Nick Lowe is the Vasco da Gama of the rock 'n' roll anecdote. I wouldn't say he never gets to the point, but he usually arrives by the scenic route.
Once, we were driving to Helsinki after a bizarre gig at a kind of degenerate Eskimo youth club in the snowblasted wastes of Finland. Driving through a freezing blizzard with the temperature so far below zero that we were all grizzling with frostbite, Nick kept us entertained for around five hours with a single story: exact details remain vague, but it had a cast of thousands and made Ben Hur sound like a tawdry one liner.
Interviewing Nick, then, is a breeze: you just turn up with the necessary supplies and you go for it. This is the difficulty: trying to edit into shape something like five hours or more of opinion, digression, scandalous detours, hilarious libels and vivid commonsense. This time around, the hack decided simply to transcribe some random thoughts and considered asides; offering the merest flavour of another hectic talkathon....
Pure pop for now people
Sure, I'm still absolutely mad for the idea of the kind of pop music that actually does the business. It's just that it's damned thin on the ground at the moment. Frankly, I think the old music business is in a terrible old rut.
Generally, I only listen to records when people come around to my gaff and I either play my own records or records I've been working on, just to show off to my mates. Or I'll play Motown or country — old George and the chaps.
I listen to new groups on the radio, and I'll see them on the old telly and if they're good looking geezers I can see why some people go mad for them, but generally I don't think the songs are that good. I don't think there are any really mean records about right now ... People screaming "fuck" into a microphone and singing songs about eating baby limbs certainly doesn't count as mean.
The Dead Kennedys, that sort of thing, it sounds tame to me. It's like having a lot of damned noisy children misbehaving all over the house. You feel like telling them to go and play in the garden. It's the sound of the playground. Someone like Abba or even Buck's Fizz sound meaner to me than any of those idiot punk groups.
Of course, they don't have the credibility, they don't have the fashionable qualifications to be taken seriously.
I mean, it astounds me that someone like Toyah is more acceptable. My little girl is mad for Toyah and I took her to see the old show we were surrounded by all these ten-year-olds. It was like Cinderella On Ice. I kept waiting for Tommy Trinder to appear as Buttons.
It's the same with that lot, the Human League and "Don't You Want Me." Massive hit, everybody's whistling the damned thing. I hated it, It was so asexual. Men dressed up as women, really. Damned embarrassing if you ask me.
But fair enough, these pop stars have always been that way. Marc Bolan was always bopping around in frocks.
Regrets ... I've had a few
Obviously, we've all got a few skeletons rattling in the old cupboard, but there's nothing that I've said or done that really makes me wince. Even those Bay City Rollers records, when I did them I was sincere: at least I sincerely needed the money. Generally, I think I've escaped damned lightly.
There are so many people getting freaked out trying to keep up with what they said or stood for when they started out. I'm thinking in great big letters of the Clash. I feel very sorry for them actually, because they seem so confused. They're continually having to maintain an image and it must be damned hard.
They don't write songs, they write headlines. They're probably dying to write something positively mindless.
I think I'm lucky because no one expects me to stand for anything. I'm just a chap who enjoys a drink, likes going to see the boxing at Wembley and joining the old CAF. Seems like a damned good life to me. Wonderfully ordinary.
I knew Dave Edmunds when he used to rock 'n' roll
I still admire old Edmunds like mad. I always will. That was never in doubt. He's the fucking best. We had a terrific time; Rockpile was one of the best times of my life, damned enjoyable. But we formed overnight and I always thought it would end overnight, and it did. It just got stale, I think.
Some groups can stick together even when they're not really grooving. Wave a dollar bill at them and they'll go for it, but we weren't like that. When Rockpile stopped being fun, it was over. Dave was always the leader of Rockpile and when he was grooving, we were all grooving.
But sometimes it was a damned pain getting him to do things, and although I loved being in Rockpile, when we broke up it did give me a good kick up the arse 'cos we were in a bit of a rut. But, frankly, Rockpile was never really a household name and I can't see anyone being interested now in why we broke up. I think everyone was already heartily sick of me and Edmunds bickering like a pair of old women or a squabbling old couple getting a divorce.
The Riviera touch
This is a great Jake story. As you know, a few years ago, Jake and I used to live together. We had no money, but we'd just groove around, plotting and scheming. And one night, we were at the Hope & Anchor, and we'd had a few drinks, and old EC's My Aim Is True was just out, I think, and we were grooving.
And someone came in and said Elvis Presley had just died. 'Cos I was so damned drunk, I was devastated. In floods of tears. Hysterical. Absolutely inconsolable. Making a total prick of myself. Weeping like a goddam baby. And Jake was very calm.
"For fuck's sake, Basher, pull yourself together!" Immediately lost patience with this dribbling wimp he's with. "Hasn't made a good record for 15 years," old Jacko's going. "Why're you grizzling?"
And I was going, "It's not the point, man, if it wasn't for him I wouldn't be here..." I was just pissed up and maudlin. Eventually, he got me out and we were going home and I'm still sobbing, "Oh, Jacko... Elvis Preshleesh dead..."
I was sitting next to him in the old car and there's this long silence broken only by the occasional wracking sob from me, and Jake suddenly stopped and looked over at me and said, "You know what it means don't you?" And I was still wailing and weeping and I said, "What?" And Jake said, "We're going to have to change his name from Elvis Costello to Elton..."
I couldn't believe it. He was perfectly serious. I thought, "What a chap!" He was already planning the next move.
First glimpses of the greatest living Englishman
He used to come to all the Brinsleys' gigs. He was always there, looking very intense. Even when he was with other people, he always seemed to be standing apart from them. The first time I actually spoke to him was in a pub in Liverpool.
He was at the bar, and I thought, "Well... there he is again, I'd better go and talk to him, buy him a drink, probably make his day..." 'Cos I was famous then, you see. I was in Brinsley Schwarz, we were earning £175 a night, we were big time.
And I went over and introduced myself and he just glared at me. Damned unsettling. You know the way he is. Anyway, after that, whenever I saw him, we'd have a drink ... I just thought he was a very intense fan. Then he moved to London and we lost touch. And we started Stiff and one day I saw him at the local tube station.
In fact, he'd just been around to the office to buy a copy of "So It Goes." And we started chatting and he said that he'd been trying to get a deal and then he told me that story that he trots out all the time now...
At the time, he thought he was like something out of one of those old-fashioned films where a guy wanders into a music publisher's office and says, "Boy, have I got a song for you." And he plays it on the piano and the publisher leaps up and says, "It so happens that Miss Fay Fontaine is next door!" And they wheel in old Fay and she sings it gorgeously and it's a fucking great big hit and our boy's away... And Elvis obviously thought this was the way to do it.
So he'd been going around to these record companies and they'd ask him for a tape and he'd tell them he was going to sing the songs and whip out an acoustic guitar. Of course, they were appalled. There's something very intimidating about sitting with Elvis, he's done it to me — and he sings at full blast, and he's got an incredibly loud voice and he emotes like mad.
So he'd be there emoting away like there's no tomorrow and the guy's phone would ring and it would be his wife or something and Elvis would be in the middle of some song and the guy would be going, "eight, yes, that'll be fine, darling. Lamb casserole? Wonderful." And poor old Elvis would be there wondering what to do. Should he carry on singing? Should he stop? Should he carry on singing, but try to be a bit quiet...
Anyway, it turned out that he'd left a tape at Stiff and when I got to the office, Jake was raving about "Mystery Dance," 'cos he thought Edmunds could do it. Then we listened to the tapes again, and Jacko said, "No, fuck it. This guy can make a record on his own. He's got tons of stuff here..."
I wasn't convinced, I must admit. The song that finally changed my mind was "Alison." He did that and I was stunned.
I'm absolutely mad for a weep and when I'm in the humour, I'm hopeless. And when old EC did "Alison" I was weeping like a baby and grooving wildly, too.
Bang it down and tart it up — the fine art of record production
I have this reputation as a real cool producer, but my track record is absolutely dire. I'm surprised no-one's sussed me out. I haven't had a hit for ages, but people still insist I'm a fantastic producer. I'm not a terrific producer at all in that sense. I'm also very fussy.
I only work with people I like, whether I groove on the music is almost secondary. I've got to groove on the people. 'Cos you can make a good record with a lizard, you know. It's easy. I could go into the studio with a vole and make a good record.
But if I like the vole, if I like the cut of its jib, then it's a pleasure. If I don't like the vole, it becomes a chore. Don't get me wrong. I'm an absolute whore. If I had to pay the rent in a big way, I'd do anything.
Luckily, I can afford to turn things down. Like the most curious people have asked me to produce them. Art Garfunkel. George Harrison. Yes. That obviously wasn't on.
Imagine trying to get Yes to give it a bit of stick. "Excuse me chaps, if we could just finish the old brown rice, we could just bang this next one down ..." Not really me, frankly. But if the rent had to be paid, I'd be in there like a rat up a bloody drainpipe.
I think I groove more on the stuff I've done with other people than I do on my own records, with very few exceptions. Especially the things I've done with old EC, 'cos he's just so damned good and I feel actually proud of my own contributions there.
I think I made him aware what fun it was to have his kind of talent. Not to take himself so seriously.
Frankly, I think I'm a professional fall guy really. That's probably my real talent.