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  • Writer's pictureMark Lear

Hugh Cornwell

The Venue, Derby ~ The late 70’s saw my music tastes change dramatically. I was weaned on ‘Radio 2’. Middle of the road stuff - until 1977 when two bands entered my life, The Boomtown Rats and The Stranglers both fronted by men who stood out. I can’t admit to understanding much of what the lyrics and the messages within were telling me - I was just a kid - but both of those bands captured my attention and it stuck. Over four decades later (the number is softened when it isn’t written so blatantly) and I get to see and hear again, one of those front men in person.

It’s over 30 years since Cornwell left the Stranglers and I can’t profess to having an in depth knowledge of the solo stuff that he’s released in that time - and there’s a lot, 10 albums worth if you’re counting - so a night in Derby, in a venue hidden / sandwiched between a Vets and an Indian Takeaway, called ‘The Venue’, would get me appraised of the ‘new stuff’ and a chance to relive my (very) early youth.

Fair play to Cornwall (or his management) because he (they) knew what needed to be delivered. The gig was advertised as a twin-set affair. Part 1 covered ‘prime solo songs with picks’ and Part 2, ‘Stranglers Classics’ - what better way to get the new album ‘Moments of Madness’ promoted than to sell it with what you’re really known for. Quality marketing.

We start with ‘Coming Out of the Wilderness’ and ‘Moments of Madness’ from the new album with ‘Stuck in Daily Mail Land’ nestled in between and it was all pretty much well received but it was ‘Big Bug’ and ‘Mothra’, tunes from ‘Nosferatu’, Cornwell’s collaboration with Robert Williams in 1979 that received most acclaim along with ‘Another Kind of Love’.

A strange moment came towards the end of the set when one of the Roadies joined the three on stage to add maracas to ‘Lasagne’ but only after donning a balaclava ! Now whether he was under witness protection or just staying out later than his Mother had said he could be and was worried that a neighbour might grass him up, I know not, but it allowed me to fill this review with an extra paragraph and for that I’m grateful.

Anyway, with over a dozen songs served up for starters, we take a break and wait to patiently before we overdose on Stranglers memories, which starts with the instrumental ‘Waltz in Black’ but it was song two ‘Hanging Around’, that started the pogo-ing of sorts. Back in the day you could do this all night and have no after effects but to see it being done by 50 somethings, you began to wonder what would give in first, knee, ankle or heart !

‘Nuclear Device - The Wizard of Aus’ gets the vocal chords loosened with cries of ‘Bruce’ and ‘Sheila’, before Cornwell takes a member of the crowd to task for filming his every movement “are you worried that when you get out of here you won’t remember the gig” - and you have to admit, it really does piss you off when people go to a gig just to film it instead of living the moment. Well, at least they were on the front line and not blocking anyone’s view. Small mercies !

‘Souls’ follows but the excitement can’t be contained when ‘Skin Deep’ kicks in, backed up with ‘Bring On the Nubiles’ and ‘Goodbye Toulouse’. ‘Grip’ was a big favourite to finish with and it was good to see that neither knees, ankles or hearts had given in and the pogo-ing was still going strong. The pain would come tomorrow though. There’s always a delayed reaction these days.

…but then it dawns on us. The band had actually gone off stage - and stayed off. Not fake encores here. We were going to have to earn it once we’d realised how much we hadn’t had, so the cries went up. ‘Heroes’, ‘Peaches’, Nice and Sleazy’, ‘Strange Little Girl’ - none had been delivered. ‘Golden Brown’ hadn’t got a chance. Can’t fake that much harpsichord on a guitar, surely ? ?

Enough of the waiting. Back the three of them came and Cornwell says that we have time for two more “because it’s Monday morning tomorrow, the start of the week and we gotta get up ! !” Well, so it was, but none of us had to get up for school or be responsible for those that did, but anyway… we were graced with ‘Always the Sun’ and ‘Duchess’ which wasn’t a bad way to finish. Some may have been disappointed at the amount that was left out but when bands have back catalogues that are so big, there’s always going to some that don’t get what they want. It is what it is.

So, on a night when a good chunk of Derby, Nottingham and surrounding areas 50 something men had converged on ‘The Venue’ - it has to be said by the way, that there was a sprinkling of women in there as well (who were dab hands at nicking the set lists, I should point out) but this was mainly an audience compiled of blokes reliving their youth - we left satisfied. All that was left for Cornwell to do was get straight off stage and over to the Merch table and sign his life away on anything and everything that he was presented with, including an offering from one bloke that had a good two inches of 12” vinyl under his arm, all of which would have probably doubled in value as soon as Hugh had done the business. Job done for me though and it was off home with ‘No More Heroes’ blasting out in the car. I was always going to hear it that night one way or the other !


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