Tuesday 12 December 2017

Old master Cole still not a merry soul

Lloyd Cole, who starts his Irish tour tomorrow, was one of the greatest - and most literary - songwriters of the 1980s, not least because of his classic album Rattlesnakes

Lloyd Cole embarks on an Irish tour beginning in Kilkenny
Lloyd Cole embarks on an Irish tour beginning in Kilkenny
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

For a time in the early-to-mid 1980s, it appeared there were only two English songwriters who weren't afraid to amuse us - and doubtless themselves - with their arcane literary references: Morrissey and Lloyd Cole.

Morrissey - who was fanatical about Wilde, Keats, Yeats, George Elliott, Joe Orton and Shelagh Delaney to name but a few - allegedly adapted the Alan Bennett line about Virginia Woolf, "Nature has a language, you see, if only we'd learn to read it", for The Smiths' song Ask.

The gladioli-swinging Mancunian was possibly paying homage of sorts to George Eliot's Middlemarch at the start of How Soon Is Now? - 'I am the son/And the heir/Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar,' he sang. 'I am the son and heir/Of nothing in particular'.

Cole, on the other hand, and his band Lloyd Cole and The Commotions, referenced 20th century French existentialists on Rattlesnakes ('She reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance') and loosely based the track around an image from Joan Didion's novel, Play It as It Lays. Then there was, most famously, Cole calling out a literary tough guy on Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken ('Read Norman Mailer/Or get a new tailor'), or his song Don't Get Weird on Me Babe being inspired by quotation from Raymond Carver.

Morrissey once said of Mr Cole that he was the sort of person who becomes "erotic about blotting paper".

To which Cole replied: "I do. I am a real stationery fetishist."

Asked by The Word magazine in 2006 how he compared with the aforementioned Mozzer, Cole answered thus: "Well, I'm trying to write in keeping with what I am - a middle-aged person. I don't think Morrissey will ever want to do that. He wants to just be a big boy. That's fine, but it says nothing to me about my life.

"I know Morrissey a little bit and I think he built this persona, this creature in his late teens, because he didn't like what he was, which became Morrissey of The Smiths and what was there before that, I don't know if there's anything left. I always felt, talking to him, I was just like another journalist talking to him. I didn't see anything different, supposedly being his friend, than the stuff I read in the newspapers. I don't know whether he's happy with that or not."

Circa 2016, Lloyd Cole seems happy in his perfect skin. The ­wordsmith, who New Musical Express named his 1994 Rattlesnakes release in its Top 100 albums of all time, visited America in the Autumn of 1988 and ended up staying in New York for 11 years; he now lives in New England with his wife and two grown-up kids. He follows his own path.

Born January 31st in 1961, in Buxton in Derbyshire, Cole released in 2015 a second album of instrumental compositions (Who does that?). "I got a copy of Fripp & Eno's No Pussyfooting in 1973 - the sleeve was very attractive - and that was it, really," he explained at the time. "It's an incredibly spare record. I don't think there are any chord changes on it, just drones and harmonic scales. I didn't really think about trying to understand it; I just liked the sound of it, in the same way that I liked the feel of the rhythm section in T Rex."

The 55-year-old flawed genius also recently released the possibly less esoteric, and hugely acclaimed, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions Collected Recordings 1983-1989. Most of which, and more, King Cole will play on his Irish tour, that starts tomorrow. . .

August 22nd, The Set Theatre, Kilkenny; 23rd, Theatre Royal, Waterford; 24th, Greenacres, Wexford; 26th, Vicar Street, Dublin; 27th, Triskel Christchurch, Cork; 29th, Empire Music Hall, Belfast; 30th, Rosin Dubh, Galway; 31st, Dolan's, Limerick. Tickets priced €26.00/£22.50 are on sale now through ticketmaster.ie and usual outlets nationwide.

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