I have to admit that I haven’t been paying too much attention to Hughs career since he split from the Stranglers in 1990. In fact I didn’t pay much attention to the Stranglers after they released their fifth, and extremely disappointing album “The Gospel According to the Men in Black” in 1981 so you could be forgiven for thinking my interest in Cornwell was only fleeting. However, nothing could be further from the truth as I still play Stranglers records on a regular basis and I still think of myself as a fan. I’m a creature of habit and play either Rattus Norvegicus IV or the White Side of “Black and White” at least once a month and have done for the last five years so I was thrilled to hear from my mate Steve that Hugh was appearing in the nearby market town of Great Torrington in North Devon at the Plough Theatre.
Steve and I both spoke before Hugh appeared of how he must look now and if we’d recognise him if we saw him in a pub. Would he be wearing a leather jacket and jeans, or perhaps a hat, bandana or something unconventional ? I was almost certain he’d still have that arrogant “lead singer” edge and would dress accordingly, but I was wrong. He looked just like a gent, possibly the least casual guy in the theatre wearing jacket, trousers, shirt and brogues – yes brogues !
Hugh then delighted us with tunes from each of the first ten Stranglers albums in the first half of the concert followed by more tunes from his solo career in the second half. They were all acoustic, no tapes, no backing tracks, just Hugh and his guitar – pure genius. He kept us entertained between the songs with tales of the writing, the producers, the labels, the records, deals and the recordings and also gave us some advice – “Belgium, if you want decent food, avoid Paris, go to Belgium”. It was all so civilised.
He commented on a couple of people sneaking in and out between songs, a little controversy perhaps? No not at all, Hugh was the perfect gent. Wait a minute, what’s those stimulants he’s popping? Relax, just cough sweets ! He’s knocking those drinks back though? But hang on, it’s Ok it’s only water , still water , not fizzy ( I had noticed someone had swapped them before Hugh came on )
After the show Steve and I made a brisk beeline for the reception were Hugh promised there was some signed “vinyl” to purchase and he was true to his word. Having opened a number of new LPs on my market stall I gave Hugh a hand and helped open up my copy of Hughs latest “Solo Greatest Hits” before he signed “The Fall and Rise of Hugh Cornwell”
I asked him if he was surprised how remote we were in Torrington and he laughed, explaining he’d left from Brighton at lunch, he was knackered, North Devon was certainly remote and the drive was over five hours. Mmmm, controversy at last!