Cornwell loses cool mid-set but thrills with up-tempo Golden Brown

Singer Hugh Cornwell
Singer Hugh Cornwell

GIG REVIEW: Hugh Cornwell @ The Black Box, Belfast as part of the Out to Lunch Festival

Hugh Cornwell is as famous for his acrimonious split with the Stranglers as he is for the music that he made with them, so his recent gig at the Black Box in Belfast was a chance to see if the former Stranglers frontman is right in his assertion that he was the creative force behind the Stranglers.

It was also an opportunity to hear what Hugh has produced in the 24 years since that rancorous split.

A mature crowd of thinning quiffs and faded black shirts were at the gig to pay homage to their youth and to Cornwell.

The crowd laughed without restraint at Hugh’s jokes, such as they were, (“where’s the guitarist, guess I’ll have to do it myself”) and oohed and aaahed at his anecdotes between songs.

Armed with an acoustic guitar Hugh played one song from each of the 17 albums that he had made, 10 with the Stranglers and seven solo albums informing the crowd about the genesis of each song.

The more Hugh spoke the more he comes across as a man with little humour but blessed with a rampant ego - a formidable personality combination.

This combination was delightfully shown when during Souls he stopped playing and started shouting and swearing at the audience for talking when he was playing, offering them a refund and fare home and stating that the Black Box was not a pub.

After suitably chastising those that had had the audacity to talk he continued with the song only to briefly stop again in the same song and stare down as he must have heard a naughty punter speak.

It seemed that Hugh felt that the onus was on the crowd to listen in silence and not for him to grab the attention and entertain the crowd who had paid to see him.

In a way I can see his point, because Hugh, even with his preposterous ego must know deep down that he injects neither the melody, anger or hook of the original Stranglers songs and that his solo material is sub-standard if not downright poor.

The best song of the night was Hanging Around, with the crowd joining in, and an up-tempo version of Golden Brown.

Hugh replaced the throbbing bass lines of JJ Burnell and the subtle builds, crescendos and washes of Dave Greenfield’s keyboards with a ham-fisted performance of thumping guitar which lacked subtlety, refinement or invention and became monotonous well before the end of the set.

The vocals were fine, no one ever claimed that he was a great singer and so I wasn’t disappointed in that area.

What I was disappointed with was the mid-set tirade and the lack of spark and originality. Although he received a standing ovation when he left the stage, I don’t know why, but I do know that on this performance he was not the creative force in the Stranglers.