“We’re a really good group but we’re not a super-group” So quips Baz Warne during his side-project Wingmen’s (“not THE Wingmen; Wingmen”!) gig at the Old Woollen Mills in Leeds

But let’s face it; it IS a super-group. Comprised of vocalist/guitarist Baz whose parent band is The Stranglers, and previously of Toy Dolls, guitarist Leigh Heggarty of Ruts DC, bassist Paul Gray of The Damned and Eddie And The Hot Rods and Wingmen founder/drummer Marty Love of Johnny Moped, this is a quartet with a LOT of punk rock credentials. They’re also joined on tour by keyboard player Rob Coombes of Britpop stalwarts Supergrass.

Wingmen were formed during lockdown because “we were bored off our tits (Baz)”. Marty and Paul have previously played together in a similar side-project, the Sensible Gray Cells with the Captain (also from The Damned and Johnny Moped) and the two of them decided to try and get something together to relieve the boredom. They invited Leigh to join them on guitar, whose parent band has supported The Stranglers on tour many many times. Which segues nicely to Baz being asked to join as vocalist, who of course said yes.

Once lockdown ended the quartet could finally get together to work on songs that had previously been recorded remotely with song files shared between the members for each part to be added. And so the self-titled album ‘Wingmen’ was born.

The guys are currently doing a country-wide tour to support the release of their debut album – which came out on the 27th January on limited edition coloured vinyl, CD and digitally – which started in Colchester on the 18th January and finished on the 29th January in Brighton. And it’s in Leeds where I caught them, at the lovely converted Old Woollen Mills.

Support is from JC Carroll of The Members, doing a solo acoustic set, including the classic ‘Sound Of The Suburbs’ which perfectly sets up the crowd for the main act.

Wingmen went on slightly later than advertised but they come on stage to an enthusiastic crowd, and it’s plain to see all the band members are happy to be there. It’s pretty easy to tell who in the crowd is there for which band member and their parent band; a guy with a trilby hat for The Ruts DC, a fair few Stranglers t-shirts and pin badges, and a couple of the more goth persuasion showing their Damned colours.

Having given the new album a listen through a couple of times prior to familiarise myself with the songs and titles, I felt relieved at not having to rely on my memory with Baz saying they’d be playing the album in order start to finish, with a couple of extras to be thrown in for good measure. Phew!! They start off with the instrumental opener to the album, ‘Starting Blocks’ and surge onwards with ‘The Last Cigarette’, ‘Louis Smoked The Bible’ and into ‘Brits’, which is the stand out song for me, a good punk song about how much we like to complain!! We’re then treated to a cover of Bowie’s ‘Hang On To Yourself’.

There’s a nod to Brexit in ‘Oh! What A Carry On’, a jaunty-sounding song which sounds like it could easily be on a Stranglers album with the Dave Greenfield-esque keys. There’s the comedic quips that Stranglers fans have come to know and love from Baz, when he tells the crowd that “this clapping is more like you get at your local bowling club! Well done, that’s an extra Yorkshire pudding for you!!”. He also thanks everyone for coming to see them on a Wednesday evening, pointing out that Wednesday is the new Saturday and that “it’s the only Wednesday I’m going to remember, I usually sleep on a Wednesday!”
They squeeze in a cover of Kraftwerk’s ‘The Model’ which was Baz’s idea to have in the set – I wouldn’t have put him as being a Kraftwerk fan so was a very nice surprise! A guy in the crowd shouted that this song kept The Strangler’s biggest hit ‘Golden Brown’ off the number 1 spot, quickly corrected by Baz as that was of course Bucks Fizz, and was a year after the Kraftwerk song!

Then we’re back to Wingmen songs. Baz ditches the leather jacket to reveal a Ramone’s-style red t-shirt with MACKEMS on it – you can take the boy out of Sunderland…! Maybe a good thing it wasn’t worn for their Newcastle gig the night before!!

It would be expected of them to play a song or two from the respective parent bands, but they don’t do the obvious ones, no Nice ’N Sleazy or Babylon’s Burning. Instead they play ‘Long Black Veil’ from The Stranglers 2004 album Norfolk Coast, Baz’s first album as a Stranglers member, and with great bass playing from Paul; dare I say who needs JJ?!

The encore starts with The Stooges ‘I Got A Right’, then a nod to one of Paul’s previous bands Eddie And The Hotrods ’Do Anything You Wanna Do’, ‘Solid Gold Easy Action’ by T-Rex and rounding everything off with a cheeky intro of Supergrass’s ‘Pumping On Your Stereo’.

I really enjoyed this gig, for me it’s always better being more up close watching a band, and it was a treat seeing these guys playing a smaller venue. With so many small venues being forced to close it’s great that big names such as these guys play them and help keep them going.

There were apparently a few nervous butterflies before the tour began but it certainly didn’t show tonight. Five great musicians and song-crafters having fun and at the top of their game. Hope to catch them again at some point!

All words and photographs by Kitty Smith