Nick Lowe

Veteran of the late '70s British pub rock scene, this UK-born guitarist began to hone his studio skills when appointed in-house producer for the fledgling Stiff Records label. Steve Sutherland traces the career of the self-effacing pop crafstman they call 'Basher'

What's the most embarrassing thing you've ever done? Snog the wrong person at the office Christmas party? Leave the house with your flies undone? Send an email meant for your partner to your boss by mistake?

Well, try this one on for size: you're a moderately well-known pop musician who's married to the step-daughter of an absolute musical legend. You also have a bit of a drink problem in that you enjoy too many drinks too much too often.

On this particular evening you have had a few and are fiddling around with this new song you're trying to write. As Merlot follows Burgundy, you hone it, over and over. You've only got the first verse but you're thinking it's genius. In fact, you're convinced it's so great you should offer it up to the musical legend to include on a forthcoming album or somesuch.


Something Stunning
Now it just so happens that the musical legend is due in town on the morrow to play a show at Wembley so you start running through what you've done of the number somewhat in the style of the legend. The more you go over it, the more you believe you're on to something stunning. The next thing you know, you're waking to the sound of your wife on the phone, saying, 'Yeah, we're looking forward to seeing you. He's written this great song. He stayed up all night and he really wants to play it to you'.

You open your eyes to a hideous hangover. The last person in the world you feel like meeting right now is the musical legend. You pull what you can of yourself together and try to persuade your wife to call her stepdad back and make some excuse, like you've been taken ill or something. But the ledge is already on his way and, pre-mobile phones, he can't be reached.

You go into the garden to get some air and suddenly this shadow looms over you. It's the legend: 'I hear you got this song'. So you go into the house, the sitting room is full of people, the legend's band and backing singers and other members of the extended family, all in off the tour bus which is parked outside.

You find your guitar, scrabble around for the terrible scrawl you'd written, and start to sing. But instead of the legend's sonorous voice you'd heard the night before, out comes this weedy little wheeze. The lone verse, it seems to go on forever. And when you eventually finish, the room is silent as the tomb. Someone coughs and the legend says, 'Play it again'. Amazingly, it sounds even worse the second time round. The assembly starts to disperse, you determine never to go remotely near the dopey song again. But before he goes, the legend says: 'Don't worry about it, you're onto something'.

You just about stop yourself from weeping right there and then.

Groovy Fame
We know this is a true story because we heard it from the man himself and, if nothing else, Mr Nick Lowe is one honest fellow. And honesty, now we come down to it, is Nick Lowe's stock in trade. Back in the mid-to-late '70s he even reached some kind of groovy fame on the back of it, the studio guvnor behind a clutch of records that cleaved a chasm in attitude and aptitude between the outgoing prog and incoming punk.

Basher they called him. Basher Lowe, because… well, here's how he puts it: 'Our philosophy was to get absolutely sloshed and go in and knock out a record! I used to record like that all the time…'

Before we go further, it's only right that we clear up this Basher business. 'Popularly it was because I was quoted as saying production was, "Bash it down and tart it up later". But the actual reason was Dr Feelgood. Because my father was in the RAF, they'd say [adopting Dam Busters voice] "Basher, bandits at 12 'o clock", taking the mick.' So there you have it, from the horse's mouth.

Jumped Ship
How Basher Lowe became British pop's great granddaddy of punk rock goes something like this... Born in Walton-on-Thames in 1949, Lowe joined a hippy band called Kippington Lodge in 1967 as a singing bassist. The Lodge mutated into Brinsley Schwarz who played a kind of hyped-up bluesy country rock and became mainstays of the emerging British pub rock circuit. Popular live, not much kip on record, the Schwarz didn't appear to be going much of anywhere so Lowe jumped ship to form Rockpile with veteran Welsh rocker Dave Edmunds. Then, when mover and shaker Jake Riviera and aspiring music mogul Dave Robinson started Stiff Records, Lowe hopped aboard.


He already had a few neat songs under his belt – '(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, And Understanding', 'Cruel To Be Kind' – so with 400 quid borrowed off Lee Brilleaux of Dr Feelgood, he released Stiff Records' first single, 'So it Goes', in 1976. A year on, his debut solo EP, Bowi, followed, so named to acknowledge the fact that David Bowie had released the LP Low. Jesus Of Cool, his debut LP [HFN Dec '12], followed in 1978 on Riviera's Radar. Hanging out at Stiff, with a bit of a history behind him, Lowe found himself coerced into helping others with less experience.