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:: Spotlight :: Interview with singer-songwriter and ex-Strangler Hugh Cornwell.

By: Saeed Saeed

The summer of 1990. The venue is Alenxandra Palace. The ‘Sold Out’ sign hangs outside the London theatre as 2 thousands screaming fans are crammed inside and enjoying another heady Stranglers gig that included all their biggest hits such as ‘Peaches’, ‘No More Heroes’, ‘Always The Sun’, ‘Skin Deep’ and off course ‘Golden Brown’. The latter recently been voted 10th best British song by radio listeners in the UK. If you were the writer of such musical landmarks you think you would be content. But for Hugh Cornwell, chief song writer of The Stranglers, that gig signalled the end of his association with the legendary new wave outfit. He promptly announced his decision to leave the band after he stepped of the stage.

Fast forward sixteen years later and Cornwell is more relaxed and in a much happier place both creatively and geographically. “At the moment I’m just chilling out in Spain, just prior to coming down to Australia” he replies when asked how life is treating him.

This is a far cry from the tumultuous period when he parted ways with the band. He cited that his experience with The Stranglers ended up becoming “a bit like having a noose” around his artistic neck and that it was time for him to challenge himself creatively again. “I like to take risks and I like to keep myself interested in something by posing new challenges….and when anything gets too easy it gets a little bit boring”.

Leaving such a successful band was certainly not an easy decision for Cornwell and he experienced a period of creative depression immediately afterwards. But Cornwell remains resolute about the wisdom of his decision to leave The Stranglers. “I never had doubts about the decision I made but it was very difficult at the beginning. I didn’t want to play the guitar for a long time and I didn’t want to hear any Stranglers songs”. The indefinite hiatus from music aside, the most painful battle that Cornwell had to face was of an identity crisis. “It was very difficult to discover who I really was cause I been in the framework of four people working for so long…You really don’t find out who you really are till you leave that sort of objective”.

Cornwell’s continuous journey of self discovery has resulted in 4 studio albums that he recorded since then. ‘Wired’ (1993), ‘Guilty’ (1997) and ‘Hi-fi’ (2001) all achieved success in Europe and showcased a wider variety to his songwriting that he never managed to display as part of The Stranglers. His latest stop in his musical odyssey is ‘Beyond Elysian Fields’, a delightfully stripped back acoustic affair that is laced with his trademark evocative lyricism and catchy hooks.

Listening to his latest single, the stomping ‘Under Her Spell’, one is reminded of why The Stranglers were such a successful band during his tenure. More importantly, Cornwell’s latest offering cements his place as a quality singer-songwriter. A particular track that deserves a mention and is sure to resonate with Australian listeners is ‘The Story of Harry Power’. It is an ode to one of the most important yet forgotten characters in the whole Ned Kelly story. Cornwell’s inspiration for this song came from an award winning book that he read about the Kelly gang. Cornwell remains astounded that Harry Power’s life has not been detailed in more books and movies. “He really is an amazing character. I can see Kris Kristopherson playing him in a film… I get inspired to write about films and people and I thought he moved me and maybe I can move other people by telling them about him”

Cornwell also tips his hat to a modern day hero in ‘24/7’, an affecting yet never over sentimental tribute to Bob Dylan. He was inspired to write the song by an article that he read about the legendary singer-songwriter. “I’m reading this article about him and I suddenly sort of realised what a big influence he had on me and what a big influence he had on music in general”. Cornwell views Dylan’s life as being often misunderstood and he wanted to express his gratitude before it was too late. “I suddenly saw him as this Picasso figure that has always been around, always surveying the scene and controlling it and no one really realised that and might not realise that until he is dead and gone, which is a shame. So I thought I should make a statement about it while he is still around”

With a whole new breed of singer songwriters such as David Gray and James Blunt emerging and making a splash both locally and internationally, Cornwell wholeheartedly aggress that there is a singer-songwriter revival that is currently brewing. The reason for this he states is because people are getting reacquainted with their love of melodies. “In the 80’s we had this terrible dance music phase which didn’t do anything for songwriting and melody…. And then we came out of that and young kids really started discovering guitars. So we had 10 years of getting guitars back into the psyche of the population and now people are looking at song and melodies. So it makes perfect sense that this should be the age of that”

With a new album under his belt and a live show that is split between his solo material and Stranglers classics, Cornwell’s intimate acoustic performances in June promises to be a sheer delight. But when asked whether his decision to continue performing Stranglers tracks is akin to having that noose still placed around his neck Cornwell disagrees, stating that unlike before he is now in charge. “I never always enjoyed what I was doing when I was in the band. Now I am enjoying everything. I am in control and you always feel comfortable when you are in control of your own destiny”.

“Beyond Elysian Fields” is out now.

Hugh Cornwell Australian Tour Dates:

June 1 - The Troubadour, Brisbane, Qld
June 2 - Beach Hotel, Byron Bay, NSW
June 3 - Rocket Bar Adelaide, SA
June 4 - Fly By Night, Fremantle, WA
June 7 - Northern Star Hotel, Newcastle, NSW
June 8 - Heritage Hotel, Bulli, NSW
June 9 - Brass Monkey, Cronulla, NSW
June 10 - The Vanguard, Sydney, NSW
June 11 - The Vanguard, Sydney, NSW
June 12 - The Green Room, Canberra, ACT
June 15 - Northcote Social Club, Northcote, Vic
June 16 - Theatre Royal, Castlemaine, Vic
June 17 - National Hotel, Geelong, Vic

For more information, visit

www.hughcornwell.com