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Things I Have Learned

Hugh Cornwell Of The Stranglers On The Hoover Dam
Alex Ogg , October 6th, 2009 07:59

Hugh Cornwell believes that the Hoover Dam is a testament to mankind's ingenuity. And that the recent one day cricket matches were a waste of time. As told to Alex Ogg

We need another Hoover Dam

It’s just a scientific wonder; a scientific miracle. It’s a temple to man’s ingenuity and abilities, it really is. In order to build it, they had to divert the Colorado River. They dug two tunnels to each side and diverted the whole river so they could then dry it out and find virgin rock to build on. Then they realised that if they made the concrete in one go, it would take 125 years to dry and it would crack because of the heat. So that’s why they laid it pieces at a time, and put tubes through it to cool it down with ice-cold water. Then they realised they needed to build a refrigeration plant. So they built the biggest refrigeration plant in the world, which is three football pitches long. Mind-boggling stuff. And it was finished two years before schedule. The architect was on a bonus – he got $1,000 for every day it finished early. It finished two years early and I think he retired! The thing is still all working perfectly. They’ve hardly changed any of the technology, and they reckon if human beings left the face of the earth, in five years’ time it would still be running without anyone being there. Another thing that was nice about it and synchronistic, was the fact that it happened in the Great Depression. It created a lot of work and stimulated the economy, which parallels the times now.

Bring on the new

I’m a scientist by training so I still take an interest in what’s going on. And it’s amazing what is going on. Somebody told me the other day in New York that they have the technology now for a person, via a little lens contraption, to project a virtual screen in front of them, and you can interact with it. So you won’t need to carry around any hardware. And if they catch on they’re going to be making clothes with these built into them – incredible.

Human achievements will keep up us the right side of disaster

There are some mind-boggling things that will occur in the next 100 years. There will be the end of the oil industry, which will be fabulous. But it won’t be due to alternative forms of energy, it will be due to nuclear fusion. They’re finally going to sort out nuclear fusion – it will take about 50 years and billions and billions of pounds. So everything will come with a nuclear reactor; your wristwatch, your laptop, cars. And there will no water problem, because the process creates water. And then superconductivity will be sorted out. So there will be a substance that exists at room temperature with no resistance to electricity. Once that’s out, there will be no energy crisis anywhere! I think that the planet has an innate ability to readjust to whatever we do to it. People will probably rile at me for saying this but – OK, the polar icecaps melt and the sea level goes up by the height of this room. We’re going to lose 0.005% of land mass. Is that the end of the world? The hysteria is ridiculous. But it’s good that it generates interest and stirs people’s thought processes. It’s good to think about things and not just stumble blindly ahead.

Never apologise for being an egomaniac

Writing solo means that you are more exposed, but I’m much more comfortable like that. Everything I do I can attest to, it is my work. A lot of people still aren’t aware of the fact that ‘Golden Brown’ was written by the keyboard player and myself. The others had nothing to do with it. In fact the bass player didn’t even play on the record. He couldn’t think of anything creative to put in. It’s funny how when you’re in a group of people, you get branded with a group identity, and by default everyone gets credit for what you achieve. I’m one of those terrible egomaniacs. I want total control and total applause! (laughs)

Religion: nice architecture, shame about the cant

I think, finally, we’re getting quite a responsible collective attitude to the world. One day we might ban religion. Let’s hope it’s in the next 100 years. These are mental constraints that we human beings put on ourselves. What do we need it for? It just creates a lot of shit and problems. They’re awful, all crap, and the sooner it gets put in the rubbish bin the better. Concentrate on more important things. But I do love religious buildings. I find religious buildings fascinating, and I love being in them. In my mind, they stand for human achievement, human engineering. It’s a testimony to human beings’ patience and diligence. And some of these cathedrals, they were still being built when the original architects died. And the next generation took over. Some of them took three or four generations. That's remarkable. It’s what religion inspires that I like. Shame we can’t find some other things that can generate those same resources.

Man is God

That’s why I see the Hoover Dam as a temple. I think man is God, and everyone is their own God. And people should realise how wonderful and how resourceful the human being is. Why don’t we applaud ourselves more for being such an amazing thing, an amazing machine? It’s incredible – self-healing, the minimum of maintenance. You can go on without changing the engine oil - it doesn’t blow up! It still manages to self-rectify. The possibilities are amazing. Man is God. Why can’t we just embrace that fact? For 2,000 years man has been in constant denial at its own wonder.

Everybody loves you when you’re dead

The Stranglers probably appealed to Keith [Floyd; the celebrated late chef] because he was a bit of a rebel. I hadn’t really been in touch with Keith recently. But for a few years we were quite close. I got news of him through a friend who is a food writer. But even he said he found it difficult to see him, because he’d been so ill, he cut himself off from people, which was a shame. He probably didn’t want people to see himself in that way, in pain. But he’s a lovely bloke, and we go back a long, long way. Back in the early 70s he was opening a new restaurant in Bristol. And he asked me if I could play at the opening party. I said, ‘Well, Keith, I’ve got my finals the next day, it’s going to be tough.’ So he said, ‘I’ll really make it worth your while.’ So I’m playing away, and down the steps comes my biochemistry professor. Not with his wife – but with his secretary! He clocked me, I clocked him, and neither of us said anything. You’re here but I didn’t see you, and you’re here and I didn’t see you.

You can always rehabilitate a good song

I’m really proud to have been a part of Rattus. What I’ve been doing over the years is playing 50% Stranglers, 50% my solo material, and alternating the tunes. But when Hoover Dam came out, because we enjoyed playing the songs so much, we decided to go out and play the whole album before we did anything else. So we’ll do Hoover Dam, the latest Hugh Cornwell thing, and Rattus Norvegicus, which was the first Hugh Cornwell thing. [On rearranging the songs given some were originally sung by JJ Burnel] Caroline, my bass player, is going to sing ‘Princess of The Streets’. We’ve changed the words between us. ‘He’s gone and left me, I don’t know why, that boy’s good looking, my heels are high’. You just change a few words and suddenly it makes sense. So I can just play guitar and that’s that one sorted out. ‘Sometimes’ I sing already – we’ve already started performing that. The other two are ‘London Lady’ and ‘Ugly’. It’s quite funny projecting myself into someone else’s brain.

Touring is a bit like Monopoly

You start off at Go and you have to get all around that whole board and get back home without going to jail or any mishaps. And you’re tossing the dice and seeing what comes up. You’ve got a route to take, but you don’t know what’s going to happen on the way. And there’s something quite exciting about that unknown part of it. And when you do get back from something like that you feel a sense of achievement that you’ve actually completed it. And hopefully nothing major or untoward has happened. Hopefully you haven’t lost a ton of money and some people have had a good time on the way.

No More Heroes? Well there’s Monty Panesar. And Bumble.

I watched quite a bit of the Ashes. Unfortunately, because of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I didn’t get to any of the matches. It was over too quickly though. I think the games were too close to each other. I like when it’s two weeks between test matches, then another two weeks. So it’s that anticipation. But this time it was just bang, bang, and it was all over. The one-dayers were a complete pile of shit anyway. They could have done seven test matches as far as I’m concerned. [I loved] the changes of fortune from the very first test. Monty played his part in the series just by batting out the last overs in Bristol. That was almost like a victory. We dropped him after that, but he’d done what was needed of him. And Trott – what a find he’s going to be. I know some cricketers like Mark Butcher but I meet more with some of the pundits and writers. Derek Pringle is a huge vinyl collector. Bumble [David Lloyd] is a fan, I saw him at a party once. He went (raises arms in devotion) ‘Hugh, respect, respect.’

For a free download of Cornwell’s Hoover Dam album, visit

Details of his November tour: Fri 13, Newcastle O2 Academy, Sat 14, Glasgow ABC, Fri 20, London O2 Academy, Sat 21, Oxford O2 Academy, Fri 27, Manchester Academy 1, Sat 28, Birmingham 02 Academy