Express & Star

Ex-Stranglers frontman Hugh Cornwell still enjoying making music and performing

The hair might be greyer, but there is still a youthful excitement for Hugh Cornwell whenever he goes out to perform.

Hugh Cornwell has more than 50 years of music behind him

The former frontman of the Stranglers is still a creative force more than 50 years after picking up a bass guitar to play in a school band at William Ellis School in Highgate.

The 73-year-old is preparing to embark on a national and European tour for his new album Moments of Madness, a rocking effort full of acute, pithy and witty observations which shows that Hugh had not forgotten how to write a good tune.

Such tunes have included Golden Brown, Strange Little Girl, Always The Sun, Peaches, No More Heroes and Nice & Sleazy, songs Hugh will perform as part of his tour, which includes a date at the O2 Institute2 in Birmingham on Friday, May 5.

The show on May 5 will feature two parts, with the first part full of his solo work, including songs from Moments of Madness, while the second part features many of The Stranglers' hits, something Hugh said was a way of changing things up.

Birmingham will be one of the big parts of the 'Moments of Madness' tour

He said: "I've mixed things up for a long time and thought about what I could do to change things up, so the obvious way to me was to separate the songs and it seems to have gone down well with people.

"It means that people can go out for the night, get tanked up and then come in and hear the songs they want to hear, whether that's my new stuff or just the old stuff, and that doesn't bother me just as long as they come at some point.

"By doing this, people in the first set aren't distracted by Stranglers stuff and are able to focus on my new work in an easier way and they tell me that it really stands up by itself, which creates an interest and comments and seems to work."

The distinction between Stranglers songs and his solo work is one that Hugh has been keen to make clear, saying that there would have been no point stepping away in 1990 if his music always sounded like The Stranglers.

The music Hugh writes, creates and performs carries his distinctive voice, and he said that his aim with music to ensure people can hear the words as well as the instruments, whether that's live or in person.

He said: "Over the years, you get to know what your strengths are and what people appreciate and my voice has held up very well, so it's very much something I put to the front.

"I can't understand those people who make records where you can't hear what's being sung and you have to read the lyrics to understand what is going on, which I think is a waste of time.

"If the lyrics are good enough, you should be able to hear it when you're listening to the music, and a lot of producers bury the vocals, treating it as just another instrument, while as a writer, I prefer to have people be able to understand what I'm singing about, rather than just have it be just another sound effect."

Hugh Cornwell said he hated being bored as it made him depressed, so he wanted to keep doing what he was doing to keep healthy and happy

Hugh said he had tried to be more experimental with the style of song writing over the years, something evident in Moments of Madness, with a reggae-style song and, additionally, with a change in song structure with fewer guitar solos.

He said his philosophy and inspiration had not changed over the years.

"The inspiration and sense for writing a lyric has remained the same and getting ideas for writing a song still remains for me that it can be about anything and, as time has gone on, it seems to get simpler to me, maybe because the music has gotten simpler.

"It's always felt very natural and I don't have any difficulty writing or recording songs and, thank god, I don't have any mental blocks either, so it's more satisfying because I'm getting closer to what I want quicker than I did before due to it being just me and my studio engineer.

"I like the days when I go in with an initial idea, then work to end up with something, which is when the best moments happen, whereas coming in with a collection of already written songs is like painting by numbers and that can be very boring."

While Hugh is very focussed on his solo work and is enjoying the process of what that creates, he said he is still very fond of his time and what was produced with The Stranglers, seeing it as a moment in time, but also one he enjoys remembering.

He said: "It was a part of my career and now things are different and I've moved on, but I have lots of fond memories and the songs are amazing and I think the way both myself and the current line-up manage to get people to come to hear those songs is remarkable.

"That stands for the longevity of these songs and the work and they are great and I don't mind playing the ones I really like as they are still great to play and listen to.

"There were so many different sides to The Stranglers catalogue and it has seen me open for a metal band in Germany which, at first, didn't make sense, but then I thought about the catalogue and realised I could build a heavy metal set by picking the right songs, so it all works."

Hugh was frontman and the main songwriter for The Stranglers for 16 years

For Hugh, coming to the West Midlands to perform is special, with his mother Winifred being born in Wolverhampton, and said he was excited to play Birmingham as he couldn't remember a bad gig there.

He spoke of remembering touring up and down the country and being part of a scene which included The Clash, Dr Feelgood, Kilburn and the High Roads and XTC.

Speaking of the tour and recording, Hugh said the biggest thing for him was to keep busy as he got bored easily and said that boredom took him down a dark path.

"What motivates me these days to keep going is fear of boredom as my boredown threshold is very low and I sometime have problems with attention span and focussing on something for a long period of time.

"If I had nothing and I stopped doing stuff, I would get bored and when I get bored, I get depressed, so I wouldn't be a happy bunny, so I'm going to do my darnedest to make sure I'm healthy enough to do what I do, whether that's playing or writing music or writing novels or talking about the cinema.

"While I'm still here and I can still form a sentence, I'm going to do what I can do and enjoy doing it."

Hugh Cornwell plays the O2 Institute2 Birmingham on Friday, May 5.

To find out more about Hugh, to listen to Moments of Madness and to buy tickets to the show, go to