WORDS AND IMAGES PAUL EVANS
Manchester’s Oxford Road and the University Students Union building are strangely quiet tonight and walking into the 400 capacity Academy 3 is quite a shock. It’s busy, very busy and dark, very dark and I can barely see faces in the audience of black clothes here to see the former leader of The Stranglers, one of the UKs premier original punk bands. Hugh Cornwell penned most of the band’s classic songs notably ‘No More Heroes’, ‘Strange Little Girl’, ‘Golden Brown’, ‘Peaches’ and ‘Nice ‘n’ Sleazy’. His songs, establishing his reputation as a unique musician and songwriter and winning the band both high regard and chart positions in the UK.
It’s unbelievably over 30 years since Hugh left the band to launch his significant solo career releasing an array of remarkable albums. His eighth solo LP, ‘Moments of madness’, released last year, has been labelled a modern classic and is regarded to be one of his most essential recordings. Tonight, complete with bass and drums, he’s bringing ‘Moments of madness’ to Manchester along with a smattering of his classic songs.
The lights go down and the Academy is dense and enclosed as the black clad trio step on stage. A brief explanation from Hugh that the nights performance will consist of two sets. Firstly, solo songs followed by classics which sounds good to the audience.
First up in the solo set are ‘Coming out of the wilderness’ and ‘Moments of madness’ from last year’s ‘Moments of madness’ album. Both comfortingly Hugh Cornwell. The tender yet angry strumming of guitar, the cynical humour and the scowling descriptions all well supported by the bass and drums. ‘Stuck in Daily Mail land’ from 2012s stunning ‘Totem and taboo’ is crushed between his latest tracks for good measure, its upbeat and 60s Kinks riff stunning.
It’s only song three as Hugh asks “can you shut that guy up” as noisy comments begin to get the better of him before ‘Mr. Leather’ kicks in. Very apt as it’s a song about the barbed Transformer himself, Lou Reed. With the room well filled the two songs from Robert Williams’ 1979 collaboration, ‘Big Bug’ and ‘Mothra’ receive the most recognition and applause so far tonight. Both sounding like a tuneful early Fall and showcasing Hugh’s undeniable song writing talent.
The crowd wander quietly in the interval waiting for Hugh to deliver the back catalogue of his old band. We’re not disappointed. Its obvious tracks interspersed with less expected classics. The unmistakable ‘Waltzinblack’ from 1981s ‘(The Gospel according to) the meninblack’ opens the second set, its melody eerily picked out on guitar. Some in the crowd are disappointed as there’s classics that are left out, but after a prolific career some things have got to give.
‘Strange Little Girl’ and ‘Always the Sun’ remind me once again what a damn fine and delicate songwriter Hugh is. 1986s ‘Always the Sun’ also reminding me of the debt Pulp owe to the band. The crowd is dazed as ‘Skin Deep’ and ‘Duchess’ appear. Both songs sending a tingle down my spine. Both songs bringing back many memories of my youth.
I leave with the words ‘There’s always the sun, always, always’ spinning around my head promising myself to not only revisit my Stranglers records, but to search out Hugh’s solo records and see what I’ve missed over the last thirty years. I’ve a lot to catch up with.
1/ Coming Out of the Wilderness
2/ Stuck in Daily Mail Land
3/ Moments of Madness
5/ Under Her Spell
6/ Beauty on the Beach
7/ Big Bug
9/ When I Was a Young Man
12/ Nice ‘n’ Sleazy
15/ Strange Little Girl
17/ Golden Brown
18/ Goodbye Toulouse
19/ London Lady
20/ Always the Sun
21/ Skin Deep
FOLLOW HUGH CORNWELL
I’ve loved music since forever. Graphic designer, photographer and artist at painted.papillon.smile (www.ppsdesign.co.uk)