M: The Style and Substance of Nick Lowe

The pop music genius has managed to age gracefully in an industry that makes a fetish of youth.

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Nick Lowe in the seventies.

Photo By Everett Collection/Rex USA

Appeared In
Special Issue
Menswear issue M Holiday 2013

Lowe and the boys played in less-than-stellar fashion at the Fillmore, only to be followed by Van Morrison, who blew them off the stage. The journalists soon shed their hangovers and lit into the band and the publicity stunt. A headline in Melody Maker summed up the response: THE BIGGEST HYPE OF ALL TIME. Even the London Sunday Times weighed in with a piece on the dangers of hype. And so the great gambit had backfired, rendering Brinsley Schwarz something of a laughingstock. (You can read the full version of this cau- tionary tale in the book No Sleep Till Canvey Island: The Great Pub Rock Revolution, by Will Birch.)

In reaction to the public failure, Lowe went in the opposite direction. He and his bandmates rented an old house and lived communally over the next few years, much like their heroes in The Band. They toured relentlessly and played regular shows, for a much-reduced fee, in humble London pubs such as the Tally Ho. While other acts of the day were conquering audiences with bombast and flash, Lowe and his bandmates turned down their amps and won a reputation as the quietest group on the circuit. Little by little, they earned back their integrity.

Even with his band today, Lowe favors a low-volume approach. “We’re so into the idea of making stuff swing,” he said. “People may think it’s a bit comedic, but we really like that element. It’s impossible to swing loud. We’re not inaudible, but it’s something you can do only if you can hear one another. It sounds great, to be playing a rock ’n’ roll song kind of quiet.”

Throughout his low-key career—with the exception of his early-seventies communal years, when he went all shaggy—Lowe has maintained an elegant look. And unlike some other rockers of his generation, who hit the stage in tight garments similar to what they wore in their heyday, he now cuts a refined figure when he performs.

“People don’t really take dressing seriously anymore,” he says. “They dress for comfort nowadays, but it’s perfectly possible to dress smartly and be comfortable, without looking like what I describe as ‘dadsy.’ Most of the time, I do try to put in a bit of effort and look well turned out.”

When he was starting in the sixties, before the ill-fated New York jaunt, he was a fashionable young man, indeed. “I was an enthusiastic mod,” he says. “Someone we really admired was [jazz musician] Gerry Mulligan. His look was just fantastic. It was an Ivy League look, polo shirts with three-button collars or a knitted sweater. That kind of garment, worn with loafers. And it was incorporated with a European style—French- and Italian- style suits with thin lapels, slopy shoulders, and not much padding. It took quite a chunk out of your wage packet. I still like it, though. It’s an ageless look. I find I still like that smart, casual look—and now, of course, I can afford to buy clothes of that quality.”

The style matches the man: understated, casually elegant, and immune to passing trends.

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