Interview with Hugh Cornwell- The Stranglers and beyond

Get a Grip – An Interview with Hugh Cornwell.

In the two years since he last played St Paul’s Worthing, a very busy Hugh Cornwell has completed a soon to be released album, has toured extensively, collaborated with Dr. John Cooper Clarke on both a tour and an album, curated his website Mr Demille FM and started a whole raft of potential projects some of which we talk about during this interview.

We chat about his new album, working with Tony Visconti, Brian Eno’s discovery of some lost Bowie sessions, on listening to Cliff Richard, how he puts together an album and how to structure a live set.

I spoke with Hugh just a few days before his return to St Paul’s Worthing on October 19th. Hugh’s acoustic set will select songs from his 20 album career and will debut a couple of never before heard songs from his upcoming album.

I am sure Hugh won’t mind me saying this but he does have a reputation for being a bit of a curmudgeon.  I have to say I found him, warm, open, friendly, funny and honest. He is still fighting dragons with his music but with so many projects on the go I think it is safe to say he is in a good place right now.

I began by asking him how he has been since he last played Worthing.

How things been since you last played St Pauls, was it two years ago?

Yes two years , good thanks, busy,  this time last year I was releasing an album with John Cooper Clarke so what was a couple of years ago and I remember it being a great venue and a great gig, which is why I wanted to come back.

So what can we expect from this time round, similar to last time?

Yes, I plan to play songs from my whole career, but the songs will be different from last time. About half the songs will be a different choice because my catalogue and the stranglers catalogue is vast, there are 10 stranglers albums, that’s about 120 songs and I have had 10 albums so that’s another 100 songs, so there is over 200 songs to pick from and it’s a shame to keep playing exactly the same selection.

How do you choose a set list?

I think last time I picked a song from every album; well I am not doing that this time. I am just picking the songs I really like playing, there will be about a 50/50 split between stranglers and my solo catalogue I am also putting in some new songs from my next album, which was possibly going to be called Villains, but Queens of the Stone Age have just released an album called that. Now I might call it La Grande Dame, which was a song I debuted last time as an encore, and although that song is not in the set I am playing two new songs from that album.

I presume you have to do a different arrangement of the songs when you play a solo set?

That’s right, even the new songs will be a different version to the album. When I do my acoustic shows, I always play one of my favourite pieces of music before and after the show, by a guy called Mose Allison who was a big influence on me as a teenager and he died a couple of years ago. I wrote this song for him before he died and I was going to ask him to play on it, so I am going to play that song and hopefully a few people will pick up on him and his music, he was a real icon to a lot of modern musicians

Do you still get people turning up you your solo gigs expecting a full band and a set full of Strangler’s songs?

No I don’t think they do, it took me a while to re-establish my credentials but I have been making my solo records for over 20 years now and hopefully there are a few good tunes in there and they understand now there is a mix. One of the main reasons I left the Stranglers was to explore a wider range of musical styles.

What is your relationship to that old material?

There are so many good songs and I am excited because there are some of them in this set that I haven’t played for a very long time. It’s nice as they do work well for an arrangement for an acoustic guitar.

Back in the early days, do you think the Stranglers where co-opted into the punk movement by the media, or was that a strategy by the band?

No, you are absolutely right with your first comment. We were co-opted into it, we didn’t have much say in it and it wasn’t just us, the Jam weren’t really a punk band, Blondie weren’t punk, Graham Parker and the Rumour, Elvis Costello but they all got co-opted into that movement, none of us really had much say but we didn’t really care.

Is it frustrating that the humour and Irony of the early songs seemed to have been lost on the press and some of your peers?

There was a lot of tongue in cheek and people seemed to take it all very seriously, which in itself was funny to me, like I cant believe they are taking this so seriously, but that pales into comparison into what constraints we have now. I am surprised they even play them anymore.

The art of song writing is that it can be quite subversive and you can get across some big themes. You can actually, if you are clever enough and have an axe to grind sneak things in, which is why a lot of my lyrics are mysteriously unexplained. They might sound odd because I am sneaking things in.

What is your process now for writing?

I start with a brief of what I want to achieve with a subject matter. If you have an empty palette you have to put some paint on it and the way I do it is to get some ideas down just brainstorm.  An album might be about this or that, so for this album I started by thinking about people who are interesting enough to have a song written about them. They might be someone who people haven’t heard of or who have gone un-noticed but I then have a starting point. People like Mose Allison or Ray Harryhausen or my mother, who all have songs on the new album.

The plan about song writing is to not have a plan, because you never know when you are going to get a dart of inspiration; you never know where it is going to come from so you can’t prepare for it. You just have to be ready and open enough to recognise it.

 

Are you still as passionate about music?

I will only be as passionate about it until I stop getting ideas, I still have a desire to write songs and I am open to collaborations, as long as there is a spark of inspiration to my brain; once that stops, well you may as well give up then.  I learn something from everyone I work with.

What was it like working with John Cooper Clarke?

John was great, he is very unique, he’s a singular man, there is no one else like him, and I have a great admiration for him and we have respect for each others work and opinions.

The new album is all mastered and good to go is it?

Yes, we are just waiting to see who we will work with to get it released,

Over the years you have worked across different mediums, famously the quote attributed to you when you left the Stranglers was “I am off to be an actor now”, Do you still want to act?

Well that never came from me I won’t say who it came from, but that was Chinese rumours, when I left I didn’t know what I was going to do.

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Which is your favourite medium, music, books, films, is there one you will focus on more in the future?

I have no idea, how can you say, you cant make decisions like that, you have to see what happens, the whole point of survival in a creative mediums is you have to be open and sensitive to ideas, opportunities, chances, I will do as much as I can and if the opportunities come up in different fields I will take them because I like challenges. I am not fortunate enough to be in that much demand to have to consider that dilemma.

Can you recommend a book and an album that you love?

The book would be Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky  and the album wold be  Forever Changes by Love, because those two show what can  actually be achieved in those very different mediums, it shows the how far the limits can be pushed.

What was the first album you ever bought?

Believe it or not it was Cliff Sings, it was just as Cliff was straightening out, he was cool at the beginning then he got Norrie Paramor in with strings and orchestras and started doing old standards. I bought this album thinking it was going to be full out rock and half of it was and the other half was this Norrie Paramor old standards thing, and I have to say I was a tad disappointed.

If you had to pick one Album or one song from your whole career that best defines you, what would it be?

My personal favourite is a song called Cadiz, which is about a part of the world that I care a lot about and that is very close to my heart and I was very happy with what I created in that song, the mood suits the place and I felt it was a good achievement. I am playing that one on the tour.

My Favourite was Grip, it made me and my mates go out and form a band?

That’s good to hear, that was the first song I ever wrote for the Stranglers and I am very proud of it

Again it may be a false attribution, but I read that you didn’t always see eye to eye with producers, is that right?

No I am not sure that’s correct, if I didn’t think there was any value in producers I wouldn’t have worked with Tony Visconti or Liam Watson, so I think that is a mis-quotation.

Steve Albini did my last album; I just met up with Steve the other day, his band Shellac has been over here touring so we got together. Steve hates being called a producer, he is a master sound technician and that’s how he likes to be thought of, he is not a producer. We have some plans to work together to produce some acts, with him as engineer and me as producer and we are both very excited about that. We just have to find a willing victim basically.

Some of the best production uses  that golden bit of information, you have to have someone who has the vision of what the sound should be and the other guy who understands that and knows how to get it. So a great producer and a great engineer and that’s the combination, so watch this space, there are some great things coming.

What was it like working with Visconti?

Yeah Tony is great, he is a musician, he’s a really talented bass player and he is very sensitive to song structure and arrangements, so when he is in charge you have a like minded person on the other side of the desk, but he is not an engineer he brings in someone to get the sound he hears.

Have you hear his remix of Lodger?

No, but if you are interested in Bowie stuff you should check out my website, I have a site called Mr Demille FM and there is an interview with Brian Eno and he talks about some sessions with David and there is some stuff, that no one has ever heard, during the interview he suddenly remembers he has a whole day of recordings with David that he never done anything with, that he had found locked in a cupboard.

Do you ever keep in touch with the rest of the Stranglers?

No, not really, we have gone off on different paths. I think it is great that someone is prepared to go out and play a whole set of Stranglers songs and keep them alive.  I don’t think I would want to, no disrespect to it, but it’s not what I want to do.

I don’t mind paying homage to it or doing new interpretations, because when I play with my band I don’t have keyboards, so it has to be re-interpreted, but they go out and there is a demand for it so why not.

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What advice do you have for someone setting out on a career in music?

Just that it is very difficult, be prepared for rejection and if you feel you have a great ide then stick to it.

Good luck with the tour Hugh and thanks for taking the time to talk to me

Thanks, no problem, see you later.

You can catch Hugh on Tour through to November; his solo acoustic tour covers material from across his career both solo and with the Stranglers

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Interview with Nigel Clarke- Dodgy

Staying Out For The Summer – Dodgy Come To St. Paul’s, Worthing

In the mid 1990’s at the peak of “Britpop”, Dodgy the bottle blonde, midlands band with a bag full of feel good songs such as “Good Enough” and “Staying out for the summer” tried to meld their engagement with social issues, love of the sound of the 60’s and insidious earworms to create the perfect pop moment.

I managed to catch up with lead-singer and songwriter Nigel Clarke as he prepared to play at the Lytham festival, to talk about Worthing, song writing and why it would be great to be a Castaway with Aphex Twin.

What comes across throughout the interview is that as well as being a really genuine, grounded guy, Nigel still loves being in a band and really enjoys playing live.

After some initial small talk we got down to some questions.

Rob Kelly: I think you last played Worthing in 2012 is that right?

Nigel Clarke Yes we did, by the train station I think, but haven’t been back since but I was thinking ahead of this interview that Worthing was the first ever” Dodgy Club” event outside London, that was in 1993, we did it on Worthing Pier and bus loads of Dodgy fans came down for the Saturday night and we had a whole Dodgy club with clowns and hoopla and other bands and had a fantastic time .

We weren’t part of the “Manchester scene”, we weren’t part of the “Grebo” Wonder Stuff Stourbridge scene, and so with the Dodgy club we adopted a town for the day and just turned up and it was a brilliant day in Worthing and kind of shaped the way of Dodgy really.

RK: How has last year’s album “What are we fighting for” gone down?

NC: Again it’s been one of those things, we managed to get about 1 review, and the record company didn’t manage to get any of the pre sales registered for the charts so we missed out on that which actually helped. We were basically ignored and the weird thing is it started to pick up abroad, in mad places like Chile, Brazil, America, it’s a really good album and we are just sorting out a new deal for an album on a new label in 2019.

RK: Are you writing songs at the moment?

NC: I am writing songs at the moment, I am always writing songs, all the time.

RK: Is that solo stuff or the next Dodgy album

NC: No I was going to do a solo album and then we put out the “What are we fighting for”, and I thought lets make the next one a dodgy album too, I write the songs any way so my songs are Dodgy songs.

RK: What can we expect from the gig at St Pauls?

NC: Probably be a bit of acoustic, a couple of really new (unrecorded) songs maybe on my own, then with the band, some of the hits from the 90’s and a few songs from the last album, we will mix it up really. It will be a really good night, we just love playing.

RK: If you had to recommend one album and one book to a friend what would they be?

NC: Album: Marquee moon by Television.

Television are my favourite band ever, I saw them at Glastonbury and you know what, I love Marquee Moon even more now than when it first came out, just a shame that Richard Lloyd isn’t with them anymore.

Book: Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland.

RK: When push comes to shove – Dylan or Morrissey?

NC: Dylan.

RK: Have you ever played Desert Island Dicks – If you had to be stranded on a desert island with someone called Richard who would it be?

NC: Richard D James from Aphex Twin, I think just taking Aphex Twin and saying to him “so how do you do it, so where do you start to create like that?” would be a great thing to do.

Sadly Nigel had to dash off to get ready as the band prepared to share the bill with Human League and Midge Ure.

What came across while chatting to Nigel is he is still enjoying himself, he promised that Dodgy will be bringing a great show to St Pauls and that they are really excited about returning to Worthing, a place close to the band’s heart.

 

 

 

 

Always the Sun- Hugh Cornwell live at St Paul’s Worthing

Always the Sun- Hugh Cornwell, Live at St Pauls Worthing October 19th 2017

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It takes a lot to get people out on a rainy October Thursday, so it says something about the growing reputation of St Pauls and the pulling power of Hugh Cornwell, that an almost sold out crowd witnessed a fantastic solo acoustic gig from the former Stranglers front man.

Returning to Worthing after two years, Hugh gave us two sets of re-imagined songs, old and new, including a couple  from a yet to be released album, which has as its theme, songs for  those  perhaps previously unheralded individuals whom Hugh feels need songs written about them.

This was evidenced by the opener “Mose” written for and about the great Mose Allison, whose music incidentally plays before and after every one of Hugh’s solo gigs. Hugh had hoped to record this with the great man who sadly died before this could happen. A beautiful, lyrical song that was both heartfelt and pure in its sentiment.

For those of us raised on the Stranglers, hearing Hugh’s songs stripped back to just his rich baritone and acoustic guitar gave a whole new slant on the material and showed how great the melodies are.

The first set ranged far and wide across Hugh’s solo career, full of what he called “dark solitary characters”  including a rousing and acerbic  “Stuck in Daily Mail land” from Totem and Taboo, the elegiac and beautiful  “Cadiz” Hugh’s personal favourite  and the tongue in cheek “ Henry Moore”  from the Beyond Elysian Fields album.

Hugh gave us another new song “Monster”, based on his love of the work of Ray Harryhausen the pre CGI special effects genius and a man that Hugh admitted had given him “chills up his backbone”.

See here’s the thing, when you look at the Strangler’s work you see macho culture, bravado and apparent aggression, but none of this was present  in Hugh’s interaction with the crowd, happily chatting between songs, not taking himself  too seriously, relaxed and open to a bit of banter he seems to be comfortable in his own skin.

He is very self aware, at one point  pointing out that “ you are all probably here for the Strangler’s songs and wondering where they are, that’s later once I have warmed up”, and then admonishing someone who was videoing  on his phone to put it down and just enjoy being at the gig.

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Closing out the “solo” set, we swung through Guilty’s “Nerves of Steel”,  “Break of Dawn“ from Wolf and ended with a touching and powerful version of “Under her spell” with some beautiful guitar lines and a heartfelt coda “she is from heaven and I am from Hell”

Returning after a short break to “get a cup of coffee” Hugh took to the stage to give us a set of Strangler’s songs re-arranged for voice and acoustic guitar, where once again the strength of the melodies really shone through.

Opening with the almost surreal “Outside Tokyo” from 3rd album Black and White, Hugh’s voice beautifully highlighted by the superb acoustics at St Pauls, you could have heard a pin drop.

Then came a couple of real fan favourite “Duchess” and “Goodbye Toulouse” and yes the guitar solo could have been better and yes there was a fumble, but as he said, “couple of glitches there, it’s a live gig and you get glitches, its not an MP4”, for me this summed up the joy of a live performance, everyone makes mistakes and sometimes that’s what makes the event, the unexpected, the unscripted.

What the crowd seemed to love, was the fact that Hugh didn’t just trot out the hits but gave us some lesser know songs like “Ships that pass in the night” from Feline, Dreamtime’s “Big in America” which was preceded by a curious story about finding a cockroach on the 18th floor of a hotel in New York and trying to work out how it managed to climb 18 storeys.

A superb version of “Always the Sun” followed, with the crowd, totally unprompted, providing pitch perfect harmonies, creating a genuinely touching and emotional moment. The mood continued with “Strange Little Girl” and the set closer “Golden Brown” complete with more crowds singing and Hugh’s voice soaring into the rafters of St Paul’s.

As you would expect the crowd wanted more and Hugh returned with a great story of how a meeting with  Arthur Lee, another  one of his hero’s didn’t go as planned, before closing the night with  “Tramp” from La Folie and a rollicking version of “Nice and Sleazy”

Cue more Mose Allison and he was gone.

So, is Hugh Cornwell the best singer in the world, probably not, is he the best guitarist, again probably not, but did he put his all into the night, did he work to engage with the crowd, did he showcase the best of his solo and band work and did he leave the audience feeling that the had participated in an intimate, enjoyable and satisfying event, that would be a resounding yes.

This for me was a better gig than two years ago, more varied, more engaged and the improvement made at St Paul’s in terms of sound and atmosphere really showcases this sort of intimate, song driven gig. So if you can catch Hugh on tour and definitely get yourself down to St Pauls, they have some amazing gigs coming up.

Ruby and the Revelators – People get ready.

People Get Ready –  Ruby and the Revelators at  St Pauls Worthing October 13th 2017.

Those familiar with St Paul’s will know it is a venue that does  intimate, acoustic gigs very well, but tonight the roof was well and truly blown off by Funk/ Soul/Blues five piece Ruby and the Revelators.

Supported by The Stash Deejays who filled the floor with Northern Soul, Blues, R and B and Soul classic, Ruby and the band took to the stage for the first of two energetic sets.

Fronted by the talented Ruby Tiger (Olivia Stevens) who combines, Vinegar Joe era Elkie Brookes with the growl of Janice Joplin and the passion of Etta James this Sussex band comprises, Lou Maggs on lead guitar, Frazer Wigg on Keyboards, Piotr on drums and John on Bass. The rhythm section is solid and on point but for me it’s in the interplay between Ruby, Lou and Frazer where the real magic lies. Frazer’s swirling Hammond organ wraps around Ruby’s swooping passionate vocals and Louise’s intricate guitar creates a wall of sound that has to be heard to be believed.

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Ruby and the Revelators stay away from simple 12 bar blues, tinging a mostly self penned set with funk, jazz and blues complete with Al Kooperesque Hammond and Lou Magg’s stunning guitar work, her solos and runs showing jazz, blues and funk influences.

Doyens of many festivals, the band know how to get the punters on their feet with a set of self penned numbers and standards including opener, “Find Me a Man” an upbeat boogie which brought a smile to this reviewers face  and for some reason made me think of the Andrews Sisters. The funk of “Get Back” the 60’s Stax sound of “When I See You” and the beautiful “Soul Recovery Service” with a guitar solo from Lou that had the flavour of early Peter Green and Gary Moore

What Ruby and the Revelators do will not break any moulds, but their take on a range of genres is to fuse, soul, blues, funk and jazz into a set of songs which pays homage to those originals but never falls into pastiche or parody, and that’s no mean feat.

Opening the second set with “Shattered not Broken” Ruby and the band quickly had the crowd back on their feet and a set of joyous, soulful songs ensued including, “My baby likes to boogaloo”, “Soulful Dress”,” 25 miles” and a fantastic cover of “I’d rather go blind”, before heading to set closer the gospel tinged, foot stamping, “Stand Up” with its ridiculously hooky chorus and call and response to stand up and be counted.

It is easy to see why this band are such festival favourites, nothing beats listening to musicians on top of their game, playing music that they love and doing it with passion, style and incredible competence  and this band have all of those traits and more, but more than anything they are FUN.

One of the hardest working bands in the South, Ruby and the Revelators will be playing near you soon, I recommend you go and see them, People Get Ready, Ruby and the Revelators are coming.

Tom Hingley (ex-Inspiral Carpets) – Interview

Ok, so what’s better than a quick chat with one of the leading lights of the “Madchester” scene? I’ll tell you what, a long rambling chat over a couple of hours; Much of which is unprintable, some of it probably libellous, and some of which will appear in another longer blog in the near future.

I caught up with Inspiral Carpets vocalist Tom Hingley at the end of June as he was on his way to a gig in Barnsley, battling signal loss and drop outs we covered a fascinating range of topics, from music theory to the power and fickleness of the press, Dr Who, Brexit, Blake’s Seven and the joys of balancing parenthood with the role of a gigging musician.

Continue reading “Tom Hingley (ex-Inspiral Carpets) – Interview”

Pete Fij / Terry Bickers (22/7/17) – In Review

Not even the threat of heavy rain could dampen the spirits of Worthing’s music lovers who ventured out to St Paul’s for yet another wonderful evening of beautiful, melancholic songs delivered with passion and skill by a duo who have realised that sometimes it is the spaces in a song that really count.

In an era of talent show tat and quick buck mania, there are still artists who have the chops and the ability to engage with your emotions and lift your spirits.

Tell your friends, St Paul’s is fast becoming a leading venue for such talented songwriters and performers who appreciate the intimate nature of the room and feed on the interaction with the audience.

Continue reading “Pete Fij / Terry Bickers (22/7/17) – In Review”

Pete Fij / Terry Bickers

For those of us who still use a calendar, its time to take a big red pen and mark Saturday 22nd July as an event not to be missed.

St Paul’s Worthing is proud to host singer songwriters Pete Fij and Terry Bickers for an evening of stunningly beautiful Acoustic/Alt rock.

Worthing based auteur Pete Fij and Rye based Terry Bickers, the man the NME once called “a guitar god”, have had individually illustrious careers. Once feted and courted by the coolest record labels including Creation, One little Indian, Rough trade, and Cherry Red.

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Synthesize Me – Bleep, Boings and Beautiful Noises: The Entire History of Electronic Music

Ok, cards on the table, a confession, as Todd Rundgren once put it, “I was born to synthesize “, from Hot Chip to chip tune, from OMD to IDM to EDM, from Eno to the Orb, the sheer variety of beats, rhythms and pulses has kept me hooked for years.

So with great anticipation I headed to St Pauls in Worthing on Friday for the return of iconic Club night “Synthesize me” promising an evening of “Bleep, Boings and Beautiful Noises: The Entire History of Electronic Music” and I’m pleased to say I was not disappointed. Brighton’s own Synthesize me has been bringing the noise since 2010 and it only gets better.

Decked out in full party mode with lights, giant mirror ball, balloons and cabaret style tables covered in sweets, St Pauls was ready for DJ Casper Gomez to get things started with a carefully considered vinyl mash-up; resplendent in western villain black cowboy hat his enthusiasm and love of the music soon filled the dance floor.

Continue reading “Synthesize Me – Bleep, Boings and Beautiful Noises: The Entire History of Electronic Music”