“New Sounds”: In 1986, Lloyd Cole was being hailed as the leader of Britain’s new poetic rock

By on August 13, 2019

We thought we’d take another look at this episode of Night Flight’s “New Sounds,” which originally aired on April 4, 1986, and featured our interview with 25-year old Scottish-born singer-songwriter Lloyd Cole, who Pat Prescott tells us was being “hailed as the leader of Britain’s new poetic rock.”

Watch this vintage episode of “Night Flight” — which features the Andy Morahan-directed video for Lloyd Cole & the Commotions’ “Brand New Friend” — on Night Flight Plus.

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During our exclusive interview with Cole in our New York City studio, he told us a little about his songwriting process:

“I write about things that I see, things that I read about, things on TV, occasionally things that happen to me. I mean, not… one only has so many things happening to yourself, in your life, that are worthy of actually report, uh, so I tend to write about other people most of the time, and if it something that is happening to me that I think is interesting then I can write about that.”

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“I don’t really like the kind of, the approach that an artist can only write about himself, and, uh, it’s only really honest to write about yourself. There’s an attitude that, uh, expresses that opinion at the moment and, uh, consequently you get a lot of people just expressing their disatisfaction with various situations and basically just moaning in public or, you know, smiling in public, or doing their dirty laundry in public. Uh, I prefer to just think of myself as a writer like any kind of other writer, and most writers write about other people.”

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At the time, Cole was promoting “Brand New Friend,” the latest single released by his band, Lloyd Cole & the Commotions, who’d formed in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1982.

“Brand New Friend” was a track from their 1985 album Easy Pieces, which Pat Prescott tells us was produced by Alan Winstanley and Clive Langer, who had previously produced hits for Madness and Elvis Costello.

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Cole would later say that the protagonist in the song (apparently not actually him) had become aware he’s not as happy as he’d been in the past, but he’s unaware of how to change his situation.

Despite what he told us in the Night Flight interview, Cole’s character in the song has become so self-aware that he’s verging on self-pity, and just being ridiculous.

“So it’s quite funny too,” Cole once said. “He’s aware it’s a little cry for help.”

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Read more about Lloyd Cole & the Commotions, Easy Pieces and “Brand New Friend” below.

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Easy Pieces’ album title, Lloyd Cole once admitted, was derived from Bob Rafelson’s 1970 film Five Easy Pieces, which he said had inspired at least five songs he’d written.

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It’s interesting to note that the band — Cole (vocals/guitar), Neil Clark (guitar), Blair Cowan (keyboards), Lawrence Donegan (bass) and Stephen Irvine (drums/tambourine) — had begun sessions for Easy Pieces with Paul Hardiman, the same producer they’d used on their first album, the critically-acclaimed Rattlesnakes, which had been released in October 1984.

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However, after the success of that first album, representatives from their label, Polydor UK, felt that the laid-back Hardiman wasn’t up to the task to produce their sophomore album.

Hardiman was dismissed, and Winstanley and Langer were brought in to finish up the album.

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Ultimately, Cole came to believe that Easy Pieces — released on November 22, 1985 — lacked the “freshness” of his band’s debut LP:

“It strikes me that there’s something really fresh on the first album which has been dragged onto the second album, and the freshness is not there and something to replace the freshness is not there either.”

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The Commotions’ bassist, Lawrence Donegan, was even more succinct in an essay he wrote in 2004 for the UK’s Guardian (at the time, Lloyd Cole & the Commotions had reformed briefly to perform a 20th anniversary mini-tour of the UK and Ireland).

Donegan — who described himself as “the tall gangly one in the photographs who wore the ridiculous quiff and, I’m ashamed to admit, white socks” — had high praise for Rattlesnakes, which he calls “a student bedsit classic” and “a wonderfully simple record, packed with straightforward pop songs and lyrics that were smart, sure, but playful and funny.”

However, he describes their second album, Easy Pieces, as “terrible.”

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Lloyd Cole, around this same time, said this about the experience of recording Easy Pieces:

“We didn’t give ourselves time to step back and think. The record company was telling us ‘This is your moment and you must take it now’ –- which is crap. People would have waited for us. We were insecure so we made the record too soon and the record company fired Paul Hardiman.”

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Despite the band members’ mutual dissatisfaction, “Brand New Friend” did manage to chart in the Top Twenty on the UK Singles chart (#19), and Easy Pieces became their highest-charting album in the UK, peaking at #5.

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions would split up after recording 1988’s not ironically-named Mainstream, after which Cole would embark on a successful solo career.

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Donegan — who says “being a Commotion was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had” — gave away all his musical equipment and went to journalism school, which led eventually to a job as a reporter for the UK’s Guardian.

Watch Night Flight’s “New Sounds” — which also features videos by Violent Femmes, Golden Palominos, Public Image Ltd., and several more groups and artists we believed were creating the Best “New Sounds” of 1986 — on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.