Lloyd Cole on ageing gracefully, Smash Hits and his new 5-date Scottish tour

By Stuart McHugh
Tuesday, 3rd September 2019, 10:12 am
Updated Tuesday, 3rd September 2019, 2:30 pm

It’s 3pm my time, so for Lloyd Cole a respectable 10am in his base in Massachusetts. Well, for now, before he begins a tour to promote new album ‘Guesswork’.

“Australia wants face to face interviews, so touring’s going to be quite a pain in the neck... not that I mind,” he hastily adds, “but the scheduling has to work”.

It seems that the promotional rollercoaster isn’t quite as hectic as in the 1980s when he was in demand with Smash Hits and Top of the Pops.

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“I should never complain about that,” he says. “I distinctly remember the first day I walked through London and people didn’t notice me so that wasn’t a great feeling - subconsciously noticing heads turning when you walk by... and then they didn’t.”

He recalls a video shoot immediately before a sold out show in Paris, that left him a “physical and mental wreck”. Happily things are easier nowadays. Indeed the video for the first single from the album, ‘Violins’, was already in place - made by another Glasgow School of Art graduale, Turner Prize winner Douglas Gordon.

It’s beautiful but terrible at the same time,” he says of the film of a burning piano, “but it seemed perfect for the song.”

However, although an old friend, Steven Lindsay of The Big Dish, created the artwork for the new release, the Gordon video wasn’t a case of calling in a favour from a fellow Glasgow School of Art graduate. “He was at the Art School after I left,” he says of the younger student, who would have been entering college around the time Cole and the Commotions were hitting the charts with ‘Perfect Skin’. “I tracked him down, but it took a long time, he’s a busy man - a megastar in the art world.”

“We spent a lot of time talking about this and that, one of these days we’ll have a cup of tea together - we just talked on the phone.”

That is the Transatlantic life now for Cole, who after leaving the UK moved from New York and then to Boston. However, this hasn’t hindered his career - in fact, there are benefits from being such a distance from the UK.

“During the mid ’90s to early 2000s when I was in the UK I was either genius or useless depending on how the music press was thinking of me. Those ups and downs are how it works in the UK, I think there was a possibility that I might have just packed it in as it was such a pain in the neck as the British media as the primary media I deal with - so having that distance might have helped.

“But now I’m a grand old man of music… I do think that music world really doesn’t like middle aged, they wish they didn’t exist, they like young or old people.”

But Cole has never been one to simply try to please critics - his recent dalliances with more experimental electronic artists including one release with Krautrock legend Hans-Joachim Roedelius hardly designed to please anyone looking for rehashes of his string of 1980s top 20 hits like ‘Forest Fire’. However, his new album blends his classic pop songwriting with a decidedly keyboard-based sound.

But when he returns to the UK for a tour in October he may leave the gadgets at home.

“We‘ll be reinterpreting some of the songs for the new album, just me and (Commotions guitarist) Neil Clark - possibly we might bring some tiny little synths, but the minute you go there it can get half assed - an American term I quite like - the moment you go too far from acoustic and trying to add stuff you go away from the spontaneity of two guys playing guitar.”

There will be a few older songs in the setlists, though perhaps not as many as when he occasionally dips into the revival circuit.

“Rewind was great fun,” he says of the multi-act nostalgia shows that are now a fixture on the UK festival circuit. “They offered me a bunch of money and I got friends (The Leopards) from Glasgow I play with every now and again.”

However, these one-off shows are easier to organise than a full tour. “They all work as teachers, and probably get paid more in their jobs than gigging,” he laughs.

Perhaps a certain William Cole could fill in on guitar as he did in the past. “He’s helped me out, but is trying to have his own career - but it was great - someone I could make fun of on stage, as he looks like I used to look now!”

“If I book a tour and the album comes out and is panned everywhere I go bankrupt. Those are the types of decisions that are more difficult than the artistic ones.”

Lloyd Cole’s October UK tour includes five Scottish dates, and album ‘Guesswork’ is out now. More at www.lloydcole.com.