Lloyd Cole (with William Cole) at Eden Court, Inverness.
October 1984 and I’ve wandered into Woolworth in Greenock, must have had a few pound to spare because I headed home with an impulse buy – Lloyd Cole and the Commotions debut album Rattlesnakes: I liked the cover and the song titles. What happened next was that having played it a couple of times I put it back in it’s Woolies carrier bag and early evening I walked across town to Eddie’s house – ‘you have to listen to this, it’s great’. Two weeks later and the town had sold out of black polo neck sweaters and suede boots, second-hand bookshops had been emptied of Truman Capote and girls called Julie or Louise were weary with all the attention. Try as we might though, we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to say deux chevaux . . .
That said, LC&C’s particular brand of post punk indie sophistopop wasn’t universally popular, but they were very much a part of the zeitgeist sharing the scene with James, The Smiths, Prefab Sprout, Everything But the Girl, Orange Juice, The Go-Betweens, Aztec Camera and a host of other terrific 80’s acts. But perhaps most important, we’d decided they were Scottish. Lloyd Cole’s own influences were, although subtle references, hiding in plain site on the debut: for example T-Rex, Bowie, Bob Dylan, Booker T and the MG’s, and of course, Lou Reed. By anybody’s standards it was a fabulous, superbly balanced, mildly pretentious but great debut album.
Rattlesnakes concerned itself with what people do when they are in love and I think it’s fair to say that, down the years, he hasn’t strayed too far in terms of subject matter. What have always shone brightest are Cole’s words and this evenings close to sold out performance at the One Touch Theatre was the perfect showcase for his lyrics. Simple steady lighting, great sound and acoustic only, it was really quite special. “Old songs only” he says, “1983 – 1996”. And that’s precisely what he delivered, 28 songs in two 45-minute sets featuring ‘hits’ and his personal favourites from Rattlesnakes, Easy Pieces, Mainstream, Music in a Foreign Language, Lloyd Cole, New York Collected Recordings and Love Story.
His son William joined him in the second half, taking the lead guitar parts on most of the songs: he is a really accomplished player and the spitting image of his dad when he was William’s age. Now, given Lloyds frequent references to ageing and his barely disguised existential angst, I imagine having William looking over his shoulder must feel wonderfully eerie and unsettling: not quite Dorian Gray but you get the picture. (I may have gone too far there . . .). Perfect Skin get’s the biggest reception of the evening while Lloyd himself opts for an encore featuring Lost Weekend and to finish, a memorable arrangement of Forest Fire.
The first album in particular, stood out for the shear weight of literary and popular culture references: the already mentioned Truman Capote was joined by Eve Marie Saint, Albert Lee, On The Waterfront, Simone de Beavoir, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, Renata Adler and Leonard Cohen. It’s a feature throughout his work; Mr Malcontent (from Mainstream) is based on Daniel Day Lewis’s character in (of course) My Beautiful Laundrette. This evening, perhaps in a nod to mortality, his loves and influences are scattered freely. We have Bowie and Prince playing in the background before the show and at the break. A melody line from Norwegian Wood makes a fleeting appearance; Hey Rusty segues in to Thunder Road and similarly Brand New Friend drifts into Heroes. Leonard Cohen appears courtesy of a few lines from Famous Blue Raincoat. (After the show I am relieved to hear Springsteen is still very much alive).
I’m not going to lie though: as much as I truly enjoyed this performance from start to finish, there were more than a few moments when I really, really, wanted to hear a full band let loose on these timeless, indie pop classics. There’s still time . . .