After hits with The Commotions in the 80s and a successful solo career, Lloyd Cole is looking back. Duncan Seaman reports.
Springing to fame in the mid-1980s with his band The Commotions, Lloyd Cole quickly won a reputation as one of his era’s outstanding songwriters.
Following a string of hits including Perfect Skin, Forest Fire, Lost Weekend and Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?, the group split up in 1989 and Cole left Britain for the USA, where he has made more than a dozen solo albums over the last 25 years.
On his forthcoming tour he’ll be taking a rare delve into his earliest work – a decision, he says, prompted by the success of last year’s box set Lloyd Cole and the Commotions Collected Recordings 1983-1989 which received “universal warmth and acclaim, and sold out far more quickly than UMG anticipated”.
A second box “is in the works” for release in September, which will span 1989-1996, Cole’s first four solo albums, the lost fifth album, plus rarities and videos.
“These boxes are a lot of work, much of which can only be done by me,” says the 55-year-old singer-songwriter. “I must revisit and rediscover material. I am necessarily in retrospective mode. I have decided to embrace it.
“In 2016 all of my set lists will be comprise material from 1983-1996 only. Most of my concerts will be acoustic affairs but there will be some band performances. The Leopards are reconvening to join me at Rewind in August, with more shows being discussed.
“Once the world has seen the Retrospective Show I will resume my work as a contemporary artist.”
Back in the 80s Cole was at the forefront of introducing a more literary sensibility to British guitar pop in the 1980s. When it came to dealing with the trappings of success, Cole says: “We were very lucky to have a great lawyer so all that stuff was better than for most.
“The Smash Hits stuff was great fun. I complained about having no privacy but I was a stupid 23-year-old. I wanted to be famous, and that goes with the territory. I’m sure I knew that in the back of my mind.”
Upon its release in 1984, Rattlesnakes rapidly attained the status of a classic debut album. Cole remembers the band were confident – “but maybe not that confident” – that that they had a strong batch of songs before they entered the studio with Paul Hardiman to record it.
However the sessions for its successor, Easy Pieces, were more difficult, with Hardiman being sacked by their record label and Madness producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley drafted in to replace him. In retrospect Cole says he wishes they had stood their ground more and not been rushed into it by Polydor but adds wryly: “We got very handsomely rewarded for making the Christmas 1995 release.”
Despite issues behind the scenes, Easy Pieces was a bigger commercial success than Rattlesnakes, entering the UK charts at Number 5 and yielding two top 20 singles, Brand New Friend and Lost Weekend.
Some have felt it left the band betwixt and between their original cult following and a new mainstream audience, but Cole says simply: “No idea. It’s not healthy to think about that sort of thing when you’re trying to make music, in my humble opinion.”
The Commotions’s final album, Mainstream, might have contained some of their best songs but by the time of its release in 1987 the seeds of the band’s destruction had been sown.
Cole admits he was conscious at the time that the group had run its course, explaining: “It took all the energy we had left to make it. I think once it was finished I wasn’t the only one who had run out of whatever it was that we needed to have to remain a band.”
After the Commotions split up Cole moved to America. I ask if he felt more at home there than in Britain.
“Of course not. But I loved New York and it came to be my home,” he says. “I preferred the interaction I had with other musicians there. It was much less our band versus your band.”
As downloading and streaming revolutionised the music industry, Cole was one of the first artists to take control of all the business aspects of being a musician in the internet age. He says he realised fairly quickly it was imperative to do so. “It was an economic necessity – if I was to survive and feed my kids.”
In recent years Cole has brought out a number of albums of electronic music. “I try to make the music I feel like making. But I can’t always afford to do that, in fact spending about six months recently devoted to a specific electronic project which never quite came to fruition hurt me quite badly, economically…”
Lloyd Cole and The Leopards play at Holmfirth Picturedrome on August 18 and at Leeds City Varieties on October 9. For detailas and to book tickets www.picturedrome.net and www.cityvarieties.co.uk