve got three of the original guys and we’ve got me. The original lead singer and guitarist is never going to come back.
“All we can do is just do what we do. We don’t pay any mind to what anyone says.”
Maybe it helped that Sunderland-born Baz wasn’t the first person to take over from Hugh – that dubious honour went to Paul Roberts, who stood-in for 16 years after Cornwell left in 1990.
Baz (right) joined The Stranglers as guitarist in 2000 and added vocal duties six years later.
At least Baz never received the death threats sent to Roberts when he joined, and he says he can’t even remember being that daunted by stepping out front because it happened slowly.
“To be honest with you, it’s getting on for seven years ago, and we’ve done so much in that time that I don’t really recall too much,” he says. “I do remember that towards the end of Paul’s time patience was wearing thin with everyone – him with us and us with him as well.
“Although I will stress that he was a very close friend – it’s unfortunate that he’s chosen not to speak to me since those days.
“He would invariably be late for rehearsals, and they wouldn’t wait for him. They’d just start without him and, of course, that constituted me singing until he arrived.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it to the point that sometimes I would – and I have never actually told anyone this – see his car pulling up outside and get a bit disappointed.
“Only because I was enjoying myself. I was really enjoying singing the songs, finding out if I could do it, and it was just a different thing to do.
“I remember thinking ‘Here am I in the room with JJ Burnel (bass), Dave Greenfield (keyboards) and Jet Black (drums), and I’m singing and playing guitar and it sounds great.’
“And to those ends I think we knew if it ever came to it we could probably pull it off. And so it came to be.”
There has been talk that Cornwell might play with The Stranglers for a 40th anniversary event next year, but Baz says he can’t see it happening – and if it does he won’t be involved.
“It certainly wouldn’t involve me,” he says. “I wouldn’t be interested in anything like that. I’ve never met Hugh Cornwell.
“I do know that he had some very complimentary things to say about me, which I’m flattered by, because he is obviously more capable than me with his old cohorts.
“If they wanted to collaborate with him, that would be up to them. I must be honest: I know what I know, and I say that’s a very remote possibility.
“That’s me thinking out loud after what you just said. It’s never been mentioned – I’d be very surprised.”
Baz is also very complimentary about Cornwell: “If I could sing like he can, I’d be a very happy bunny. I think he’s got one of the most iconic, instantly recognisable voices in British pop in the last 35 years.
“But he can’t play guitar like I can. I can play guitar much better than him, though he’s a much better singer than I am. So there’s your swings, and your roundabouts too.”
The Stranglers play at Weyfest at the Rural Life Centre, Tilford, Surrey, on Friday, August 30. The event runs over the whole weekend and the bill also includes UB40, Echo & the Bunnymen, From The Jam, Nine Below Zero, Toploader, The Wurzels and many more besides.