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Book Review

A Multitude of Sins by Hugh Cornwell

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1 of 1 Engaging book
Engaging book

Harper Collins Entertainment, £8.99

There's something about the lifestyles of today's biggest bands that makes you question the old clichés about rock n' roll.

Many of today's stadium-filling bands are more known for being happily married with children than lives of drug abuse, violence or criminal activity.

Perhaps then, this story of Hugh Cornwell, the former lead singer and main songwriter of 1970s British rock heroes The Stranglers, is a tale of a bygone era.

For it certainly features all of the above characteristics of a hedonistic musical existence – Cornwell devotes entire chapters to sex and drugs. He recalls one instance when he had sex with three different groupies in one afternoon, and proudly asserts that he did this simply because he could.

Elsewhere Cornwell recalls a litany of drug experiences from years of smoking cannabis and taking cocaine and heroin, sometimes both at once. Indeed, 'Golden Brown', which along with 'Peaches' is probably the band's most famous song, is all about heroin.

The catchy tune almost made it Number 1 in the UK charts, with Cornwell claiming it would have if one of his bandmates had not revealed the nature of the song's lyrics in an interview thus causing its airplay to plummet.

There are several instances of such criticism of his former bandmates, and it is evident both sides are still a bit sore about Cornwell's departure from the band in 1990 after seventeen years together. He went on to pursue a minor solo career while The Stranglers continued on without their singer and principal songwriter to far less success than before.

Cornwell's experience of serving five weeks in prison for drug possession in 1979 is also included. The 50-page account, which was edited from an interview with a music journalist shortly after his release, is one of the most interesting and revealing parts of the book.

Other sections deal with Cornwell's childhood and adolescence in London, when one of his early heroes was the less than devilish Cliff Richard, and his days as a university student which were divided between England and Sweden. It also looks at how Jonny Sox, the precursor to The Stranglers, was formed.

Indeed, one aspect that is not overly focussed on is the music itself, as Cornwell has already published a song-by-song account of the band's back catalogue.

This is one of the book's strengths as a narrative, however, as it allows Cornwell to tell his life story without detailing every chord or lyric, and makes 'A Multitude Of Sins' an engaging book for the followers of rock n' roll, hedonistic or otherwise.  

Bill Lehane

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