It’s been 15 years since Lloyd Cole visited us, but he still feels compelled to personally apologise to everyone for that last trip.

“That was the beginning of the end of our career over here,” Cole says with a chuckle. “We [his first band The Commotions] came to Australia very famous and we left Australia not very famous.

“We played the Sydney Entertainment Centre. The biggest venue we’d played before the Entertainment Centre was probably 4000 people. And suddenly we had 13,000 people in front of us. And we didn’t have a clue what to do in that scenario.

“Apparently we were crap.”

Well, much has changed in Cole’s life since 1985. The Commotions are long gone, the Briton’s been a permanent resident of the US for over a decade, he’s released four superb solo albums (the last Love Story in 1995) and, more recently, has, um, virtually disappeared into the ether.

The reason? The good ol’ reliable “contractual dispute”.

So, while fans haven’t heard a new note from the singer/songwriter in five years, there are three finished albums sitting on Cole’s shelf at home, just waiting for the air to clear.

The most recent is a project called The Negatives. It’s actually a side-band of the same name featuring folkie Jill Sobule on guitar.

“We get together and we have fun,” Cole says of the outfit. “But one of the reasons we have so much fun together is that we know it’s not our whole life.”

The Negatives have only performed a solitary gig this year, but played about 30 last year.

On a positive note their CD finally got a release earlier this month (only in Europe, though), a full 18 months since the recording was put to bed.

“So that goes to show you the sort of problems we’ve been encountering just to get stuff out,” says Cole, laughing.

Cole’s “long and complicated divorce” started a couple of years ago when his long-time label, Universal, told him they were releasing a greatest-hits package. Cole wasn’t keen on the idea.

“It was a failed experiment,” the singer says of 1998’s The Collection. “But I’d left before the experiment even came to fruition because I was aware they weren’t really promoting it the way they wanted it to be promoted.

“But the long and the short of why I left is that I think Universal was more interested in my past and I’m more interested in my future.

“Ultimately, I’m pleased that I’m heading towards a situation that’s going to be a lot better for me.

“The major record labels, I think, are not equipped to deal on the kind of scale that I want to work in. They don’t know how to do things on a small scale. So I’m glad to be away, to be honest. It’s just been a bit sticky to get out.”

Which leads us to Cole’s other two stillborn side projects.

One is an instrumental collection entitled Plastic Wood. The other is a set of country-tinged “little songs” called Et Cetera.

“Both of them are very esoteric records, they’re not pop records,” explains Cole. “They’re the kind of records that I wanted to release quietly rather than saying ‘here’s a new big Lloyd Cole album.’ These are just side records.”

Cole’s hoping a resolution isn’t too far off to getting the two albums out of the box.

“It’s all coming out in America on a new label I’m setting up, because I own the copyright over there. For the rest of the world, Universal owns the copyright.

“We’ve worked out how to release The Negatives, so that will eventually be out in the rest of the world. And we may or may not work out arrangements for the other two records.

“If we don’t come to an equitable agreement, those records are just not going to come out. My feeling is that they can have 100 per cent of nothing rather than a large percentage of something. I’m hoping they’ll be sensible about it.”

Meanwhile, Cole’s come back to Australia to find perhaps that last trip wasn’t as disastrous as he recalls.

In fact, his three-night stand at The Basement, which kicked off last night, is a sell out. Promoters wanted a fourth show, but there isn’t time.

Those lucky enough to have tickets can expect something quite wonderful: a couple of Cole’s shows in Melbourne ran more than four hours.

lloyd cole plays the basement tonight and tomorrow night.

Publication: The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia)

Publication date: 30/11/00