Hugh Cornwell By Ian Ray

17th April 2010

Hugh Cornwell

Hugh Cornwell formed The Guildford Stranglers after he’d returned to Britain from Sweden, where he’d taken up as research post in biochemistry. Shortening their name to The Stranglers, the band became one of the longest-surviving and successful bands to have originated in the punk scene.

Their yobbish early sound matured into an intelligent brand of pop that brought them mainstream recognition. Cornwell has since enjoyed an acclaimed solo career and will be at Komedia, Brighton, on Saturday, May 22. For tickets call 0845 2938480.

s there a performer who made you think, „I want to do that?“

Cliff Richard, believe it or not. When he started out he was a rocker and wore a leather jacket. I told my headmaster that was what I wanted to do, and he told my parents, who freaked out.

Do you remember the first record you bought – what was it, and where did you buy it?

My Feet Hit The Ground/High Class Baby by Cliff. I bought it at a record shop on Tufnell Park Road, can’t remember the name. I used to go in every week and buy a single if I had the money.

Tell us about any guilty pleasures lurking in your CD or film collections – something you know is a bit naff, but you can’t help yourself.

A collection of early Cliff, I get strange looks when I put it on the stereo. Also I have the first two series of The Streets of San Francisco which is classic early ’70s kitsch, and pretty good too. Karl Malden’s nose, a very young Michael Douglas, great cars, suits and haircuts, and fantastic period footage of San Fran.

Do you have a favourite film?

The Misfits, partly because of the fact that it was the last film made by Clark Gable, Montgomery Cliff and Marilyn Monroe. Spooky. But the script by her husband at the time, Henry Miller, is a corker and full of wonderful lines.

Which TV programme couldn’t you live without?

There isn’t one, but I do like to catch Newsnight if I get the chance.

What is your favourite album and why?

Soft Machine One is the greatest rock album ever made. Full of fantastic playing and not a guitar in sight – apart from Kevin Ayers’s bass – and a real sense they’re having fun. Bass, drums and a keyboard. It was one of the first albums recorded in stereo, so the drums are panning all over the place. It makes a guitar player reassess his worth.

Is there a song or individual piece of music you always come back to?

This varies, and is why I don’t listen to a lot of music, as there’s always a tune in my head, sometimes one I haven’t written yet. I recently listened to Tommy again and had Pinball Wizard in my head for days after. I go back to stuff that I heard when I was young a lot, probably for security and reassurance.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am halfway through Don Quixote. I have never met anyone who has finished it so it is a goal of mine to do that. Cervantes wrote some very good verse which is a feature of it.

Do you have a favourite book?

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is one of the finest books I have read in the last ten years, but I prefer to write, rather than read these days, for entertainment.

Is there a live music or theatre experience that stays in your memory?

Chuck Berry at the Astoria [on London’s Charing Cross Road], Ziggy Stardust at the same place, The Stranglers in Nice before the riot in the 1980s [members of the band were arrested after riots began after The Stranglers concert. They commemorated the episode in their song Nice In Nice].

You’ll be playing the first Stranglers record Rattus Norvegicus IV in its entirety at your Brighton show – has it been fun going back to reinterpret those songs?

Yes, most definitely. Some of the songs I have never attempted to sing before, which was a challenge. The trick was to pick the most important keyboard elements and either play them on guitar or bass, or sing them!

You’ll also be playing your new album Hooverdam. Has it been an opportunity to reflect on the way your work has changed over the time in between?

Funnily enough, they sit quite nicely side-by-side.

The new record’s available to download for free at your site – what prompted the decision to get your music out there in that way?

It was a new venture, to see if we could encourage people who would never bother to listen to me normally to take a chance with it.

But you have to be confident in what you’re giving away for free. The physical version of Hooverdam has a free 70-minute movie which is a performance of the album in the studio, plus some interviews. Also it may make people curious to come and see a show.

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