IMHO – Nick Lowe

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The first time I saw Nick Lowe play was the first proper gig I saw. It was at Mansfield Civic Theatre in the early 70s when he was singing, playing bass and writing songs for the criminally under-rated band Brinsley Schwarz (who later became the nucleus of Graham Parker and the Rumour). The support bands on the tour were picked up locally and the support for the Mansfield show was a rock covers band named Care with a substantial following from the local Hell’s Angels chapter. Care did their set and went down pretty well; we were all ready for Brinsley Schwarz.

Nick Lowe 1979 St Andrews University (Photo by Allan McKay)

The band hit the stage and, after a couple of songs, it was obvious that something was wrong. The Angels didn’t like melodic pub rock and they were determined to show exactly how much they disliked it. With virtually no security there was a stage invasion which became a battle between Nottinghamshire’s finest bikers and a bunch of Southern musicians and their road crew. The turning point in the battle came when an Angel threw himself at Nick Lowe and found his mouth full of Gibson EB bass machine head; Southern softies 1, northern bikers 0. So my first gig had a stage invasion, a proper fight and an important lesson; it’s not about how big or ugly you are, it’s about how wisely you deploy your resources. I still like to think that his nickname “Basher” came from that night.

Anyway, Brinsley Schwarz dwindled into commercial obscurity and went their various ways. Nick Lowe signed to Stiff Records as a solo artist (the first Stiff EP was Lowe’s “Bowi” 7″, a verbal riposte to David Bowie’s “Low” album ) and also as a hired gun producer for the label’s early artists including The Damned and Elvis Costello. From 1977 to 1980, Nick Lowe was everywhere. He released his own “Jesus of Cool” album, which featured the hit single “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” and he formed Rockpile with Dave Edmunds achieving a couple of hits with “Girls Talk” and “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)” and had a writing credit on Dr Feelgood’s “Milk and Alcohol”. He toured extensively with Edmunds as Rockpile playing sets which featured their solo hits and collaborations, including the 1979 hit “Cruel to be Kind”.

Following his production credit for the first Graham Parker album, “Howling Wind” (featuring some of his old Brinsley Schwarz bandmates), he produced the third Graham Parker album “Stick To Me” at short notice after problems were discovered with the original master tapes. The final mix suited Parker’s material but some music writers were unimpressed; Greil Marcus complained about the sound, so Nick paid him a visit. He looked at the critic’s state-of-the-art hi-fi and announced that it was fine for listening to Boston and Foreigner but “Stick to Me” was mixed to sound good on a Dansette (readers under the age of 40 might need to Google that one).

From the mid-80s, he gradually faded from the commercial scene while still working with highly influential musicians such as John Hiatt, Ry Cooder and Paul Carrack to produce high quality albums. The commercial decline ended in 1992 when a Curtis Stigers cover of a song written for Brinsley Schwarz in the mid-70s was featured on the soundtrack for “The Bodyguard”. The album sold 44 millions and finally guaranteed Nick Lowe a decent income.

From this point onwards, he was able to develop, and succeed with, the later-life Nick Lowe songwriting and singing style which is much more relaxed, concentrating on lyrics and melody rather than volume and production techniques. The critics started to wake up to the new Nick Lowe sound with the release of “The Impossible Bird” in 1994 and the momentum has continued to build (very slowly) ever since. The release of “The Convincer” in 2001 stepped up the process as more critics got on board, although mainstream commercial rebirth was still a few years away.

The release of the album “The Old Magic” in 2011 cemented Nick Lowe’s reputation as an elder statesman of the British music scene. Backed by the same group of musicians who have featured on recent live and recorded appearances, the album is a perfect statement of Nick Lowe’s singing and songwriting abilities. The songs don’t need a perfect snare sound or a banging bass drum to work well; they just need to be captured in a way that conveys a message to an audience that wants to listen.

Back in the 70s, Nick Lowe had a reputation as the kind of songwriter who could write a song on the bus on the back of a cigarette packet and he’s certainly been very prolific since joining Kippington Lodge in 1967, before it evolved into Brinsley Schwarz. He’s written many, many very good songs and a few great songs in styles ranging from pop through rock to country crooning and he’s still having a good time playing live over 40 years down the line with a critically-acclaimed album to support.

It’s great to see that a hugely talented musician/singer/songwriter/producer can come through the highs and lows of a long career in a business which worships youth more than talent retaining the respect of his peers and real music fans alike. If you use Spotify and you want to have a listen to some of his songs, try these links:

If you don’t already use Spotify you can download it here:
Enjoy.