Interview – Hugh Cornwell

HUGH PLAYS ST. PAUL’S WORTHING tonight, Thursday 19 October

In the two years since he last played St Paul’s Worthing, Hugh Cornwell has completed a soon to be released album, toured extensively, collaborated with John Cooper Clarke on both a tour and an album, curated his website Mr Demille FM and started on a whole raft of potential projects. I spoke with Hugh just a few days before his return to St Paul’s Worthing on October 19th.

Hugh’s acoustic set will select songs from his 20-album career and will debut a couple of never before heard songs from his upcoming album.

I began by asking Hugh what we can expect this time around.

How things been since you last played St Pauls, was it two years ago?

Yes, two years, things have been good thanks, this time last year I was releasing an album with John Cooper Clarke, so it was a couple of years ago and I remember it being a great venue.

So, what can we expect from this time round, similar to last time?

Yes, I plan to play songs from my whole career but the songs will be different from last time. About half the songs will be a different choice because my catalogue and the stranglers catalogue is vast. There are 10 stranglers albums that’s about 120 songs and 10 solo albums, so that’s another 100 songs. There are over 200 songs to pick from and it’s a shame to keep playing exactly the same selection every time.

How do you choose a set list?

I think last time I picked a song from every album but I am not doing that this time. I am just picking the songs I really like playing.

There will be about a 50/50 split between the Stranglers and my solo catalogue. I am also putting in some new songs from my next album, which was possibly going to be called Villains, but Queens of the Stone Age have just released an album called that. I might call it La Grande Dame, which was a song I debuted last time as an encore, and although that song is not in the set I am playing two new songs from that album.

I presume you must do a different arrangement of the songs when you play a solo set?

That’s right, even the new songs will be a different version to the album. When I do my acoustic shows I always play one of my favourite pieces of music before and after the show. It is by a guy called Mose Allison who was a big influence on me as a teenager and he died a couple of years ago. I wrote this song for him before he died and I was going to ask him to play on it. I am going to play that song and hopefully a few people will pick up on him and his music, he was a real icon for a lot of modern musicians.

Do you still get people turning up you your solo gigs expecting a full band and a set full of Strangler’s songs?

No, I don’t think they do. it took me a while to re-establish my credentials, but I have been making my solo records for over 20 years now and hopefully there are a few good tunes in there and they understand now there is a mix. One of the main reasons I left the Stranglers was to explore a wider range of musical styles.

What is your relationship to that old material?

There are so many good songs and I am excited because there are some of them in this set that I haven’t played for a very long time. It’s nice as they do work well for an arrangement for an acoustic guitar.

Back in the early days, do you think the Stranglers where co-opted into the punk movement by the media, or was that a strategy by the band?

No, you are absolutely right with your first comment. We were co-opted into it, we didn’t have much say in it and it wasn’t just us, the Jam weren’t really a punk band, Blondie weren’t punk, Graham Parker and the Rumour, Elvis Costello but they all got co-opted into that movement, none of us really had much say but we didn’t really care.

The new album is all mastered and good to go, is it?

Yes, we are just waiting to see who we will work with to get it released,

If you had to recommend a book and an album to a good friend, what would they be?

The book would be Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky and the album would be Forever Changes by Love, because those two show what can be achieved in those very different mediums it shows how the limits can be pushed

What was the first album you ever bought?

Believe it or not, it was Cliff Sings, it was just as Cliff was straightening out, he was cool at the beginning and then he got Norrie Paramor in with strings and orchestras and started doing old standards. I bought this album thinking it was going to be full out rock and roll. Turned out that half of it was rock and the other half was this Norrie Paramor old standards, and I have to say, I was a tad disappointed.

If you had to pick one Album or one song from your whole career that best defines you, what would it be?

My personal favourite is a song called Cadiz, which is about a part of the world that I care a lot about and that is very close to my heart. I was very happy with what I created in that song, the mood suits the place and I felt it was a good achievement and I am playing that one on this tour.

What advice do you have for someone setting out on a career in music?

Just that it is very difficult, be prepared for rejection and if you feel you have a great idea then stick to it.

At that point it felt it best to let Hugh get back to his busy schedule, what came across in this conversation was that Hugh is a man who still has a passion for his music, knows what he wants, is still creative and is still very busy doing what he loves.

There has never been a better opportunity to see a punk legend as up close and personal as this. With 20 albums and over 20 top 40 hits to his name, the music speaks for itself. There are still a few tickets available so get yourself along to St Paul’s Worthing to hear some classic songs performed in ways you may never have expected.

To read the full interview please go to my Blog WoMu, a Worthing music blog at worthingmusic.wordpress.com

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