Life after fame: Lloyd Cole on what your hotel room tells you about your pop career

Rocket Man”, OK, “Candle in the Wind”, even, but “Sacrifice” every 90 minutes? The Grand Hotel Dream in Frankfurt plays Elton John, only Elton John, non-stop! That aside, it is surprisingly good – my room has a safe and decent linens. The location is iffy, but it’s walking distance from the old town and all I have to do is recover from the flight, the jet lag, eat, and prepare for a couple of concerts, and then three weeks of flying country to country, hotel to hotel, talking about my new album, and how it compares to 1984’s Rattlesnakes [Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ 1984 debut album, often listed as one of the greatest debuts of all time].

After 27 years, I wonder, could one maybe map the trajectory of my (so-called) career using the hotels I was booked into? How was I doing? Where was I staying?

At the very end of the 1980s, between completing my first solo record and going out to hawk it, I got married. We honeymooned in Paris – the promo would start there. I chose the George V because I’d read the Beatles stayed there. It was awfully swanky – ideal for newlywed rock stars with no real grasp of their actual wealth.

The Commotions had sold a lot of records between 1984 and 1988, and anticipation was actually fairly feverish for my solo debut. Lifesize cardboard Lloyds were ready to be displayed in record stores across Europe. When my wife flew home, I stayed on. In the George V. On Polygram’s tab!

I used to hate London pubs (I admit that I recently found one I like – The Angel on Denmark Street), so even though I was living in New York, I kept my membership at the Groucho Club. Drinks etc were expensive, but the tiny garret accommodations surprisingly affordable, there was always a quiet corner, and the staff were lovely. Occasionally I got drunk with famous people. In music, though, things move faster in London, and it wasn’t long before I was getting close to my sell-by date. Had Polydor

UK been choosing my hotels, I’m sure I’d have wised up to this sooner.

The sleeve for my second album was shot at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, but I always felt out of my depth there. I never liked limos, I prefer taxis; I don’t think the Chateau even has a number to call a taxi. Still, Pacino was in the elevator shamelessly eyeing up my manager’s wife, and for a minute Capitol Records thought the “Cool Cole” campaign of 1991 was gaining traction. I went on The Late Show with David Letterman once.

Arriving in Paris in 1993 on my third album, I was driven to a chic Left Bank hotel… and I guess that’s when I knew I was no longer on the up and up. Four years later, Universal bought Polygram, the last column of my support was supplanted, and that was that. I quit before they fired me. We both knew it was coming.

I distinctly recall the first time I walked through London when heads didn’t turn. It wasn’t a good feeling. I could go shopping for porn and The Sun wouldn’t photograph me. But after almost 15 years in rock’n’roll, could I do anything else? Did I want to?

Short term, I couldn’t afford a sea change. I needed to work. There were kids to feed. We left New York. I took my two guitars and a suitcase wherever my agent sent me. I sang for a living. No band, no lighting designer. The hotels weren’t always chic, even. Take the Terminus Thon, Oslo. I love Scandinavian minimalism, but a less sexy hotel you will not find. Drugged to the nines, I was trying to fight off walking pneumonia in a tiny white room with a tiny bed with nothing to do but finish the damned song I’d been trying to finish the past four years. And I did, and then another. And they were good. Different. But definitely not rock’n’roll.

I became a folk singer, and guess what? I liked it. I made a folk-singer album (sort of) – Music in a Foreign Language – in a rented studio space in Massachusetts with almost no help aside from computer or software. I gradually took over my management. I fired my New York accountant. I do my own taxes now. A one-man cottage industrialist.

OK, not quite. I get a lot of help. In 2001, a Swedish-Japanese marketing executive contacted me, appalled by a recent album sleeve of mine. Hosuk has designed everything I’ve done since. In 2006, I was informed that I needed a web 2.0 site. I built most of it but got stuck with JavaScript. A philosophy professor in Glasgow has been helping me ever since. Another Glaswegian handles my MySpace page. Tim in Melbourne looks after Facebook, and he and Martin in Milton Keynes are co-captains of The Young Idealists – my street team. They sell my CDs at shows, put up posters in coffee shops and bars, and generally stir things up for me.

Today I’m a folk singer, songwriter, web designer and award-winning journalist (an American travel writers’ award; and as I write, the same article has just been shortlisted for an Australian one). I retain a lawyer and two agents who book my shows. This is the contemporary independent recording artist model. All of which I’m fine with.

It’s hard to find romance in retail. Yet, without it, HMS Cole surely sinks. We converted our attic a few years ago, into a library. It was fantastic. The next year we started our web shop, so I moved a few books around to make room for the CDs. Now it’s the “fulfilment centre”. The books can hardly be seen behind the Jiffy bags and bubble wrap. My wife looks after the day-to-day operation; I oversee inventory and website.

In August, the whole house was taken over by it. We pre-sold my new album Broken Record before making it – 1,000 hardcore fans paid $45 for a deluxe edition. That money, along with some of Tapete Records’ and some of mine gave us a not-quite-1990s style, but ample budget. Musicians were assembled in New York and Massachusetts and songs were recorded to tape. I didn’t once touch a computer.

Tapete is the Hamburg label I’m working with – I am not completely independent. XIII Bis in Paris has the record, too. I like them both. I’m not working with folk I don’t like any more. They have booked the hotels on this press junket. And I’m intrigued to see how they consider their investment.

After Frankfurt, both Bochum and Munster were exceptional, without breaking Tapete’s bank. Clearly their travel agent is imaginative. I performed on the roof of a subway station to passing pedestrians – not my idea. Somehow, it wasn’t awful. Maybe I’ve mellowed too much.

Arriving in Stockholm around 9pm, I consult my iPhone and find that Hotel Riddargatan is a mere 25 metres from my favourite bistro in all the world – PA & Co serves delicious potato pancakes with whitefish roe, makes its own aquavit (the birch flavour is the best) and, very occasionally, I, the supposedly perennial melancholic, let out a loud holler. Bingo!

The weather at Heathrow, beautiful; the cab ride to Bloomsbury, seemingly endless; and the MyHotel™ room – too small for my suitcase to fit anywhere! As reception sees if they can upgrade me, I notice that their bar/restaurant doesn’t have just a name, but also its own catchphrase – “Where hedonism meets spirituality”. Jesus. The next day at Radio 5, I’m on a panel which reviews, among other things, my record. How wrong is that? And how much fun is it to be sitting right next to the politely underwhelmed?

The record producer and former prog-rocker Robert Fripp says you must always do your own. I say the opposite. Paris’s Hôtel des Batignolles doesn’t offer a laundry service, so that’s decided. Saturday morning at the laundrette, then. I meet the photographer there. They say it’s a cover shoot. We’ll see.

The disgruntled Madrid taxi driver drops me on a corner – no sign of my hotel. He grunts, gestures “Around the corner,” and indeed, there it is, on the other side of Gran Via. Between us is the small issue of La Vuelta (the three-week cycling Tour of Spain)… They flash by. Wow. That is pedal power… I, on the other hand, can’t go anywhere. I have more than I can carry. I can only roll my luggage, and the only way to get to the hotel is down through the subway. I have to call them for help. Not very rock’n’roll.

The Senator has seen better days, much better, but still, the whores on the plaza take me by surprise. Hello! The centre of Madrid is in the classic mould, though – my favourite bar, the fabulously named Bar Cock, is just around the corner, and it is not a bit sleazy. I pay my respects.

Finally, Lisbon. We have been in love since 1985. The fiery passion long gone, but still, heads turn. It’s late when I arrive at Hotel do Chiado – the place 10 years ago and still lovely, if a little frayed at the edges (touché). The porter shows me to my room. The view is spectacular; there isn’t a better city view in the world. I know Tapete can’t afford this room… Some days, some places, it is indeed good to be me. I should take a photo and post it on Twitter. I should. Instead, I take a whiskey on the balcony, and I then re-string my guitars, watching a Law & Order re-run.

Photo by Doug Seymour.

Link to original article online

Publication: Independent on Sunday

Publication date: 24/10/10