But rather than being downhearted by the lack of gigs in the past 16 months, he managed to turn it into a positive through a series of Sounds From the Van online performances. The internet, he says, has proved something of a godsend in making his presence known more widely.
“I think it was a following that I’d already kind of built up from just years of hard work on the streets in London and various other towns in England, it was a snowball that was already in motion from about eight years of doing that, then when coronavirus hit I was about to do my first official tour in venues,” he says.
“I’d already done a tour in 2019 where I played in quite a few venues all over the country but it was about to get super serious. It was already there, about to go, then that tour got cancelled. I was actually backpacking in India when the whole thing happened, I got trapped out there for another month, then managed to get back and thought, ‘What can I do? All my gigs are cancelled, I’ll do some weekly uploads’. So I’ve been travelling around in various spots, playing my guitar and filming it and sticking it on the internet, and the following has just grown from that.”
Years spent busking certainly made Cole more adaptable. “I think being a one-man band helps the most,” he says. “A lot of bands can’t even get rehearsal time because studios are closed and they have to self-isolate and can’t meet up. It was much harder for three-piece bands and beyond, whereas for me I can just set up a little trailer that I tow around and it turns into a practice room. I set up my gear in there and I can play and film it.”
Another important boost to his profile came from his appearance in the Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso. “It helped massively, especially overseas,” he says. “I’ve had a few videos go viral in the last decade so I already had a bit of a fanbase in the USA, but Ted Lasso bumped that up quite a heavy notch.”
The role came about when Jason Sudeikis, who plays the show’s main character, a coach of college-level American football who is unexpectedly recruited to coach an English Premier League team, spotted one of Cole’s videos while searching the internet for London buskers. He says: “They asked me would I like to play a character, but I didn’t know who was behind it and said, ‘I’m not really an actor, I’d rather not. If you want me to play I don’t mind coming down and playing a few songs, but I’m only going to be myself’, and they said ‘that’s fine’. So I came down and it was mad, going from a little hippie house up north in between shows to this film set. I had a movie set caravan, it was mental. Then being in the make-up room with Jason Sudeikis and other famous actors, I was like, ‘What’s happened to my life?’”
Cole’s new album, Crooked Hill, is out now. Most of it was written in 2019, but Cole also used his three-month stay in India to pen more songs. “It’s definitely a heavier rock album compared to I See,” he says. “I brought in my second guitar, which I’ve had since I was seven, I bought it at a (car) boot sale for £4. It’s a much heavier sound. The other one is an acoustic whereas this one is a single cut.
“I think it’s definitely progressing from I See, and the way we recorded it as well, we’re just getting better at what we do. It’s just about perfecting that one-man band sound that I’ve got going on, staying true to that one-take mantra, I’m not playing to any backing track, but just smoother. I was a lot more rehearsed for this album. I’m becoming more and more professional as time goes on, more of an actual musician.”
Cam Cole plays at The Greystones in Sheffield on September 4 and Santiago’s Bar in Leeds on September 10. camcole.com