Here Hugh discussed the foibles of love that lay behind the 'La Folie' and possible Meninblack induced misfortunes endured by the band with some geezer called Chris Twomey.
14th November 1981
LET'S FACE it - life as a Strangler can't have been a lot of fun lately. Apart from having, become the band that everybody loves to hate - the past 18 months has been particularly rife with catastrophies for them. The mere fact that they are still together as a band at the end of this disastrous period
is a survival success story in itself.
The 'strange chain of events,' as they have become to be known, can be traced back to the point where the Stranglers began to take a more than passing interest in the 'Meninblack’ on their 'Raven' LP. Since then, the regularity with which their misfortunes seem to have occurred is almost too uncanny to be true.
Firstly, there were the well publicised events such as Hugh Cornwell's two month residency in Pentonville nick, the whole band's detention in Nice and of Course the theft of all their equipment in the
USA. In between all these, however, there were numerous bizarre happenings, some of which involved the serious illness - even death of some of the Stranglers closest associates. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Stranglers are keen to drop the whole Meninblack saga.
What is perhaps surprising is that they have re-emerged with an album that is basically a compilation of
love songs. Admittedly, they aren't conventional love songs (there are ones about a Nun's love of God, a
dictator's love of power and even one about the fans love of John Lennon 'post mortem' as it were). But it seems ironic, taking into account much of the band's history and the criticism 'dlrected at them, that they should give so much of their attention to the subject of love.
My meetings with Hugh Cornwell have always been pleasant, amiable experiences, this occasion no less so. We begin by listening to the new LP, 'La Folie', during which I notice how mellow the Stranglers are sounding these days. There's nothing here, for example, with the force of songs even as recent as 'Who Wants The World' or 'Nuclear Device'. At last it look as though they have mastered the array of styles which has been developing in their music over the last couple of years - the result being that this album is infinitely more accessible than anything they have done since 'Black And White'.
At one point I jovially remark to Hugh that some of the music on 'La Folie' could easily have been written with' the Radio 2 market in mind, to which he replies that they were really aiming for Radio 3. A slight over statement perhaps, but it gives you some idea of how polarised the Stranglers are becoming.
Eventually we get round to conversation proper. First and foremost how did the Stranglers get hooked onto the subject of love?
"Just thinking about things, you know. Everyone was saying 'you don't write love songs do you?' And we said 'No, we'll never write a love song.' The closest we ever got to it was 'Bring On The Nubiles' and also 'School Man', that's a love song. I started thinking about that and I thought, 'Wouldn't it be good to write a collection of songs about love - but have them describing the complete folly of it, and the complete madness of it - and the things people do in the name of it. Like in france, for example, they have 'Crime Passionnel', which is if someone kills someone in the name of love, they can be let off the
guillotine, or whatever the punishment is. It's not called murder it's called 'Crime Passionnel'. It's fantastic when you think of it. In fact there's a case just happening in France now (which is one of the verses of 'La Folie' in translation).
"There's this Japanese student in Paris who had this passion to eat a young girl: Anyway, last Spring he
finally got this girl to agree to go out with him. So he took her out, took her back to his flat and he killed her, chopped her up and ate her - and he put the rest of her in the fridge... You might laugh, but this actually happened, there was a big article about it in the Sunday Times. The French Authorities are freaking out because they don't know what to do with him, because really it's a 'Crime Passionnel', so
really he should be let off. He had a passion for this person, he loved her so much he wanted to eat her - and he did it. This sort of thing we're fascinated by on 'La Folie', these sort of people, these sort of
Did you find yourselves being closeted by the 'Meninblack' album? That was the first time that it seemed the Stranglers had suddenly acquired some kind of image.
"I think we felt a bit - claustrophobic in that whole thing. All the bad luck we were having, and all the calamities - it was a period of catastrophies for us and I think we felt the more that happened, the more it was going to happen - you get very fatalistic about that sort of situation. I was very glad that with 'La Folie' we started breaking out of that. It feels like a breath of fresh air - and I think the music reflects it as well."
Was it difficult to drop the whole 'Meninblack' concept?
"No, we'd just had enough of it. We had enough of the sombre, ominous, heaviness about it. It's a very fascinating topic, but I don't know whether It's necessary to bore the pants off people with it."
That’s a paradoxical statement if ever I heard one, and coming from Hugh Cornwell's lips, too! Many critics have had a penchant for over reaction wherever the Stranglers have been concerned, but never more so than on the occasion of the 'Meninblack' albums' release. Some said it was ridiculous that the
Stranglers should set themselves up as authorities on a subject that has been fodder for intellectual debate for nearly 2000 years. Personally, I was amazed that anyone could have taken it so seriously - why, the record sleeve was a gas on its own!
Indeed, am I correct in assuming that many of the Stranglers songs are intended to be the teensie - weensiest bit tongue in cheek? "Oh yes, very much so. A lot of our songs have been misinterpreted in
that way and a lot of people have been horrified. It's just that they haven't seen the look on the brighter side of life, as they' say.
There's two ways of looking at a lot of the stuff we write about. You can either look at it totally directly and you get freaked out and horrified, or you can see that there's a bit of a chuckle in there and have a laugh with us. That's been a lot of the problem about being misunderstood and people getting upset by us."
Was the Meninblack album meant to be taken especially lightly? "A lot of the ideas on it were, yes. ‘Just like Nothing On Earth' was very tongue in cheek. It was about the popular side of UFO spotting. It was drawing a correlation between UFO spotting and people in cars at night. It just seems that the two have
gone hand In hand. I mean, 'Waltz In Black', how can anyone take the laughing on that seriously?"
I decided to steer the conversation round to the other great issue - the question of the Stranglers waning record sales. As businessmen, it must be said, the Stranglers are not the world's best. It has never really been considered good tactics to get on the wrong side of people like the BBC for
instance. Or to put it another way 'don't bite the hand that feeds'. It's now over two years since the Stranglers had their last major hit ('Duchess'), but also 'Menlnblack' didn't chart as well as previous albums. What would it mean if 'La Folie' flopped? Is the Stranglers future largely dependent on the
success of this album?
"I don't think it's down to albums, it's down to tours. If we played in Britain and nobody came to see us
- then I think that would be more indicative that not many people buying our records. 'Meninblack' sold, I think, 50,000 copies. Well, if there's 50,000 people still in the country who want to buy our
records then I can't think that we've flopped.
“I was disappointed with 'Who Wants The World' because I really thought it was the best single we'd ever made. It was really well produced, It had a good sound. I really like the sonq, and I think we
were amazed that It didn't go well when it was released. But there you go, life's full of surprises."
And you can't put It better than that. You can?