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I. The Stranglers - 1974-1990

 

Hugh Alan Cornwell was born on August 28th, 1949 and he is one of the founder members of The Stranglers.

In 1974, Hugh came back from Sweden after having dropped his studies in Biochemistry after he had definitively decide to take a carrier in music. Hugh was playing the guitar in a semi-professional band called Johnny Sox (or later, for a while, Wanderlust). The first of the future Stranglers that Hugh met was Jet Black, who joined the band when their drumer left. Jet shared with Hugh the same views and musical ambitions. They were quickly joined by a young man called Jean-Jacques Burnel. The Stranglers were born. A few months later, the trio was be joined by Dave Greenfield on keyboards.

Hugh is thus the first singer of The Stranglers, and on the four members, the one who has probably contributed the most to create this ‘black’, subversive and provocative image that never left them until his departure. (JJ, for his part, was dealing with the aggessive and violent reputation of the band). Today, The Stranglers are not provocative, nor subversive any more.

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10 albums studios will be composed by The Stranglers between 1977 and 1990.

In 1978, Hugh started to work on a first solo project with Captain Beefheart's band drummer, Robert Williams. The end of the year 1978 and the year 1979 were devoted partly to a series of comings and goings between London and Los Angeles in order to work on a concept-album titled 'Nosferatu'. Hugh was using the periods when the band had some days-off between the Japanese and Australian tours, the writing and the recording sessions of 'The Raven' and the tour which followed the release of this last.

At the end of 1979, 'Nosferatu' was finally released and the result was a curious mix of things, Hugh and Robert Williams having systematically avoided any commercial direction in the arrangements of the tracks. Still today, it remains a good album, even if it’s needless to say that it was a commercial disaster.


The end of this same year was also marked by an event that Hugh Cornwell will remember a long time: In the night preceding All Saints day, after the last concertof the 'Raven Tour', Hugh was returning to London by car with Paul Loasby and three french fans. Their car was stopped by the police, everybody was searched and the police discovered some dope in Paul's shirt a full chemistery set in Hugh's bag including samples of various drugs generally offered by fans during the tour. Hugh and Paul Loasby were immediately arrested. They werefinally judged on January 6, 1980, Hugh being condemned to 8 weeks, together with a fine of £300. Hugh's penalty was largely out of proportions. Hugh's request was rejected and he started his eight weeks at the prison of Pentonville, in London, on March 21.
He reported the whole story and how he lived it in a book entitled 'Inside Information' that was published in November 1980.

That was the way The Stranglers were entering the blackest period of their career.

This career continued during the Eighties, with however more and more difficulties to maintain themselves in the charts, and the impossibility to break the American market. All proportions should be kept anyway: many would have been satisfied with the success they had during the Eighties, with albums like 'Feline' and ‘Aural Sculpture’, and hits like 'Golden Brown', 'Skin Deep', 'Always The Sun' or 'All Day And All Of The Night'. But it is clear that it does not have any common measure with what they had done between 1977 and 1979.

Hugh Cornwell went back to his solo activities in 1985, in the summer that followed the release of ‘Aural Sculpture’ with a single entitled 'One In A Million'. which was followed two years later by 'Facts And Figures', a song that he wrote for the soundtrack of the movie 'When The Wind Blows'.

'Wolf', Hugh's second solo album was released in 1988. The result was then completely different, much more commercial than 'Nosferatu' (which is not difficult), and more funky and danceable than what The Stranglers were doing at the time. The sound was more "americanised", more aimed for airplay, and Hugh showed great vocal talents, on the path which it had taken since ‘La Folie’ and 'Feline' by directing his style towards true melodies, rather than this half spoken (or sometimes howled) style which had defined The Stranglers sound until then.

Consequently, Hugh had nothing any more but one idea left in the mind: to carry out his own projects, necessarily outside The Stranglers, and to succeed commercially where they had always failed, in the United States. He became then less and less involved in the band's work, persuaded that nothing good could still come out of them. The album '10' released in 1990, the ultimate album with Hugh Cornwell seems to be the proof, even if Hugh paradoxically declared at the time that it was their best album in his opinion. It is more the result of a desperate attempt to make an album aimed for the american market, which leads to an overproduced album, complicated, wasting the interesting songs that had been written.

On August 11, 1990, Hugh went on the stage of the Alexandra Palace for a concert which, he knew it already, will be his last with the Stranglers. This concert was the last one scheduled and the band didn't have any other engagement for the next months. It was thus the ideal moment to call it a day.
The next morning, Hugh called the three others on the phone, to announce that it was leaving the Stranglers. On the Stranglers side, the traumatism seems still today not to have disappeared yet (‘Don’t You Think That What You’ve Done Is Wrong’ on Coup De Grace by JJ in 1998, replying to Hugh’s ‘Long Dead Train’ on the album Guilty in 1997 ?).

 


II. Solo - from 1990
 

Hugh starts to work on his own compositions, collaborating in particular with Rodger Cook and Andy West and writing songs which will end up as an album, 'CCW' in 1992. The result is surprising, very far from The Stranglers, especially as only a few songs are signed by Hugh Cornwell, and as the three musicians share the vocals on the album.

‘Wired’, Hugh’s real third solo album is released in 1993. The result doesn’t reach the level of what one could have expected from the former singer of Stranglers in solo (personal opinion). Once again, the obsession of an american success must have wasted the sound of the LP.

 

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It is finally in 1997 that Hugh's solo career seems to take a real new turn. The fourth album, 'Guilty' is released in May with 10 new tracks produced by Laurie Latham, with whom Hugh seems to share the same ideas from a musical point of view since their fisrt collaboration on ‘Aural Sculpture’ in 1984. The songs are definitely more personal than on the former releases and the work of Laurie Latham fits perfectly with the tracks.

Hugh will then have to fight two years to make the album being released in the United States. It is finally a new version that appears in April 1999 under a new title, 'Black Hair, Black Eyes, Black Suit' and with some changes in the tracks list.

Most of the two following years, 1998 and 1999, are devoted to the reconquest of a public, in particular by a long series in concerts, in Europe, United States and Canada. The 'Heads & Tails Tour' begin in April 1998 with Mike Polson on guitar, Michelle Marti on bass and Justin Chapman on drums.

From November 1998, Hugh start to play solo gigs, alone on stage with an accoustic guitar, an electro-accoustique one and his famous black Telecaster. He plays a selection of tracks going from the 'Nosferatu' period to the latest songs he has written. A good third of the set consists of Stranglers songs. The tour called 'Plugged & Unplugged', intersected with some concerts with the full band goes from November 1998 to the autumn 1999, having a stop in Paris in December, then the United Kingdom, Oslo, the United States and the Canada in June and July, before returning in September to the british islands.

In parallel, Hugh's internet web site, 'The Torture Garden', created by Tony Kinson in August 1997 becomes more and more important, and settles a direct link between the fans, Hugh and the management. Since the beginning of September 1999, two live albums are then available exclusively on the Torture Garden.

Since the end of 1999, Hugh is on the road with his band, Sumyunguise, touring the Great Britain and the american continent.

A new series of concerts is scheduled for the automn, to coļncide with the release of the new album.


to be continued...