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  • Ilyana Glanville

An Interview with Hugh Cornwell – Punk rock legend talks lasagna, The Stranglers and his new album

We Talked to punk rock legend Hugh Cornwell during his recent tour for new album Moments of Madness to discuss his solo career, musical inspirations and how he looks back on his time with The Stranglers.

To start, what inspired you to write your latest album?

I always write about things that happen to me, as I once heard someone say, ‘just write about things that you know about, don’t try and write about things that you don’t know about because you’ll just come unstuck.’ So I stick to what I know, which is what happens to me and my life, dreams and all that sort of stuff. Of course, when COVID hit there was a lot of time for introspection and all those sorts of things. So, there was plenty of time for that and that’s what formed these songs. ‘Coming out of the Wilderness’ is a song all about the past – covid lifestyle, but all these songs are about episodes in my life or things very personal to me.

Most strikingly, you named one song on your album ‘Lasagna’ what inspired you to do so?

Well, Lasagna has a very interesting story behind it, I go abroad every year as I’m attempting to write novels and I’m currently on the 4th one, but I like to go off every January with my laptop to somewhere by the sea and I write or continue with the book I’m on as a break from playing music - I think it was Winston Churchill who said ‘a change is a good as a rest’. I’ve been going recently to Mexico, and there’s an Italian couple who run a gelataria, the husband makes the ice cream but the wife I discovered makes puddings, like apple pie, tiramisu, and panna cotta, but she also makes a killer lasagna.

So, whenever I go there I make a beeline for this place with a bottle of wine and she serves me this killer lasagna, which is the best I’ve ever had in my life!

It was around COVID time, just before it hit I was making merry with them and I said to them I’m going to write a song about your lasagna, both laughed and thought I was having a joke I said to them, no I’m going to do it, and in the end I was able to do it. That song is about real people, in real life who actually exist. I gave them a copy of the album when it came out and they flipped out! They couldn’t believe I’d done what I’d said I was going to do.

After having a solo career that now doubles the amount of time you spent with The Stranglers, how do you feel still being so strongly connected to The Stranglers? Do you still feel obliged to include The Stranglers songs in your set?

Yeah, I mean I can’t really not play anything because if I didn’t play anything it would be like trying to deny or pretend I’m something I’m not. I’m a product of everything that’s happened before and in part of that is those [The Stranglers’] songs, they’re such strong songs and so many of them sound so fresh even now and contemporary. It doesn’t really bother me that I’m still expected to perform those songs because I’m proud of them. If it was substandard material, I’d be a little embarrassed but it’s not, it’s actually a measure of where my stuff now is. I’ve got a tough thing to measure to up to because I’ve got to measure up to with what we achieved writing The Stranglers songs, so it is a tough call.

As it is a high standard, I think I’m going in the right direction as they’re getting better and not worse as times goes on. So, to me it’s fine. I do sort of feel an obligation to play those songs but it doesn't upset me, because we have decided to split the shows so my first set I play my solo work and then we take a break and we come back on and just ram those Stranglers songs down their throats, and it’s really quite fun to do it like that so people can see, to me it feels almost like being schizophrenic you know having those two personalities.

I’ve got my first personality which is my solo stuff and then

I’ve got my Stranglers personality afterwards, which has worked quite worked well. It also means if people aren’t interested in hearing my solo work they can come late, and just catch The Stranglers stuff. But all I really care about is the fact that they come to the shows, not what they’re coming to listen to. I’m responsible for a lot of the back catalogue of songs, it’s still my work, so in short, I don’t really care.

Do you feel like you still have the same punk beliefs and ideologies you had when writing Stranglers songs?

Well, I’m not as angry as I was then, but I still have exactly the same influences and beliefs. The exact same things make me sad or fire me up or make me laugh so I don’t really feel that different. But I strongly believe we’re stuck with the music we grow up with. So for you, if you grew up listening to The Stranglers then I’m sorry but you’re stuck with that for the rest of your life.

The things that you listen to as a teenager stick with you for the rest of your life and you can’t get rid of that unfortunately. So, I’m still stuck in that the record keeps going round and playing the same things and I can’t move on. What you listen to as a teenager is absorbed and then you never quite absorb new things in the same way again as they don’t have the profound affect upon you like the music you listened to as a teenager.

I’ve met a lot of people who also agree with that statement too, so that’s what I believe. I still have the same ethics and the same thought processes, I haven’t changed in that, I’m just about the same as I was then. I feel very fortunate that I can say that as a lot of people have fallen by the wayside. You know, my health is good and you’ve got to be healthy to do this job. I feel very fortunate, the fact that I can have a phone call about a gig that’s coming up in a few months’ time after having just got back from Mexico, I thank my lucky stars, I feel like I got very lucky.

[The fame The Stranglers had] I hope nobody is suddenly going to find out I’m a fake and throw me out! I also think you’ve got to have new ideas to make new songs, it’s all well and good being able to go out and do the shows, but you’ve got to have new ideas, or be very good at recycling the old ideas as new ones, you know you’ve got to have new ideas on your side, and luckily I’ve still got those as well.

Are you finding it harder to find those new ideas? Or do they still come to you fairly easily?

Anything can inspire me, meeting somebody, seeing something in the street. I’ve got a few great ideas for the next album once again stories from Mexico.

The same lady who makes the lasagna, she told me some amazing stories. I just get so excited thinking about all the ideas, you have to have ideas to write songs, and they can be about anything.

Lastly, as someone who is so entwined with music, do you still listen to music in your own time? And if so, what do you listen to?

Well, unfortunately this isn’t going to be a very useful answer as I find it very difficult to listen to anything new, when people say ‘you’ve got hear this’ and I go and I hear it and it just reminds me of something else that I already knew.

There’s also so much out there that where do you start? What would I listen to first? I don’t actually put on music at all when I’m alone or with friends. I prefer to talk or watch a movie actually and any new music I hear is music is on movie soundtracks, I’ll hear something and go oh! I wonder what that was? And then I might check it out or look somebody up because I’ve heard it on the soundtrack.

But I’ve found that also since starting to write novels I’ve stopped reading books as well! I used to be a veracious reader and I’d read all the time. I’d go on tour and take a stack of novels that I needed to read and classic or new stuff to read whilst I was travelling. But since I’ve started writing I’ve not wanted to read what anyone else has written I’d rather make it up myself. Which is sad, because I’ve painted myself into a corner and I don’t know how to get out of it!

Cornwall’s new album Moments Of Madness is available now.


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