Hugh Cornwell, who you may know from The Stranglers, has been a musician since the ‘60’s. He's enjoyed massive success with 10 hit albums and 21 Top Forty singles, etching himself into Europe and the USA's musical psyche with classic songs, including Peaches, No More Heroes, Golden Brown and Duchess. His latest studio album, Totem and Taboo, was recently released to rave reviews, and although he leads less of a punk lifestyle these days, he’s still singing about the social issues that infuriate him. Let’s find out more about this longstanding star.
You’ve been involved in making music since the ‘60’s. The music industry has changed almost entirely since then. What do you miss most about the “old ways”?
Well, in the ‘60's I was in a school band and I was off every week to the Marquee in Wardour Street to see The Who, The Yardbirds, Spencer Davis and The Graham Bond Organisation. I guess the thing I miss most is the mystery.
You were in Sweden when your first major band Johnny Sox started. What was the music scene like there at that time?
Non-existent, in a word. Occasionally someone would come to Lund University to play, like Bill Haley & the Comets, and Dexter Gordon. Other than that you had to go to Copenhagen to see concerts. I seem to recall The Fluorescent Leech and Eddy actually coming to play in Lund once.
The Stranglers were not only a punk band, but the highest selling punk band of all time, and were together for much longer than most bands. Why do you think your popularity has never waned?
The catalogue of songs we produced in those years was exceptional, and hopefully my writing since then is complementing it.
You spent a little time in prison in the 1980’s. What did that experience teach you?
It taught me not to take drugs.
How did it feel to release Nosferatu, your first solo album? Were you nervous about what response it might get?
I was incredibly nervous about it, as I knew it would be compared to the Stranglers albums. For that reason I deliberately tried to make it more obscure. Fortunately now I don't have to worry about that.
You were with The Stranglers for 16 years before you left in 1990. What do you miss about that band?
Very little. As time went by there was an increasingly dour atmosphere surrounding it. We very rarely met up except to rehearse, play shows or make a record.
You’ve released several solo albums since then, one every few years. What’s the main driving force behind your music these days?
Probably an incessant lack of satisfaction with life. If I'm not working I get depressed and think too much.
I was wondering if you can tell me a bit about the two novels you’ve had published, Window on the World and most recently Arnold Drive.
‘Window’ is about a man's obsession with an artist and her work, and where that can lead you. ‘Arnold’ is more wistful, and tells what happens to a vicar who suddenly finds himself without a job.
Have you always written fiction or is that a more recent avenue you’ve gone down?
I wrote 'Multitude of Sins', an autobiography, in 2004 and enjoyed the writing process it required. So I thought, why not try to write something fictitious?
Which album do you most treasure from your record/cd collection?
Hard to say. Nights in the Gardens of Spain by de Falla I treasure. Rodrigo's Concerto for Harp is another. Phil Spector's Christmas Album.
What song are you most proud of writing?
The title of your most recent album is Totem and Taboo, and the title track seems to suggest it refers to the old adage ‘each to their own’. Is this the theme of the album, and why did you decide to go with this?
As you get older you come to realise that nothing ever changes, only the characters change. So why try to change anything that's outside yourself? The songs explore different totems and different taboos.
How was it working with Steve Albini on this album?
It was great. An effortless joy.
You’re playing at Epic, Norwich in December. What can we expect from your show?
A lot of Totem & Taboo, plus some Stranglers crowd pleasers of course.
Hugh Cornwell and Hazel O’Connor play at Epic Studios on 7th December. Tickets available from www.epicstudiosnorwich.com