Hugh Cornwell, who was once the lead singer and guitarist in the Stranglers, has a new internet radio show devoted to movies and their music. You wouldn’t know it from his most famous song about Hollywood, but Hugh loves the moving pictures.
MrDeMilleFM is Cornwell’s second internet radio venture dedicated to film. (The interviews he did with Debbie Harry and Brian Eno for the first one, the now-defunct Sound Trax FM, have vanished along with their former home, but Cornwell says they will return in time.)
Imagine, if you can, a country starkly divided by wealth inequality, where a small number of rich people lead lives of extravagant luxury and everyone else fights over the crumbs.
Now imagine that the most vulgar of celebrities, having ascended to high office by appealing to racist and sexist tendencies in the electorate, has announced a plan to slash health care in order to build up the military. Far from bringing him down, sex scandals only make him appear more powerful and exciting to his base. And what, exactly, is the nature of his relationship with the Russians?
Of course, I could only be talking about Nosher Powell, the real-life English boxer and actor who portrays “Cockney fascist” Home Secretary Nosher Powell in the dystopian 1987 comedy Eat the Rich. The dialogue is as quotable as that of Tapeheads or Repo Man. Early on, a diner at the posh eatery Bastards addresses a label head played by Miles Copeland:
Look, Derek, forget funk rap. It’s dead. The kids are getting hooked on socialism.
“OK, we’ll sack the blacks and sign the reds,” Copeland replies. It’s a cruel, cynical, racist—did I mention racist?—society.
The great Lanah Pillay stars as Alex, a hero for our time. Alex becomes a revolutionary after she’s fired from her waitressing job at Bastards, where she served koala and panda meat to one too many horrible jerks. And joining Lanah and Nosher from the world of UK showbiz in this movie right here is everyone and her fucking uncle: Lemmy, Shane MacGowan, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, Hugh Cornwell of the Stranglers, Sandie Shaw, Beatle Paul, Bill Wyman of the Stones, Koo Stark, Angela Bowie, and The Young Ones’ Rik Mayall all make appearances. Most of the soundtrack (and the soundtrack album) is by Motörhead, and at one point in the movie, Lemmy climbs onstage to play “Dr. Rock.”
The Stranglers took a short break in between Black and White and The Raven. While JJ Burnel worked on Euroman Cometh, Hugh Cornwell went to LA to record Nosferatu with Captain Beefheart’s drummer, Robert Williams. Cornwell writes that the album got its name from a series of late nights:
I was buying a lot of cocaine at the time and we were constantly leaving the studios at five in the morning and going to sleep as day was breaking. I think that had suggested the vampire connection to me, hence the album’s eventual title, Nosferatu.
There are famous guests all over Nosferatu: Ian Underwood of the Mothers plays synth on a few tracks, the Clash (credited as “various people”) sing backing vocals on “Puppets,” and Ian Dury turns up as “Duncan Poundcake” on “Wrong Way Round.” Cornwell and Williams co-wrote one song, “Rhythmic Itch,” with their brothersbaughs from other Mothersbaughs, DEVO’s Mark and Bob 1.
For the next two minutes, you’ll be listening to a song recorded in late ‘78 or early ‘79 by Mark Mothersbaugh (lead vocals and Prophet synthesizer), Bob Mothersbaugh (guitar and backing vocals), Hugh Cornwell (guitar), and Robert Williams (drums and bass marimba). Have fun in punk/new wave heaven, or hell, as the case may be.
Richard Harris’ seven-and-a-half-minute reading of Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park” is not for me. I like watching Harris on-screen well enough, and I like Jimmy Webb’s writing, but there’s something about the way Harris cries over the warm wine, soggy cake and “stripèd pair of pants” that is more than I can stand. Besides, I’m from Los Angeles, and when I hear the name “MacArthur Park” I think of gang murders and police beatings, despite the lovely gang murder wedding I once attended there.
But Mick Jagger was right: It’s the singer, not the song. What “MacArthur Park” needs is a voice without a hint of mawkishness, a voice that expresses disgust as easily as regret, a voice that has blown out some of its capacity for self-pity: a voice that belongs to an old Northern person. Replace Richard Harris with Dr. John Cooper Clarke, and I’m on board! Nor does it hurt if he’s singing ex-Strangler Hugh Cornwell’s hot new arrangement of the number, over which Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull takes a flute solo reminiscent of Dave Greenfield’s keys on “No More Heroes.” All that is “sweet, green icing” on the cake.
The video for Clarke and Cornwell’s “MacArthur Park,” filmed on location, is the first taste of the duo’s upcoming album, and it is a treat. If the sight of John Cooper Clarke circumambulating an LA lake in his ‘66 Dylan duds doesn’t make blood rush to your groin and drool stream from your lips, just wait until he goes into the kitchen and actually bakes the fucking cake!
Jean-Jacques Burnel and Hugh Cornwell on the stage at Battersea Park in London, September 16th, 1978" height="277" width="465" /> Jean-Jacques Burnel and Hugh Cornwell of The Stranglers on the stage at Battersea Park in London, September 16th, 1978
Back in 1977, the members of the Greater London Council were not the biggest fans of punk rock instigators, The Stranglers. According to legend, (and detailed in the book, England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond) at a show at The Rainbow in London, Strangler vocalist Hugh Cornwell wore a shirt with the word “fuck” on it. This didn’t go over well with the GLC, and The Stranglers set was cut short. After that, the GLC banned the The Stranglers from booking and playing gigs around London. Finally, on September 16th, 1978, the band was able to organize and play an outdoor gig at Battersea Park in London. And thanks to the fact that The Stranglers love trouble, it wouldn’t go off without a good dose of controversy.
Two of my favorites things; Hugh Cornwell of The Stranglers and the word “fuck”
Showbill for The Stranglers show at Battersea Park, August 16, 1978
The line-up for the show at Battersea included Peter Gabriel, Scottish punks the Skids, English band The Spizzoil (better-known in the US as Athletico Spizz 80 and for their “Where’s Captain Kirk?” single, also known as Spizzenergi and The Spizzles), a band called The Edge, and a comedian that was being managed by Cornwell at the time known as “Johnny Rubbish.”
Everything was pretty mellow until nearly the end of The Stranglers set when the band slid into “Nice ‘n’ Sleazy” from their 1978 record, Black and White. During the song, The Stranglers brought a group of strippers onstage (both male and female) and a guy with a whip (because why not?), who all proceeded to serve up some daytime strip-club, full-frontal glamor for the audience. Although the show was filmed, the footage that’s gotten around isn’t amazing quality by any means. Lucky for us, the five-minutes of the completely bonkers (and NSFW if you haven’t already figured that one out) performance of “Nice ‘n’ Sleazy” is pretty great, and I’ve posted it below for your viewing pleasure.
The Stranglers and their stripper posse performing “Nice ‘n’ Sleazy” at Battersea Park, London, 1978
Hugh Cornwell’s last show with The Stranglers at Alexandra Palace, London on August 13, 1990. The band would continue without Cornwell but would never be the same. A fucking shame and a particularly big disappointment for this hardcore Stranglers fan. I’m still waiting for a re-union gig.
00:46 Toiler At The Sea
07:46 Something Better Change
11:24 96 Tears
14:30 Someone Like You
17:32 Sweet Smell Of Success
21:40 Always The Sun
26:11 Strange Little Girl
29:07 Hanging Around
33:40 Let’s Celebrate
38:36 Golden Brown
42:45 No More Heroes
46:38 Nuclear Device
53:35 All Day And All Of The Night
56:04 Punch And Judy
Outstanding audio and visual quality. Play it loud!
A 15-year-old, Hugh Cornwell poses with his first band Emil and The Detectives in 1964. The band was formed by guitarist Richard Thompson (on the far right of picture). who went on to Fairport Convention, while Cornwell found fame as frontman with The Stranglers. Cornwell talked about this early snapshot in the Telegraph Magazine:
I remember getting the violin bass guitar I’m holding here, I was about 15 and had saved up £50 for it. Before then I’d been playing a homemade version with a neck the thickness of a plank of wood. Richard Thompson (on the far right) suggested I learn to play bass because he was forming Emil and the Detectives (the band in the picture) and he needed a bass player, so he taught me. We were good friends from school and we played each other music that we had discovered, like the Rolling Stones and the Who. Richard’s older sister, Perri, who was the social secretary at the Hornsey College of Art in north London, would book us to play parties and pay us £30 per gig. Our biggest claim to fame was supporting Helen Sahpiro at the Ionic cinema in Golders Green. But after we took our O-level [exams] we lost touch. The next I heard he was the lead guitarist in Fairport Convention…
...In August 2008 I was doing a festival outside Madrid and the promoter said, ‘If we hurry we can catch the end of Richard Thompson’s set.’ I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t seen Richard in 30 years. We had a big huggy reunion and now we’re back in touch it’s really lovely. When I played in LA last year he came to watch and I suggested that we play a song together. I chose “Tobacco Road” by the Nashville Teens, which was a number one hit in the 1960s and was one of the first songs we learnt together.
Hugh Cornwell tours the UK April 6-17, details here.
More early pics and performances of pop stars, including Lemmy, Bowie and Davy Jones, after the jump…
Let me say right upfront that I am a huge fan of The Stranglers and their former lead singer, songwriter and guitar player Hugh Cornwell. I vividly remember the day in 1977 that I bought Rattus Norvegicus at a shop in Greenwich Village (Robert Quine was also buying a copy) and the subsequent thrill of listening to it over and over again that night and for months to follow. A big influence on the punk scene in England, The Stranglers’ guttural, malevolent and beautiful rock and roll was primitive and yet sophisticated, savage and sublime. Seeing them live a few months later at the Second Avenue Theater was among the most exciting rock shows I’ve ever experienced.
In 1990 Cornwell left the band and as far as I’m concerned that was the end of what was arguably one of the best and most underappreciated bands of the past four decades. Although The Stranglers have recorded and toured with various different lead singers, the magic has long been gone. I saw the reconstituted Stranglers with some nondescript lead vocalist in the mid-90s at The Cat Club and it was like seeing the Doors without Jim Morrison or The Sex Pistols fronted by the guy from Creed. Nothing worse than a pioneering punk band reduced to an oldies act.
It pains me that there is so much much bad blood between Hugh Cornwell and the rest of the group that they’ve never buried whatever hatchet exists between them and gone back into the studio to make more of the sound I’ll always love.
Cornwell seems to be on an eternal solo world tour. He must need the money. I can’t imagine he’s thrilled playing Stranglers’ classics with pick-up bands or by himself on electric guitar. Which brings me to this recent performance on Brazilian TV. Why, Hugh, why? It’s the money, right? From the rollergirls in bathing suits waving flags to the drummer who looks like an extra from The Young Ones, this has to be one of the lamest things I’ve seen a rock legend subject himself to in the name of keeping his career alive. I know I’m probably overreacting, but don’t we all feel a twinge of sadness when one of our heroes suddenly seems ordinary, smaller than life rather than bigger?
Hugh, if you’re reading this, give Jean-Jacque, Jet Black and Dave a call. Tell them all is forgiven. The Stranglers aren’t The Stranglers without you and you’re not the artist you were without them. It’s never too late.
Some choice videos of The Stranglers after the jump…