Hello Hugh, it’s nice to speak to you again. Time has flown, I went to see you at the O2 Islington after our last chat and really enjoyed it. I thought the show was amazing. The stand out track for me was ‘Always The Sun’ – is that song a favourite, an old friend of yours?
Yeah, I’m very proud of that song. I brought it to the band already written and demoed and everyone loved it. We spent a long time making a great arrangement of it and it works really well.
I was gonna ask you, do you find the songs take on different lives, particularly when you play them live (to an audience) in a different way to how The Stranglers performed them?
Yeah, especially, as you said, because I’m not carrying keyboards, so they take on a different flavour and that’s really helpful for me because it reinvents them. I mean, one of the reasons I didn’t want to continue with the old line up was that I couldn’t see myself spending decades going out and playing the songs exactly as they sound on the original and I wanted to sort of reinvent myself and reinvent whatever I stood for. It’s great going out and playing these songs without keyboards because you’ve gotta do some acrobatics to get them to sound right... Sometimes with a keyboard piece, I’ll play it on guitar, or sometimes the bass player will incorporate it into his part - then sometimes the drummer might do something and they’ve all got great voices, so backing voices can become another instrument.
I was amazed at how you actually got The Stranglers ‘sound’ without the keys. The ‘two halves’ format of the show was great because I like to know what I’m getting and I think you appreciate the fact that everybody is interested in your new album, of course, because it’s great, but there were a lot of Stranglers fans there that night and they just adore those old songs, so the way that you actually made them ‘Stranglers songs’ without the keys was incredible. It was a great show – I’m going to go again this year!
Oh that’s great, because I want to be respectful to the songs, you know, and I don’t want fans to listen to the songs and think ‘he’s crucified it!’ So I spent a lot of time when we picked the old tracks (and chose) which ones we were gonna do and we spent a lot of time trying to make sure that all the signature things were in and going ‘Oh you’ve gotta put that bit in because they love that bit’, you know, and somebody would say ‘well I can play that’ so I’d say well play it and show me. Then they’d play it and I’d go ‘Yeah... that sounds pretty good!’. On ‘Duchess’ we sing the keys, like ‘DoooooooOoooh’ (sings), we sing the part!
Well, Hugh, it really works – I think it’s really great!
Last time we spoke about music, we spoke about writing and we touched on Ray Harryhausen in film. I know that you’ve acted before – was film and going to the movies a big part of your growing up and a big love (of yours)? Were you a Jean Paul Belmondo fan, for example? Or an Alain Delon fan?
Oooh... JPB! JPB of course! Yeah, I mean the thing is that, (I dunno if we went into this last time) when I was at Grammar School, our headmaster turned round and suddenly dropped this bombshell on us that he wanted us to do some extra-curricular studies, to increase the breadth of our general knowledge! So he got all the Masters (the staff) to pick things that they could do an extra-curricular class on and my chemistry teacher (bizarrely) who was a young cool dude and a really nice guy, well he was a big film buff so he started this class on (contemporary) cinema! I liked him and I didn’t know much about film, so I thought well, I’ll go to Harris’ class (Mr Harris) cos that’d be cool, you know, cos he’s a cool guy... and he started talking about films and said ‘I don’t know what you consider film to be, but has anyone heard of The Everyman in Hampstead?’ So I went ‘Uh, no’ and then he said ‘Well if you wanna see what possibilities you can find at a cinema in the movies, go and see something that’s on there, because they’ve always got something on worth seeing and I took him up on that. I was one of the only ones that actually did! I went to see a Bunuel film, (you know Louis Bunuel?) called ‘Viridiana’ (1961) and it completely blew my mind. I was in tears by the end of it because it’s a very sad story about a nun who takes pity on some beggars and brings them in, gives them a place to live and they rape and pillage her. It’s a tough lesson on human behaviour.
Those films were amazing. I did a degree at North London Uni in film, I think Bunuel was Spanish - but when we did a French New Wave module, we watched ‘Quatre Cent Coups’ (1959) the last shot where he’s running towards the sea...
Oh! Then when I first saw Belmondo in ‘Breathless’ (1960), the whole ‘eye-line match’ went out of the window and you didn’t know what time it was – they threw the Hollywood convention straight out the window!
Yes! Of course there’s nothing wrong with Hollywood though – I don’t know if you’re aware that I have a Podcast site (it used to be a streaming site), called ‘Mr Demille FM’ and that celebrates all... well Mr Demille invented Hollywood! So, although we like the fact that they threw Hollywood on its head, Hollywood produced some FANTASTIC work. Actually I watch films a lot, and I tend to go one old Hollywood movie one day and something newer the next day.
You did a bit of acting yourself, didn’t you? Would you be tempted back if a script came along? I was watching the video for ‘Always The Sun’ and you were acting the screen off in that!
(Laughs) Haha! Well thank you... I’ve had a few cameo roles in films over the years, but not recently. People occasionally come out of the woodwork with something that they want, but nothing’s really got off the ground and it seems that’s the way it’s going to be, but I keep my hand in to the business and I’m working on a few projects – not necessarily on the acting side, so that’s a shame... but you know that actors are just the oxen of the producers, directors and writers, if you like. They do exactly what they’re told and so, if you wanna create, unless you’re a really gifted actor, well people get typecast don’t they? And then they can’t break out of that thing. The scripts they keep getting offered are always playing that sort of part. One of the programs I’ve just written for the Podcast is called ‘Against Type’ and it’s a selection of films where people have played against what they’ve been expected to do. One of the latest ones, which was a huge success, was Charleze Theron in a film called ‘Monster’, funnily enough! She won an Oscar for that film. She put on loads of weight and played a serial killer...
Oh yeah that was disturbing, the build up and how she was mistreated...some of the scenes were hard to watch...
Yeah but that’s what happens when you become an actor. You have to remember that most actors are typecast. How horrible that would be – it would be like being in The Stranglers for the rest of my life, hahahaha! (laughs).
Yes! It would be like you getting the next James Bond and then being typecast as James Bond, instead of the brilliant singer-songwriter, writer..!
(Laughing) Ahahaha! So there you go! We’ve come back to the music in a funny, circular way!
So the tour starts 12th November – is it tiring? I mean, do you take it in your stride? I imagine you’re on the road quite a bit?
Yeah, well as long as the drive, the road distance isn’t that far every day... that’s the killer, when you’ve got a six or seven hour drive every day. That’s why touring America is so draining, cos you have a six, seven or eight hour road trip every day, you know, then a show at the end of it. I don’t know how they do it. Over here, because this country’s so small, you don’t get those big trips, so compared to some places, believe me, touring England is a doddle.
Some of those tour buses are absolutely amazing though, aren’t they? In fact they’re probably bigger than my flat so I wouldn’t mind being on one of those going across America!
Regarding the tour, I really must say, that because this is the second Monster Tour, I’ve been very careful to change what we’re playing. So the first set, the solo set is at least 50% different from last year’s. Obviously there are more tunes from ‘Monster’ on there, because people know it better, and I’ve changed a lot of the solo catalogue songs as well. I just don’t wanna go out and do the same thing again, you know.
That's an artist who thinks about his fans.
I think it’s important that people know that because otherwise they might go ‘Oh yeah, he’s doing the Monster tour again... and it’s gonna be the same as last year...’ But it won’t be and we’re actually doing a few more old Stranglers ones as well.
I think they’d still come and see you if you played it word for word – I think you underestimate your fan base!
Hahaha! Really? Haha, Oh no, it would be terrible if we did the new stuff and they went ‘Boo! Why don’t you play what you did last year?!’
Thanks to Bertrand Fevre for the brilliant Photograghs in this article -Pic Link - Hugh Cornwell's chat with pauliepaul from 2018
Hugh, has fame been kind to you? London can be anonymous but can you go for a walk on the Heath without getting bothered? Are you conscious of people recognising you or saying hello to you?
Hmm... occasionally I see people giving me a longer look than normal and I just, you know, just carry on, but they’re very respectful really. It’s nothing like in the Woody Allen films! ‘Yeah, Alvie Singer!’
That's so funny when he's waiting outside the cinema...
Yes Annie Hall, It’s great to talk to a movie buff you know, I just love the movies. I can completely lose myself in films, it’s like a Pandora’s Box. I’ve got a great question for you – stop me if I asked you last time, but how many feature films do you think, since the beginning of cinema until now, have been released in the cinema in all those years?
Oh my goodnight...
Just give me a figure... just guess!
It’s a great pub quiz question!
I dunno Hugh... Twenty million? Fifty million?
That’s amazing, because I went big as well. You won’t believe how small it is - it’s HALF a million! If you work it out, it’s like, over a hundred years and works out at around five thousand a year. Well you might say ‘Oh that’s not correct now’, but earlier on it was LESS than five thousand a year. Isn’t that amazing? That there are only half a million films made? It seems like I’m always finding new stuff that I’ve never heard of before!
Wow. Yeah, film is a Pandora’s Box. I’m going to check out your Podcast, definitely.
Oh please do! I’ve just posted an interview I did with the UK’s largest independent film distributer who’s been in the movie business for thirty, forty years and did ‘Withnail and I’ and ‘Top Gun’ amongst others... it’s fascinating talking to him about his life, how he started out in the business and how it has changed.
Did you go to see ‘Withnail and I’ when it first came out?
Yeah I did. I thought it was pretty good, but it wasn’t a great success at first. It was a slow burner. When it was rereleased it took off.
Ok, Hugh, it’s been fantastic talking to you and I’m going to come and see you again on this tour.
There isn’t a central London date this year, I think the closest to London is going to be Harpendon, but it’s been great talking to another film buff!
Well I’ll come and find you – if you’re venturing up north, my family live near Chesterfield so I’ll come to a date up there.
Oh yeah, we’ve got loads up north, Leeds and Liverpool, Bury... quite a few up north.
When does the tour finish?
The tour finishes on the 1st December then I’m going straight back into the studio for a couple of months as I have some new songs I want to record.
Well it’s been lovely chatting with you again. I’m just looking out at the blue sky – I bet it’s cold out there but it does look like a lovely day!
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