A couple of years ago I was kindly invited to an evening to celebrate Nick Lowe’s 50 years in music, at The Scotch of James club in central London. It was a great night with friends and family all gathering to mark the occasion.
I have to say I was delighted to be asked, because over the last few years I have joyfully discovered a love of Lowe’s later songs like ‘I’m A Mess’, ‘Home Wrecker’ and ‘I Read A Lot’ having already admired his classic 80s period of music which gave us hits like ‘I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass’ (remember The Riddler suit?) ‘I Knew the Bride’ ‘Cruel to be Kind’ ‘I Live on a Battlefield’, ‘The Beast in Me’ and ‘Shting Shtang’ to name just a few.
But for me, the one image of him that has always stood out is of him when in the group ‘Brinsley Schwarz’ singing ‘Surrender to the Rhythm’ on the old TV show ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ in 1973. He just looked great in that. Even his ‘sticky out’ ears worked with that ‘Suede Head’ haircut and as for the shirt and cardigan combination, well, that is perfection.
Nicholas Drain Lowe was born the 24th March 1949 in Walton On Thames. His dad Geoffrey was a pilot in the Second World War, who later rose to the rank of Wing Commander. Mum Patricia was from a family of music hall performers. There are the ying and yang of it then. As a result of his fathers work, Nick grew up on air force bases in Jordan and Cyprus where he learnt to play the Ukelele, taught by his mum.
He then attended a boarding school in Suffolk where he met school friend Brinsley Schwarz. They joined a band called ‘Kippington Lodge’ who later signed to Parlophone, but with little success, before a name change to ‘Brinsley Schwarz ‘ in 1969. Their sound was of Americana bluesy rock, with the group ‘The Band’ an influence. The new line up quickly became firm favourites on the then-thriving pub circuit in London alongside the likes of ‘Dr Feelgood’ & ‘Kilburn and The High Roads.’
During this period Lowe had already written ‘What’s so Funny ‘bout Peace, Love and Understanding’ and ‘Cruel to Be Kind’ so his songwriting chops were in fine working order early on.
In 1975 he teamed up with Dave ‘I hear you knocking ‘ Edmunds in the band ‘Rockpile’ and then released ‘So it Goes’ which was the first single on the newly formed Stiff record label. Nick also doubled up there as the in house producer. The single ‘New Rose’ by ‘The Damned’ is widely acknowledged by most to be the first punk single here in the UK and it benefitted enormously with Lowe at the controls. Members of The Damned referred to him as either ‘Dad’ or ‘Uncle’ due to his advanced age, compared to them, back then.
In 1979 he married Carlene Carter, the stepdaughter of country singer Johnny Cash and he also produced albums for Graham Parker and the first five albums for one time Brinsley Schwarz super fan Elvis Costello and his Attractions. His quick ‘Bash, that’ll do’ production style earned him his nickname – ‘Basher.’
‘What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding’ then appeared on the 1992 soundtrack album to the film ‘The Bodyguard’ covered by Curtis Stigers. It went on to sell over 44 million copies worldwide and thus provided Nick with a very tidy royalty statement. It is still the best selling soundtrack of all time.
His albums ‘The Convincer’ (2001) ‘At My Age (2007) and ‘The Old Magic’ (2011) brought him back to consciousness of many, with his clever wordplay and fantastic melodies making a winning combination. He also released a Christmas album ‘Quality Street’ in 2013.
He has lived in Brentford for many years – ‘good pubs in Brentford’ – with his wife Peta and son Roy.
At the party I mentioned earlier, I never really had the chance to speak to him until I was leaving. I thanked him for the invite and then said ‘can I just ask where you got that great button down shirt from that you wore in that classic Brinsley appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test?’
He looked somewhat startled, as you would do I guess, and then smiled as he shook his head saying ‘All a long time ago, I’m afraid.’I just smiled back and shook his hand.
Thank you Nick and happy 70th birthday.
The Mumper of SE5