November 8th 2018
Ex-Stranglers front-man goes through the gears to deliver storming set of new and classic material.
Hugh Cornwell is out on the road promoting new album Monster and delivered a storming set to brighten a dull November day. A man with nothing to prove, Hugh has delivered a succession of high-class solo albums since his departure from The Stranglers in 1990 and Monster certainly continues in that vein. Always a master song-smith with the observational powers of a hawk-eyed Ray Davies, Hugh has turned his attention this time to his heroes, and some villains from the Twentieth Century.
The set is divided in two with the first half being a showcase of Hugh’s solo career with particular emphasis on Monster, which features tracks about Mussolini, Bilko and Evel Knievel among others. Monster is a very strong offering, featuring all the trademark Cornwell ingredients; the smooth, authoritative vocal style, the easy melodies wrought from angular guitar and sudden time changes and the unique lyrical subjects – Duce Coochie Man for instance. The Prison’s Going Down, an earlier foray into writing about heroes, in this case Love’s Arthur Lee, sits well in tonight’s set while Stuck in Daily Mail Land and Black Hair, Black Eyes, Black Suit are perennial favourites.
A Hugh Cornwell gig is like a ride in a well-tuned classic car, with quality of ride assured and a chance to relax and enjoy years of expert artisanship. The second half of the set then, is the chance to pull over, spread a blanket on the ground (apologies Billie Jo) and open the picnic basket of Stranglers delights.
Hugh reached in and started by handing round some Nuclear Device, Sweden and Duchess as we lay back to bask in the sunshine of one of the great British songbooks. There is a genuine coherence to the show by separating the two catalogues. The crowd had listened attentively and enjoyed the solo work of the first half, which sits together really well, but now it was time to let the atmosphere build as the Strangler Jedi-Master showed us the force is still very much with him.
No Mercy, Skin Deep and a glorious community sing-along of Always the Sun go down a storm while Tank very nearly blows the roof off. A friend suggested that the delivery of such songs as a three-piece without keyboards gives them a new lease of life and you certainly do appreciate the serrated guitar edges. A representative of the younger generation was raving about the urgent, “garage-type” sound of the songs and threw in The Strokes for comparison (it was meant as a compliment). I have to say that Thrown Away, a song based on a keyboard run, sounds irresistible from this line up, but all tracks offered a fresh and intriguing perspective.
The set closed tonight with Hanging Around and 5 Minutes, “Death by Strangulation” as Hugh called it, to send the crowd out into the grm Chester evening in good heart.
For more information on Hugh Cornwell
Photo credit Karen Jones