He details his musical journey from borrowing his brother’s guitar, being a Toy Doll, forming Smalltown Heroes through to when he was invited to London to audition for a certain black-clad band…
History- Baz’s musical journey
Earlier this year, we brought you the story of Jet’s musical journey to the birth of The Stranglers.
Around the time that The Stranglers were forming in Guildford, a young lad, Baz Warne, from the North East of England moved to Canada.
Soon he was taking his first tentative musical steps that would eventually lead to a successful audition for The Stranglers in 2000.
Here’s Baz’s story…
You were born and brought up in Sunderland. How much did music play a part in your early life?
I can remember very early on hearing a lot of music around the place. The radio was always on in the car for starters, and my mam would sit in the front singing along…great voice she had, and still does to this day.
My folks used to have one of those big stereograms that looked like a sideboard in the living room, you’d put your vase and ornamental porcelain cats and picture frames and stuff on it during the day you know? For ‘best’ heheh…but then you’d take all that stuff off and the lid would open and inside was a record player, with the speakers already built in, and they’d play The Beatles, Andy Williams, Elvis, Herb Alpert ,The Kinks and Dusty Springfield and ‘This is Pourcel’ and The Carpenters, and Tomita…I remember Tomita…’Snowflakes are dancing’… and my mam would hoover the carpet dancing and singing along with her beehive hairdo and mini dresses, while I was in my high chair, and I must have just sort of ‘absorbed it’ is the best way I can describe it…I remember that very well…and all my brothers love music too..
My dad introduced us to the concept of stereo by laying cushions on the floor underneath this bloody great big piece of furniture, and we’d lay underneath listening to the stereo effect of the guitars and brass and stuff and hear them coming out of opposite sides to each other through these big speakers above our heads…I remember how blown away by it he was and wanted us to understand how it felt and sounded…it’s not that he’s particularly musical, it was just enthusiasm for something that sounded great to him if that makes any sense…Tomita sounded magical in stereo…out of the pair of them it was my mam who was the most musical I suppose, she can play the piano, but they both used to sing together and still do, and they harmonise too, very well…anything from Elsie and Doris Waters to Duffy… all that kind of stuff is bound to have an effect on a growing lad…music was always around.
You then moved to Canada. What led you to first pick up a musical instrument?
We moved to Vancouver in 1974 when I was 9 and two big things stick out in my mind. The first was that this was when I first picked up a guitar…An acoustic guitar was given to my younger brother Chris on his 8th birthday.
He’d expressed an interest and was actually the first out of us to have one. But the action was too high (the distance between the strings and the fingerboard…if it’s too great and you have to press harder to make the notes it can be murder to play) for his little hands and he soon got sick of it…he was only 8 after all. So I sort of ‘commandeered’ it and set about feverishly learning how to play…just simple single string stuff at first but I had my hands on a real live guitar.
The other thing was going into a pawn shop one day with some kids I’d met at school to look at the guitars…this black guy came in and picked a Stratocaster off the wall, plugged it in, and started playing the most amazing lightning fast blues guitar, right in front of me…it was the first time I’d ever heard an electric guitar live, and I’ll never forget how it made me feel…to see his fingers running up and down the strings with total command, and to see the joyful look on his face as he completely got off on it and knew he was good…pivotal moment actually…after that I knew I’d have to at least try to get an electric guitar…
I’d been playing my brothers’ acoustic for a few months or so by then, but the sound that guy got just took it to another level completely… Actually just as I was answering that my mind went back to that day and I can still picture it as clear as crystal…these things obviously still stick with people like me…
I suppose I was first drawn to the guitar in particular when I was about 8. Top of the Pops was the only visual access to the music of the day to a kid like me, not being allowed to stay up late enough to watch any good live stuff or documentaries or anything, had I even known they existed of course, so Thursday nights were always a favourite even then. And I remember bands like Free, Status Quo, The Sweet and Slade, and loving the power and sound…and you couldn’t deny that swinging a low slung Telecaster looked pretty cool too…I suppose all those things mattered even at that age…
At what stage did you start playing with bands?
Probably around 14 or 15. I saved up money doing milk and paper rounds and had managed to get the all important first electric guitar, a Kay SG copy…and a little Audition amp. We’d moved back to England by then with things being just a little too weird for my dad at work in Canada, and I was going to a comprehensive school in Sunderland.
I had a couple of mates who played guitar and drums, but we still couldn’t get a bass player… didn’t know anybody who’d want the least glamorous job as we thought then…you know the guy who stands at the back and plonks along while two of us were squalling away on loud electric guitars and the other was building a shed, knocking seven shades of shit out of his four little drums and one cymbal in one of the school halls.
We had a mate who wanted a bass and was keen to learn from scratch but his mother wouldn’t buy him one “because” she said “all the bass player does is vamp on the strings all the time…where’s the music in that”? So we played without one for a while and noticed the girls started coming around…interesting…so the stories are true I thought…and through the process of swapping and part exing and stuff I got my first decent guitar, which was a Telecaster, and although I’ve got a few different guitars around now which I enjoy playing from time to time, the Telecaster will always be ‘my’ guitar.
Why did you switch over to bass when you joined the Toy Dolls?
Well I originally auditioned for the second guitarist’s job. They were a three piece, guitar, bass and drums and wanted a rhythm player who’d play a bit of lead too as well as sing backing vocals. I got the gig but just as I was about to start rehearsing the bass player left and the wheels fell off the whole thing for a while.
They were the biggest band in the North East by this time, and more importantly were making treks out of the region and doing it the hard way with hundreds and hundreds of gigs and building up a very solid following…they were as tight as a drum musically and totally unique at what they did. There was lots of jumping and rolling around and stuff while still being amazingly tight, and they were great to watch. They had gigs coming up and were going to London for the first time and didn’t want to stop you know? It was very hard coming from up here and managing to get a show in London in those days…so they called me up and asked if I’d consider playing bass…and that they’d decided to keep the band as a three piece…
I was pretty keen because the bass was right up front in that band with the guitar and was really fast to play. I could play half decent guitar by then and knew where all the notes were, and so could play all the bass runs fast and with the lead guitar…and besides, I felt I’d rather play bass in a band that was out there and doing it rather than sitting in my bedroom for another few years doing nothing, and it all fell into place very quickly, even to the point of actually getting a bass guitar one day while I was on the way to a rehearsal. I’d been borrowing a knackered old Precision copy from a mate to use, and had been looking around all day for my own to buy.
I was walking up a street and saw a guy I vaguely knew from the local pub sitting on the wall outside one of the houses. He was a bass guitar collector rather than a player and I didn’t even know he lived there…he asked where I was going and I told him about the day I’d had trying to find a bass guitar and that I wasn’t looking forward to playing this horrible old one I was using…”I’ve got a Fender Jazz Bass for sale and you can have it right now for £175” he said…I was stunned…he went into the house and brought out this lovely black Jazz bass…I told him to give me fifteen minutes and ran all the way back home, got the money I’d been saving, ran back to his house and bought the guitar on his doorstep…he looked like he couldn’t quite believe it either…
The guy who ran the Toy Dolls was a bit of a stickler for times and stuff and he started in on me for being late when he heard me coming down the stairs…time is money and all that, but he soon shut up when I explained why and showed them the guitar I’d just bought.
Being in that band was my first taste of a gigging live machine playing to very full sweaty little clubs and generally learning and enjoying all the stuff that went with it. And I have to say, it was a great band…very funny… we used to choreograph stage moves and play the tightest, fastest punk you can imagine…I was 19 and had energy to spare heheh, and I lapped it up.
I remember when I was 16 having to go home to tell my parents that I’d failed all my O levels (passed ‘em later) and my dad hit the roof…ten O levels, all failed. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life (that old chestnut) and I brazenly told him I wanted to be a ‘pop’ star…(’rock’ stars being a fairly recent addition to our vocabulary I believe, we didn’t have them then…)…he laughed his arse off and told me to get my finger out and stop all this ‘music for a living nonsense’ and to maybe ’get a proper trade to fall back on’….
Fast forward to 1983 and the night in December when I went in and told him I was going to California with the band to do some gigs on the west coast (man!)…the look on his face was priceless and he actually beamed as he shouted my mam into the room and told her…another pivotal moment…your parents are now supporting you 100% and the word spread around the family very quickly indeed…happy days.
I did two U.S. tours and three European tours before I was 20 and the one lasting thing that the Toy Dolls gave me I suppose was belief in myself for the first time really, and knowing that if I wanted to I could actually make some kind of living doing this…and maybe leave a mark. As far away as I am now in respect of the music we played and the things we did I have many fond memories of that band and still keep in touch with Olga (the band’s guitarist/singer) to this day.
I’ll never forget us three little Makem lads sitting in a Transit van with our Geordie roadie and Sand dancer (South Shields) driver at Checkpoint Charlie in the snow marvelling at how ‘the uniforms are just like the war only they’re green now’…or playing the Olympic Auditorium in L.A. to 12,000 kids going nuts…I was a kid myself…loved it…
There was a magazine back in those days called Punk Lives…it harked back to the glory days occasionally but mostly traded on the bands of the ‘second’ phase…bands like The Exploited, GBH, Chron Gen, The Abrasive Wheels, Vice Squad and Peter and the Test Tube Babies…etc, bands like that. We went down to London for a gig at the 100 Club and did an interview with them, including pictures of us larking about in Soho Square…
One of the pics was a solo shot of me which made the cover of the next edition…I’ll never forget going into WH Smiths in Sunderland and seeing my face up there next to Simon Le Bon and Howard Jones in the racks…I nearly wet myself laughing and bought a copy for each of the band…the singer, however, didn’t take too kindly to it at the time, unbeknownst to me, and by the time we toured in America for the second time the worm had grown in his brain and he was scared he might be losing control, so instead of just firing me he ‘left’ his own band, by letter, effectively firing both me and the drummer…resurfacing six months later with a new rhythm section of session guys and a top three hit with the ‘classic’ Nellie the Elephant…I was pleased I wasn’t in the band by then I can tell you.
Still I enjoyed it while it lasted…the Toy Dolls are still going too and have had something like thirty members over the years…with the one original guitarist…Olga…good lad but very driven…
Then came the Troubleshooters?
The Troubleshooters were my attempt to get back to guitar and play some punky stuff probably with a bit of rock tossed in. I met Tony the bass player in a Sunderland pub one night and we hatched a plot to form a band playing Ramones/Undertones covers and stuff…we rehearsed between us, just guitar and bass, for months…and also forged a very tight bond that exists to this day…probably one of my best friends is Tone…
Anyway we both had Marshall amps and cabs by now and would get our dads to help us schlep them down to the rehearsal room we rented in the town centre for £2.50 each and blast away to our hearts content, something you couldn’t do at home. A few months later we got a great drummer, actually the Toy Dolls original drummer, and we had a bona fide three piece band. We could all play and sing to a degree, Colin the drummer in particular had a great falsetto, and so we honed the three piece dynamic night after night, and it started to sound great…very tight and lively.
We needed a singer though, and my brother Chris, who had his own little three piece too, although not quite as serious as we were because he had a job, said he fancied a go singing for us. So I gave him some tunes to learn, wish I could remember what they were, and asked him to come down the following week.
Well he thought as he was my brother that he could just walk into it and so didn’t really bother to learn the stuff…and we knocked him back…I wanted him to get in on merit, because he had, and still has, a very fine voice…great command of pitch and a tone to die for, powerful, quiet, high, low, he could do it all, and he could play great guitar too. He was gutted and we had words, but he asked to be given a second chance and I persuaded the other two to give him it, and he came down, with his guitar too, and floored us…he was brilliant and without my knowing, which was hard because we all still lived at home, he’d knocked spots off himself to get it as good as he could, which also showed us he was as keen as we were, and all of a sudden we had a four piece rock band…we could all sing and we were learning how to play at an alarming rate of knots…we were all keen as mustard so we learned about 45 minutes of covers and started to play around the town.
Pretty soon we started to write, and found that we really could do it to a standard we were prepared to risk playing live to people. After about a year we had a set that was comprised of about 70% original songs and we caned the live circuit in the north east, stretching out across Tyneside to gigs in Newcastle, Gateshead, Felling, Ashington and other high spots heheh…we had a great band going, and we started to get a pretty good following, and could certainly pack out larger pubs in Sunderland.
It was great too because with me and Chris still living at home, we could sit in at night writing and playing guitars together…learning how to mesh them and not step on each others toes…we rarely played the chords in the same positions and so it created a very full sound just with the guitars before anything else…the rhythm section were very tight and so when we put it all together it smoked…we had some very happy times just creating and learning and having fun…and doing it on our terms too. Out and out guitar bands were pretty unfashionable in the early 80’s…Fab…
Yeah well as I said the guitar was always my love and I was determined to get back to it…I’d managed to get my first Fender Telecaster just before I joined the Toy Dolls (funnily enough the very same one I auditioned for the Stranglers with) and was keen to keep up with it. In fact I’m looking at that Tele now…I don’t take it out too much these days as it’s getting a bit old now and means a great deal to me…I scrimped and saved like a bastard to get that guitar.
Funnily enough I was in town with my son not too long ago and he was asking me about my guitars, I’d given him an old Schecter Tele I had lying around and he was getting pretty handy at it, and he asked me about my first ‘proper’ one…as I was telling him about how I came to get it, which is a story in itself, the guy I’d bought it from came down the escalator on the opposite side as we were going up…right at that very moment…I couldn’t believe it…I can’t remember his name but I remembered his face, and he mine, and I hadn’t seen him since the day I’d bought it from him when I was 18, nearly 30 years before. I asked him if he’d wait at the bottom for us and we continued up then came back down again to meet him for a brief crack, and told him I’d just that second been talking about him…he said he’d remembered me, kept tabs on me over the years, and was chuffed I was doing so well…and was chuffed I still had his old guitar too…a very nice moment.
Why the change to Smalltown Heroes?
We’d slogged away for about four years, and with two changes of drummer had settled on the line up that lasted right to the end…but we felt we weren’t really making too much of a dent, and felt that the name was still giving us this ‘pubby’ image which we felt we’d moved away from.
The Troubleshooters sort of sounds like an old pub blues/rock band. We were playing totally original sets by now, and playing all over the country, but felt weren’t getting that bit of luck we felt we needed… that little bit of luck that every band initially needs. One night somebody referred to us as Smalltown Heroes, not that we saw ourselves as such, but it had a ring to it and so we just went with it…it seemed kind of right for the music we were playing.
How did things change once you signed to EG records?
EG Records were the small but cool label based in the Kings Road that had had the very early T.Rex, King Crimson and Roxy Music albums, as well as having Killing Joke on their roster, who we loved…Jaz Coleman and our kid became quite the pair when we bumped into them at the office from time to time.
We had a gig at the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden (we went on to play there fourteen times in total) and our manager and publisher, who had shown great faith in us over the years, financing all manner of demo sessions and stuff, had persuaded the MD of EG to pay for the afternoon in the venue and come and watch us play a complete gig in front of him and about five others…with full lights and p.a…the show we’d be playing later that evening which he couldn’t make…and we stormed it…the whole bit, stage clothes (pretty much what we had on anyway), and all the jumping about and things, and he loved it and signed us on the spot.
The first single they released was the worlds first multi-media CD Rom, which could be played in things that were becoming more and more popular called ‘home computers’…not that any of us had one then…we had to wait to go to the office to see it on theirs…and the music and production was right in your face too and we began to gather steam, getting single of the month in Kerrang and touring with the Jeff Healey Band and of course, The Stranglers, who we supported on the About Time tour in ’95 in the UK, and the Written in Red tour in Holland and Germany in ‘97…our first time abroad with our own band…no small sense of satisfaction I can tell you.
Ah they were great days…I was in a band with my brother who I love dearly and rarely fought with (although a couple of memorable occasions do spring to mind…one night in Dumfries the twat threw an ashtray at me and it bounced off the wall behind my head and smashed into a thousand pieces… would have killed me if it had connected), and the other guys who felt like brothers after all that we’d been through, and we rolled around the country playing our music and making friends.
By this time Tony and I had young families and it was tough going away and leaving them, only to come back with road stories and extreme fatigue, and precious little money to show for it. All that changed though in ’94 when we signed with EG and were put on regular wages and little bits of benefits to supplement what was then the minimum wage.
All of a sudden we were pro and ‘legitimate’ and could go away safe in the knowledge that things were taken care of at home and that the missus could budget and pay the bills and stuff on a regular day every week you know? That was an amazing feeling…you’re making your own original music professionally and the suffering has eased immeasurably for everyone involved. It was my job…it said so on my passport.
In 1997, Smalltown Heroes supported the Stranglers on a tour of Germany. What were your impressions of the band?
It was actually Feb ’97 if memory serves, and I have to say, and I’m sure the band won’t mind me saying this, that they seemed at a pretty low ebb if I’m honest. We didn’t socialise with them as much as we had on the UK tour two years earlier and they all seemed to be in their own remote little worlds and there wasn’t too much communication between them…certainly not in front of us anyway.
The gigs weren’t great and they seemed a little to be going through the motions…a direct contrast to when we’d last seen them. They were playing ok and sounding ok, but ‘ok’ in the Stranglers cannon wasn’t something we’d been used to you know? They were friendly and affable enough to us I suppose but there was a distance to them too…You did ask…
What factors led to the demise of Smalltown Heroes?
The end of Smalltown Heroes has been pretty much well documented elsewhere, but in a nutshell, because it still rankles with me, the record company ran out of money and the cuts they made rendered it impossible to continue…purely on a financial basis.
We’d released a batch of singles and an album to critical acclaim, but they weren’t really selling, and after we’d spent two months in their own recording studios in Munich making the second album the plug was pulled…not just on us…but it felt like that…that we’d been cast adrift just as we’d made a much better album than the first one and were preparing to tour and try to keep what little momentum we had. We must be one of the only bands in history that DIDN’T want to split up it seems to me now…and all those years of touring and writing and recording and honing and wishing had come to nothing…
Actually last year we did half a dozen little gigs just for ourselves again, and to whoever turned up, and were pleasantly surprised…they were rocking and we totally enjoyed ourselves…packed out an old haunt in Sunderland for the last one and then said goodbye to the band. We’d all coincidentally met up in a bar in Sunderland at a jam night when my brother came over from France where he lives now, to see our folks, and got up to play three songs…there were a few calls made from people to mates who weren’t there, and were told to get their arses down “cos the Heroes are playing again” and about forty people turned up at 10.30 on a horrible wet night to hear us…and it went so well we just looked at each other and decided that it’d be fun to do it all one last time for a laugh… and we did.
We even pressed up a few copies of the album that didn’t come out to sell at the gigs and got some great reactions from the people who bought them…it still sounds fresh and alive to this day too…Foo Fighters before the fact somebody said, and I can see that…
Sun Devils was really just me wanting to live out my old rock dreams and play some of the stuff that had shaped me as a kid and growing up heheh… I didn’t bank on it being as successful as quickly and for as long as it was. We were ramming pubs and clubs out three months after we formed and could easily have been playing five nights a week but for jobs and the original idea of just doing it for fun at weekends.
We just wanted to have a little band to play around the pubs with for a laugh, but we were all good musicians…the other guitarist Pat McMahon was somebody locally I’d looked up to for a long time and when he said he’d do it and we got a great bass player and exceptional drummer we suddenly got keen and started to go for it…It was predominantly covers but we did write some stuff later on which was in the kind of classic rock vein, not really my thing but I still enjoyed it…it was playing after all.
Pat left and we got in another guitarist who was equally as good in a different way, and kept going for a while, but then I joined the Stranglers and couldn’t do it anymore…it had run it’s course really and all the other bands that had sprung up in our wake were doing all our tunes anyway… and they were covers! Imagine forming a covers band for fun and then doing all the songs the other bands are doing and the ones we did in the first place…! what a lack of imagination…Funnily enough we did some Devils gigs too about three years ago…they were fun but I was right…it had run it’s course years before…
What were your feelings when you were asked to audition for The Stranglers?
Excitement and nervousness obviously, but without sounding too arrogant, the belief in myself that if I wanted to do it I would get the job, having been a fan since I was a kid and being around them at close quarters on two tours and seeing how they operated and what the vibe was like. Growing up with their music and knowing most of the songs anyway too, as I did.
It also seemed vital to me that fitting in as a person was very important too, especially in such a famous, notorious and well respected band, and I was convinced that given half a chance I could do that too. But I’d been carving out a half decent living playing acoustic gigs, which I’d been doing for some time anyway, and playing with an acoustic trio with an upright bass, as well as the Sun Devils, and my wife had just really got me back after over eight years of almost constantly being on the road…she didn’t want me to do it for the sake of the family and in the thirteen years we’d been together up until then she’d never asked me not to do anything I wanted to do…she’d been right by me for the whole time but now she was asking me for something very important to her and the kids, and to me too…so I turned the offer of an audition down and said thanks but no thanks.
It lasted for a whole weekend and I was in turmoil the whole time. I was 36 and had just glimpsed the offer of a lifetime and could just see my one last chance slipping away from me…and to play with one of my all time favourite bands too…even if I didn’t get the gig it surely wouldn’t do me any harm to try? Go to London and play four songs on a soundstage with the Stranglers and have a crack and catch up with them? I’d become fast mates with Paul Roberts since we’d toured with them and it was just screaming at me to go and see what might happen…
My wife Julie could see all this, and being a creative person herself, having a degree in Performing Arts, and knowing what music meant to me, gave me her blessing and I went to London on £100 borrowed from a mate because I couldn’t afford the train fare…on the condition that he could come too…so it really was the hopeful from up north getting on a train at Newcastle Central Station full of butterflies with a guitar, and schepping off to the ‘the smoke’ to seek his fortune…ha.
In fact the whole thing was compounded in an incident a day or so before when my daughters’ school had phoned to say that she was complaining of feeling unwell and could I come and collect her and take her home. I didn’t drive in those days, so I put on my coat and woolly hat and as an after thought put the mini disc in my pocket of the four songs the band had asked me to learn to listen to on the walk to the school.
Just as I got into this lovely old leafy park that was near our house and put my head down against the wind, No More Heroes came on in my ears, at perfect volume, and it sounded so fresh and alive and part of my life that I vowed there and then that as soon as I got home I’d have a talk with Jules to see if we couldn’t work something out…sounds as corny as hell but that’s exactly what it was like…a thunderbolt.
As I walked, Always the Sun, Hanging Around and Golden Brown came on and by the time I got home I had already figured out in my head how I was going to approach things with her. I needn’t have bothered…as soon as I got in she came up to me, looked me straight in the eyes and said “you should go for it”…that’s all she said…kissed me and walked off to see to the kids… So I owe it all to her sitting here and thinking about it now, because I still maintain that if she’d still objected I wouldn’t have gone…I’d probably have been a pig to live with but I wouldn’t have gone…loved her you know?
And how did it feel when you got the gig?
Well we played the other three songs first and left Golden Brown until last and by that time I was thinking to myself that I was doing ok…I hadn’t screwed up once and it felt good and pretty natural playing with them and I thought that if I could just pull off the solo to the last song I was in with a shout.
It started and I have the distinct memory of thinking “wow this is Golden Brown…” I remembered when I was an 18 year old apprentice and my then girlfriend bought the single for me and brought it to my work on her lunch break from the butcher’s shop she worked at in the town…”and now here I am playing it with them”…
Silly thought just shot through my mind…I was probably slightly in awe still but confident too, and when the solo came I played it pretty well I thought and suddenly the drums stopped… I looked over at Jet and he was lolling over the front of the kit with his tongue hanging out as if exhausted and he looked up at me and said “thank f**k for that…somebody who can play it”…they all burst out into spontaneous laughter and applause…the band, the whole crew who were there, and all the management…
Sil Willcox asked me to go upstairs for a coffee while they talked it over…Dave stopped him and said there was no need…he looked at Jet who just gave a double thumbs up, Paul who slapped me on the back, and JJ, who just looked at me and said “Baz, do you wanna be in the Stranglers”?…to which I just blurted out…aye!
Ten days later we were in Kosovo playing for the peace keeping forces there, after I’d basically decamped to London for a weeks intense rehearsals. After the first gig I felt as if I belonged, which is just as well really…
Thanks very much to Baz for that insight into his early musical career. More details can be found on his informative website .
The Stranglers Mk III c.2000