Hugh Cornwell at Arlington Arts Centre, Mary Hare, Newbury 7.4.2022
Not long since I saw ex-Strangler Hugh Cornwell, now 72, supporting The Undertones in Frome, but this is a much more focused affair: Hugh and his band only tonight. The first night of a three day weekend gig hat-trick with gig buddy Dave starts with a cab ride from Chieveley M4/ A34 Services to The Arlington Arts Centre. (Thanks to my sister, mum and nephew for the lift up there 👍.)
An extraordinary location in the middle of nowhere, next to a deaf school, in the middle of green belt. No hope of public transport or an urban wander to get here – I suppose it’s handy for the M4 and A34. Always interesting to explore a new venue though – much like football ground-hopping – and got here nice and early. A couple of very bright small bars with a few tables and some chairs dotted about – friendly smiley staff – interesting landscape photos on the walls – draught Bombardier, Shipyard, Estrella (the real ale is off tonight but some bottles of Two Cocks’ Flintlock in a fridge – purple feather on the label was winking at me.)
The auditorium has a 252 capacity when fully seated but the rear seats/ front standing arrangement that is set up tonight holds 380. We are standing with bags of space around, with the seats being full – 90% of the audience must be 60s plus or had a hard life. Net result is that when Hugh comes on – no support tonight – I am stood right in front of him, about 10 feet away without being enveloped in a sea of Covid bodies. This is quite surreal having listened to Hugh and the Stranglers for 45 years plus. I remember playing the tennis racket guitar to No More Heroes on my parents’ old box gramophone like it was yesterday..well last week anyway and now I’m stood in front of my once hero and now respected musician in his 70s. We are both rocking on. These individuals are like lifelong friends you never really knew.
The added novelty of being stood in front of my own legendinblack (he was all inblack) ‘singing’ my own versions of Stranglers songs and some of Hugh’s solo numbers was extended to not taking a photo, not even a sneaky one, in accordance with ze rules. Fair enough if that’s what someone thinks works – might make this blog a bit of a dry read mind (hence a beer bottle photo makes the cut 🙄)
One of my top tips is not to look your heroes in the eyes when mouthing the wrong words to their carefully crafted lyrics – mouth shut until the choruses.
The first part of the set is as clearly advertised: his solo material which is a good way of doing it – it keeps any impatience for a Stranglers song at bay – something that Hugh has had to wrestle with since he suddenly left the band in 1990. He’s joined by much younger bassist and drummer for both sets who really get a work out, especially with those Stranglers’ JJ bass lines.
It’s a mix of material, starting with three from first solo album Nosferatu, one from Guilty and then latest work Monster, before the very thin looking Hugh stops for an introduction. He explains the story behind Mr Leather, from Monster: his failed meeting with Lou Reed in New York, after some mutual admiration, when both of them got flu. Lou Reed died sometime later so that was his chance to meet gone.
Monster the title track catches the ear but it’s hearing Losers in a Lost Land from Nosferatu that I glow at hearing the most – the opening familiar lines ‘see the actors leaving Stratford…’. I remember being disappointed with the first solo effort when it came out and I bought my copy. Now it has more nostalgia… that’s one for a vinyl spin soon then.
The solo set ends for an interval with First Bus to Babylon from the album Wired. By this time I’m studying Hugh’s guitar work closely; watching the effort in every finger. I acquired a secondhand electric guitar a few weeks ago and my level of appreciation of the fret board activity and general level of awe has shot up.
The second set starts with Dead Ringer and then we are off into Thrown Away, Duchess and Strange Little Girl and more. “Stranglers songs, huh….you want some more?” “Yeaaah!” Not so much louder than for the solo stuff everyone – don’t upset him.
Hanging Around – amongst the best Stranglers songs. We lose sound at one point from the PA so we get the raw sound from the Vox amps which only enhances the feel of a gig in your front room – I was quite disappointed that got sorted so promptly. Then in Skin Deep the stage lights were lost and the main lights went on. Weird. A room full of mainly old blokes bopping about in bright lights: it was like stumbling into a midweek exercise class…but everyone carried on and it got a cheer.
Nuclear Device next followed closely by Sweden, which opened with lines in Swedish, as appear on the Swedish version (Sverige – Jag är insnöad pä östfronten) and there are a few more interjects of Swedish. Brilliant. Song of the night – great version and the ‘all quiet on Eastern Front’ lyric spat out with Ukrainian thoughts.
Goodbye Toulouse, Tank and it was London Lady to finish. That’s it. Goodnight. That’s yer lot and it’s off to the merch stand where I can’t resist the Monster double vinyl album which Hugh signed.
Next day I read that a sore throat put pay to the next four dates of the tour.
My previous Hugh Cornwell gigs
Aside from the recent Undertones support slot I’ve seen Hugh a fair few times, first one being in Nottingham as part of a double header with Spear of Destiny. I still have the ticket for that one from 1996.
There’s also been a Bridport Electric Cinema gig (2013), The Brook, Southampton (2009) and a few Wimborne Tivoli Theatre gigs (2005, 2008), one interspersed with Hugh reading extracts from his autobiography and various signed books and CDs acquired at these.
That’s my Hugh stuff… catch him soon again I hope.