Gig Review – Hugh Cornwell – Horseshoe Tavern – Toronto Canada 28th June 2015
Maria Meli brings us this report:-
The Return of Hugh Cornwell
Hugh Cornwell has dabbled in biochemistry, acting, writing and dated various women, but his main and longest-term love is music. He returned to Toronto on June 28th to share that love. It was the second time in 18 months he was here, this time performing at The Horseshoe Tavern, where he also played when he was in The Stranglers. (The Horseshoe is a live music institution. First christened for performances at the end of 1947, the venue has hosted both Canadian and international acts over this time such as, Willie Nelson, Stompin’ Tom Connors, The Tragically Hip, The Blues Brothers, Talking Heads, Ramones, Danko Jones and The Rolling Stones.) On both tours, he would start with a song from his 2012 CD Totem and Taboo and move to a Stranglers’ song and alternate T&T with Stranglers tunes.
He took the stage at 10:00 pm with Steve Fishman, his North American regular touring bassist since 2009, along with Seve Sheldon, the drummer from indie band, The Wild Ones, amidst cheers from the crowd. They kick-started the night with “Totem and Taboo” the title track and first song from his latest CD. It was a good choice as it has an interesting rhythmic arrangement and a punch that gets one’s attention. Cornwell was on fine form and in excellent spirits as he rotated between old and new songs. Among the new, he included, “Stuck in Daily Mail Land,” “God Guns and Gays,” “I Want One of Those,” and “A Street Called Carroll,” the last three songs influenced by his stays in the USA. Carroll Street actually exists in Los Angeles and Americans still worship at the feet of great and powerful Consumerism. The American way of life is rife with religious fundamentalism, the right to bear arms versus the violence caused by guns, and gay rights. Cornwell was in the moment as he closed his eyes and at times enunciated dramatically as he almost forced the words out of his mouth. He also played his ode to the other half of humanity, “God is a Woman.” Missing from his set was “Love Me Slender,” another pervasive ideal from across the Atlantic about the infatuation with being thin.
In keeping with his buoyant mood, he delighted the audience with several upbeat Stranglers’ earworms, such as, “Skin Deep,” “Grip,” and “Straighten Out.” He may have been nostalgic, since he included songs about his ex-girlfriends – “Duchess,” “Strange Little Girl,” and debatably, “Golden Brown,” on which he handled the guitar solo quite well. He did have requests fired at him, and at one point, he asked calmly, “Do you mind?”
Cornwell was in a playful mood. Early on, before beginning a Stranglers’ song, he teased the crowd by telling them the next song was “No More Heroes,” then he and the band launched into “Dagenham Dave” instead. He bantered with audience members. After about four songs in, he asked people seated at the back of the club, if they were comfortable and whether he should order any food for them. He shared the tidbit that people in Scotland call him Shug (a diminutive for Hugh). A couple of songs later, he commented on the cold and rain the city was experiencing and how lately, it always seems to rain in Toronto during the Pride celebrations. Kayvon, a British ex-patriot, called out that he had brought the bad weather. Cornwell replied, “I brought it? I just came from Califor-nae-ay. It’s 100 degrees there and sunny.”
He was sporting a new drummer, who he said had come on with short notice (due to the untimely passing of Darius Minwalla). He asked the gathering whether Seve Sheldon reminded them of Animal from the Muppets. (He actually bears more than a passing resemblance to the frenetic drummer from the Muppet band, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.) Sheldon, along with his wiry-haired, enthusiastic head banging and constant smile while keeping time, has talent. He learned a catalogue of songs in a short time, played them well and with gusto, and memorized the order, as there were no set lists taped to the floor.
Further evidence that the Cornwell of yore has resurged was his trademark lyric altering, which he did with “Peaches.” He asked, “Is she trying to get out of Toronto?” and he could think of worse places to be, like Mississauga, a nod to a boring city, almost a suburb on the western edge of Toronto.
The set lasted an hour and at 11:01 they left the stage. The crowd wasn’t having that. They cheered and clapped for more, so Cornwell, Fishman and Sheldon retook the stage. As Cornwell adjusted the strap for his guitar, various requests were volleyed at him, such as, “Nice ‘N Sleazy” and “I want another one of those.” Cornwell, ever the deadpan artist, scoffed.
First up was indeed “Nice ‘N Sleazy” about the Amsterdam Hell’s Angels. This was very well received. From there, they moved to “No More Heroes” in earnest, however, without JJ Burnel’s familiar bass pounding and digit dextrous intro, it seemed a little lacking. As the strains died down, Cornwell said they were going to move to a slower song next, and they did. “In the Dead of Night,” a nice little number that ends Totem and Taboo, ended the evening.
After an enjoyable performance Cornwell came out and interacted with the fans. He easily chatted with people, signed CDs and graciously posed for pictures with them. He seemed genuine and to be enjoying himself. Not all artists will interact with fans like this and it creates stronger loyalty on the part of the fans. Just two weeks before, a tour bus pulled up in the middle of the road in front of the venue where Paul Weller had played, fifteen minutes after the concert and he made a dash for it from a locked side entrance, before fans realized what happened. A few minutes later, his band was escorted by security as they too made a run for the bus. Some contrast. Fair play Mr Cornwell.
Words, Images and Video: Maria Meli.