I think that it says almost everything about the year of Homecoming that I have almost no thoughts about it at all, but then I suppose it wasn’t for me. Some insist that the year has been successful in promoting the country around the world, but I’m not sure how such things are calculated.

Certainly a lot of people turned out for The Gathering in July which had echoes of George IV’s visit to Scotland in 1822 in that Edinburgh was festooned in tartan to confirm the stereotypes of visitors. It was like a Highlander convention.

I have some sympathy with those who feel the need to say that such promotion perpetuates notions of the shortbread tin, does nothing to advance the idea of a multi-cultural Scotland, and therefore lets a modern country down, but these arguments, or similar, have been going on for so long now it’s difficult to overly care. I feel that while I was aware of Homecoming’s existence it was there to be enjoyed by other people, like BBC3 or Dr Pepper. If pushed I would comment that I see nothing wrong with appropriating imagery that is recognisable around the world, as long as that is not all there is. Bring them in with tartan, but let them leave with memorys of great art, music, theatre etc.

An attempt to celebrate a more modern Scotland was the series of Homecoming Live concerts that were held at various venues in Glasgow on 28th/29th November. You can click on this link to see more about the line-ups and other info, but it gives me the excuse to write about one of my heroes: Lloyd Cole.
Lloyd appeared on what was obviously the nostalgia bill alongside Deacon Blue, Hue and Cry, The Bluebells and Midge ‘Jim’ Ure. But, while I have nothing against a little nostalgic trip, I think Cole deserves better than that. When people are pushed for the ‘greatest album of the 1980’s’ the usual suspects normally include The Clash’s London Calling (yes, I know it was released in the dying days of the 1970’s), The Pogues’ Rum, Sodomy and the Lash, De La Soul’s Three Feet High, and Rising, Dare by the Human League, REM’s Green, anything by The Smiths, Public Enemy, Elvis Costello, Prince… and so on as I realise it was a mistake to start such a list here. But the record I have not only played most, but also means most is… well, it’s actually The Blue Nile’s Hats. A close second would be Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ 1984 debut Rattlesnakes.

Rattlesnakes is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Lyrical, melodic, heart breaking and arch, it ticked so many boxes for a young man with pretensions, and it still does now that the same man is, slightly, less idealistic and has a dickey ankle. People concentrated on Lloyd’s vocals and lyrics, but they found a perfect partner in Neil Clark’s twangy guitar. I could have picked any of the tracks to play as every song’s a winner, but the following video of Forest Fire gives the uninitiated a great idea of what to expect from the rest of the album. Basically if you don’t like it, then perhaps Rattlesnakes is not for you:

It’s difficult to follow a debut that arrives perfectly formed, and although The Commotions still produced great songs, nothing matched Rattlesnakes and they split up in 1989. Lloyd inevitably went solo, and I thought the first, self titled album, was terrific, but unfortunately not many others did and, with rumours abound of a serious golf habit, many folk, including myself, thought that would be that. Moody troubadours were out of fashion at the time as the funky-drummer beat and over-sized clothes took over this part of the world while distorted guitars began to wail over the Atlantic.

But in the mid-90’s I bought his album Love Story and fell all over again. Since then I’ve kept buying his music and have seen him live whenever I can. He doesn’t let me down.

There are a few musicians whose music grows as they and their audience do but they’re rarer than you think. Elvis Costello, Kate Bush, Roddy Frame and Boo Hewerdine are a few I can think of off the top of my head. These are the company in which Lloyd Cole belongs. If you get the chance to see him live I urge you to do so, especially if you were a fan of The Commotions. He invites you in with the promise of old favourites, but it’s the newer stuff that stays with you afterwards. Just like the perfect Homecoming.

Alistair

Further thoughts can be found at scotswhayhae

Alistair’s latest thoughts on Scottish books appeared on Monday.

Photo Credit: Lloyd Cole at Homecoming Live by Chris Butler