Ex Stranglers frontman Hugh Cornwell talks to Jon Perks about his latest tour and his new novel.
Old punks never die... they just head off to the spare room to write a spot of fiction.
But while former Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon published an expensive scrapbook of old photos and memories, his contemporary Hugh Cornwell has penned his first novel, a thriller entitled Window On The World.
It’s not the former Stranglers frontman’s first foray into writing – in 1980 he published Inside Information, a non-fiction account of his time in Pentonville prison for drug possession, and in 2004 his autobiography, A Multitude of Sins, hit the shelves.
His new tome, a ‘thriller love story’ about an Australian portrait painter who comes to the UK, however, has given Hugh a real taste and he admits he’s already written a second book with ideas for a third.
“I do in my spare time, it’s great, it’s completely different,” says Hugh, speaking from his US tour where he’s played with Blondie drummer Clem Burke and longtime bassist Steve ‘Fish’ Lawrence.
“It’s a good progression – I enjoyed it immensely.”
Cornwell is hoping finished copies of the book will be ready in time for his upcoming UK tour, which will take the form of two sets – the first, his solo album Guilty in its entirety; the second, a collection of Stranglers classics including The Raven, Toiler On The Sea and School Mam.
“My manager suggested playing Guilty because he keeps an eye on the forums and what people are talking about, and he discovered that they were very frustrated because it wasn’t available any more, it was out of issue,” says Hugh.
“Part of the plan of playing it is because they want to hear it and we’ve managed to get it reprinted which is great, it’s resurrected. Also the Rattus and Hooverdam tour (when Hugh played two other albums as complete sets) went down so well last time we thought we’d continue it, but change it, not be predictable. Everyone said ‘oh suppose you’re going to do No More Heroes next’ and I said ‘well no, maybe not’ – I hate being predictable.”
Fan power also extends to the shows’ encore – they have been voting through Cornwell’s website and the most popular Stranglers classics will be played at the end of the evening.
“I’ve got a pretty good idea what they are but I’m not going to tell you,” laughs the 62-year-old.
The Stranglers formed in 1974 as The Guildford Stranglers, and went on to massive worldwide success with the likes of Golden Brown, No More Heroes, Peaches and Always The Sun.
In 1990, following the release of their tenth studio album, 10, Cornwell quit the band he had fronted for 16 years.
He jokes that he’s now played with bassist Lawrence and drummer Chris Bell for more years than he was in The Stranglers. The upcoming tour gives him a chance to revisit some songs he’s not played for over 20 years.
“Songs like School Mam and Toiler and The Raven I haven’t played since I left the band, so it’s something novel for me,” says Hugh.
“Steve and I have already listened through and been working out who’s going to do what because there are a few keyboard pieces, so we’re just working out how we can divide those up.
“I like doing new versions without the keyboards, it’s great. Early on we were a trio – twice – when we first got together before Hans Wärmling joined us and then we were a trio after he left until Dave Greenfield came in, so a lot of these songs are really rooted in a trio format. “They’re a bit fast,” he chuckles “That’s the first thing I’ve noticed; they’re very cleverly put together – we put a lot of work into the arrangements and the way they came out – that’s obvious when you listen to them again and try and dissect them.”
As well as his novels, Cornwell is busy demoing songs for his next album, Totem and Taboo, due out next spring. He’s also just finished a limited edition album of his favourite cover versions, You’re Covered, which will be available to VIP ticket holders on the current tour.
“It’s a lot of songs I grew up with,” he explains. “There’s Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra (Full Moon and Empty Arms) and an Everly Brothers song (Take a Message To Mary); I used to love the Everly Brothers when I was a kid – there were two harmonies so you could choose to do the one harmony or the other, it was a source of entertainment, like a game; it’s very good training to be a singer, learning harmonies – and the Everly Brothers were full of them.
“There’s also a Rolling Stone song – but a totally atypical Stones song, a ballad which I think was on the album Between The Buttons, it’s called She Smiled Sweetly and it’s beautiful; there’s a very loud organ on it and I’ve highlighted that and mine sounds very ecclesiastical. Who’d have thought the Stones in their early days could have written a beautiful ballad? It shone out.”
If all that wasn’t enough, Cornwell has arranged for a third set at his gig, by two South American brothers who go under the name Brothers of Brazil.
“I’m very excited – they’re perfect for it because they can jump on stage in the break without setting up any equipment,” says Hugh.
“There’s a drummer and a bossanova guitarist, they’re brothers Supla and João Suplicy and they play what they call ‘punkanova’, they’re great fun, it’ll be a real extravaganza evening.
“They’re big stars in Brazil, they’ve got their own huge nationwide TV show – they invited me on to play and I did Hanging Around with them, it’s on my website – I’m stood there with cute rollerblade girls all around me.”
Perhaps Hugh is not ready to quit music just yet...
* Hugh Cornwell plays The Slade Rooms in Wolverhampton on April 15. 20 VIP tickets are available and will enable fans to watch Hugh at soundcheck and receive a signed copy of You’re Covered. www.hughcornwell.com