As I’ve blogged about before, my musical knowledge is a bit … gappy. I often recognise a song right from the opening riff. However, when it comes to knowing name of band, date of release, and where it reached in the Pop Parade, I’m often found seriously lacking.
My mate Alan, on the other hand, is a walking musicography. He can tell you who first wrote a song, who recorded it next, and what the sax player had for his breakfast that day. A rare, but unfortunately for Alan, not particularly lucrative skill.
However, even the redoubtable Mr McCreadie could have been forgiven for not knowing exactly which songs Nick Lowe had actually written: a veritable songwriter’s songwriter, he emerged just prior to punk in the shape of Brindley Schwartz, surfed the New Wave of post-punkers with the likes of Elvis Costello, and then, well, has just kept on going, without ever necessarily getting a lot of airplay or press attention. I haven’t checked, but I’m guessing he lives quietly in the country with his wife and a couple of spaniels when he’s not on tour.
So buying a ticket for him was something of an act of faith. I knew I liked every song of his I’d ever heard, and that he’d been a pretty good performer whenever he’d got on Top of the Pops back in the day, without being able to name more than one song that was definitely his, and not someone else’s. And even then I wouldn’t have bet my house on it being his.
Arriving on time at a rock gig is a mistake I just keep on making. However, at least there was the agreeable ambience of the QH bar to while away the time. To very little surprise, we met a couple of former work colleagues there of similar vintage: the demographic was fairly focused around 55 – 65, in other words just a bit younger than Nick Lowe himself.
A couple of pints later, we found ourselves ushered up to our seats – plenty room in the Hall for the audience size, with our nearest neighbours (who it turned out had, like me, bought the tickets on the basis of only passing knowledge of the Nick Lowe canon) shuffling along a couple of seats to make room between us.
I will pass quickly over the support act, a young bloke with an acoustic guitar whose songs reminded me most of the Everley Brothers. Nothing at all wrong with Don and Phil, of course, but there were two of them, with matchless harmonies to go with their bubblegum pop. It just seemed a bit odd that this guys’s musical development appeared to have stopped just short of the very singer-songwriters that had influenced the main act.
His set at least had the merit of brevity, and then Nick himself was on stage, leading off with a couple of songs that, whilst not immediately familiar, had the kind of wry observational lyrics that reminded you why you’d bought the tickets in the first place. A songwriter’s songwriter, indeed. His performance, by the way, just him and his acoustic guitar, was excellent.
After the first opening salvos from his songbook, Lowe stopped and engaged with the audience, proving to be a charming, self-deprecating character in line with his lyrics. He thanked us all for turning out when going out to gigs had suddenly become a much less straightforward thing. He also told the story of when, earlier on the tour, he’d said something similar to a Manchester audience, concluding that it was, after all, a night during the working week. A voice from the darkness shouted: ‘that’s all right – we’re all retired!’
His set included a couple of covers – just to confuse us: ‘Heartbreaker,’ by the Bee Gees, and ‘Alison,’ which I had to look up to check wasn’t his, but was in fact Elvis Costello’s. Highlights of his own work included ‘I Live On A Battlefield,’ and the one I was pretty sure, but not certain was his before the gig, ‘What’s So Funny ‘Bout (Peace Love And Understanding). Some people will know this one best from the Curtis Stigers version on the Bodyguard, but I heard it first (I think) by way of the Elvis Costello cover.
As someone else commented on Youtube, Costello makes it sound like he’s in the pub, jabbing you in the chest and spilling your pint as he asks the song title question. Nick Lowe, on the other hand, is in the lounge bar, asking you the same question over a bottled lager as the prelude to a civilised debate about it.
As he himself commented on the night, he hopes that some day he can stop asking.
Since you’re here…
I’ve just put the second of the tracks on my new EP up on Soundcloud. The whole EP is available for preorder on Bandcamp here