As he gears up for a date with Vicar Street on February 15, Nick Lowe shares anecdotes about Wilco, Elvis Costello and his father-in-law Johnny Cash.
“Even when Carlene and I split it didn’t make any difference,” smiles Nick Lowe reminiscing about his parents-in-law Johnny Cash and June Carter. “And they were the same with all their ex-sons-in-law... of which there were plenty! Once you got your feet under the table with them you were family and you had to really, really do something horrible to change that. If I were John there were one or two of those ex-sons-in-law I would have set the dogs on! It was always (affects American twang), ‘Ah well maybe he had a bit of bad luck!’”
Hot Press’ chat with the veteran singer-songwriter is filled with such anecdotes: fantastical tales of producing The Damned and Elvis Costello, the Stiff Records years, his unlikely friendship with Curtis Stigers and recent tour dates with Wilco. Lowe is unfailingly polite and surprisingly modest for an artist of his stature.
Since his early days in the ‘60s with pub rockers Brinsley Schwarz, Lowe has carved quite a unique path through new wave, punk, pop, rock and country. Currently he is on the promo trail in advance of his visit to these shores next month. As well as hits such as ‘Heart Of The City’ and ‘So It Goes’ we can expect a bevvy of treats from his recent long-player The Old Magic, a country/lo-fi/rockabilly affair replete with beguiling harmonies and his trademark wit.
One of the standout tracks is a sublime cover of Jeff West’s ‘You Don’t Know Me At All’. As an oft-misunderstood artist is this a cri de coeur of sorts one wonders?
“Er… I just thought it was a good little song and I could do a nifty version!” smiles Nick. “But yeah, I don’t think people really understand what I do and it’s my own fault. I have always positioned myself outside the mainstream, I have never been a very good joiner-inner. Every time I've seen myself mentioned in the same breath as several other people I have always jumped in the other direction with the result that nobody really gets what I do… I’m not really sure I do myself!”
The long-player also includes a cover of Elvis Costello’s ‘The Poisoned Rose’. Nick still sees Elvis regularly and fondly remembers the early Attractions recording sessions.
“I can remember them fighting quite a lot,” he laughs. “There were regular physical punch-ups in the studio which were soon forgotten. It seemed to be part of the process!”
Lowe also famously produced the debut Damned album and the first ‘official’ punk single ‘New Rose’. Were they as well behaved?
“They used to call me grandad or uncle or something. I think I was 24 at the time!” he laughs. “They were a lively bunch but they were great. I still occasionally hear ‘New Rose’ or ‘Neat Neat Neat’ ‘on the radio. They still sound fantastic.”
As well as his production skills, Lowe is renowned for his song-writing and very often that talent is brought to the fore by a cover version, most famously Elvis’ ‘(What’s So Funny Bout) Peace Love And Understanding?’.
“I think it's been covered 30 or 40 times,” states Nick. “I have recordings of it by Tahitian fishermen, kids in a mission school in the South American jungle as well as some more conventional versions!”
The song was also a number one hit for Curtis Stigers when it featured in hit ‘90s film The Bodyguard.
“As a result Curtis and I have become very good friends!” laughs Nick. “And the money couldn’t have come at a better time!”
Most recently Wilco recorded his ‘I Love My Label’ as the B-Side to their single ‘I Might’. He was support for the American alt. country outfit on their recent tour.
“They had been extending the hand of friendship to me for a while,” explains Lowe. “I was in Chicago once and they invited me down to the studio but I was unable to go. Then last year they asked me to do the dates and I was very pleased because their audience are much younger than mine, but very musically literate. I was very anxious to put myself in front of them. I actually got a really good reception!” he says sounding genuinely surprised. There’s that modesty again…