Happy Birthday: Hugh Cornwell

Thursday, August 28, 2014
Happy Birthday: Hugh Cornwell

65 years ago today, the world was first graced with the presence of a gentleman who spent 16 years fronting one of the great punk/new wave bands of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s: Hugh Cornell, former lead singer of The Stranglers.

Born in North London’s Tufnell Park in 1949, Hugh Alan Cornwell has been playing music for far more of his life than not, but did you know that he spent a portion of his high school years playing in a band with Richard Thompson? True story, according to Wikipedia…and we know everything on that site is 100% accurate, don’t we? But, no, that one really is accurate, and Cornwell actually discussed the band – Emil and The Detectives, they were called – in an interview with The Telegraph a few years back.

“Our biggest claim to fame was supporting Helen Shapiro at the Ionic Cinema in Golders Green, but after we took our O-level (exams), we lost touch,” said Cornwell. “The next I heard, (Thompson) 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.”

In ’74, Cornwell – who’d done some post-grad work in Sweden – came back to the UK as a member of a band called Johnny Sox, which eventually evolved into The Stranglers, who went on to become the highest-selling group to come out of the UK punk scene, not only selling a decent amount of albums but also picking up full-fledged hit singles in the process.

Cornwell stuck it out with the Stranglers for quite some time, only abandoning his post as frontman in 1990, but he made a few brief forays into a solo career prior to that point, including 1979’s Nosferatu and 1988’s Wolf. Although the Stranglers have continued on without Cornwell, he doesn’t seem to have been bothered much by their decision to do so: not only has he continued to perform and record under his own name, but he’s also tried to keep up with the status quo. In addition to releasing his 2008 album, Hooverdam, as a free download on his website, he’s more recently teamed up with Steve Albini, of all people, to do a new album, 2013’s Totem and Taboo, and he’s still going strong to this day.

To celebrate Cornwell’s birthday, we’ve put together a playlist of the best of the Stranglers – because that’s how you first came to know him, after all – and closed it with a handful of tracks from his solo albums, going all the way up to Totem and Taboo, just so you’ll have proof that he’s still kicking butt after all these years.