Hugh Cornwell interview

Hugh Cornwell – interview

Incredibly, Hugh Cornwell left the Stranglers 32 years ago. In that period, he has released eight studio albums, as well as a collaboration with Dr John Cooper-Clarke, to add to the solo album he released whilst still a Strangler, and Nosferatu with Robert Williams. Across those albums, he has established his own voice and continued his keen eye as a songwriter. In October, he releases his tenth solo album, Moments of Madness. Louder Than War caught up with him for a chat, and he remains as interesting, erudite and intelligent as ever.  

LTW: Your new album, Moments of Madness, is out 21st October.

HC: Have you heard it?

Yeah, I’m enjoying it. I’ve listened to it quite a few times. I’ve got one of the songs going round and round in my head: When I Was a Young Man.

Ah, good. That means it’s catchy then! Which is a good thing.

This is, I believe, if I’ve counted them right, your tenth solo album.

So they tell me.

Which doesn’t count Nosferatu.

Yeah, that was a collaboration with Robert Williams.

And this is the first album that, I think, you’ve played everything on and produced yourself?

It’s actually, more or less, the same credits as for my last album, for Monster. Not all the bass was played on the last album, but this one I played all the bass and the drums, which I did with my engineer Phil Andrews.

Is it a very different experience when you’re playing it all yourself, and producing it all yourself, than in a band or with a producer?

It’s what I’ve naturally gravitated towards, recording and writing at the same time. I’ll get ideas for songs and the lyrics, but I deliberately don’t finish them off before I commit it to a recording. So that leaves an element of unexpectedness about it, and leaves room for accidents to happen, or pleasant surprises to happen. Obviously, if you have players recording as well, that limits you because they need to prepare for the recording. I remember on Totem and Taboo (2012 album – LTW), the players on that were Chris Bell and Steve Fishman, who did the drums and bass, and it was all written and rehearsed before it was recorded. So, there was no element of spontaneity in that recording. Now, when I start in the studio putting a song together, I don’t actually know where it’s going to end up. I kinda like that, the quirkiness of it, the chance encounters, the things that happen totally by accident that end up being good moments.

Does it become a long process then, when you’re doing it yourself, building up the tracks bit by bit?

Now this is the second album that I’ve done like this, after Monster, it’s actually getting easier. This one we finished in a shorter amount of time than Monster.

Is this the way ahead, then? The next album will be recorded the same way?

Well, there’s the old expression: if it works don’t fix it. And Pat Hughes and Windsor McGilvray, who are my two wonderful live musicians, are quite happy to be presented with a given recording and then learn their parts. But when they’re learning those parts, they then try things out, they change things, to put their own stamp on it. And they’re very good. You know, they say, “Do you like that? I’ve put in something here.” So the live versions will be slightly different and thank God they are.

“I’m not totally anti-keyboards, but I don’t find them very rock ‘n’ roll.”

I saw you this year, a few months back, and it was interesting, because some of the songs that you did, from the Wolf period – the recorded versions from back then had a very poppy, 80s sound, but live they had a real edge to them, a really rocky sound.

Well, there you go. The thing is that on Wolf, there’s quite a bit of keyboard playing. And that might have had something to do with it because keyboards – and I’m not totally anti-keyboards, but I don’t find them very rock ‘n’ roll – as soon as you put keyboards on something you fill in all the spaces in between the notes. They’re all filled up by a keyboard wash. “Put your music through a keyboard wash and it will remove all the spaces.” It’s like an advert for a washing powder.

The first thing I noticed about the new album was the cover, which has a picture of you in Popish green garb with a wonky eye. It reminded me a bit of a Francis Bacon.

Ah, interesting. There is an explanation behind that front cover, but it won’t be revealed until one sees the back on the finished sleeve. Because it’s an interpretation of a picture. It’s a moment of madness – all will be revealed!

We then discuss the new album, song by song.

The first track on the album is called Coming Out of the Wilderness, which I think is a very strong opening track, with a 60s feel, but with a 50s guitar riff at one point.

It’s sort of like an American band with the jangly chords and a lot of echoes, and a bit of a Gothic sound. As soon as I recorded it, I said we’ve got to make it like that, because it was crying out for it.

It’s interesting because most people talk about wanting to get back to nature, connecting with nature, whereas this song is all about coming back out of the wilderness, coming back into civilization.

Exactly. It’s a bit of a nod to the lockdown situation, but with, hopefully, a more poetic way of describing it. I spent a lot of lockdown out in the country. So, it was a nice feeling of liberation to get back in the city

Did you struggle during lockdown?

Not at all. And a lot of creative people I’ve spoken to feel the same. It was almost like an enforced blessing in disguise, because if you’re creative, then being forced to be alone, helps that process. Because of the nature of what I do, and I’m a Londoner anyway, I spend a lot of time in London. But during lockdown, there was no reason to be in London because you couldn’t do anything. Nothing was open. It’s pointless to be in a city, if nothing’s open.

But obviously, also in your sector of work, you had people unable to gig and make money.

Yeah, unfortunately. When we started again, earlier this year, we went out with The Undertones. I actually got so carried away with the excitement, the enjoyment of singing again, that I overdid it and I lost my voice for the first time ever. I lost my voice for ten days and three of the dates had to be rescheduled for December.

So, I guess another plus, was a renewed enthusiasm for playing live?   

It was nice to rediscover that. It’s like: “Now I remember why I like doing this!”

“Everyone should have the piss taken out of them, because everyone suffers from self-importance.”

Talking about live gigs, I must ask you something. Particularly in The Stranglers days, you could be very droll, with a wonderful sense of humour between songs, but also quite antagonistic at times. I wonder how much of that was put on or whether you really sometimes didn’t like the crowd?

Well, no, I’m very into self-mockery. And I think everyone should have the piss taken out of them because everyone suffers from self-importance. And really, we are, each of us, very insignificant. And I think we need to be reminded of that. Part of that is I make fun of myself, and I make fun of other people and some people don’t like it when I do that. But I think they’re taking themselves too seriously. And these days, you cannot make a joke, or be flippant about anything because you’re gonna upset somebody and I think that’s a great shame.

Sometimes at gigs I went to back in the day, you made me laugh out loud because you were so funny. I thought you could probably have a career as a stand-up comedian.

I have thought about it occasionally.

Back in the early days of The Stranglers, some of the crowd could be very aggressive, so probably did need taking down a peg or two.

I remember the most profitable case of that happening was when we were playing a gig in the East End of London: some very rough bar in the early days. And they were throwing coins at us. I mean, not tossing them, they were actually throwing them like missiles at us. And a couple of coins hit me and I looked down and there were five pence pieces and pennies, so I said, “You bunch of cheapskates, five pence!” So then they started throwing fifty pence pieces instead! And we cleaned up afterwards. There was about 150 quid on the stage!

Which back then was a lot of money!

It was indeed.

The next song on the album is called Red Rose. This seems to be a fairly straightforward song about not liking tattoos.

I’d be very sad if it says that I don’t like them. My jury is out on them. It’s a muse about tattoos. I’m trying to understand in the song why people like them. I don’t want to have a tattoo. I can’t think of anything I’d like less to do to my body. But a lot of people love getting them. It all started in Canada, in Toronto, using tattoos as body art in an extravagant way, like it’s being done now. I remember going there in the middle of the 90s and seeing people on the street. A lot of women, more women than men actually, displaying these vast tattoos across their shoulders and across their collarbones, and I just could not understand it.

I guess it’s another form of body adornment. But the thing is that you can take earrings out at the end of the day; you can’t take a tattoo out. And they won’t go away, you’ve got them for life. You can go and get them removed, but it’s very painful and does it work? Do they go completely or do they leave a ghost? Imagine having a tattoo of your girlfriend and then you break up. For the rest of your life, you’re gonna be looking at it, be reminded, of that, for the rest of your life. That doesn’t appeal to me at all.

One of the lines in the song is about it being the end of memory. Is that what you’re referring to there?

Yeah, that’s what I mean.

One of the things I find interesting about tattoos, is that they were originally for people like sailors, convicts and prostitutes.

Yeah, they were alternative.

But eventually all these subcultures seem to come into the mainstream.

It becomes absorbed into the status quo. Now it’s like, ‘Hey, be different, get a tattoo!’ But that doesn’t really ring true anymore.

Whenever I’ve been tempted, I could never decide. What can I live with forever?

Yeah, what’re you gonna put: ‘mom?’ ‘I love mom’? I mean, I could live with that. If I had to have a tattoo, I’d have: ‘I still love mom’.

So it’s you just trying to understand the attraction. Because I know you really enjoy art.

Yeah, yeah, I’m an art lover. I’m just trying to understand it.

Next track is Iwannahideinsideya, which sounds like, with the world in the state it is, just looking for some respite from it.  

We just want to crawl off into a hole somewhere and escape.

When you sing a song like this, are you talking about escaping from global problems, or personal problems?

Both. Everyone’s got stuff they want to get away from. A lot of the time, I compare life to being on a boat. Who’s navigating? Which way are we going? Who’s in charge here? Who’s looking out for the water coming in over the side and who’s gonna make sure we don’t sink? These are all sort of similes, a metaphor for life. I just went to town on that metaphoric use of a boat.

We’re all toilers on the sea.Hugh Cornwell – interview

Yeah, Victor Hugo said it well.

Next track, Looking For You, has a very Doors-like, psychedelic feel.

I have a lot of dreams. During the lockdown, I found that I was dreaming a lot. I was having some very interesting dreams and I was meeting a lot of people in these dreams that I’d never met before. I was meeting a lot of women, not dirty dreams or anything. But I was just in dreams with people that I haven’t met and I just wondered if I’m ever going to meet them. So there’s the element in that song which is about the people that you meet in dreams, and sometimes it’s people you recognise and sometimes they’re people that you don’t. And you think, who’s that? I have had that situation before where I dreamt of somebody in a dream, it was a lady, and I met her a few years later: a German girl. And we ended up dating for quite a while. It’s interesting. Do these strangers in your dreams actually exist?

The next song, which is the one that’s been going round my head, is When I Was a Young Man. It’s got a fast beat, almost like a train careering down the tracks, which may be symbolic of time passing quickly.

Oh, I like that. You’re quite poetic, aren’t you?

Was that intentional or not?

I’ll take it. It makes sense.

On the song, you do talk about not wanting to be young again, or not wanting to go back to being a young man.

Yeah, there’s no attraction. I don’t know how young people these days deal with it, especially in this almost draconian atmosphere of PC and not being open, or having no freedom of expression. I don’t know how they cope and they’re all taking it lying down. They’re all just acquiescing to it and going ‘okay, I can’t make a joke’. Where’s their fight? When you see your freedom of expression is being taken away from you, you should fight back, but they’re so acquiescent. I don’t see any attraction about being young.

“I was never a young man in rock.”

So you say you don’t want to be young now in this time, but would you like to go back to being young in your time?

I still feel young. I might not look as young as I used to, but the thing is, I came to rock ‘n’ roll late in life, or relatively late in life, after university, at the age of 25. I was no bright, fresh-eyed sixteen-year-old kid. I was almost middle-aged when I started in terms of rock ‘n’ roll. I was never a young man in rock.

At what point did you first think about being in a band then? Would that have been when you were around twenty-five?

No, I was in a band at school with Richard Thompson, who later started Fairport Convention. He was forming a band, and as he was a mate, I asked if I could be in it. And he said, “Yeah, okay, we need a bass player.” He taught me how to play bass and that’s how I started. That was at the age of fifteen or sixteen. So I got the bug early on, but then I didn’t do anything about it for ten years.

“We moved down to Guildford and started drinking all his booze and selling ice cream.”

You were teaching for a while?

Well, the time I did a bit of teaching was to make ends meet when The Stranglers were first starting. I was drawing Social Security, and they called me inside the office one day and said, “If you don’t find yourself a job, we’ll find one for you.” So I immediately rushed out to buy the local paper, this was in Guildford, and I saw an ad for supply teachers to teach Biology, and I had Biology qualifications. In those days, this was a long time ago, you didn’t need a teacher’s training certificate. All you needed was a university degree and you were qualified to teach. I guess there must have been an acute teacher shortage then, because I don’t think you could get away with that now. But anyway, it was accepted. So that’s when I was a teacher for about a year, when The Stranglers first started.

Before that you were living in Sweden for a time?

That’s right and I had a band there. We were called Johnny Sox. The guy that started all that off was Hans Wärmling, who was a male nurse in the hospital there. It was a town very famous for its hospital, called Lund, and I met him and he took me up to where he lived and he had a reel-to-reel tape recorder and a lovely semi-acoustic Gibson electric guitar and a microphone. I was well impressed. He played me these songs that he’d written and said, “I have all these songs that I’ve written, but I need somebody to write the lyrics.”

I was really lacking in self-confidence at that time, but I knew a guy, an American poet, who was a draft dodger, called Gyrth Godwin. So I put them together. I said, “Well, Hans! This guy – he’s a poet; you could write some songs together.” So those two started writing songs together and I became the rhythm guitarist in the band. But then Hans had an argument with the singer and he left. So we had bass, drums, rhythm guitar, and singer, and we moved to England, and started playing on the pub circuit with bands like Dr Feelgood. Then Jimmy Carter got into power in America and launched an amnesty for all the draft dodgers. So the two draft dodgers, the drummer and the singer, wanted to go back to America. So they left and suddenly we needed a drummer.

I put an ad in Melody Maker and interviewed all these prospective drummers and Jet Black, Brian Duffy back then, was the only one that made any sense on the phone. So we met him and he said, “Come down to Guildford; don’t live in this squat in Camden Town in London. I’ve got a house above an off-licence and an ice cream business.” And we said, “Yay!” We moved down to Guildford and started drinking all his booze in the off-licence, and selling ice cream.

Then the singer, who was another American draft dodger, and the bass player, who was Swedish, they got itchy feet. They decided to initially go back to Sweden, and then the American went back to America with his wife and child, which left me alone with Jet, a guy I’d only met a couple of months before, in his off-licence and ice cream business. But his heart was in the right place and he was committed, which was what I was looking for.

One day, I borrowed a bottle of wine and went around to John Burnel’s flat, whom I’d met briefly a few months before. I knew that he played classical guitar. It’s funny because he started off as a fingerstyle, classical Spanish guitarist, and I started off as a bass player, and then we ended up exchanging roles. Anyway, I said, “Come on, join our band; you can play bass.” But he said that he was thinking of saving up some money and going to California to work at the Harley Davidson factory. And I said, “Look, forget that. Join the band. Stick with me, kid and you’ll be able to buy your own Harley Davidson.” And he believed me.

And you were right!

I was right! And getting him drunk got him on my side too!

So then there were three of us: Jet Black, me and Burnel. We started rehearsing, but we realised we needed a lead instrument, that there was something missing. So I said, “I know this great guy, back in Sweden, who can play guitar, keyboard, saxophone and can write great melodies,” which was Hans Wärmling. I got in touch with Hans and I told him I’d got a great new band and to come over and join us. He quit his job the next day and came over to Guildford. It went really well for a while. Hans mostly played guitar, but some keyboards as well as sax. We started writing, and one of the songs we wrote was Strange Little Girl. I remember that it took us just ten minutes.

I’d been out selling some ice creams and came back to the off-licence. Hans was sat at the piano tinkling the ivories, and it was the music to Strange Little Girl. I told him it sounded really good and he said, “This will be a great song, Hugh! You have to write some lyrics.” So I did and that was Strange Little Girl written. We recorded it as one of our demos, because everyone loved it; it was such a strong song. We sent it to EMI, but they said it wasn’t what they were looking for. Funnily enough, about six years later, they released it is a single and it climbed into the top ten. (No7 in August 1982 – LTW)

Which was the last single you released with EMI.

Yeah, exactly. So Hans was the fifth Strangler. He was there in the beginning. But we had to learn all these cover versions, which is where Walk on By came from, in order to get gigs. But Hans didn’t like this, he thought all our songs were as good as the cover songs, so why did we have to learn these shitty songs?  And he had a point, but to do the gigs, we had to do songs that people knew, and sneak in a couple of our own. It was a necessary part of our development.

Then one day, we were going to do a gig and we had an argument about it in the ice cream van, and he said, “I don’t want to play these songs, these shitty songs, anymore. We should be writing our own songs.” He stopped the van, got out, and said he was going back to Sweden. We went off to the gig and did it as a trio, and nobody said, “Where’s your lead instrument?” And they loved it. Whenever it came to the part that was going to be a solo, we just played it instrumentally, without any lead. I couldn’t really play lead; I still can’t, but then I could play nothing. I had no confidence and didn’t know what I was doing. The crowd loved it, so we thought about playing as a trio, maybe like The Jam, but we decided to look for a replacement for Hans. We tried a few people out and ended up with Dave Greenfield, and it went on from there.

I always find these stories of how bands form so interesting because there is so much coincidence and chance involved.

Absolutely. And there’s no explanation. It just happens. It’s the beauty and mystery of life. The Stranglers could have been a band with no keyboards at one stage, because there were a lot of shows without them when Hans was in the group. And his testament is that song, Strange Little Girl, which is an absolute gem.

And the recorded version, when it eventually came out, was that very similar to the original version?

Yeah, Dave listened to what Hans had done on the demo and then did his own interpretation.

And Hans died quite young.

Yeah, he died maybe twenty years ago now (1995, LTW). And Dave, of course, sadly passed away a couple of years ago.

Onto the title track: Moments of Madness. Is this the first time, solo, that you’ve done a reggae song?

Yeah, it is the first time. With The Stranglers, we never really did a reggae song. We did pseudo reggae, like Peaches. Nice and Sleazy had a weird sort of reggae beat with odd timing, but it wasn’t really reggae. So this was my first real stab at it.

Lyrically, it has touches of Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear.

That’s good that you say that, because we have got an animation film to go with that track, and it is quite Edward Learish. So look out for that when it comes out.

The track Beware of the Doll reminds me of a 50s film noir. I presume when you are talking about the doll, it’s a femme fatale figure?

Yeah, absolutely. “You’re sinking from a foot above.” It’s someone pushing you into the water, or the ground. Beware of the femme fatale.

You do the Mr DeMille FM podcasts, where you discuss movies, and I know you’re a big movie buff. Are you a film noir fan?

I love film noir. There were so many made that it’s hard to keep track of them all and some are so difficult to find. They’re not all good, but all of them have some redeeming factors: something about them which makes it worth watching. It’s a very, very creative genre in cinema. All the people that were responsible for the look of the films were Eastern European emigrés, geniuses who fled from Europe because of the war and ended up in Hollywood. They’re like works of art.

One of my favourite tracks of yours, related to film noir, is The Big Sleep off Hi-Fi, which is about Robert Mitchum. Was he a big star for you?

Oh, totally, yeah. I was a big Robert Mitchum fan.

I remember seeing him in that film Charles Laughton directed, playing a preacher. Was it Touch of Evil?

It was Night of the Hunter, which is a great film. Touch of Evil is the Orson Welles film with Charlton Heston.

That’s right, with that amazing one shot at the start.

You know your stuff! I did have the pleasure of meeting Charlton Heston. The Stranglers were on tour and we’d just played Sheffield. Heston was performing at the Crucible Theatre there. I’d gone back to the hotel to check in and Charlton Heston walked past. I watched and he went into the bar area. So I got a pen and paper from the guy behind the desk and I went and asked him for his autograph, but I had to be very careful how I approached him.

I thought, “What am I going to say?” I thought, “Let’s be honest. I absolutely love The Planet of the Apes; the first film is just genius.” So I went up to him and said, “Mr Heston, sorry to bother you, but I just wanted to say how fantastic Planet of the Apes was.” He was immediately on my side and I got his autograph. I’d love to have interviewed him for Mr. DeMille FM, but it’s too late.

It’s fun to hear that someone whom I admire is just as nervous approaching someone they admire.

We’ve all got people that we admire. Like Lou Reed, who I almost met. Someone set up a meeting between us. There’s a song on Monster about it (Mr Leather, LTW). I was gonna go down to where Lou was rehearsing in New York and our mutual friend was going to introduce us and leave us to it. Apparently Lou was looking forward to meeting me too, which was very nice to know. But the day before it was gonna happen, I got a terrible, terrible flu, and I found out that Lou got terrible flu too, probably the same one.

We were both stricken and bedridden in different parts of New York. And then that night it snowed and it was the worst snowstorm in New York history. I suddenly thought, “Shit, I’m gonna get stuck here if they close the airports,” so I just got out on the last flight from Newark Airport. And the situation never arose again for us to meet, so I never met Lou. But I got a song out of it.

The other musician I remember you doing a song about is Bob Dylan.

Yeah, just being Bob – it’s a 24/7 job.

I thought it was a clever song, because what is it like being Bob Dylan 24/7?

Dylan is very clever because he’s kept his private life very private. He is the total anathema of social media. I don’t do any social media. It’s all a waste of time. And you’re sacrificing your privacy. And he doesn’t do anything. He just remains in the background, a private person. And he’s survived remarkably well. Part of the reason is because he doesn’t take part in all that stuff. There’s a lesson to be learned there.

Turning to the next track, Too Much Trash. I remember years ago reading an article you’d written in Strangled about your hatred for rubbish. I guess the situation hasn’t got any better.

It’s a pet hate of mine. I spend a lot of time in the countryside, in the West Country, and there’s a road sign I saw the other day that was very clever. It says ‘Don’t be a Tosser’, and it’s got a crunched up can. It’s a brilliant ad, but it’s too subtle. They should be fining people. I’m forever seeing cans and stuff that people have obviously just thrown out of their car windows. What the fuck’s going on? It’s awful. So I had to say something about the trash.

I don’t know about you, but when I first started going abroad, one of the first things that struck me was how clean everywhere was.

Yeah, absolutely. We’re pigs. The English population is pigs as far as trash and rubbish goes. It’s very sad.

“The English population is pigs as far as trash and rubbish goes.”

Let’s move on to happier things: Lasagne! It’s got a great 50s rock riff, like Buddy Holly, but you’ve confused me because it’s a song about lasagne and pasta in Mexico.

It’s a ‘slice of life’ song. There’s an Italian couple who run an ice cream gelateria in Mexico, and the female of the couple cooks the best lasagne that I’ve ever had anywhere in the world, including anywhere in Italy. It’s her momma’s recipe and it’s absolutely stunning. I got to know them because I go there quite a bit, and the last time I was there, pre-COVID, I said, “You know what, I’ve got to write a song about your lasagne.” And they laughed and thought I was just joking. But then I did it, and sent it to them to hear, and they absolutely freaked out! They couldn’t believe I’d actually done it. It’s one of the beauties of being able to write a song. You can write in praise of something, or someone, you know, and offer it to the outside world.

So you can go from criticising trash, to praising well-made food.

Exactly. My songwriting is my soapbox, really. And maybe I can influence people. Maybe if someone hears the trash song, they will stop and think before littering.

I guess that’s one of the best things about having quite a wide reach, that maybe you can influence people.

Hopefully in a positive way.

Hugh Cornwell – interview

There’s quite a bit of word play on Lasagne, which I think is something you like. I’m thinking of songs like Hot Cat on a Tin Roof, Do Right Bayou and Dark Side of the Room.

I think words are something you can have fun with and I enjoy it.

Can you get a whole song just from a common phrase?

Absolutely right, yes. And I’m gonna write a song about being PC, called Boo to a Goose. You can’t even say ‘Boo’ to a goose anymore.

I’ll look forward to hearing that!

Hopefully I’ll get it done.

The last song on the album is called Heartbreak at Seven. It’s got a cool 60s sound and seems to be about that moment when you’re going along quite happily, and then, boom!

Absolutely. That was the first song that I started making for the album that actually ended up being on the album.

It’s that moment of falling in love?

Yeah and being knocked out in the fourth round; you’re on the ground again.

So what is the seven?

It’s my diary. This actually happened to me, and it was at seven o’clock in the evening.

It never works out well, does it – love?

At least I got another song out of it.

So now you’re gonna take it out on the road, starting in Oxford.

Yeah, that’s right. We’re going to be playing half of the album. We’ve picked five of them and three-quarters of the set is new for us. It’s stuff we haven’t played before, which is quite an interesting thing to look forward to. It will be the new album and then some stuff from my solo albums that I’ve never played before. It’s going to be interesting. We do two sets and the second set is going to be Stranglers songs. I feel a bit like a Stranglers tribute band on that second set.

“There will be two Stranglers songs that nobody has ever, ever heard played live before.”

 So that makes two Stranglers tribute bands out there.

But the thing is I don’t have keyboards, so my arrangements are slightly different, maybe a bit edgier because there’s no wash, as we’ve talked about. We’ve got a pool of about twenty-five Stranglers songs to choose from. To make it more interesting and stimulating, we’ll pick different ones every night. But there will be two Stranglers songs that nobody has ever, ever heard played live before. That’s two Stranglers songs that no line-up has ever played live.

The minute you say that I’m wondering, “Wow, what are they going to be?”

They sound great! And not a keyboard in sight.

Playing songs live that you have never played before, solo ones and Stranglers – is that a way of testing yourself, pushing yourself?

I don’t want people to be saying: “Hugh’s out on tour again and he did those songs again. Oh yeah, expected him to do that.” I’d hate that. I don’t want to be predictable. It pushes our limits and our boundaries, makes us try a bit harder. Why should we play the same set that we did earlier in the year? Why? I mean, what for? Just convenience? No, the people deserve more than that.

When I saw you earlier this year, you surprised the crowd with some songs off Nosferatu.

Yeah, we’ll be pulling a few more of those out. It was bloody hard, too. It took us six months to learn Big Bug. They’re very, very complex songs on Nosferatu.

How do you view Nosferatu now? It sounded out of its time then, and still sounds out of its time!

It’s still ahead of its time! There were some very quirky moments making that record and it’s a nightmare to try and learn to play, because of the mix on it. I’m not that happy with the mix that we ended up with because, a lot of times, I can’t hear what the guitar is doing. That’s the same with a lot of The Stranglers stuff as well. The guitars were mixed down, and the keyboards and the bass got mixed up. The guitar lost out. It makes it very hard to work out sometimes what I was actually doing. If I had access to the multitrack tapes, I could isolate them, but I don’t. So sometimes I have to guess what I was playing, which is a shame, but it’s approximately correct.

When you listen to your old stuff, is it a strange experience?

It’s like listening to another band. When we’re learning a Stranglers song that we haven’t played for a long time, it could be anything, by any band, that I’m trying to learn. I’ve been making records on my own now for many years and become my own beast and my own brand, so when I listen back to the Stranglers, it’s as if I’m learning other people’s work. Although it’s mine, it’s very strange, surreal. It’s a surreal feeling. It’s quite odd. Unusual.

And what else does the future hold?

(sings) “What does the future hold, will he get out soon? Is there someone out there who’ll phone him this afternoon?” That’s from This Prison’s Going Down, my song about Arthur Lee. When someone mentions a line that’s from one of my lyrics, I go into the song that it’s from.

What does the future hold? I’m working on a new novel and I’m about a third of the way through that. And we are having some very exciting animation films made to go with the new album. Three are finished already, and I’m waiting for the final cut on another one that’s being made in New York, for Coming Out of the Wilderness. That is going to be the next single, just before the album comes out. So that’s quite nice getting involved in all that. And Mr. Demille FM is carrying on. It’s nice to keep busy.

I remember the animated video to Another Kind of Love, which was great fun.

Yeah, that was stop-frame animation. We’ve done a stop-frame video for Trash. He was a great filmmaker, Jan Švankmajer. He’s from Prague and is still alive and still making films.

Have you plans for any more acting?

I haven’t been invited to do any acting for a long time. But I’ve sort of swapped to the other side of the camera and started writing screenplays. It’s fun and quite involved creatively with the film-making process. If you’re just given a script as an actor, that’s what you have to do, whereas if you’re on the other side, involved with the writing, then you’re actually creating it, which is a more influential part, and by default, more interesting in a way. You’re more involved with the making of the actual production. If you’re an actor, you just turn up, do your bit, and then you go to the next job. It’s quite fascinating, all the processes that are involved in making a film.

We will keep our eyes peeled for that.

I will say, it’s a lot like paint drying. It’s a very, very slow process and COVID has decimated the film business, but it’s slowly getting back into gear.

It’s good to see you being so creative. It’s been great to talk to you and good luck with the album and tour.

It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you.

Moments of Madness will be released on 21st October, 2022 and can be pre-ordered here.

Hugh Cornwell goes out on tour on the following dates:

Milton Keynes, Stables – Friday 4 November 2022

Hull, The Welly – Saturday 5 November 2022

Exeter Phoenix – Wednesday 9 November 2022

Southampton, The 1865 – Thursday 10 November 2022

Cardiff Y Plas – Friday 11 November 2022

Brighton, Concorde 2 – Saturday 12 November 2022

Bristol, The Fleece – Sunday 13 November 2022

Lincoln Platform – Wednesday 16 November 2022

Bury St Edmunds, The Apex – Thursday 17 November 2022

Newcastle, Wylam Brewery – Friday 18 November 2022

Leeds, Brudenell Social Club – Saturday 19 Novemeber 2022

Chester, Live Rooms – Sunday 20 November 2022

Chinnery’s, Southend – Wednesday 23 November 2022

Islington Assembly Hall – Thursday 24 November 2022

Bilston, The Robin – Friday 25 November 2022

Manchester, Gorilla – Saturday 26 November 2022

The Venue, Derby – Sunday 27 November 2022

Carlisle, The Old Fire Station – Wednesday 30 November 2022

Edinburgh, La Belle Angele – Thursday 1 December 2022

Glasgow, The Garage – Friday 2 December 2022

Lemon Tree, Aberdeen – Saturday 3 December 2022

Nottingham, Rescue Rooms – Monday 5 December 2022

Norwich, Waterfront – Tuesday 6 December 2022

Hugh Cornwell can be found online here, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.


Interviewed by Mark Ray, for Louder Than War. More writing by Mark Ray can be found at his author archive. And he can be found on Twitter, Instagram and WordPress.

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