Nick Lowe is best described as one of Britain’s most active writers, producers and performers of the seventies and eighties.
His work is marked with a wonderful wit and a real sense of fun, although in the nineties he transformed himself into a brooding and clever singer songwriter.
From 1969 to 1975 he was a member of Brinsley Schwarz, an under-rated pub rock band. The nucleus of the group was Lowe (on bass), his school friend Brinsley Schwarz (on guitar) and Bob Andrews (on keyboards), who first recorded for EMI in 1967 as Kippington Lodge.
Brinsley Schwarz recorded six albums for United Artists between 1969 and 1975. The majority of these records featured music which was distilled into rock ‘n’ roll, country, and soul music. The stand-out songs from this period were Nick Lowe’s “Don’t Lose your Grip On Love”,’ “Nervous On The Road”, and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding”.
Despite the glare of publicity that surrounded the launch of Brinsley Schwarz’ debut album – a plane-load of journalists were flown to see the group play at New York’s Fillmore East – the group’s albums sold poorly. The band found only cult success on London’s developing pub rock circuit.
The band would split up in 1975, just as the new punk-rock bands were taking over London’s pub rock venues. Nick Lowe’s solo debut was intended as a joke. He wrote, produced and played “We Love You Bay City Rollers” under the pseudonym of the Tartan Horde, which was an unexpected hit in Japan.
More significantly, at the time Lowe and his former producer Dave Robinson were seeing the potential in punk. It was out of this interest that Robinson and Jake Riviera would form the label Stiff, which would become a major player in the late seventies and throughout the eighties.
Nick Lowe would become the label’s in-house producer and would also be the artist to release the label’s first single, with “So It Goes” / “Heart Of The City”.
He would produce a number of albums for artists on Stiff Records over the early years of the label, which would include the Dammed, Graham Parker and The Rumour, and the rather excellent My Aim Is True for Elvis Costello, with whom he would continue to work over the next few years.
He would also handle the production for other artists, which included The Pretenders, Dr Feelgood, and Wreckless Eric.
Although he had been around for a long time in the industry he had not achieved commercial success yet; this this would change in 1978 when he released the album Jesus Of Cool which was set around recycling sixties-style music and included his biggest hit of his career, “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass”.
His next album Labour of Lust proved to be the album that would give him the success he craved on both sides of the Atlantic, when the single “Cruel to Be Kind” became the song that kept on giving, as it is constantly played as a classic oldie.
Labour Of Lust is a record that you can keep coming back to, with stand-out tracks like “Cracking Up”, “Skin Deep”, and “Love So Fine”, songs that still rock and roll to this very day. It is an album that stands up for a number of reasons: the songs are well-written, the production values are extraordinary, and the playing still makes it one of the great Nick Lowe albums.
During the eighties Lowe divided his time between performing and producing. He toured and recorded with Dave Edmunds and their group Rockpile, while continuing to release such albums as Nick the Knife, Rose of England, and Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit.
In the nineties Lowe was less active as both performer and producer. He had played on John Hiatt’s career-reviving Bring The Family, in a band which included Ry Cooder and veteran drummer Jim Keltner and indeed Lowe would recruit both for his next solo album, Party Of One.
The chemistry between the trio and Hiatt was such that they formed the short-lived Little Village, which released an eponymous album in 1992, followed by a world tour.
Solo once again in 1994, Lowe teamed up with Elvis Costello, playing bass on his album Brutal Youth before releasing his own album, The Impossible Bird, on the Independent Upstart Record label. This was his most emotional album for some years, including “The Beast in Me”, a song he wrote for Johnny Cash, Dallas Frazier’s “True Love Travels on a Gravel Road” and Ray Price’s “I’ll Be There”.
The follow-up album in 1998 was the very minimalist Dig My Mood which was, if anything, even bleaker: a superior, solemn contemplation of the possibilities of failures.
Nick Lowe’s career as an artist, producer, musician, has been stellar. His body of work since his time with Brinsley Schwarz, Rockpile, and indeed throughout his solo career have been extraordinary.
His most recent box set, The Brentford Trilogy was a series of three great records and is without doubt a soulful collection of songs from Britain’s finest living songwriter.
As an artist, I have always been a fan and to quote one of his album titles, I dig this man’s music moods.