LLOYD Cole is teaming up with his former Commotions compadres Blair Cowan and Neil Clark for a 17-date autumn tour, heading for York Barbican tomorrow night in his only Yorkshire appearance.
Cole will play two sets, the first acoustic – as was the case at Pocklington Arts Centre in March 2012 and April 2017 (with son William), along with Selby Town Hall in April 2014 and long before at Fibbers, his last York appearance, in May 2000. For the electric second act, he will be joined by his band, featuring Cowan on keyboards and Clark on guitar.
“We’re looking forward to doing something new, though we will be doing Forest Fire, No Blue Skies too, not focusing on Commotions songs but covering 40 years,” says the Buxton-born singer, songwriter and guitarist.
“We’ll have to find ways to play certain songs from the new album, though no version can sound quite like that. It’s a fool errand unless you did what Kraftwerk did in the late-1970s on Computer Love. It’s a much better idea to see what the band’s strengths are and to play to those strengths.”
Cole will be showcasing his 12th solo album, On Pain, produced by Chris Merrick Hughes for June release on the earMusic label.
Like his last studio set, July 2019’s Guesswork, the album was recorded in his Easthampton, Massachusetts attic studio, The Establishment, this time with Commotions co-founders Cowan and Clark co-writing four of the eight compositions and playing on the recordings too.
“I’m excited to still be finding new methods, new perspectives, new sounds,” says Cole, 62. “‘The album’ may be nearing commercial death, but my career has been in that state for almost 30 years and here we are, still, and I still want to make albums. I still want to be heard.”
Cole’s attic is divided in two: “The first half is a little library that’s become my office,” he says. “Through to the back, it’s primarily for recording…with a green carpet, so I can practise my putting.”
Ah, golf. This interview had begun with recollections of Cole’s aforementioned North Yorkshire gigs. “I think I played in Harrogate too, not too long ago. I remember getting fish and chips there that were fantastic! I love playing golf in Yorkshire – great courses – and I love Timothy Taylor’s [beer].”
Then a switch of sports. “The other thing that’s really interesting that I’ve discovered is virtual cycling – and I’ve done the virtual ride from the Harrogate road world cycling championships,” he recalls.
“When Covid hit, I bought an indoor cycle, which I use in the winter here when there’s no cycling because of the snow.”
Cole participates in Zwift’s multiplayer online cycling programme that enables users to interact, train and compete in a virtual environment with cyclists around the world. “I found myself cycling through Harrogate on one route!” he says.
He has “a couple of characters” cycling around Berlin in one of his new songs, The Idiot. “It’s one of two songs on there that I would say have a fairly straightforward set-up,” he says. “The ‘roughly fictitious’ story comes from when Bowie and Iggy Pop went to Berlin to ‘stop being drug addicts’, and I imagine them ‘cycling to the studio in their jeans and leg-warmers, cycling to the discotheque’.”
Given his love of cycling – he cycles 100 miles a week, giving him “a lot more energy now” – it comes as no surprise to learn that Cole’ favourite Kraftwerk song is Tour de France. “That was the acme of Kraftwerk,” he says.
Cole and Clark resumed touring last year after the Covid hiatus, showcasing the Guesswork album on their travels with two acoustic guitars. Now Cole’s focus has turned more to electronica, a mode of music he has loved since he was young.
“I remember buying No Pussyfooting by Fripp & Eno when I was 14, probably drawn to it by the cover artwork, then Bowie’s Low, which made me listen to Kraftwerk,” he says. “The first time I integrated electronic music was on Bad Vibes [his third solo album, released in 1993], which had such an impact.”
In what way? “I know a lot of people liked Bad Vibes but for me it was an artistic failure. It didn’t work and at that point I realised I was not David Bowie and would not reinvent myself into a new character each time,” he says.
“So I know I’ve got my voice, my aesthetic, my way of applying artistic judgement that has not changed radically over my life, but I have more ambition now to work in different environments, presenting something a little closer to an experimental rock band in 2023. When you get to a certain age, you worry a little less about what people say. You just do it.”
Recalling Bad Vibes, Cole drew comparisons with Scott Walker’s later work, “the more difficult songs”. He has now doubled down on his exploration of electronica. “I’m a long way from the Commotions’ days, so I revisited it on Guesswork and then revisited that aesthetic again for On Pain, making it more extreme, making it dense, making the minimal more minimal,” he says.
“I’ve made it simpler on one side and denser on the other, and I’ve placed my trust in Chris [Merrick Hughes], who’s helped me out many times but is being credited as producer for the first time.”
Cole has spent more than half his lifetime living in the United States. “It wasn’t my intention to do that when I went to New York when I was in a rut and the band had split. I married [Elizabeth Lewis in December 1989) and had children…and we’ve ended up in western Massachusetts,” he says.
“It’s mad in the USA, but so is the UK, where you’ve had Brexit. It’s a mess and going to take a long time to fix the mess made by the Tories.”
Asking Cole to pick one song above all others from his back catalogue, composed in Britain and the USA, he says: “Probably Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? That was the song that got me started. When it was written, a bell went off and I thought, that’s what I can do. Before that, maybe my songs were more conservative and I wasn’t as adventurous with language as I then became. That song seemed to work and within six weeks I’d written Perfect Skin and Forest Fire as well.”
During the pandemic, Cole began a page on Patreon.com, entitled the Notebook Project, creating an ongoing memoir via audio, photo and video of his songwriting down the years. “I still have 98 per cent of the notebooks since I started to become a notebook fetishist around the time of Easy Pieces [the Commotions’ second album, from 1985], tracking the writing of the songs through every page,” he says.
“I’m up to Love Story [from 1995] now, and one of the things that has been nice about the project is that I didn’t get it wrong that often. Songs may not be perfect, but I think I was a good editor, getting the most out of my ideas.”
One final question: what does Cole reckon to Camera Obscura’s cheeky response song, Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken? “It’s a wonderful song,” he says. “They were kind enough to approach me to get my blessing in case I was I was offended. I asked them if they had an instrumental version, which, every now and then, if the mood takes me, I go on stage to!”
Lloyd Cole, York Barbican, Tuesday (17/10/2023), doors 7pm; on stage, 8pm. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk