Mention the name Hugh Cornwell in any polite circles and I’ll guarantee you’ll get comments along the lines of "Ooh, he’s aright mean looking brute" or "I wouldn’t like to tangle with him on a dark night."
Let his name, or that of The Stranglers, pass your lips in front of a posse of journalists and you’d have thought you’d said Attila the Hun was about to give a posthumous press conference.
I tell you, I was about ready to name the colour of my carnations after all the, shall we say, distinctly unsavoury anecdotes of "what happened when I interviewed one of The Stranglers".
And after reading the biog with Hugh’s latest single One In A Million, I thought I’d probably be in for a trial-run of "Mastermind", to boot.
Not only is Hugh (ex-teacher, degree in biochemistry) a full-time Strangler, he has also found time to act, appear in films, write film music, record his first solo material since the album Nosferatu - in fact he generally keeps up a schedule which would send a lesser mortal into a fit of the vapours!
The Stranglers have taken up most of Hugh’s energies for the last 10 years (yes, it really has been that long!). His first solo LP Nosferatu was released a couple of years back. Nevertheless he’s still found gaps in which to appear in a three man-play with bouncing Bob Hoskins and Stephen ("Angel", "Company Of Wolves") Rea at the Almeida Theatre in Islington.
It was even mooted that Hugh would work again with Bob, but neither the former or the latter has managed to get together in the same country yet! The silver screen, too, has had the benefit of Hugh’s presence. He’s appeared in two films so far, most recent of which, "Bleeding Star", directed by French Director Bertrand Fevre, has Hugh in the lead role as the victim of the piece. He also wrote the music for it, a track from which, Siren Song, backs up One In A Million.
Clichés aside about chalk and cheese, the tracks on this single couldn’t be further from what we would expect from the erstwhile snarling-man-in-black. One In A Million is a surprisingly gentle - nay almost serene - song, the lyrics of which would lead one to believe that Hugh has almost succumbed to a crashing fit of the broodies. Ok, Hugh, come on. Tell us what its all about then.
"No, because its not the right time now to be talking about the content of it. It’s just a nice pop song, a nice melody and that’s all it should be taken as…there’s no message - at the moment!"
"I don’t want to depress anyone. It’s just a nice personal song, to a child, with some nice emotional words. I just thought it was a shame not to do something with it because the band didn’t want to do it."
One In A Million is already attracting the attention of HMS Radio 1 and looks like being a prominent feature of the playlists very soon. Hardly surprising, considering the song is delightfully commercial and melodic.
In fact, its a damn good song, me dears! Hugh leaves me in no doubt that he thinks so, too. There’s something rather engaging in the way he leaps up from the chair with unabashed enthusiasm, as he plays me the 12 inch version.
He says he found the chance to work with people other than his usual partners in crime quite refreshing. It would appear, too, that there’s plenty more material lying around for another solo album. it’s just down to (again) finding time for it all.
"I think I might go back in with Howard (Gray) again after The Stranglers album. It’s just nice to work with someone else."
The musicians he used on the single are all people he knows either personally, like Nigel Bennett who used to play guitar with The Members and is currently with XTC, or people whose past work he likes. He roped in Pete Phipps , once skin-basher with the ubiquitous Glitter Band and Nick Plytas, the man responsible for Anne Pigalle’s musical direction. Hugh worked with Howard Gray, the producer, a few years ago, on La Folie.
Like the majority of his fellow song-writers, Hugh claims not to listen to any of his peers and seems totally uninspired by what’s happening in the charts. His particular loves are Gene Pitney, Roy Orbison, Ennio Morricone and "all that dramatic stuff".
"The only thing I got excited about (and you’ll probably laugh when I say this) is a band in Bath called The Glee Club, who I think are fantastic. They play old Louis Jordan stuff from the 1940’s, but instead of the brass, they play it all on guitars. They’re so refreshing and new - it’s wonderful! Everything else I hear is very derivative…"
Hugh is currently engaged in recording The Stranglers new album. Recording starts in September.
When he’s able to, Hugh spends as much time as possible at his home in deepest Wiltshire where he’s been living, on and off, for the past seven years.
"I’m glad I’m not there all the time, though, because you don’t appreciate something unless you can compare it with something else. It’s so comfortable down there and pleasant, if you stay there too long - you just don’t appreciate it anymore. You lapse into lethargy and complacency."
"Anyway, for some reason the air down in the West Country is very heavy and damp. People get very tired, very quickly…you find yourself sleeping all the time."
So is Hugh Cornwell finally mellowing out and stepping down from the soapbox so beloved of many of our contemporary armchair radicalists? Hugh smiles bemusedly.
"You can’t be an angry young man if you’re not a young man anymore!" (Not that I’d have dared to suggest anything of the sort. He’s probably the sort of person who was born looking 35 years old).
"In the mid-Seventies, when I was trying to do something new and to establish a base, then I was angry because I was fighting for a recognition of something. Then once you’ve got that, to continue fighting is just a complete waste of energy. Once you’ve formed your base point, then you can start putting your energy into other things. You’ve got your recognition.
"I mean, it’s great. I bring this single out and everyone’s interested in knowing about it - I feel very fortunate. Ten years ago that wouldn’t have been the case. To not change one’s reaction to that situation would be to deny reality.
"The priority for me has always been to create, to write, to express and do as many things as possible. To me, speaking out is not a priority anymore - I can do that in a song. You might not know about it! I see it as an alternative form of expression. I don’t see the point in ranting because I express myself through what I do."
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