Hugh Cornwell and Hazel O’Connor. Two songwriters, two ways to treat a back catalogue.
Two names with a fair bit of history both behind and between them made for a good night’s entertainment at the Robin.
Hugh Cornwell has now been a solo artist for almost a quarter of a century. He’s made more albums on his own than with the Stranglers although it’s their songs which he’s known for and which, inevitably, drew the biggest response from a healthy-sized crowd.
Cornwell has never been the most engaging of frontmen and age hasn’t changed him. He’s never likely to call anywhere the rock’n’roll capital of the world and most of his on-stage patter tonight came early on, sorting out a minor lighting and sound problem. And his audience wouldn’t have him any other way. Undemonstrative or not, Hugh Cornwell has been writing and performing songs of quality for almost forty years and as the night proved, he’s not finished yet
The set opened with the title track of his latest album Totem and Taboo, on which he drew heavily throughout. I thought that doing a solo and Stranglers song in turn throughout was a bit repetitive but nobody else seemed too bothered.
Hugh’s band, with Caroline Campbell back on bass, do well to reinterpret the old material but without keyboards they just ain’t the same. Duchess and Strange Little Girl were the standouts while amongst his solo work A Street Called Carroll and Stuck in Daily Mail Land in particular sounded like the Cornwell of old. Straighten Out, from way back in the back catalogue, ends the set proper and a four song encore culminating in Tank and the anthemic No More Heroes got the audience dancing, singing and sweating merrily.
And that wasn’t all.
Earlier, Hazel O’Connor had led her trio through a selection from a career almost as lengthy as that of Cornwell. There was a selection from the breakthrough Breaking Glass period reworked in a jazzier, almost ragtime at times, style plus that one featuring the second best-known sax solo in British pop history, now performed by Clare Hirst.
Later material showed that Hazel has still got a magnificent voice and has never lost the knack of penning poignant songs; I Give You My Sunshine, written while her mother was in a hospice, showed that as songwriters age, the topics may be more personal but they’re no less important. After entertaining the crowd with not only a great performance but also the obvious joy she got from it Hazel left the stage with a fairly unprintable story about surfing in Los Angeles and a warm ovation.
That wasn’t all, either.
Just when we thought it was all over Hugh and his band return to run through Bad Vibrations, another from Totem and Taboo, then Hazel and her girls join in with a finale of Hanging Around, rocking out most unlike the demure and cool jazz musicians of earlier. The one-time frontman of the most notoriously misogynistic band of all outnumbered by women. Who’d have thought it?
And that really was it. A night when two different, yet similar, singers came together to show two different, yet equally enjoyable, ways to reinvent yourself.