Mike Scott and Wings

19 06 2016

Yeah, yeah, I know Wings was Paul McCartney’s band and you’ve likely no idea who Mike Scott is, but bear with me.

So last night I went to see Lloyd Cole play live in Vancouver with First Born and Mrs. E.

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Now there’s a bit of a story to this. Back in the early 80’s I was at university in Durham and foolishly forewent the opportunity to go and see the upstart Lloyd Cole and the Commotions when they played nearby. Likely Newcastle. I don’t recall… it was after all 30+ years ago! Many years later, in the late 90’s he was still pumping out some great – if somewhat melancholy – music. His style suits my own perfectly, and I’ve always appreciated his deep insightful lyrics… and easily recognise his slight pretensions within myself (not everyone can fit “Simone de Beauvoir” into a song lyric).

I was delighted to learn he was to do a show in Northampton which was an easy drive from Milton Keynes where I lived at the time. I was totally gutted when it was cancelled at the last moment. Years later I even had a brief Twitter exchange with the great man who was kind enough to explain the circumstances.

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Anyway, this time, it all went smoothly. First Born had to collect her ticket at the venue (thanks Ticketmaster… another example of your stellar service that you charge unreasonable amounts to not provide!) so we got there early. The venue didn’t have a separate “Will Call” window so we ended up in the normal queue for entrance and therefore happily close to the front.

The venue is normally a cinema so we ended up with primo comfy seats in the centre and only a couple of rows back from the stage. We had to wait an hour or so for Mr Cole to make an appearance but that was fine. When he first briefly appeared, it was to set up his own gear (plainly a low budget affair… as hinted at by the venue itself). He does not portray “rock star” at all. More “bored dad”, I’d say. He’d definitely benefit from a stylist though… denim jackets went out with Cool Hand Luke. He’s a few years older than me, but looked fit and well… and in possession of a full head of greying hair. Pretty much the same style as back in the 80’s – kudos.

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Lloyd Cole does his own tuning and sound check

The show was in support of a retrospective boxed set of his music covering 1983-1996 so I was anticipating singing along to every song – highly familiar as I am with his entire catalogue. I was slightly perplexed when he came on to perform, picked up one of his two guitars (freshly tuned) and launched into a song I’d never heard. He has a dour face at the best of times, and had not spoken a word. This did not bode well…

Thankfully he then identified the tune as a Prince song. He’d been listening to much of his music of late (no pun intended) and had realised the chord progression was similar to one of his own songs (Loveless) from the setlist. He said it was not originally on the setlist, but I see he played it at the previous gig in Portland, so I think that was a white lie. I’m not familiar with much of Prince’s work, but I identified the song as “Sometimes It Snows In April” and not “Tracy” as listed for Portland.

Decide for yourself with the help of Youtube:

He soon got into his stride and verged almost on the chatty between songs. After playing Butterfly he told a story of playing at a concert with Mike Scott (lead singer of The Waterboys) and finding his music dark and moody. Darker and moodier than anyone else’s. He claimed he’d re-examined his own material and not played Butterfly for a decade after the concert! I’m not sure many in the audience knew who Mike Scott even was, but the point was well made.

He joked about his age and needing to wear reading glasses over his contact lenses for fine work (like tuning his guitar), and admitted to maintaining some small portion of vanity. He laughed and said when he removed his specs, he was sometimes left with “wings” due to his still ample hair, and asked the audience to let him know if this was the case.

Naturally – being an audience full of ageing hipsters – “Wings!” was called out at various times for the rest of the evening. Lloyd seemed to genuinely enjoy his reception and smiled when he got a Canadian “you’re welcome” to his rock star “thank-you” at the end of each song.

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Lloyd Cole getting all emotional… honest

His guitar work was excellent, and I was impressed that he re-tuned his guitars occasionally, “because I care” as he explained. At one point a member of the audience ambled up to the stage and delivered a pint of beer. Something I myself have done to support particularly good pub bands… but I’ve never seen it at a “proper concert”! Oh Canada… you’re so, er, Canadian!

He politely accepted the pint (perhaps in fear of opening the door to a steady stream of further offerings) but said he’d save it until later, explaining he’d once tried Karaoke when drunk in Japan, and realised too late that “We will rock you” actually had verses! Assuring us of his relative success with the chorus, he launched quickly into the next song.

He actually fluffed the words in one song, stopped with an annoyed “dammit”, apologised for the tongue-twister words (hey – come on Lloyd, YOU wrote them!) and continued to a note-perfect ending. It was very human and didn’t detract one iota from the performance. During the intro to another song, he hit a bum note and explained his little finger now had a groove in it due to all the concerts and he sometimes found it hard to hold the string down properly. He restarted and played note perfect for the entire thing. So very dad-like.

After Charlotte Street, he explained he’d written it while living in London. He claimed it actually related to events he’d experienced on Upper Street (the A1), but figured Charlotte Street (off the famous Oxford Street) sounded better. He then poked fun at Big Audio Dynamite, saying someone should have told them Upping St. was a bad name for a record. As far as I can tell, Upping St. doesn’t actually exist.

The night seemed to be over in a blink, but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. Apart from the unexpected Prince homage, I knew all the songs and heartily sang along to most. Thankfully it was dark. Just sayin’.

He saved Perfect Skin and Forest Fire until the encore and was rewarded with stand up ovations – well deserved! I certainly hope he includes Vancouver in the tour for the next boxed set.

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