I was 15 years old when I bought my first record – Live At Leeds by The Who – in Woolworths. So, by modern standards, you could say that musically I was something of a late developer. But I made up for lost time.

Streaming? Downloading? File sharing? I wouldn’t know where to start. Give me a 12-inch vinyl LP every time. So maybe I've still got some catching up to do.

My record collection is both varied and vast. Now, in a new Herald series, I’ll bring you the stories behind some of my favourite albums by Scottish artistes.


LLOYD Cole and the Commotions: Rattlesnakes: Released – 1984.

LLOYD Cole recently sent me a belated Christmas gift from his US home... the handwritten lyrics for the title track of his 1984 debut album, Rattlesnakes.

His words leapt off the page.

“She looks like Eve Marie Saint in On The Waterfront/She reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance”, is how he describes Jodie, the fictional subject of the song.

Scribbled along the bottom was the addendum: “From your favourite miserable b*****d, 23/12/20”.

Cole is indeed my favourite miserable b*****d, by some distance.

I first met him in 1982, when I hosted a show on Radio Clyde, playing “alternative music” by bands deemed way too weird for daytime exposure. The station stuck me on at midnight, reckoning that as nobody was listening, no real damage could be done!

At weekends, I was also the resident DJ at Night Moves in Glasgow... a dance-around-your-handbags disco, which occasionally staged live gigs by acts such as Orange Juice, Eurythmics, Nico and Aztec Camera.

Cole who was born in Buxton, Derbyshire – but we claim him as one of our own – was studying English and Philosophy at Glasgow University.

He also harboured some serious pop aspirations.

One night, he cornered me at Night Moves and gave me a demo tape of The Power Of Love, by his fledgling band, The Casuals, which featured Neil Clark on guitar and Blair Cowan on keyboards.

The song – inspired by Isaac Hayes’ 1969 album, Hot Buttered Soul – blew me away. I played it on the show in the following weeks.

Things started to accelerate. A&R men from major London record labels – who monitored my weekly playlists – began to track Cole down.

He hit the panic button and sent a Telex to a university mate, Derek MacKillop, who was on a break from his studies, touring Europe.

It said: “Billy Sloan’s playing my song on the radio. Need manager. Please come home.”

MacKillop was Cole’s go-to-guy because “he liked arguing and telling people about stuff they should listen to”.

But the band’s career was short lived. They played a debut gig at Joanna’s disco in Glasgow in September, 1982 … followed by a farewell gig titled “The death of The Casuals” at The Venue in the city, just a few weeks later.

The trio morphed into the Commotions and two seminal shows remain in my memory. They played at Henry Afrika’s, with Cole recalling: “We sold the place out before we had a decent song.”

At The Mayfair in Glasgow on July 10, 1983, Lloyd Cole’s Commotions, as they were billed, opened for The Suede Crocodiles, fronted by Kevin McDermott, and Del Amitri.

The seven-piece line-up, with two female backing vocalists – a respectful nod to The Staple Singers – was soon dismantled.

Cole disappeared from my radar as he concentrated on writing the songs which became Rattlesnakes.

His parents were stewards at Killermont Golf Club in Bearsden and it proved the perfect bolthole for him to demo tracks on a borrowed 4-track Portastudio.

I received a copy of Down At The Mission, the band’s debut single on their own label, Welcome To Las Vegas … financed by cash from signing a publishing deal with CBS Songs.

The B-side – Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? – was a co-write by Cole and Clark.

I played both tracks on my radio show, and again the reaction was positive.

But the single was quickly withdrawn. Malcolm Dunbar, of Polydor Records, led the charge to sign the Commotions.

He offered the group a deal but insisted the single be immediately deleted to clear the way for their first release by his label.

The band – now with bassist Lawrence Donegan, a former member of The Bluebells, and drummer Stephen Irvine – recorded their debut at The Garden in London, with producer Paul Hardiman.

I couldn’t believe what I heard when I received a white label of Rattlesnakes a few months later.

The 10 songs – all written within a 12-month period – were exceptional.

References in the lyrics to several US writers were firm pointers to Cole’s literary leanings. No local band had ever advised that if I really wanted to get straight, I should … “Read Norman Mailer/Or get a new tailor”.

It was a million miles removed from anything by archetypal Scottish acts like Nazareth or Maggie Bell, great as they are.

Beautifully crafted songs including Patience, Charlotte Street and Forest Fire, which featured a blistering closing guitar solo by Clark, underlined that while Cole’s hand was firmly on the creative tiller, the record was very much a team effort.

MacKillop called me to say the band had secured their first appearance on Top Of The Pops.

The single, Perfect Skin, had scraped into the UK charts at a modest No 40.

A posse of glamorous dancers were “planted” in the studio audience to deflect from the Commotions’ obvious unease.

But their self-conscious performance retains a certain naïve charm.

Cole lip-synched the song amateurishly while Donegan gawped at the camera. Only Clark, hiding behind a pair of black shades, looked remotely cool.

I punched the air when I watched it. I’d played a minuscule role in helping them get there … 18 months earlier nobody knew them. It was vindication of sorts.

Perfect Skin peaked at No 26. Rattlesnakes stormed into the charts at No 13. Lloyd Cole HAD caused a commotion.

And, almost 40 years on, my favourite miserable b*****d is still doing it.


RATTLESNAKES is lauded as one of the best debut albums in Scottish music history.

What followed did not disappoint. In 1985, the Commotions released their “difficult” second record, Easy Pieces.

It produced three hit singles – Brand New Friend, Lost Weekend and Cut Me Down – and reached No 5 … their highest charting UK album.

But Cole seemed ill at ease with life in the pop spotlight, claiming the record was made too soon and that some songs were terrible.

In 1987, Mainstream was their swansong. The single, Jennifer She Said reached No 31, but the cracks were showing.

Keyboard player Blair Cowan quit before the album’s release and the group played a tour while keeping news of their impending split a secret.

Q Magazine said: “Mainstream completed a hat-trick of excellent contemporary pop albums”.

In 2004, the Commotions marked the 20th anniversary of Rattlesnakes with a five-date tour, which included a gig at Barrowland in Glasgow.

Their special guest was a then unknown James Blunt, who went on to sell 11 million copies of his debut album, Back To Bedlam.

They played a great live session for my radio show and the group seemed energised by the enthusiasm of giving it another whirl.

The personal highlight of which was Cole inserting my name in their final Top 40 hit, Jennifer She Said, when he sang:

“Billy Sloan we can’t go wrong/Let’s put it in writing”.

But the reunion was over almost before it had begun.

Bassist Lawrence Donegan said: “It was short enough to have fun … and long enough to remember why we didn’t last as a band.”

Years later, when asked if he’d ever consider reforming the Commotions, Cole said: “No, I think that was it. I was tired enough playing Sean Penn Blues in 2004 … I might not make it all the way through now.”

The Billy Sloan Show is on BBC Radio Scotland every Saturday at 10pm