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Hugh Cornwell

+ {Sons Of Shiva}

Many would say the lynch-pin of The STRANGLERS until his departure in August 1990 (although the Brit-punk pioneers are still going strong without him as of 2012), singer-songwriter/guitarist HUGH CORNWELL maintained his own solo agenda since his first tentative, breakaway steps on 1979’s collaborative NOSFERATU {*6} set with Robert Williams.
While STRANGLERS bassist J.J. Burnel bombed that same year with `Euroman Cometh’, CORNWELL (born 28th August 1949, Tufnell Park, North London) was equally careering out of control with multi-functioning, Boston-born CAPTAIN BEEFHEART sticksman Robert Williams on the soundtrack-styled “Nosferatu”. Invitations had been dished out to DEVO’s Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh, ZAPPA synth-man Ian Underwood and guitarist David Waldroop, all aiding and abetting the ambient feel of CORNWELL’s dark side. Almost FAD GADGET or VIRGIN PRUNES in its weird-oid concept, the charismatic IAN DURY guested “carny” shouts on best track, `Wrong Way Round’, while the DEVO were most prominent on `Rhythmic Itch’. With oi! music about to explode as a new movement, the opening speed-merchant title track was a poignant reminder that Hugh had stemmed from punk roots, while his choice of covering CREAM’s `White Room’ was down to sheer a once-youthful self-indulgence.
Taking a sidestep from his STRANGLERS duties, HUGH CORNWELL inked a deal with Virgin Records, who, with producer Ian Ritchie and a raft of seasoned session people (including JOOLS HOLLAND, The Attractions’ Pete Thomas, Manny Elias and Alex Gifford) delivered the rather limp dance-pop set, WOLF (1988) {*4}. Lambasted in Britain but given airtime on American radio, tracks such as the Clive Langer/Alan Winstanley-penned `Another Kind Of Love’ (complete with Jan Svankmajer-directed promo-video) and `Never Never’ saved it from the bargain bins.
Together with Roger Cook and Andy West, CORNWELL’s first post-STRANGLERS studio project, CCW (1992) {*6}, had its moments; check out `Sweet Sister’, `She’s Gone’ and `Psycho’. WIRED (1993) {*5} and GUILTY (1997) {*6} were the man’s consistent but uninspiring contemporary-pop/rock sojourns, and probably only for die-hard fans.
CORNWELL found his pop-niche once again on his fourth solo outing, HI FI (2000) {*6}, a Laurie Latham-produced record that garnered an American release and some remixes by Black Dog Productions and reprises of two classic STRANGLERS songs, `Golden Brown’ and `Always The Sun’. Of the British equivalent, `All The Colours Of The Rainbow’, the psychedelic `Gingerbread Man’ (like a dub SYD BARRETT) and the grumpy `Leave Me Alone’ were his best tunes of the last decade.
Marked out by two creepy covers of The VELVET UNDERGROUND’s `Venus In Furs’ and STEPHEN STILLS’ `For What It’s Worth’, FOOTPRINTS IN THE DESERT (2002) {*6}, kept his 60s idols within arms length, while “geetar”-friendly funky tunes such as `I Can’t Handle It’, `If You Wanted To’ ventured the man into fresh territory. Not frightened to explore new territories with other acts, Hugh supplied the music for the SONS OF SHIVA (2002) {*6} project, a project led by writer Chris Goulstone and narrator Sex W Johnson; JULIAN COPE would be proud of this psych-electronica from another planet.
Recorded live in Manchester in ’98, MAYDAY (2002) {*7}, CORNWELL was back to his menacing best as he re-vamped works from the previous two decades, a good deal of it from his “Nosferatu” days. Already in the can, the singer threw in a handful of STRANGLERS tunes (`Golden Brown’, `Nice ‘N’ Sleazy’, `Strange Little Girl’ and `Always The Sun’) into the acoustic live follow-up, IN THE DOCK (2003) {*6}.
Certainly a man of prolific musical proportions, a high profile and possibly disgruntled old STRANGLERS worthies, was maintained on further studio sets, BEYOND ELYSIAN FIELDS (2004) {*6}, HOOVERDAM (2008) {*6} – recorded as a trio – and TOTEM AND TABOO (2012) {*6}, while the odd concert set such as the largely acoustic DIRTY DOZEN LIVE (2006) {*5} once again drew material from his STRANGLERS salad days. His live career-stretching triple-CD-set, PEOPLE PLACES PIECES (2006) {*6}, was the ultimate answer to anyone not yet convinced of CORNWELL’s talent and dexterity.
Absent from the limelight for a few years or so, guitarist CORNWELL was back in his collaborative/production hot-seat by way of helping out punk-poet pal Dr JOHN COOPER CLARKE on his quest to become crooner covers artist on 2016’s `This Time It’s Personal’.
Some of the aforesaid set’s chart clout must’ve rubbed off on a solo HUGH CORNWELL when loose concept set, MONSTERS (2018) {*7} – complete with bonus record of STRANGLERS “restorations” – bubbled under the Top 60. If Hugh had once name-checked Leon Trotsky, Sancho Panza et al within the lines of classic “No More Heroes”, here he had mentions for Mugabe (`Robert’), Mussolini (`Duce Coochie Man’), Evel Kneivel (`Pure Evel’), Lou Reed (`Mr. Leather’), Sgt. Bilko (`Bilko’), Hedy Lamarr (`The Most Beautiful Girl In Hollywood’) and his mum (`La Grande Dame’) – and this time it was personal!
© MC Strong/MCS Aug2012-Oct2018

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