Easing on to a stool, Cole apologises wryly: ‘I feel bad sitting down when you’re all standing up. But I’m very, very, very old these days.’ Yet age has not withered him: he looks the same as ever. For this solo tour, his roadie is his dad, and the stage is dressed with bohemian simplicity: two mic stands, a rickety wooden side-table for whisky and guitar gadgets, and a music-stand.
Cole is in splendid vocal form, that swooping baritone flirting at the edge of crackly dissolution. He happily delivers the oldies: Brand New Friend, Cut Me Down, Undressed and Lost Weekend, during which he stops comically to complain: ‘It’s that bloody piano solo now I always hated this song.’ His guitar-playing is deceptively deft, picking out pellucid treble drone notes in arpeggios or sliding around lugubriously on the bass strings.
Cole has also been learning other people’s songs: Lou Reed’s Patience, Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat. Nick Cave’s People Ain’t no Good is beautifully modulated by the swapping of Cave’s sodden growl for Cole’s bittersweet tunefulness. His own new material is soaked in beatnik imagery and Dylanesque wails: ‘Traded my holy water for cheap wine’.
It is a cunning solution to the problem of what to do when you are most famous for jangly youth: you reinvent yourself as an artist in a serious singer -songwriter tradition. Of course, Cole spent most of the 80s with a tattered copy of Kerouac stuffed down his trousers, but his looks and amiability might mitigate his intellectual ambitions. Cole will never be as iconically ugly or majestically rude as Lou Reed. But maybe that’s a good thing.
Publication: The Guardian
Publication date: 27/01/00