Nick Lowe is a happening guy.
When Elvis Costello's roadies arrived at Moot Hall to set up for the shows he did a couple weeks back, their first comments centered on the music screeching out of a portable cassette recorder.
Where'd you get that?' they asked suspiciously, referring to songs that appear on Lowe's first solo album, a record just released as an import prior to the Costello group's arrival in town, and put on tape as music to play during the setup and between performances.
Unaware that the album was available (Costello had been on tour since late January), the roadies were taken back a bit let's say. When we found out that Nick Lowe was not only in town with Elvis, but that if enough Vodka/J. Daniels was around, he would play with him that night. We were completely amazed.
When Nick showed up with Elvis and members of The Attractions, he was amazed that anyone beside the attentive Costello fan who saw Nick credited as producer of My Aim Is True would know who he was.
He was further surprised by the knowledge and interest we had for the tradition of music (hey) he and Elvis come from. Questions about the Brinsley Schwarz group and Dave Edmunds, next to his work with Elvis and other Stiff Records acts, his most popular and enjoyable work, he was glad to answer.
I don't know if Nick Lowe has been asked for autographs like he was that night. And I don't know if everybody at the show realized it, but the power pop sound Nick Lowe helped create will be fashioned, bouncy, return-to-singing direction the New Wave will take. Power pop stars and rockabilly revivalists like Edmunds, Costello, and Robert Gordon have already given some shape to the scene.
But Nick Lowe is the really happening guy. You shouldn't be put off by the record's title which is one of the funniest thugs about the package. Hey, Nick is a rather modest guy on top of it all. He's more than Elvis Costello's producer, gang, he's a studied pop fan who could be our best new popstar. The Record Theatre sold out of the import version of his album in two days. When a slightly different version is released in a week or two in the states, you'll have all the opportunity you need to be a happy, happening record buyer.
He's really happening. Last year alone he produced albums by Graham Parker (Stick To Me), The Rumour, (Max), The Damned (Damned Damned Damned), and worked on Dave Edmunds' revivalist masterpiece Get It and the two Stiff samplers, A Bunch of Stiffs, and Hits Greatest Stiffs. This year, beginning in April, he will tour America with Elvis and Mink DeVille.
"I've still got to get a band together," he said rather calmly considering the tour is only a month away." Might ask The Rumour to do it if they could, or Thin Lizzy, you know."
Lowe is friends with both groups from the early days of Brinsley Schwarz and the countrified pub-rock sound that has gone all but unnoticed to even he most ardent fan of rock who has been looking for something other than crashing, simplistic punk. But here's the tradition I mentioned. A honest to goodness genre (although it's hard to give it any absolutely unique musical quality definition because it was essentially a circuit of low paying pub dates for blues-rock bands) of rock and roll that never got written up as such; never got grabbed onto because of that. Brinsley Schwarz started when Nick Lowe and Brinsley Schwarz (currently The Rumour's guitarist along with Martin Belmont, who also showed up at the Costello show to play with Nick) formed a band called 4 Plus 1 in High School, 1964. After a year of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Bo Diddley covers, and after the Beatles had forever changed the possibilities open to British rock bands, Schwarz changed the sound of his band.
The new group was without Lowe, called Three's A Crowd, and they played music that featured an attempt at Hollies/Beach Boys harmonies. Signed to Parlophone Records, the group recorded a few singles. Nothing happened. Again Schwarz changed the format, adding one of rock's most underrated keyboardists, current Rumour member Bob Andrews, and called the group Kippington Lodge. Nick Lowe had come back by this time, but soon the Kippingtons, and their Parlophone contract, were gone,
Answering a Melody Maker ad, Famepusher Management became BS's next hope. The company tried showcasing the group at the Fillmore East in front of 150 journalists after United Artists released their first album in 1969. It flopped, the band showing up late and tired, missing their soundcheck. That unfortunate evening turned out to be a scar that didn't heal for almost two years.
In the meantime, the albums Brinsley Schwarz and Despite It All with tunes like "Shining Brightly" and "Country Girl" and "Funk Angel" respectively displayed Britain's first distinguished country-rock group, and one with a clean sense of McCartney-pop vocals. "Funk Angel" and "Ju Ju Man" from Sliver Pistol, their third album (released in 1971), shows a decided return, with Ian Gomm's streamlined jangly lead guitar, to the Bo Diddley or Eddie Cochran influence of the pre-BS incarnations.
In 1972 the new idol became Allan Toussaint, and a saxophone-filled sound not unlike the freshness of the less frantic Al Kooper Blues Project songs. "Surrender To The Rhythm" is one of Lowe's best songs, and it comes from the BS's best album, Nervous On The Road, released in early 1973. At this point, the group was making about $250.00 a night playing the pub circuit, dubbed a "pub rock hand" by the press, and in general not taken too seriously. Three albums followed, two of them reissues of the group's best early material. Nick Lowe, after having written and sung almost all the group's best songs, left in 1975. The rest of the group planned to join Chilli Willi, another of the pub rock bands that included Bruce Thomas, who is the Attractions' current drummer, but those plans fell through. All but Gomm and drummer Billy Rankin are now with The Rumour.
So it's no big thing for Nick to ask them to tour with him. Graham Parker cancelled his last U.S. tour, so conceivably they're not too busy. I suggested to Nick that he form the International Rockabilly Band with Dave Edmunds and John Fogerty.
"No, no I don't thing we could do that," he smiled. "Have to keep it all British."
Indeed, for Americans have never picked up on Brinsley or Ducks Deluxe, the group Sean Tyla and Martin Belmont once played for. America hasn't really picked up on Graham Parker yet either.
Dave Robinson used to produce Brinsley Schwarz. About a year and a half ago, he and Jake Riviera formed Stiff Records, still today (as Stiff is now being distributed through Clive Davis's Arista Records), the most consistently entertaining and anti-commercial small company around. Slogans like