By: De Fen
On March 4th Hugh Cornwell, along with Clem Burke on Drums and Steve Fishman on bass played a two set show at the Viper Room in West Hollywood. The first set was made up of early Stranglers and Cornwell's solo work. The second set was The Stranglers first release, Rattus Norvegicus (alt. title The Stranglers IV) in it's entirety. Midway through the first set Cornwell clears up any possible confusion, "The reason I'm playing all these Stranglers songs is that I used to be in them." Considering the location I was wondering if he had planned to play Rain On The River. Cornwell also cleared up that confusion and any possible audience ignorance as to the song's meaning with a well timed quip, "This song is about River Phoenix pegging out right here, with his sister Rain on top of him, trying to revive him. Morbid isn't it? Enjoy it." I definitely did, particularly from the man who wrote Golden Brown and he played that too.

Cornwell ended the first set with one of my favorite Stranglers songs, No More Heroes. It occurred to me during the intermission that the first time I heard this song was also the first time I heard the name Leon Trotsky. And then the ice pick and a bit later much happy/grotesque reading. I consulted some old friends and the consensus was that people like Hugh Cornwell were spring boards to much of our political and literary education which is wonderful considering that most of us went to North American public schools. I actually considered framing that into a follow up question. Nothing to suck the air out of the room like an embarrassing statement question and who in their right mind could give an answer to a question like that. So into the intro it goes.

The following is a pre show interview with Hugh Cornwell. I hope you enjoy.
Punk Globe: I really appreciate you making time to do this pre show interview. Can you tell the Punk Globe readers about your early years in North London?
Hugh Cornwell: Well, I was very lucky because I got a place in a very good school where the percentage of kids that went on to a university was like 98%. So I was there being groomed to go to a university to study. At first I wanted to be a Dr. but I was no good at physics so I ended up doing chemistry, botany and zoology. I ended up going to university to pursue a degree in biochemistry. I lived very close to the school and I use to walk up the road. It literally took me five minutes to walk to school every morning. A lot of the other kids that were there were traveling two hours each way to get to the school. It was on the edge of a big park in London called Hampstead Heath. It was a beautiful location and in the summer months the school would be closed and my two brothers and my sister would go and roam in this park. It was quite a wild park, a bit like Griffith Park, an English version of Griffith Park. It was almost like living in the country in london. Round the corner from me lived Richard Thompson and he taught me to play bass guitar and we formed a band called Emil And The Detectives together when we were about 15 years old. Then it came to the point where one is 15 or 16 and you take exams. After that you specialize in a course for university. We took these exams in the summer and when I went back in the autumn, Richard had left. He left to become a musician. About a year later Fairport Convention came out and I was stunned. I missed him (we were very good friends) and I missed the band we had formed and then I went off to university. How about that for my life in North London?
Punk Globe: How did your biochemistry studies effect your life?
Hugh Cornwell: What it did was give me knowledge about chemistry and the biological and chemical processes of the body. So, it was very useless when I took drugs during my drug taking phase. Now, I'm very interested in eating well and vitamins. So it's helped me maintain my health, which is good I think.
Punk Globe: Very good. How did The Stranglers form?
Hugh Cornwell: The Stranglers formed as a process of transformation from a band I had in Sweden. I did this degree in Biochemistry at Bristol University in England and I liked it, but I wasn't very talented at it. When I passed I got a very, very low class degree. I probably knew in my heart of hearts that I wasn't good enough to be doing it for a career, but I didn't know what else I was capable of doing. I was playing a bit of music, but I didn't really know. I was looking for a way to buy myself some time. So, I managed to pursued a university in Sweden to let me go and study for a doctorate in biochemistry there because there as long as you passed they didn't care whether it was a good pass or a bad pass. So they gave me a grant to study there and it bought me more time. The reason I'm telling you all of this is that it was in Sweden that I formed this band with two Swedish guys being the bass player and the guitarist. The guitarist was in the original Spotnicks, which was a psychedelic instrumental band from Sweden and they used to wear space suits and come off the planes playing their guitars...really science fiction stuff. The Spotnicks were very big in Sweden and Europe, Telstar was their big number one. Look it up. So this Swedish guy playing guitar, Swedish guy playing bass and two Americans. In Sweden at that time there were a lot of draft dodgers. The draft dodgers were there because they didn't want to go to Vietnam. Sweden offered them a safe sanctuary and gave them somewhere to live. So a lot of Americans went to Sweden and a lot of them were musicians. As I was saying, I formed a band with two of these Americans. One drummer from Chicago and a Poet from Washington State. So the five of us were in this band called Johnny Sox and we played sort of Rockabilly type two or three minute songs. Loads of songs. I wrote a few songs then, but I was still learning. Then Johnny Sox went to England to make it. It was while we were in England trying very hard to get somewhere that President Carter offered amnesty to all the American draft dodgers. So the two Americans went back to America because their wives and kids were there. I was left with this part of a band. The drummer for The Stranglers, (originally The Guildford Stranglers) Jet Black came in once the drummer from Chicago had left. Then we all moved down to where he lived in a town called Guildford. He had a spirits store and an ice cream business called The Jackpot. When we were all down there the others left. The Swede and the other American left. So it left me and this guy that I'd only just met and I didn't really know what to do, but he seemed like he had resolve and was worth sticking around with this guy. I didn't really know anyone else, but I knew one guy named Jean-Jacques Burnel who was driving a paint truck selling paint. I was there by myself living with Jet Black who I didn't really know very well and I went around to see this guy Jean Burnel. I took a bottle of wine with me from the spirit store and I got him drunk and made him agree to join as our bass player. He couldn't play bass, but he could play very good Spanish guitar and that's why all those early Stranglers songs had very complicated bass lines. It comes from his knowledge of playing Spanish guitar. He said, "But I was going to go to California and work for Harley-Davidson." I said, "Stick with me and you'll be able to buy your own Harley- Davidson." He did and I was proved correct. So we worked as a trio; bass, drums and guitar. We rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed for months and months and months and then we decided we were good enough to get someone else in because I didn't play lead guitar. So I rang up the Swede, (Hans Warmling) the guy from The Spotnicks. He was back in Sweden. I said, "I've got a new band. Come and join us." And he came back over. He played guitar, piano, sang, he wrote songs and played saxophone...he played everything. I wrote a song with him called "Strange Little Girl" which was a very early Stranglers song. He got bored because when we played shows we had to do covers and he didn't like playing covers. He said, "Our songs are too good. We do not need to play these cover songs." I said, "Hey look, we have to, otherwise we're not gonna get the gigs." And he said, "I do not want to do this anymore." So he left and went back to Sweden. Then we were three people again; bass, guitar and drums. We went out and did a Bar Mitzvah and some weddings. We also did some shows as a three piece, but I was playing rhythm. I had no confidence to play lead guitar. We decided that we really needed another person. So we got a keyboard player and that's really when it started. Does that answer the question about how The Stranglers started? It was a transformation from this band I brought over from Sweden.
Punk Globe: Can you tell the readers about the first album you recorded apart from The Stranglers with Captain Beefhart (Robert Williams)? How was it working with the Captain?
Hugh Cornwell: It was great, very stimulating. I was always a big Captain Beefheart fan. I met Robert in San Francisco. Captain Beefheart was doing three nights at a venue in San Francisco and I actually went with Blondie funny enough. I think I went for all three nights because he played different songs every night. I loved it. So I met Robert after one of those gigs and we got along very well and decided to make an album together with very short notice over one Christmas and the new year. Being that it was such short notice we couldn't get a studio for very long. They were all booked. So we'd record for four days in one studio, then we'd have to move to another studio and so on. It was all recorded in Los Angeles where he lived. He was a very talented drummer.
Punk Globe: Can you the readers about your other solo albums? The 2000s seemed to be very prolific years for you.
Hugh Cornwell: The last album I did was Hooverdam in 2008 which is still available as a free download on my website. That was recorded with Liam Watson, the White Stripes producer. The one before that was called Beyond Elysian Fields recorded with Tony Visconti who I had worked with before and we'd always stayed in touch with each other and that was in 2004. 2000 was an album called Hi Fi, produced by Laurie Latham. Before that in 1996 I recorded an album called Guilty, which I'm going to do the same thing I did with Rattus Norvegicus and play the entire album from beginning to end when I go back to the UK in April. I've got Chris Bell and Steve Fish playing the Guilty album, which they originally recorded.
Punk Globe: Who are your favorite authors?
Hugh Cornwell: Paul Auster, Kazuo Ishiguro, Dostoyevsky, Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, Jack London. So many great writers.
Punk Globe: Can you talk about your own literary work?
Hugh Cornwell: I'm very happy to say that my first novel is being published this year, in the UK at least and hopefully will be picked up in America. It's called Window On The World and it's a thriller love story about a beautiful young female portrait painter who goes to London to become a successful painter which she does very quickly.
Then things start happening. It's coming out this summer and should be available on Amazon.
Punk Globe: Right on. What bands do you find yourself listening to these days?
Hugh Cornwell: I don't really know what's happening or what the current new scene is unlike Clem. Clem knows exactly what's going on but I am totally out of touch. My excuse is that I'm so busy working on stuff myself. I usually end up listening to bebop jazz; Jimmy Smith, Cannonball Adderley and Art Blakey. I find that that breathes open and I can appreciate it. It's so different from the music that I make that I find a kind of freedom in it. Does that make sense?
Punk Globe: Yes it does. I don't read anything when I'm working on writing projects and if I listen to music it's usually Money Jungle or something bouncy with no vocals.
Hugh Cornwell: For some reason the human voice distracts people. It makes one want to listen to it. Where there is no human voice, it's easier to escape.
Punk Globe: Do you think Punk Rock is still relevant?
Hugh Cornwell: It seems to be in America. It's so funny, when we did it we thought that maybe in 30 years time it would catch on and that's kind of what happened. What's happening is that the young kids are hearing about it from their parents who were around when it first started. As far as the relevance goes...I don't know. The newer generations think it's very relevant.

I went to an art show about ten years ago and it was an exhibition of all the art work to do with album covers from the punk years. They were all in these big plastic sheaths and they had the sleeves of the records, some 12" and some 7" and you could look at the front and the back of the record. I bumped into Glen Matlock there and I asked "What do you think of this?" He said, "It's amazing. Would you have thought that when we were doing this that people would still be listening to this and going to an art exhibition about it?" And we stood there just completely dumbfounded about how it's become so relevant. I think the reason is that since then, nothing else has happened with such force and ferocity. It was the last big cultural, social upheaval of the 20th century.

Definitely. I think it's still teaching kids how to focus their rebellion and use it...to change things. Or that's what I hope at least.
Punk Globe: Let's hope so. I don't think Punk has changed anything. Do you think it's changed anything?
Hugh Cornwell: On a small political scale...yes. Kids start up distros, Food Not Bombs, engage in direct actions. On a larger scale...hopefully that is something we are still working on. But then who knows what kind of world we'd have without all the little distros, the FNB chapters and direct actions. Maybe it's still spreading awareness in some sort of way. All the social networking which is a product of the internet but would the internet have developed in the same way without all the punk freedom of expression. Who knows?
Punk Globe: It's very interesting. Do you have any commentary about all the uprisings we're seeing across the globe right now?
Hugh Cornwell: It seems to be internet lead. I don't think any of it would have happened without the internet. People in these repressive regimes can get a glimpse at the rest of the world which they couldn't do before. They want a piece of it too; freedom for the individual and freedom of expression. I guess it's good as long as they don't get something that's worse than what they had before.
Punk Globe: Do you have any causes or ideas that you find important and would like to share with the readers?
Hugh Cornwell: The one thing that I can possibly try and do is try and promote the process of discussion, debate and questioning things. There are many beliefs in today's modern life that are accepted without thinking about it. They're accepted just because everyone else does it.

At the moment, I'm putting the finishing touches to a new album that will be out this time next spring called Totem And Taboo. That title is a reference to a Sigmund Freud book. A lot of the subjects are about subjects that I think need to be thought about. One track is called "God Is A Woman." Why is God a man? Because men wrote the bible. I want to question things that are out there and say, "Maybe that's not true." Maybe there are alternative ways of thinking about this. The deep deafening groan of male domination has gone on for centuries and maybe there's a way of righting the balance somehow. A prime example is the Bible. It reeks of male domination.

Definitely. The Bible has a pretty good stranglehold here in the states.

And all over the world. It's ridiculous. There's very few communities in the world where women are the dominant power and one of them is the Philippines. Philippine society is a matriarchal society where the woman is the head of the household. It's very interesting.

There's another song on the album called "Love Me Slender." It's questioning the aesthetics of tastes. What is beauty and whose right and whose wrong? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? It's very interesting that a few hundred years ago the perfect woman was very fat. The reason she was considered the perfect woman is that her fat was a signifier of wealth and that means she's desirable. There you go. Talk about a money driven society. This has been going on for centuries. It's important to remember what has happened before and keep an open mind about things.
Punk Globe: Right on. Do you have any other projects you're working on that you haven't discussed?
Hugh Cornwell: Constant touring. I can't see myself stopping working until people stop coming to see me preform and stop buying my records. Like most people, you keep going until you walk into a room and there's nobody there and you say, "I think it's time to go now."
Punk Globe: Can you tell the Punk Globe readers about any tour dates from the month of April on?
Hugh Cornwell: April we'll be in the UK. At the end of April into May we'll be in Australia. Then on May 19th we're going to perform at The Ramones charity bash in New York. It's the tenth anniversary. I'm going to be coming over from London, Fish is coming from Japan and Clem is coming from L.A. and we're all gonna meet in New York and play a set.
Punk Globe: Really nice. I just interviewed Mickey Leigh who is Joey Ramone's younger brother. He just released a book called "I Slept With Joey Ramone." It's a powerful memoir and worth checking out. Actually, I don't think I've met anyone who is into punk rock and doesn't have a fondness for The Ramones.
Hugh Cornwell: Of course. I was bowled over when I first heard them. I remember our manager at the time phoned me up on a saturday morning and said, "Hugh, you have got to come out. I've got something I want to play you." He called John up as well and we were thinking, "What is going on? Why is he calling us up on a saturday morning?" So we sat down and he said, "Listen to this.

It's The Ramones' first album and I've just brought it back from New York." It was amazing to hear it. We were interested that people in America were sort of doing the same thing. I find that interesting. Many people have very strong opinions about whether punk started in North America or in the UK. From everything I've read and heard from people who were actually there it seems to me like a phenomena that popped up everywhere at once.

Yeah. Also remember that Malcolm McLaren who managed the Sex Pistols and put all that together had previously managed the New York Dolls and designed their clothes.
Punk Globe: Oh yeah. I wonder how many Malcolm McLarens were running to and fro across the pond. Interesting. Can you tell the Punk Globe readers about the show this evening at the Viper Room?
Hugh Cornwell: Yes. We're doing this show tonight and I'm very proud to say that I have Clem Burke from Blondie on drums which is great. I've known him a long time and he's always been a supporter, coming to shows throughout the years. He was free and he said he'd love to do it. We did an east coast American tour last autumn and that was great. Then I've got Steve "Fish" Fishman from James White And The Blacks on bass. I've known him for 19 years and I've been playing with him for longer than I played with the original Stranglers. He's from Los Angeles, but I met him in London. When I did the tour last autumn and he was available. When you're a solo artist you don't have the luxury of having the same players all the time because people aren't always available. In a way it's kind of enriching because you end up getting these different inputs from people.

So we're playing tonight at the Viper Room and we're doing two sets and the second set is made up entirely of the first Stranglers album, which is called Rattus Norvegicus (or The Stranglers IV). I won't say it's the first time it's been done because I did that in the UK last year and it went very well. The reason we're doing that is because I suddenly realized that The Stranglers (who are still going, by the way) never did it. So now I'm doing it and playing it without keyboards so the songs will sound a bit different.
Punk Globe: Thanks again. I'm definitely looking forward to the show. Do you have any parting words for the Punk Globe readers?
Hugh Cornwell: Don't believe everything that you read. Just because it's in print doesn't mean that it's true. The other thing is that the truth depends upon where you're standing.
Punk Globe: Tour updates, news and merchandise can be found at http://www.hughcornwell.com/

All Photo's Of Hugh Cornwell By : Robert Kenney Unless Noted

Cover Photo Of Hugh Cornwell By: Robert Kenney