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Hugh Cornwell - Interview

  by Eoghan Lyng

published: 3 / 7 / 2023

Hugh Cornwell - Interview

“My recording process is definitely a ‘bit-by-bit’ process,” says singer, songwriter and punk icon, Hugh Cornwell. “We used to go in and record them straight with The Stranglers, which I found boring after a while. These days, I go in with an idea and some lyrics, and then bring them into the studio to try them out and see what happens. And when that goes on, accidents happen, and accidents can be very exciting. It can be very: “I would never have thought of it that way, but I like it.”” Cornwell is calling on March 17th, and advises me – an Irishman phoning from Dublin – not to “drink too many Guinnesses.” He says he’s coming to perform on the Emerald Isle soon: “I’ll be playing in Dublin, Cork and Belfast: acoustic stuff”, but points out that he’s really here to promote shows that were delayed from 2022. “We really should talk about these shows,” he chuckles. “In the email I got this is what I was told the interview is about. Well, I’ll be playing in Manchester in May, and we’re putting two other shows around it. We had to reschedule a gig in Manchester last year, and we put it on for 2023. I’ll be playing at the Academy on Saturday May 6th to make up for the gig last year. On May 5th I’ll be playing at the O2 in Birmingham and then I’ll be at Sheffield, the O2 Academy, on the 7th of May.” Cornwell is clearly relishing the opportunity to play live again, although he seems unconcerned by recent activities. “Covid did not affect me in any way” he says. “In fact, one day before the pandemic I remember walking and thinking what if I could engineer a year off for myself? Well, be careful for what you wish for”. He's kept busy and his most recent work ‘Moments of Madness’ shows a songwriter who is as creatively hungry as he has ever been. The album covers everything from rock to soul, and even makes a side journey into reggae on the title track. “I guess you could describe it as reggae” he says, before mumbling something that sounds like he isn't sure if he's the one who should be singing in that style. “But Joe Strummer and The Clash recorded a lot of reggae tracks, and a lot of it comes from where I grew up in North London”. The singer enjoys experimenting with other genres, which is evident from his re-recording of ‘Golden Brown’, played in a Mexican style. “Yes!” Cornwell bellows. “We did it Mariachi style. I remember asking my manager to get me a Mariachi band in England. And do you know what happened to them, Eoghan?” No, I don't. “Well, we asked them to perform, and then we asked them to film something with us. Do you know the guy who says “Listo” at the beginning (of the track)? Well, he came up to me and said, “Are we finished?” We were, and he said they had to go and “Audition”. What audition? Well, wouldn’t you know: Doritos!” Keen to congratulate the band (“They're with Doritos across the world; they're probably more famous than me” he chuckles) Cornwell muses on a project he may fulfil in the future. “There’s the possibility of a whole album of Stranglers covers done Mariachi style” he says. Well, to my ears, the drum-heavy ‘Skin Deep’ is a definite shoo-in. “There you go” he cackles. I’ve seen Hugh Cornwell play once before, in 2018 he supported Wilko Johnson on tour, the fiery former Dr. Feelgood guitarist had recently released his first album of new material in some time. “I remember that gig in Glasgow” Cornwell says. “I loved Wilko’s band. I mean, Norman (Watt-Roy, former Blockhead) on bass, and the drummer is the son of someone famous…” (Dylan Howe, offspring of legendary Yes guitarist, Steve – Prog Rock Ed). Johnson died in 2022, but Cornwell only has positive memories to offer me and one anecdote has me in near hysterics. “I remember meeting Wilko in an office. He’s just come back from America, a country I had never been to. What was it like I asked him? “Arseholes of the world, Hugh” he told me. “Arseholes of the world””. Clearly the love of performing hasn’t left the former Strangler who sees the stage as another part of his trajectory as an artist. “For those who have not yet seen me live, the way I do it is this: The first part is my new material, and a trawl through some of my solo songs” He coughs but rises to finish the sentence. “Then we take a break, but when we come back, it's basically back-to-back Stranglers material. What we do is, we don’t use keyboards, so it’s guitar, bass and drums. We do harmonies, because the other two like harmonies”. The approach sounds eerily like Jimi Hendrix’s, which is fitting because Cornwell admires the guitarist greatly. “On his albums he had something like fifty thousand guitars, but he couldn’t do that live. So, live it was guitar, bass and drums. But I like it when it sounds different to the record”. While we’re on the topic, I’m anxious to hear about another idol of his: Lou Reed. “Well, there’s definitely influences of Lou and The Velvets on the songs I’ve written over the years”. Did they ever meet? “Nearly”. Well, well, well... “A guitar tech of mine worked with Lou” Hugh elaborates. “He was working with Lou in New York, and he told me he could come down after the rehearsal. We both came down ill and it was the heaviest snow New York had seen in years. This was about 2012 and I got on the last plane back to England. So, I never met him, but I did write a song about him a few years ago called ‘Mr. Leather’, it was about us nearly meeting! As it’s St. Patrick's Day, I suggest that the occasion could also be a celebration of Jet Black, the late drummer for The Stranglers who was Irish on his father’s side. “His father was Irish?” Cornwell asks? Pausing for a second, he collects himself and remembers that the sticksman’s surname was Duffy. “That's Irish, isn't it?” Yes, it was the surname of a man who moved across the Irish sea to England. “All those years I played with him, and I never knew that!” he laughs.

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Ex-Stranglers singer/guitarist Hugh Cornwell chats to Eoghan Lyng about his recent ‘Moments Of Madness’ LP and upcoming UK and Ireland shows.


Interview (2022)
Hugh Cornwell - Interview
With new LP ‘Moments of Madness’ in the racks, former Stranglers frontman Hugh Cornwell chats to Denzil Watson about the new album and his time with the legendary punk outfit
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live reviews

O2 Academy, Sheffield, 7/5/2023
Hugh Cornwell - O2 Academy, Sheffield, 7/5/2023
On the road to support his recent ‘Moments Of Madness’ LP the former Stranglers frontman, long since turned solo artist Hugh Cornwell shows no sign of slowing down.
Academy 3, Manchester, 27/11/2009


Photoscapes (2022)
Hugh Cornwell - Photoscapes
Andrew Twambley takes photographs of former Stranglers frontman Hugh Cornwell at a gig at the Manchester Academy.


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