Night full of high points from Nick Lowe

Nick Lowe.
Nick Lowe.

IN a way this gig is a tribute to someone who’s not even here, though only a handful of people gathered in the sold-out glory of Harrogate Theatre will know it.

But I suppose paying your respects to a late, great local promoter wouldn’t be the cheeriest way to start the evening.

Besides, in the world of rock n roll, the star is the star, not the promoter.

So the show starts and it starts well with a member of headliner Nick Lowe’s band, the keyboard player.

At first Geraint Watkins comes across like a British Randy Newman, dry and sardonic and sneakily intelligent.

Then you suspect he might be the new Jacques Brel, all polo neck moodiness and pretension.

Finally, it becomes apparent this witty Welshman, who omits a low bullfrog-like throat rumble between breaths for effect, is more like the Dr John the Night Tripper mixed with a character from Father Ted.

The mischievous rogue delights in being good, then bad, hospitable then provocative, serious then a bit mad.

As well as first-rate songwriting on display from albums such as 2008’s In A Bad Mood, Watkins reveals himself to be a master of most forms of keyboard music, from r’n’b to boogie woogie, rockabilly to Lousiana swamp rock.

Despite the charming Watkins’ marvellous sense of humour, I think his talented fingers and larger than life personality would prosper even more if they settled in just one place.

There’s no such confusion about tone with Nick Lowe.

The esteemed songwriter with deep roots in most eras of British pop and rock history stretching all the way back to the 1970’s, from pub rock to punk rock and beyond, knows exactly how to present himself and how to handle a crowd.

With flowing white hair like a sprightly old father time, he chats to the crowd like a perfect gentleman.

He takes the time to explain politely why he will be playing so many tracks from last year’s well-received album The Old Magic, as well as others from a songbook as broad as it is long.

Lowe points out that it’s his first ever appearance on a stage in Harrogate but avoids falling into any of the pitfalls about Bettys and poshness that catch out most visiting celebrities.

When he introduces the band he inserts an anecdote about each of them, where he first met them, what they mean to him.

And what a band. What a sound men like guitarist Steve Donnelly and drummer Robert Trehern produce.

Whether it’s country or rock, they put their own simple but sensitive stamp on every track they play.

Highlights are too numerous to list in full but here’s a brief snapshot:

A slowed down, slinky version of Lowe’s hit with Rickpile from 1977, I Knew The Bride (when She Used to Rock n Roll).

An obligatory rendition of his biggest solo hit Cruel to Be Kind.

A deliciusly dark cover of Elvis Costello’s The Poisoned Rose (a lovely version of Alison follows later).

The utterly wonderful Indian Queens from 2001’s The Convincer album.

Even the more recent fayre sounds fantastic, though I must confess I don’t know a single track from The Old Magic.

The man who was once associated with The Damned, now sounds like the elementary roots of British rock n roll, as natural as thunder and lightning, as natural as Carl Perkins or Billy Fury.

Some have compared this likeable Londoner’s current late 50s/early 60s sound to Richard Hawley but he doesn’t wallow in the languid shadows of romantic gloom enough to be compared to that particular modern Sheffield great.

To me, he’s more like Alex Turner’s granddad. At 62, there’s a spring in his step and a hint of mischief in his eye which makes his pre-Beatles approach to music-making sound a little like the Arctic Monkeys at times.

What a charming man. What a cool performer. What a lovely night.

The crowd’s obvious affection for him shines through the stage lights illuminating the red shadows of the darkened Edwardian auditorium.

Back he comes for a series of encores but still the packed crowd wants more.

I’m happy yet sad because this show would never have happened without the work of late, great local promoter John Haxby, or the efforts of his widow Eileen and business partner Mike.

And no one knows.

Still, John would have loved it. I cry, then I smile.

Graham Chalmers