It is hard to believe that it is been more than 30 years since Rattlesnakes announced the arrival of the singular pop sensibility of Lloyd Cole. Literate and melodic with airy allusions to the likes of Eve Marie Saint and Simone Du Beauvoir, it was one of the defining albums of its time and sounds just as good today.
It launched Cole’s long and varied music career which has included forays into lush, orchestral, arrangements and ambient electronica amid a string of fine albums that have often enjoyed warm reviews albeit with mixed commercial fortunes.
Of late, Cole has been revisiting his early releases, both with The Commotions and as a solo artist, for the purpose of two impressive box sets. Last year saw the release of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions; Collected Recordings 1983-1989 which was received with wide acclaim, and rapidly sold out. Comprising five CDs, one DVD and a booklet, it includes all three Commotions’ studio albums, re-mastered, plus bonus CDs of b-sides, and rarities. A second box set is due early next year which will span the years 1989 to 1996 and feature Cole’s first four solo albums, his ‘lost’ fifth album, plus choice rarities and videos.
Tying in with these box sets, Cole is doing a short tour for which the set lists will exclusively comprise material from 1983 to 1996. He brings his Classic Lloyd Cole Songbook Tour to the Róisín Dubh on Tuesday August 30, for what should be a very special gig indeed.
I caught up with Cole the morning of his recent show in Glasgow and began by asking if his Galway gig would be solo or accompanied. “My son William will be with me,” he replies. “Actually, we have just finished practicing for a couple of songs we are going to play tonight. We have been playing with a band over here for a couple of weeks but once we get to Ireland it will be just William and myself. I will play the first set on my own and we will play the second set together.”
It is not the first time Cole senior and junior have toured together; “I took him out when he was quite a lot younger. He has been playing guitar for a long time, he came out and did some dates with me when he was 18 or 19. Since then he has been to college and studied music production, formed a band, split up the band, and now he is about to try and do his own next move with his own music. I asked him to come out with me because I am getting old [here Cole laughs]. The tour we are embarking on is long and arduous so I was worried that being out on my own it would be a little tough so I’ve dragged him out with me.”
Cole started compiling the box sets in 2014, and has done much of the work in assembling them himself. How has he found this sustained re-engagement with his early music? “Mostly it has been fairly pleasant,” he declares. “The only thing that was not wonderful was doing the long-form interview for the career overview for the booklet that goes with the solo box set,” he adds with a wry chuckle. “I’m very happy with the records but the general feeling of what happened in the 1990s with my career was ultimately a little disappointing.”
Cole is both candid and philosophical as he looks back on the vagaries of his career; “When you are doing something you give it your best. You would not release an album unless you were happy with it. I’m definitely happy with all of the records I have made but I have also definitely been happy with some more than others. I’m not necessarily happy with some of the decisions I made as a young man. I think embarking on a project where the sole purpose seemed to be to try and make a record that sounded like anything but Lloyd Cole was not a very bright idea.
“You always want to be as successful as you can with an album,” Cole continues. “I would never want to make music that people would not appreciate. I was trying to do the same thing that Michael Jackson or Bruce Springsteen were doing, but there are only going to be a few every generation that can make it to that level of success. There were times when it seemed that it was possible that I was going to become a much bigger star than I did become. One of the things that maybe made my career in the nineties easier on me is that when my success waned somewhat in the British Isles –and I never released an album that did not chart and I was always getting a reasonable amount of airplay –I was finding success in places like Scandinavia, France, and the United States. Actually my sales in the US increased when I was a solo artist. So there was always a feeling that things were progressing and it was not really until about 1995 when I suddenly found I had to sell my house [laughs] that it hit home that things were not that great. I had it pretty easy for 10 years and since then it has not been easy.”
Cole made three albums with The Commotions before disbanding the group and going solo. Did he find that a daunting change I enquire? “It was very similar to how it felt when The Commotions fell into making the music we made with Rattlesnakes,” he replies. “It had been quite daunting thinking about being a band that could make great music and then all of a sudden we had only been together for six months and we were doing Forest Fire and Perfect Skin and it felt very natural. When I left The Commotions I had no idea what I was going to do. I did not know if I had the tools or ability to be a solo artist, I just knew I did not want to be in a band anymore. I camped out in this studio apartment in New York making demos, and so on, and I found I was able to do it; I could play guitar better than I thought, I could arrange drums and strings. Again, it just felt like this was the right thing for me to be doing, it was not easy but it was definitely natural and it was exciting.”
Recent years have seen a string of rock memoirs from the likes of Patti Smith, Morrissey, and Elvis Costello. As one of the more literate members of the pop/rock world would Cole ever be tempted to write a book? “I don’t honestly think my story is that interesting,” he answers with another of his wry laughs. “My story is really there with the records and the songs. But if somebody wanted to give me a big advance and the time to write a memoir then yes, but there’s nine or 10 people who need to die first.”
Lloyd Cole plays the Róisín Dubh on Tuesday August 30. Doors open at 7.30pm Tickets €26 / €24. Cole’s box sets can be ordered from www.lloydcole.com where full details of the sets are also available.