tue 16/08/2022

Lloyd Cole and the Leopards, Shepherd's Bush Empire | reviews, news & interviews

Lloyd Cole and the Leopards, Shepherd's Bush Empire

Lloyd Cole and the Leopards, Shepherd's Bush Empire

What's the lugubrious old troubadour got on his mind?

Cole for the soulMain image © Imelda Michalczyk

Last night Lloyd Cole arrived on stage with a similar suede-and-corduroy air to that of his Eighties college-rock hits. Yet something was different. Over the last few years he has developed a real gravitas. It showed in the lines on his face and gunmetal hair; and it's this depth that critics have perceived on his recent album, Standards. Yet despite the critical acclaim the old troubadour is still not happy with how he’s “ disappearing into a niche”.

In fact, he says, if this tour is a flop, he might give up music altogether.

Whatever concerns Cole might have about his career, he didn’t bring them to the Empire. Before one song he triumphantly announced “the disappointing years are over”, as if infused with a renewed sense of purpose. He even smiled. But although this was no mere bluster, the concert didn’t get off to the fastest of starts.

Cole has plenty to say, and if he continues to get the audience he deserves he'll continue to say it

Initially the sound was muddy, with the rhythm section too loud and the vocals too soft. Moreover, the crowd - seemingly mainly comprised of English teachers and college lecturers - took about 45 minutes to warm up. Until then, other than the occasional boisterous effort to wish Cole a happy 53rd birthday, their responses were restrained and well-mannered.

But then came the strangely uplifting sequence of “Brand New Friend”, “Women’s Studies” and “Perfect Skin”, and the room temperature began to rise. It wasn’t just down in the stalls. Up on stage the earlier sound problems had been resolved, and with the mix corrected we were reminded of that particular cosiness Cole’s vocals possess. Even when evoking sadness his voice was rich and warm.   

From this point, the good stuff kept on coming, albeit punctuated by the odd filler from his forgettable album with the Negatives. Even these were given a shot in the arm by the ever-inventive guitar work of “Fast” Mick Slaven and the solid rhythms of Douglas Macintyre, the stand-out members of the Leopards.

Much of the new material from Standards (sleeve pictured right) mingled happily with classics like “Jennifer She Said” and the evergreen “Lost Weekend”. “Myrtle and Rose” was the stand-out track from Standards, containing both one of Cole’s most beguiling melodies and poetic lyrics. “The longer you were gone, the less the longing,” he sang, screwing up his eyes and jangling his Gretsch guitar as if it were 1985.

Of course he ended with a song from that period. “Forest Fire” was a gorgeous reminders of Cole’s contributions to the era. But despite his throwaway comment about being retro, the night was only partly about nostalgia. Mainly he reminded his audience what a great craftsman he is. Cole still has plenty to say, and if he continues to get the audience he deserves, he’ll continue to say it. You can catch him, sans Leopards, touring the UK in March.

Overleaf: Watch Lloyd Cole's video for "Period Piece"

Before one song he triumphantly announced 'the disappointing years are over', as if infused with a renewed sense of purpose


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Like Lovers Do is from 1995's Love Story. There was just the one album with The Negatives, and he played What's Wrong With This Picture? and Tried To Rock from it, but there are a good 5 songs from that album that are outstanding. Check it out again, it repays the attention. The Leopards are reminiscent of the Negatives and could have done cracking versions of any of those songs. Great band, great show, great setlist. First time I've heard several of the solo songs with a backing band, e.g. No Blue Skies. Hope they tour again.

Duly noted and amended. You are a greater Cole-ologist than I - much obliged ! RC

Thanks, Russ. I'm a reasonable Cole-ologist, but I confess I didn't identify Missing, a low key obscure item only ever released on the 4 CD Cleaning Out The Ashtrays compilation! Great stuff. I urge you and Neil and anyone else to revisit/check out the Negatives album and tell me songs like Past Imperfect and Vin Ordinaire aren't magnificent examples of his talent. Neil Gu: I am a huge fan of the song you mention, Genevieve, but I've never heard him play it live, and its absence from YouTube would suggest he never does. Couldn't believe it when he played most of Broken Omitted at the Union Chapel but omitted it! Would have been great in last night's set. Last night really was a dream fulfilled. Not sure Forest Fire could sound any better.

I guess I'm a more than reasonable Cole-ologist, because I would have identified Missing had I been there - especially sice it's one of my favourites on the Ashtrays colletion. And I second you when it comes to the Negatives album. Maybe not a masterpiece but It has a good overall feel, with some great, driving should-have-been-hits like What's wrong with... and That Boy.

It didn't help that for the first three songs the audience in the stalls had their view blocked by the gaggle of photographers standing up in front of the stage. "Brand New Friend" was the turning point - where the band hit top gear and stayed there for the rest of the show. Would have liked to hear the vocals a bit louder and the lead guitar a bit quieter, but overall a superb show, the band clearly having a great time on stage, and a good selection of songs from Lloyd's stellar catalogue.

I've been badgering Lloyd (via FB and his own forum) to do a full band show for years. I absolutely loved last night. So much more fun than the solo acoustic shows as you could sing along at the top of your voice without ruining it for other people, and you could hear all the fantastic guitar and keyboard melody lines that you don't get with one man strumming. I know it boils down to finances but I (and I'm sure most others) would happily pay a lot more cash to hear the full band show (would've easily paid £50 for last night). Only complaint is we didn't get many of the quieter songs (Genevieve, Heartbroken, Patience etc) but guess he saves those for acoustic shows. Loved 'What's Wrong With This Picture' - hadn't heard it before but will hunt down the album it's from. Anyway, a brilliant, brilliant show. Lloyd is a pop god!

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