Hugh Cornwell
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Interview - Hugh CORNWELL
Friday 21st November 2011

(c) Copyright Hugh Cornwell

  1. Pleased to meet you Hugh. We are here today in London. Are you ready to go back to the past with us for a few minutes?
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    As long as it's not for too long, because I like looking forward now!

    AM : You were a student and passed a bachelor's degree in biochemistry, what led you to become a musician instead of working in the biochemistry field ?

    That's a good question. I wasn't very good at the biochemistry, that's the unfortunate thing. I think if you gonna do a job, even if you enjoy it, but you're not very good at it, you will never find satisfaction and happiness, so I decided to try my luck with music instead.

  3. Do you remember when did you first touch a musical instrument?
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    Yeah, I have two elder brothers and one of them had restored a beautiful Spanish guitar, he renovated it and he played it a little bit, I really liked this guitar but he wouldn't let me touch it and then he went away to work abroad and as soon as he left I went to see if he had taken the guitar and he hadn't taken it, so I was able to play it and when he got back he gave it to me, because he lost interest by then.

    AM : The guitar was your first instrument.


    AM : I believe it was the bass.

    I started to learn to play on Spanish guitar, but then when I joined a band when I was at school and Richard Thompson was there, the man from Fairport Convention, he taught me to play bass because he needed a bass player so the bass, it's true is my first instrument in a band.

  5. Hugh you are a man of many talents. You are an accomplished musician and songwriter, you were the frontman and guitarist of the Stranglers from 1974 to 1990, with a lot of hits and songs like Peaches, No More Heroes, Golden Brown, Always the Sun, Duchess, Nice'n'Sleazy, Walk on By, Strange Little Girl, Skin Deep...What did this great experience bring you?
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    What did that great experience bring me?

    AM : Yeah.

    Pleasure (laughing) simply!

    AM : What are your good memories with the band?

    I have many good memories. We created some good songs together, so I always have fond memories of that time, yeah of course and the songs still speak very frequently now, you see them in films, you see them on advertising, people still want to hear the songs.

  7. Did you still have an eye on what they did for instance with Paul Roberts?
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    I think they are busy and I'm busy and you don't really have time to follow closely what each other are doing, but I was aware that Paul Roberts was singing for nearly the same amount of time I was there, and then just before he was gonna be there longer than me, he left. So I thought if only he could have stayed another six months and then "you" would have been the longest standing Stranglers lead singer but he didn't, he had to take a walk.

    AM : After there were other musicians like John Ellis and Baz Warne, do you know these guys ?

    He is the new guitarist that's playing the old songs, yeah and the new songs and singing I think. I've never met him.

  9. For you, of course there was another life after the Stranglers, so you opened your mind and wings to fly and do a big solo career.
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    Well, hopefully!

    AM : And you released albums, how many of them?

    How many? I think this next one "Totem & Taboo" will be the ninth maybe but if you count the couple of others that were small releases, it's probably about ten or eleven now.

    AM : The latest one was Hooverdam. (Hugh shows it to the camera)

    Yes, Hooverdam.

    AM : With Invisible Hands Music in 2008.

    That's right.

    AM : Which contained, Blueprint, the movie.

    A film about the songs and a live performance of the songs in the studio after we finished the session, and we've been giving it away free on the Internet, crazy, we give the album away free, but we thought so if people want to buy it, we have to make a nice package and you get a film when you buy the package.

    AM : What is your favourite song on this album?

    Oh that's very hard. Well, I like the song, there's a lovely ballad on there called The Pleasure of Your Company, but I do like Within You or Without You, I think it really works very well.

  11. You also did an album called King Kong.
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    New Songs for King Kong

    AM : Yeah, it was in 2009.

    That was a live album. There's a live Rattus Norvegicus and live Hooverdam from a concert in London.

    AM : Is it available exclusively from your website?

    Yes and at concerts as well.

    AM : And now, you are going to record a new album.

    I am indeed. Next month in December I'm going to Chicago and record with Steve Albini who is quite a well-known and respected engineer mixer. He doesn't consider himself to be a producer which is quite interesting. (c) Copyright

    AM : Who else will be with you?

    Chris Bell who is the drummer on Hooverdam and on Guilty and also on bass would be Steve Fishman who played bass on Guilty and Beyond Elysian Fields. So they are back together again on one of my records, which I'm very happy about.

    AM : You designed this...

    Yeah a shield, Totem & Taboo. I like that! (laughing) it's fine.

    Click to play a demo from Totem and Taboo

  13. Why this name?
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    Well, I mean a lot of the time I've spent a lot of my writing career pointing out things that I think needs to be pointed out, sometimes things get ignored or they get deliberately overseen. I'm attracted to dangerous things, dangerous women, dangerous people, dangerous songs, dangerous subjects. I don't know what it is, maybe because I get bored easily. So on this record the songs are especially about subjects that I think people don't like to discuss. I think things that are taboo really, it's dangerous to have things you can't talk about because you know what happens when people don't talk about things, you have world wars, discussion leads to improvement in relations, so I think that everything needs to be opened for discussion, so it's called Totem and Taboo. Totem, things that are totemic are things that are really respected and applauded and Taboo are things that are subjects that people don't like to discuss. So this album is a collection of songs about these two very different things. And I've got the title from a book by Sigmund Freudwho is a psychoanalyst and he wrote a book called Totem and Taboo and I've got a copy and I thought that will make a great title for an album, so apologies to Sigmund Freud!..

    AM : How many tracks will be on this album?


  15. Could you please explain what is your Pledge Music Page?
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    The Pledge Music
    page was a means for us to find a way financing and making a record without the help of a record company because when you bring in a company you have to give away certain rights and things for the future and we thought it would be better to see if we could raise the money to make the record with the people that we're making it for. And so the Pledge campaign is a system whereby people can join it and order the record and they will get it before anybody else, special things like signed vinyl copies or they can buy the manuscript for one of my books, which there is only one, or they could book me to go and play in a concert for them, for their birthday or something, the band or me acoustic, whatever, and all these different things and if they sign up for this, then we're making the record, I'm going to be making video blogs and they will get access to those, I've already started doing some from playing in America or in Germany, so it's a way. I don't know if it's going to work, but a lot of people have made records like this recently and it just attracted me and we've got a charity, Missing People Charity, so a percentage of the money of this would be going to this charity, which is good.

  17. You are doing one date at The Boileroom in Guildford on December 2nd the only performance of the entire album.
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    Yeah we're routinging out and learning the songs, we thought it would be a good idea to work towards the performance before going to the studio, so we're gonna play all the songs there, and lots of Stranglers hits for the faithful people.

    AM : Maybe it's a good way to nail it in front of the audience before ?

    Exactly. We played a couple of them already in front of the audience and it really makes a difference when you play at concert new songs.

  19. Hugh you are not only a musician and a songwriter, you are also a writer, Your first book is called The Stranglers, Song by Song, published in 2001 by Sanctuary Publishing.
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    Oh yes, good you've got a copy of this.

    AM : Yeah. You did it with Jim Drury.

    Yes he is a writer's musician that I got on very well with, we spoke the same language. I mean the reason I did this was because there was a Stranglers authorised biography called No Mercy and I know the writer, (David Buckley), he is very good, he has written books on David Bowie, on Kate Bush and Sparks. But I just felt that however it was factually very accurate, but it didn't say very much about the music and about the lyrics. So I thought that it would be a good idea to approach the catalogue that I was involved in, and just think about each song and how each song was created and in that way remember things about the history which he hasn't got in his book. I think it's complementary with the No Mercy book, it's sort of a companion novel and in fact I referred to it for some specific dates and things because I couldn't remember exactly when things happened, so immediatly I got up and opened No Mercy and had a look, cause it is all factually accurate but I didn't think it said much about the songs.

    AM : And there are also some pictures, some photos.

    Yeah, some rare photos and stuff that I found, yeah it's funny.

  21. Your second book is an autobiography.
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    Autobiography called A Multitude of Sins.

    AM : It was published in 2004 by Harper Collins.

    That's right. I mean the Stranglers Song by Song book went down so well, in fact the chap who commissioned it said why don't you do an autobiography and I thought I've never really thought of it before and he said I think you should try, I think it would be an interesting story, so I started to write something and it seemed to come out okay. So I went for it and found a publisher that was interested and I told them that I didn't want a ghost writer, do you know the expression ghost writing in French ? It's when you don't write yourself but you tell the story to someone and then they are a writer and they write it for you. I didn't want to do that, and I said to the publisher I'll do this but I want to write it, I feel like I could possibly write it okay and they agreed, so I really enjoyed putting that down on paper.

    AM : In French a ghost writer is called "un nègre".

  23. You also wrote your First Novel.
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    AM : it's called...

    Window on the World published by Quartet Books, which is this one here (Hugh shows the book). Yeah, fantastic. I'm very happy for me to get this in print. This came about because of the autobiography (showing the other book), I enjoyed writing that so much. The easy thing about that was that the story was already there, all I had to do is remember the facts, whereas with this it's all made up (laughing) sort of, so it's a bit more difficult, whereas that took me six months (showing A Multitude of Sins) this took 6 years!...But it's finally out and it's got some good reviews on Amazon and people are getting to know it, I'm doing some book signings and things and it's available digitally now on a company called Bloomsbury Reader and it's doing very well on that. I'm quite happy that it came out.

    AM : To support your novel, what did you do? You were reading extracts?

    To support it, yeah I go around bookshops and I read some pieces and answer questions and then sign the copies for them, that's what I do.

  25. What are your plans for the future? Another book maybe?
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    Yes, I've just finished the second book, there's another one now just finished. I'm on the third rewrite, and my literary agent is going to try and find a home for this, next year I suppose, I don't know when it will come out.

    AM : What is the title?

    It's called Arnold Drive, it's a person's name, his first name is Arnold and his second name is Drive like to drive and he is a priest. In England we have the strange habit in the UK, when nobody is going to a church the people who own the church sell it and it is converted into flats and apartments. When I tell people from abroad this they are astounded, they said that would never happen in our country. I think the only country where it happens is in the UK and so this is what happens to this priest, he has a little village church in England and people don't come, you know it's three people every week, so they decide to close it and he has to leave and they sell it for turning it into apartments. He is in the world, with no job, nothing, little money they give him and it's what happens to him.

    AM : Okay, it's a good story, it seems to be nice to write it.

    It's a tragicomedy, a little bit like Charles Dickens.

  27. What about a tour dates, gigs, acoustic things?
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    Yeah, well I've got lots of shows that are going in, I'm doing a tour of America next February with Glen Matlock from the Sex Pistols, he's got a band called The Philistines, he's going on first and I'm going on last but it's a double billing, and we're going to do that in February, March and then in March I'm going to start making a movie to go with Totem and Taboo, we are going to make a film to go with it, not like Blueprint, this is ten little films which will be linked together, so it's more of a fantasy thing. And then we got the acoustic dates before the american thing and then I'm going to Germany in April, May and then I think Totem and Taboo will come out, I don't know what will happen after that, who knows ?

    AM : You will come to France...

    It would be nice to come to France yeah, I have only played Paris the last few years, I'm always open to invitations if anyone out there wants me to come to France to play, we are more than happy to come to play but we can't come if we don't get invited!...

  29. Have you ever intended to be an actor?
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    I tried to do some acting in some little things. I came very close to getting a couple of big movie parts but they didn't happen so, you know whatever happens, happens, maybe someday, maybe not, who knows ?

    AM : You can do a movie of your life ?

    (Laughing) well I won't play the part of me!

    AM : We wish you the best Hugh. Thank you very much for your time.

    Thank you for asking me these questions, bye

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(c) Copyright Hugh Cornwell