HE’s still got it, you know, and more than 20 years after leaving the band with whom he made his name, there’s still plenty of fire in Hugh Cornwell.
The former Stranglers front-man doesn’t look any older than when Golden Brown was riding high in the charts thirty-odd years ago either.
And on a sultry night on Brook Street, Preston, Hugh and band-mates Caroline Campbell and Chris Bell put further life into a great set of old and new songs.
There were teething problems at times, but the brief was simple yet ultimately effective, with Hugh’s trio playing songs from his most recent album, Totem and Taboo, in the right running order, each track followed by a classic Stranglers hit.
I was a little surprised about the small turn-out at first, but I’m guessing local boozer The Mad Ferret had a mass exodus at around nine-ish as Cornwell’s faithful nipped over the road for 53 Degrees.
There were an awful lot of balding, middle-age blokes in, but plenty of evergreen passion, and a fair bit of banter between Hugh and his audience too.
His trio came on to a near-cabaret version of the title track of the new LP, with Hugh soon trading one-liners with his Preston assembly – including visitors from as far afield as the East Riding of Yorkshire, who told him they travel ‘Hull over’ to see him.
Having lived with his latest release these last few weeks, I can vouch for the power of that new material too, and the old songs were a joy to hear, fitting the set just perfectly.
The new album’s self-titled track got us in the groove, before we segued neatly into 1978’s Nice’n’Sleazy, sounding sensuous rather than menacing thanks to Caz’s bass-ic instinct.
No disrespect to Jean-Jacques Burnel intended there. He’ll always be the man, along with fellow Stranglers Dave Greenfield and Jet Black. But this was a different approach.
The three-piece set-up means Hugh has to labour that little bit harder with his guitar in Greenfield’s absence, and the 63-year-old certainly does that. As it is, perhaps he doesn’t need to though, for us die-hards can still hear that memorable keyboard accompaniment in our heads.
Meanwhile, drummer and long time HC cohort Chris Bell is the engine room around which this trio gel, and then there’s the luscious Caroline, adding a youthful touch that helped ensure a night to remember.
The new songs sounded supreme, not least the sumptuous God Is a Woman, while the re-arranged ‘oldies but goldies’, as Hugh put it, were spot-on, with a few surprises in the delivery too. And for a prime example, it was great to hear Nuclear Device after so many years.
A-list hits like (Get A) Grip (On Yourself), Hanging Around and Duchess were also warmly welcomed, but the old songs weren’t always delivered as you expected them, not least Golden Brown, this version more a free jazz experiment, yet no less compelling for that.
The tracks that really surprised me were Skin Deep, far edgier than i ever recalled, and Always The Sun, which pre-empted a few sing-along moments and also proved the lasting value of Cornwell’s skills as a songwriter.
From there, Hugh saw out Totem & Taboo as A Street Called Carroll fed into brooding closing number In The Dead Of Night, again with that rumbling bass high in the mix, a perfect ending to the main set.
On their return, Hugh was pretty faithful to his old band’s version of Bacharach & David classic Walk On By, with that trademark bass growl and searing guitar parts.
Then came a crowd-pleasing old favourite to finish. And it couldn’t really have been anything other than No More Heroes, could it.