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Concert Review by Nick Morgan

St Paul’s Church, Brentford, somewhere near London, April 30th 2010

There’s no doubting the fact that Brentford is a strange place.  It’s almost like an island, bound to the north by the main western arterials leading out of London and to the south, by the meandering River Thames, where narrow channels hide houseboats and long forgotten wharves. 


To the west, the Grand Union Canal sets out on its journey northwards to Birmingham; its starting point, Brentford Locks, now a focus for substantial yet soulless residential developments which are mirrored by the ghastly Great West Quarter by the M4 motorway.  Somehow in all of this is Brentford town, which has a football club and a busy thoroughfare of a high street containing, amongst other things, the renowned Brentford Tandoori restaurant.  It’s only a few stops on the bus from leafy Chiswick yet it shares nothing of the former’s bucolic atmosphere.  That said, it’s not short of history: as an Anglo-Saxon settlement, 'Bregentforda', it pre-dated the formation of London.  It was the site of several bloody battles, the earliest being between Edmund Ironside and Cnut the Great in 1016, the last when Brentford FC hosted Millwall in the FA Cup a couple of years ago.  Jozzer, who was something more than an eyewitness at the latter said there were a good few Great Cnuts sorted out that day too.  And, as any internet site will tell you, it’s not short of celebrities.  Pocahontas lived here, en route for a Neil Young song,  as did the novelist and poet Percy Bysshe (rhymes with, well, I think you can guess) Shelley, and US President John Quincy Adams, trapped on the Heathrow corridor by a volcanic ash cloud that took over two years to disperse.  And no list of great and historic residents of Brentford will fail to name singer and songwriter Nick Lowe, and his manager, former pugilist and co-founder of Stiff records, the legendary and rarely-seen Jake Riviera.  Lowe, I read somewhere, has two houses in Brentford, one where he lives with his wife and son, another where he hangs out with his mates and smokes. And at one time, he used to rent a room at the Turk’s Head pub in nearby Richmond, where he wrote many of the songs on his great albums of the late nineties and early noughties.

Strangely we’re in a church, it’s packed to the rafters, and the bar is doing the sort of business that might well precede the end of the world.  There are some hefty bouncers on the door, but inside, the stewards, identified by luminous cycling arm-bands, have the serene smile of the saved and hand-knitted jumpers to match.  Their spiritual fellow-travellers make up a good share of the audience, along with a smattering of Brentford locals who obviously rarely travel further east for entertainment than the nearby Waterman’s Arts Centre.  Then there are Lowe, Riviera and their mates, and a gang of ageing west London musos, none of whom were ever quite memorable enough to put a name to.  

Nick Lowe

One of them is stupid enough to pour a pint of red wine over Jozzer’s cowboy boots (marginally better, he said, “than the Millwall hot leg treatment”).  It’s only the fact that we’re in a House of God that saved him from getting his lights punched out, what with Jozzer being so excitable due to all the E-numbers he’d consumed in his Chicken Tabar (“boneless pieces of chicken marinated in fresh spice, herbs with ginger, coriander, a handful of green chillis and fresh masala sauce”) back at the you-know-where.  Mark Lamarr is standing right in front of me (it’s only on these occasions that you realise just how tall people are), although he leaves early, I’ve no doubt having secured a last-minute cancellation at the Brentford Tandoori.  And on the stage should be Nick Lowe, but for the moment it’s our ‘hostess’ and organiser of this charity event (“I’m here playing for nothing”, said Lowe later, “and you don’t need to be Vince Cable to know that that is a bad thing”), Helen Martin.  Ms Martin performed, read the announcements, and managed the raffle.  You can read her own review of her own performance here. Very ‘Nuts in May’ I say.

Riviera eventually ushers his boy to the stage; “I’m here two minutes from my own bed; that’s what I call going on the road”.  At first unaccompanied, and then with string bass (Matt Radford) and the impeccable drumming and delicate backing vocals of Bobby Irwin (aka ‘Robert Traherne’), Lowe delivered the sort of set that any Lowe fan would dream of, in a characteristically relaxed country-rock style.  His acoustic guitar playing couldn’t be any different from his urgent bass work: it’s so laid-back as to be almost louche.  And it may be the case that like many guitarists, he only really knows about a dozen chords, but he certainly puts them to great effect, as this format, with very spare arrangements, shows.  Interestingly, you’d be hard pressed to know whether ‘Cruel to be kind’ was written before or after ‘Shaking on the hill’, or ‘I trained her to love me’.  That’s not because there’s a Lowe formula (although he certainly addresses fairly recurrent themes in his songs), it’s just that the songs sound as if they belong to each other, the structures equally mature (or I suppose, if you must, equally juvenile).  Lowe’s voice couldn’t be better (perhaps it’s the church?):  he’s note perfect from start to finish.  It’s a well-judged set, hence his 1983 single ‘Raging eyes’ came half-way through, just in time to encourage the chattering women behind us to dance rather than chatter (or were they reciting psalms?) , thereby avoiding a potentially nasty confrontation with the Photographer.  It was followed nicely by ‘Cruel to be kind’, ‘The kind of man’ (which screams for a Johnny Cash cover), the wonderful ‘Soulful wind’ and ‘Without love’ (which Cash did record).

Nick Lowe

The set finished with a perfectly-timed ‘I knew the bride’, which provoked more dancing, although certainly not of the type that the Devil would recognise.  And after what seemed like time enough to smoke a quick fag or two, Lowe returned to sing ‘I wrote the book’, and of course, ‘(What’s so funny ‘bout) peace love and understanding’, the Curtis Stigers version of which, as Lowe once told us at a previous gig, “meant that I never had to work again”.

It was, as I think they are called, a perfect cameo performance.  And all in a good cause, too.  So if you happen to be in Brentford at lunchtime, why not pop into the Open House Cafe at St Paul’s Church (assuming the Brentford Tandoori is fully booked, as it usually is) for some “food for the body, and food for the soul”? Of course, if you’re at home, or simply not hungry, why not put on a Nick Lowe record instead?  Equally soulful, equally satisfying. - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)

Listen: Nick Lowe on myspace

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