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Indian summer?

Nick Lowe has two Kent gigs on his UK tour. Picture: Dan Bum-Forti
Nick Lowe has two Kent gigs on his UK tour. Picture: Dan Bum-Forti

If it comes to it, Nick Lowe says he is ready to play in near-empty theatres on his UK tour. Chris Price spoke to the pub rock pioneer.

When thinking about Nick Lowe, initially it can be hard to pin down exactly why he is viewed in such esteem by the music industry. He has only ever had one UK top 10 single, I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass.

Then as you dig deeper, more and more things jog your memory. He got his break in the 1960s as a member of Kippington Lodge, who later became known as pub rock band Brinsley Schwarz.

After leaving the band in 1975, he began playing in rockability four-piece Rockpile with singer and guitarist Dave Edmunds. He became the in-house producer at Stiff Records and has produced records for Dr Feelgood (he also wrote their big hit Milk and Alcohol) and Graham Parker as well as producing the first four albums by Elvis Costello.

Perhaps his most famous song is barely associated with him at all. He wrote (What’s So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding, which became a hit for Costello in 1979. It was also the song which made him wealthy, when Curtis Stigers covered it for the soundtrack to The Bodyguard in 1992, starring the late Whitney Houston, a record which has sold more than 44 million copies. Curtis and Nick are now close friends.

Arguably better received in the US than his native Britain, Nick has finally got back on the road for a rare UK tour. Yet for a man considered a pivotal figure in pub rock, punk rock and new wave genres, he does not expect a fanfare for his live return.

“I have neglected the UK,” said Nick, 62. “I don’t know how well I will do on this tour. In London, which is the exception to every rule, you can play a fancy place and have a full house so long as you don’t do it too often, but out of town it can be a little bleaker.

“It is my own fault as in the past I have gone to places where people are willing to pat me on the back and say I am marvellous. I don’t know how it is going to go. Who knows? There could be a tumbleweed blowing in the aisle.”

Despite the glass-half-empty outlook on the prospects for his tour, Nick is not a man riddled with self-doubt. Some critics argued the contrary after listening to the lyrics on his well-received 2011 album The Old Magic. Their concern was understandable with song titles like Checkout Time, Sensitive Man and Restless Feeling but the singer-songwriter was quick to distance himself from his subject matter.

“Most songs I write aren’t about me, even though they are written in the first person,” he said. “I am not about putting my diary to music. I think of a character and make it up.

“The line in Checkout Time 'I’m 61 and I never thought I would see 30’ came to me as a good line. I tried to diffuse it later on with some guff about crossing over Jordan. It is a lot of old twaddle. It is supposed to be for fun. I don’t seriously spend any time worrying about my legacy.”

I'd like to walk around the Pantiles for old time's sake.

Going out on the road has reaped an added benefit for Nick. He will make something of a homecoming in his two Kent shows.

“I suppose you could say that” he said. “When I first joined Kippington Lodge they were based in Sevenoaks first of all, so I moved to Tunbridge Wells and lived there for about three years.”

“We lived in a flat on the Pantiles. It was fantastic. It was filled with 10 hippies and now it would cost £10,000 a week to live there.

“We would play Margate in the east and then Eastbourne in the south west. My formative years were spent there. They are very happy memories. It will be the first time I have played in Tunbridge Wells since the 1960s. I am sure I will choke up a little bit and I hope I have time to walk around the Pantiles for old time’s sake.”

Nick Lowe performs at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre on Wednesday, February 22. Tickets £27.50. Box office 01227 787787. He then performs at Tunbridge Wells’ Assembly Hall Theatre on Thursday, March 1. Tickets £24.50. Box office 01892 530613.

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