What a lucky girl I am, I thought, as I set off to see a big musical crush of mine from the 80s. He was playing in my “back yard”, a mere 10 minute car journey away, in a small, converted church which holds a few hundred. This was already a treat. An extra treat was the early kick off - our fifty something host obviously wanted to be in bed by 23.00. As did I.
The favourable start did indeed bode well. As soon as I took my seat, it felt like it was going to be a special evening. There was something in the air. A young boy came onto the stage to tune up and I was immediately transported back 30 years. He looked just like a young Lloyd Cole. When Cole later introduced him, it was very sweet. “This is my son William, who looks just how I would have looked at 24, had I been in the Jesus and Mary Chain”.
When the main act, Cole Snr, took to the stage, his opening line was spoken. “I’m looking backwards like I said I never would” he shared with us. “And you’re not getting any younger either, so I guess tonight’s the night!”
Having seen Cole a number of times live, I usually found him stern and uncommunicative. Tonight he was witty and even rather charming. He let us into his pathetic secret that, in the 80s, his nonchalant pose and demeanour were an attempt to look neutral. He only realised he’d failed in 1994. Rocking his trademark double denim, he revealed the reason behind his choice. Whilst playing in a Southern backwater in the USA, the dance floor was filled with overweight, middle aged men, each with at least one gorgeous young woman on his arm, looking like they were having a ball. “Every one of those men was wearing the same uniform – double denim. That’s got to work” he confessed. He had already told more witty stories than I’d ever heard, with a nice line in poking fun at himself.
Lloyd played the first set solo and started with a beautiful rendition of “Patience”, from Rattlesnakes. “Perfect Blue” was followed by the title track from Rattlesnakes. What a great album that was. And is. Then a Prince cover – “Sometimes it snows in April”, flowing nicely into “Loveless” and we caught our breath. He was in fine form, playing some really nice guitar on “Lonely Mile”, from the last Commotions album. A seldom heard tune, it was just lovely. I was reminded how strong his voice was and how fortunate he is that it’s remained so. Cole had a vocal scare in February of this year and reports seeing a speech therapist to “look at strategies for the older vocalist”. Whatever they’re doing, it appears to be working.
I usually prefer a band to an acoustic set. I often find the stripped back style loses something in interpretation, leaving the sound lacking and a bit disappointing. On this occasion, the songs were treated carefully and Cole’s melodic voice made up for what may have been missing.
“All wrapped up in needle cord and coincidence” a line I’ve always loved from “Pretty Gone”, made me smile. The song with the most beautiful of lyrics finished with a musical nod to Norwegian Wood as I recalled how pretentious it all sounded back then. Apart perhaps from Morrissey, none were more pretentious than Cole and his impossibly clever lyrics. But I bloody loved him anyway. Surely he and I weren’t alone in being and admiring pretentiousness. Wasn’t it like that in the late 80s?
Just as we were warming up and I was falling in love with him all over again, an enthusiastic audience clapped along to “My Bag”. He stopped and told us off, complaining that clapping always sounds rubbish. “Please don’t do it, it’s a nightmare for us musicians. You start, you stop, it puts me off…..” A laugh, I think an embarrassed one, rippled around the hall.
He finished the first set with “Jennifer She Said” and went off for a short nap, promising to bring young William back for a much more entertaining second charge.
True to his word, the second set started with a few favourites. “Like Lovers Do” with a fine solo from Cole Jr, lost less than I expected from the stripped back treatment. Everyone cheered for William as the song finished and he looked slightly uncomfortable. A chip off the old block then. Like his dad, in time he may get used to it.
The crowd recognised the intro to “2cv” and let out an audible, collective, knowing sigh. It was like recognising an old friend that one hadn’t seen for a long time but feeling that familiar warmth and being taken in, all at once. A tear ran down my cheek and I’d wager I wasn’t the only one. “Undressed” followed and I was completely caught up in his clever, gorgeous lyrics and tuneful melody once again. We all were. As he sang “No Blue Skies”, one of my very favourites, his voice sounded strong but at the same time vulnerable and more emotional than I’d heard all evening. If I had to guess, I’d say this song means a lot to Cole. I wondered about musicians being moved by their own lyrics and how difficult it must be to give of themselves emotionally, for everyone to see and hear.
A long pause whilst father and son tuned their guitars must have become awkward. Cole joked “it’ll be worth it” And it was. He finished the set with “Brand New Friend” and deftly took us into Bowie’s “Heroes”. We all had a touching singsong.
The final song of the evening was “Forest Fire”. “This has a melody at the end that, when I have to sing it on my own, makes me feel prehistoric and really stupid" he shared. "You could help me out or you could watch me suffer. Just remember not to clap.” We helped him out and it was a perfect end to a perfect evening.
The crowd took to their feet in rowdy applause. I was right, it did turn out to be a special evening. Special for me, as I got to reconnect with songs that were part of my musical DNA. Special for the audience, mostly 40 and 50 somethings like me and feeling the same, I’m sure. And special for the Coles. How wonderful to be able to recreate your musical life’s work with your own flesh and blood. They've toured this show extensively together and must have shared the knowing glances and strong bond that was evident on stage this evening countless times. I can think of little else I'd rather do than share my passion with my own child. I'm pretty sure this is something neither of them will forget. What an emotional evening.
Dad and boy linked arms, bowed and they were gone, gone, gone. Pretty Gone….