Bury St Edmunds bound Hugh Cornwell interviewed

Hugh Cornwell, heading to The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, Sunday. Picture: Matthew Usher

Hugh Cornwell, heading to The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, Sunday. Picture: Matthew Usher - Credit: Archant

One of the most important figures in punk and new wave music, former Stranglers frontman Hugh Cornwell talks to entertainment writer Wayne Savage ahead of his Bury St Edmunds gig.

Dave Greenfield, Hugh Cornwell, JJ Burnel and Jet Black of The Stranglers

Dave Greenfield, Hugh Cornwell, JJ Burnel and Jet Black of The Stranglers - Credit: PA

Back in his younger days cornwell, once crowned UK punk’s dark lord, would’ve have fought tooth and nail to get his way.

“When you’re younger, you’re not thinking ahead are you? You’re probably not thinking cleverly,” he says as we discuss The Fall and Rise Of Hugh cornwell, the first ever anthology of his post-Stranglers career.

Spanning the 25 five years since he left the band, it brings together 12 tracks spread across his first six solo albums, plus new studio recording Live It and Breathe It. He was more than happy to leave which songs made it onto the album to the record company, admitting it would’ve taken him forever to decide anyway.

“I could’ve had a bun fight about it, said ‘no I want this instead of that’ but I’m too long in the tooth to do that. Why bother? They’re all my songs, if they think they’re going to sell more copies and present my body of work in a better way with the choices they made, who am I to disagree?”

Hugh Cornwell puts an acoustic spin on his greatest hits

Hugh Cornwell puts an acoustic spin on his greatest hits - Credit: Archant


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More importantly, it frees cornwell, arguably one of the most important figures in punk and new wave music, to concentrate on what he’s supposed to be doing – writing

songs and performing.

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Quite a lot of the chosen tracks will feature in his latest acoustic tour, which kicks off at The apex, Bury St Edmunds, November 1.

Shedding the nerves earlier this year with some shows up north to road-test what he was thinking of doing, audiences can look forward to more than just music.

“I tend to talk a lot more when I just have an acoustic guitar, so they get a few anecdotes and stories. That changes night to night, as the tour goes on I remember more and more,” says the always ahead of the curve cornwell, who’s made headlines both with his music and innovative approaches to reaching new audiences, being at the forefront of experimentation with free downloads and crowdfunding.

Part of the pleasure of these sort of gigs is deconstructing songs everybody knows and loves. He’s surprised how well some of them, especially those from The Stranglers’ back catalogue, work on an acoustic guitar, adding he finds things in them he’s never noticed before.

“I’ve picked a couple of old Strangler songs to play on this tour. I’d never tried to play them before and found they played very well. They sound different but they’re recognisably the same song.”

His enjoyment of hitting the road and interacting with an audience seems at odds with his vision of himself as a loner.

“Playing with a band is fun, the people I play with are fun and I enjoy their company (but) I like travelling and playing acoustically because I’m quite happy to be by myself and do a lot of thinking. I don’t have to worry about anybody. I write books as well, which is a lone occupation.”

Cornwell says his younger self would never have forseen the career he has now.

“No, not at all. It’s impossible to predict the future, especially something as quirky as odd as the music business. The changes that have occurred are mainly technological, the advent of CDs and now the computerisation of music. The only time I sell records is when I’m on tour. People don’t buy them these days.”

Less and less, he says, do people seem to have time for music these days, to listen to it; preferring to pick what they want to play at a certain time and not really tie themselves down to having to listen to it time and time again.

“People don’t want to be tied down, I don’t know if it’s a good move really. Vinyl is really popular, I get a lot of people asking me for that. A friend of mine turned his daughter onto vinyl and she said ‘it sounds creamy’ which was quite good wasn’t it, I’d never thought of it like that,” Cornwell laughs.

“(Putting needle to groove), you’re making more of a choice, you’re putting physical effort into putting the music on so it demands more of your input.”

Lamenting the changing soundscape aside, he knows nothing stays the same, taking it as a challenge.

“The only way to go is forward with the circumstances you find yourselves in and that’s life isn’t it? Some things are better, some things are worse, you’ve just got to make the best of it. (change) keeps people’s minds active, you constantly take stock, adapt. That’s part of the human condition, adaptation, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

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