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Nick Lowe - Borders Bookstore, Oxford Street on 6 September 2001

Nick’s performance at Borders Oxford Street tonight inspired me to re-subscribe to his discussion list. It is perhaps disgraceful that I ever left, but I somehow had become a list junkie, and when I was receiving a few thousand messages a week, I had to prune away the lists so that I could go out and live outside the house from time to time, like real people do. But sacrificing the Nick List was a mistake, as I was so out of touch, I did not even realise that he had released a new album. My rapidly deepening poverty prevented me from coming across that or Nick’s tour sooner, as I had been trying to pretend that CD stores and fun evenings out did not exist, for the sake of my
credit cards (which kindly looked the other way tonight so I could purchase Nick’s CD at last).

Fortunately, the Borders Events newsletter was in the post last night, and whilst Nick’s appearance (and for free!) the following night was joyous news, I was horrified to realise that I had a previous commitment that evening. Still, for the first time ever, I decided it might be worth being a heel—it was—and I shamefully wriggled out of said commitment. Then I almost missed the beginning of Nick’s brief set as I literally made it to the top floor of Borders, huffing and puffing and, uh, ‘glistening’ after I ran from the office and had the pleasure of cramming myself on a shockingly hot and cramped Tube train. Consequently, I thought it best to steer clear any people with noses and tucked myself behind (well, almost in) a shelving unit so that I got a view of Nick in extreme profile (and thus the few photos I was almost too embarrassed to snap were pretty rubbish), but any view of Nick is a wonderful one.

Only seconds after I settled into my shelf, Nick belted out the first song, which was a marvellously pessimistic yet perceptive number that I’ve never heard before. It is not on the new album, but it is typical Nick—this is the man who wrote What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding, remember—he is perhaps one of the last great protest singers, though he does it so subtly that nobody minds, not even the establishment. The gist of this song was that there would never be any peace until God sits around the conference table, and indeed I later heard that it was called—you’ll never guess—‘There Will Never Be Any Peace Until God Sits at the Conference Table.’ A title like that gives away Nick’s country connections, when he was linked with the (now ill-fated) Cash family through ex-wife Carlene Carter. The song was masterfully clever and poignant.

I estimated there were about 70 people (including ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, I later heard) watching Nick and his acoustic guitar, excluding the one guy determined to prove that he was just browsing the books and wanted no part of this noisy nonsense going on beside him. Nick had earlier joked about that—thanking those of us who came to see him, and saying that those who were just browsing, well (long pause), could they please move along as they were taking up valuable floorspace. Indeed. He then encouraged us all to pick up a copy of his new album, before reminding us to pay for it, don’t just pick it up, because CCTV was everywhere.

Looking around, I was amused to see that not only did everyone seem to be over 35—and many were well over—but everyone looked as though they didn’t have jobs, in that every single person was casually dressed, most wearing t-shirts. Nick, in a navy pinstripe oxford shirt, black trooz and shoes, was the most elegant person there, and I mean no offence by that (he claims the prize so easily). I usually stand out on such occasions as I generally am clad in a dreary ‘Margaret Thatcher’ suit, as one of my friends calls them, having come straight from the office. Today, I thankfully managed a more casual outfit, but everyone else was dressed as though they were mature students or had the type of fun creative job that I’ve always wanted, and thus were not required to dress like stuffy ‘professionals’. So it made me chuckle when Nick paused between songs to observe aptly that the gathering had ‘the air of a student-fest circa 1971’.

Having begun his set, curiously, with a song he just liked to sing rather than one of the songs he was promoting—which was fine with us as it was tremendous—Nick then proceeded to sing five songs from his new album, The Convincer. They all reminded me what an amazing storyteller this songwriting talent was; he just gets on with things, seemingly casually throwing together a load of words that come out sounding like 100 songsmiths worked night and day to fit them together so perfectly. He has a lot to say and does so smoothly.

The first song he performed from the album was Lately I’ve Let Things Slide, which vividly depicted the life of someone struggling so much through heartbreak that he has given up functioning. The marvellous tune contains amazingly clear images: ‘With a growing sense of dread and a hammer in my head, fully clothed upon the bed. I wake up to the world…’ shortly before he picks through the dirty laundry basket for the cleanest shirt he can find, whilst noting ‘That untouched take-away I brought home the other day has quite a lot to say.’ Somehow the song comes off being upbeat, so there’s almost a sense of humour to the man’s suffering. Only Nick Lowe could make such sad stagnation so catchy….

After faultlessly delivering that last tune, and having sold me on the album already, Nick presented us with the album’s masterpiece, She’s Got Soul. He crooned through the perfect song, one that makes you feel delighted to be alive experiencing it. This short song was an ideal example of the intriguing quality this entire collection had: there was certainly nothing unoriginal about them, yet each was saturated with a warm familiarity that made them seem like songs you grew up loving. She’s Got Soul was immediately catchy, its melody grabs anyone within earshot and gives them a cuddle. It is a celebration of love so endearing, not mushy, sharing the joy of meeting The One after giving up on it ever happening and feeling resigned to live in loneliness. A bit like the Beatles’ I’ve Just Seen a Face, it shouts to the world that he has just met a pearl, and the song is spectacular.

Next, Nick performed a Leonard Cohen type of storytelling ballad called Indian Queens, spewing out the adventures of a wanderer who has worked on a freighter en route to Panama, accidentally murdered someone in a brawl, fled to Canada, was forced to move on because of implied women troubles, saved someone from a shark attack, was promised a fortune by someone who died before the will was signed, and generally survived many hard times. So he’s going back to Indian Queens. Sung to guitar strumming reminiscent of the clip-clop sound of horses hooves that lent a bit of a western feel, this song again is pleasantly catchy and wonderfully interesting.

Nick moved on to a rapidly paced fun tune called Has She Got a Friend. Again a marvellously gripping melody, the song reminded me of Seinfeld as its protagonist was just as self-centred and awful, and yet adorable perhaps because it is easy to recognise one’s own thoughtless moments in him. He is bored listening to his friend’s tales of his new happiness and can’t wait to hear what he might get out of it. ‘I’m so glad to hear about the true happiness you’ve found And how your wretched life Has been turned around. I contrive a tear of joy for your empty nights now at an end. But what I really want to know Is has she got a friend?’ Nick filled the floor of Borders with a full sound, fast pace and faultless voice as he delivered this delight.

Sadly, Nick then embarked upon the final song, Let’s Stay In and Make Love. In fact, he was crooning out a classic, or were there any justice in the world, he would be. Instead, too few people will ever hear this song and the amazing She’s Got Soul. The last song, also the closer on the album, conveys the devotion of Chris DeBurgh’s Lady in Red, but his love for his partner is so strong that he is overcome with feeling for her before they go to the dance, and is more interested in that dress—red or otherwise—coming off. Somehow it is more tender, and this exercise in loveliness was a final reminder this evening of what a fantastic, classy voice Lowe has. Like so many of the artists I admire, he is greatly undervalued by the general public, despite being one of the greatest songwriters with a hugely appealing voice. Every one of the reflective songs performed this evening was sensational, each his usual combination of gentle, lilting, catchy melody laced with profound and often humorous lyrics—he is the king of pun, after all.

So after queuing very briefly to get my CD signed (I really feel so embarrassed to be such a goopy fan but it’s always nice to have a word with someone you admire, and the CDs seem so much more special later…), I was looking forward to coming home from my dreary job the following night (the first chance I’d get to hit the stereo), changing out of my Margaret Thatcher suit and enjoying in its entirety my shiny new blue CD that had my name and Nick Lowe’s scribbled across it by the no doubt aching arm of a fellow southpaw. In about eight months, I’ll probably even finish that roll of film and then find a couple of blurred pictures taken tonight from the extreme right, through a shelf, showing only that mad shock of white hair with a few floppy wisps hanging over the front of a barely visible (from the extreme right through a shelf) tip of nose.

Still, even though they are destined to be rotten, those pictures at Borders will be better than the lack of photos I took of Nick at the Paul Carrack birthday gig at the Albert Hall, which haunts me to this day as I was right in front of the stage and desperately wanted a photograph of this Jesus of cool, only to have hideous things go wrong with my camera while he was on stage (he’s not a descendent of vampires, is he?). Not that I need those mementoes to remind me of the incredible talent I’d seen....

Thanks to Borders for providing yet more astonishingly brilliant music. I have bemoaned missing a myriad artists who have been scheduled there over the past few years, yet still managed to see performances by the fabulous Boo Hewerdine with Clive Gregson, the amiable Jools Holland, and the hilarious and talented Glenn Tilbrook—all for free in an intimate setting in a bookstore. I’m certainly not complaining!

Copyright © 2001 by TC. All rights reserved.

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