Things have come full circle. I saw Lloyd Cole last week, which, without a doubt, is the last gig that I will ever see as a member of the 18- to 34-year-old demographic. Tellingly, Lloyd had a break halfway through his set so people could call their baby sitters, writes Gordon MacMillan.
Times are certainly changing (I thought I almost heard Bob for a minute, there’s always been an echo of him in Lloyd). Somehow, it wasn’t all that rock and roll, but everyone laughed. It was like being in a club and a not-as-big a club as it should be.
I’ve been wanting to write about Lloyd Cole for a long time or, to be precise, for a really long time. Not only is Lloyd just about the last gig I will see before I exit the 18- to 34-year-old demographic, he (along with the Commotions) was the first grown-up gig that I saw as a teenager in 1985.
In 1985, we sat on the floor of the Hammersmith Palais (sadly now known as the Po Na Na and the home of School Disco). I remember it like was… well, like it was 18 years ago, so basically not very well at all, but I had a great Oxfam overcoat that had fantastic two-tone lining.
Actually, I think I was probably dressed from head to toe in charity clothing. Second-hand suits seemed to be terribly in vogue (we must have been strange kids), which resulted in around two years later my friends and I turning up at a summer party and someone shouting loudly as we approached (trying desperately, one imagines, to do our own early take on ‘Reservoir Dogs’) “who invited the c***s in the suits” — which was, of course, perfectly charming.
I digress. The Hammersmith Palais was in its grimy downhill period. It was the tour to promote Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ second album ‘Easy Pieces’, home to such much loved tunes as ‘Lost Weekend’.
Somehow, at this point it makes sense (to me at least) to say that I don’t own any Smiths records — OK apart from one but that, like an early Cure album, was all down to an ex-girlfriend. So really, I don’t have bad taste in music, just in women, which is an entirely different matter and brings us back to Lloyd who, from the outset, wrote bittersweet songs that were more often than not about girls and relationships gone wrong.
Smiths fans were, of course (as we all know), an entirely different species. More of a cult really. They didn’t have girlfriends. Instead, they had Morrissey and their bedrooms. Their angst took an alternate form and, it seems, one that was entirely singular in its nature. Lloyd was quite different.
Lyrically, it was literary, name-dropping and pretentious, perfect for your angst-ridden well-read teenager, “She’s got cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin/And she’s sexually enlightened by Cosmopolitan” from ‘Perfect Skin’ being a prime example. I love that song.
The literariness of the songs was one of the most appealing aspects, whether it was just playful name-dropping in ‘Are You Ready to be Heartbroken’ (“If you really want to get straight/Read Norman Mailer/Or get a new tailor”), and ‘Four Flights Up’ (“You can drive them back to town in a beat-up Grace Kelly car/Looking like a friend of Truman Capote, looking exactly like you are”) or more oblique in songs like ‘Rattle Snakes’, where he sings about the damaged heroine from American writer Joan Didion’s novel ‘Play it as it Lays’.
This was all perfect for certain kinds of undergraduates who had a bad modern American fiction habit. Having gone through those teenage ‘Grapes of Wrath’ and ‘Catcher in the Rye’ periods, you needed something else, easily fulfilled by ‘The Naked and the Dead’, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and ‘A Book of Common Prayer’.
But being honest, it is more his songs about love affairs and those that have gone bad, which is something everyone (and I mean me) thinks they can relate to.
From the early tracks of ‘Are You Ready to be Heartbroken’, ‘Forest Fire’, ‘Why I Love Country Music’ (“Jane is fine always fine/We’re unhappy most of the time”) and ‘Perfect Blue’ (“I may be blue but don’t you let me make you blue too”) to later tracks including ‘Love Ruins Everything’, and ‘Weeping Wine’ or one of my favourites:
The coolest thing I ever saw
You were sitting there smoking my cigarettes
You were naked on the bare stone floor
You looked at me to say don’t guess
I was only watching, is it bad that I should love you best
It makes you want to take up smoking again. That could, of course, just be me wanting to talk about cigarettes, six months into the giving-up process.
I digress, my point (and I have one) is that being a Lloyd Cole fan has meant that if your internal jukebox was looking for a song to accompany a key moment then over the course of more than a decade Lloyd has had a song or two to fit the mood.
The other thing, which brings us back to the start and what this The Demographic Shift is about, is that Lloyd is all about growing up and what you do about that.
Whether it’s in ‘Grace’ (“Jesse honey is it hard to take/Does it feel so bad to be 28”) or moving closer to the bone in ’29’ (“Life begins at 30, so I have been told/I can easily believe it, the way I’m getting on”).
Sadly, Lloyd hasn’t written about not being 34 any more, but I’m pretty sure at the time he was concerned about it. His fans certainly are, which brings us back to my most recent encounter with Lloyd.
In 1985, it was the Palais and I remember sitting in a patch of wet beer on the soggy floor. In 2003, in was the front row of the circle at the Bloomsbury Theatre on a night termed ‘An Evening with Lloyd Cole’.
The Commotions are long gone and, in fact, there was no band at all, it was just Lloyd with his acoustic guitar sitting on a chair on the small stage.
The audience… well, the audience is older and some of it was bald and some of it was alarming paunchy (present company totally excepted), and it was laughing about babysitter jokes rather than cigarettes and alcohol.
That said, going to a Lloyd gig is not quite as bad (in audience terms) as going to a Teenage Fanclub gig (who are great) where the above is true, but even more so, accentuated by the fact that the Fannies (as they are delightfully known) attract an exclusively male audience, albeit with sporadic girlfriends and wives in tow.
No, Lloyd’s gigs are slightly different in that respect in that he retains a small female following. This time around there seemed to be a gaggle of them sitting in the front rows. It could just be his songs, or it could be as one reviewer seemed to lament “Lloyd is blessed with matinee idol good looks”, which, as Susan says, makes him “easy on the eye, not to mention the ear”.
I couldn’t agree more, here comes my train.
Publication: Brand Republic
Publication date: 24/06/03