Contented and writing the best songs of his career, Lloyd Cole really is a merry old soul, says Joe Dermody
LLOYD COLE has some unfinished business at Cork Golf Club. The singer only made it as far as the 14th hole before he and the other Commotions were called into the clubhouse for a sound check back in the 1980s.
Unfortunately, the eight handicapper won’t be able to squeeze in those last four holes during this week’s whistlestop one-man acoustic tour of Ireland; not even when he plays the Triskel in Cork on Friday.
“I’d like to have finished the last four holes, but we went in to do the sound check when we were called,” recalls Cole, now 52 and sporting a still voluminous barnet of George Clooney-like proud grey hair.
Cole is speaking via phone from the US, where he lives in Easthampton, Massachusetts, with his American wife, Elizabeth Lewis, and their sons William and Frank. Cole comes across as chilled, and enjoying his multi-tiered life.
While touring his current album, Standards, he is also busy writing articles on golf and travel for US and Australian newspapers and magazines.
Packed with big tunes and intriguing lyrics, Standards is the latest in a series of near flawless albums from Cole. Though no longer a pop star, for discerning fans his commitment to songwriting is all the more alluring now that all the pop commotion has long since faded. And, thankfully, he doesn’t look back in anger.
“Ireland has always been great for me,” he says. “Back in the 1980s, I was mobbed by a group of teenage fans who were waiting for me outside the Gresham Hotel in Dublin. It felt quite strange. In all the years touring, it never really happened again.”
Frankly, that is strange, given that Cole’s then teen idol status. An instant global star upon the release of Rattlesnakes in 1984, Lloyd Cole & The Commotions also enjoyed success with Easy Pieces and Mainstream before disbanding in 1989.
Cole then turned to folk music. He has since released eight excellent alt albums, of which my favourites are Don’t Get Weird on me Babe (1991) and Broken Record (2010). Standards (2013) is a bit rockier, and is generating the strongest response in years.
“Over 30 years in the business, some years have been worse than others, but there have been some really good years in there too,” says Cole. “I released live recordings of two or three nights in Whelan’s bar in Dublin. People came from all over for those shows. Next year, I am going to make my third and final live record there.”
Cole also enjoyed shows in Vicar Street, Roisín Dubh and supporting Simple Minds in Croke Park. Playing Belfast with the Commotions was really memorable as very few bands played there in the 1980s. He prefers intimate shows.
“I hate rock festivals. I was at the Leeds Futurama once, with The Cure, Echo and The Bunnymen and Joy Division, but I really hated it. It becomes just noise for me, and the atmosphere just gets something close to mob mentality, especially in stadiums. It’s like football. I love football, but I prefer watching it on TV.
“I did get to meet people like REM and U2. That was nice, but doing those festivals was not enjoyable. Playing to 40,000 people doesn’t work for me.”
And so in 1989, Cole departed on a new folk path. To survive as a solo artist, he felt he needed to improve his guitar playing. With James Taylor as a model, he developed his own style of finger-picking.
“I’m about average on the acoustic guitar,” he says. “In 1994, I had no money and I realised that I probably needed to work again. I was invited to play at a folk festival in Flanders [Belgium]. I asked them how much they were paying. They told me, so I said yes. I found that I preferred a more theatrical style of performance I saw at Flanders.
“There were some really great artists there; like Joan Baez, who is a very clever performer. I was the worst thing at the festival, but I really enjoyed the experience.”
Having moved to the USA, Cole played a residency at Mawwells, Hoboken, NY. His playing and songwriting has hugely evolved. On his latest album fans have really connected with songs like Myrtle & Rose, which is also his mother’s favourite. The characters in the songs are rich, sometimes very dark. Cole insists the songs are not autobiographical.
“Some songs are better delivered in the first person, but they’re not necessarily about me,” he says. “They’re written from the point of view of the character in the song. As a performer, you must be something of an actor.
“I guess it might be a bit like method acting. You draw on parallels in your own life to give a performance. When I’m opening up in a show, I am of course augmenting things. Like when you say something spontaneous in a show that works. When you use that line again, it’s still honest, but it’s acting.”
Which brings us to another subject. Naturally enough, given his pin-up status, Cole has been offered acting and modelling roles.
“I have had offers, but no I am not interested. To be honest, I don’t think I’d be any good at it. I shot one video for a friend and I had to act for that for about three minutes. That was enough for me. From doing the artwork for album covers, I can stand in front of a still camera, but I don’t have the range of emotions for a moving camera.”
Cole is running off to play yet another round of golf. Failing that, he said he’d have been happy to keep on chatting. In any case, Cole did agree to a quickfire Q&A on home life in Easthampton.
Here’s the summary: Cole owns a drill, but rarely uses it; he wants to move to an apartment, not so much for the space, just doesn’t enjoy mowing the lawn; his current top books are all about electrical engineering, such as data on analogue synths, feeding his electronic music; he also likes Canadian short story writer Mavis Gallant; Cole’s iPod features Boston electronic artist Keith Fullerton Whitman; his teenage son lists interesting TV for them to watch upon returning from gigs and tours, they’re currently watching Orange Is The New Black; he’s a Larry David fan; Cole watches YouTube, mostly music recommended to him by other people, not cats acting funny; his wife makes most of the big ‘home’ decisions, but he does shop online, picks up a lot of old golf goods; if/when he moves to the apartment, he’ll probably have to do a big clearout on Amazon or eBay.
Lloyd Cole tour dates:
Wed, Sept 3: Galway, Roisín Dubh
Thurs, Sept 4: Limerick, Dolan’s Warehouse
Fri, Sept 5: Cork, Triskel Christchurch
Sat, Sept 6: Killarney, Gleneagles Hotel
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