Nick Lowe at Rough Trade East
Nick Lowe is no stranger to small venues, nor to the small crowd of devoted fans who gather on the shop floor of Rough Trade East to hear selections from his new Christmas album Quality Street. Although his legacy may be in the songs he has written for others, most notably (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding made famous by Elvis Costello, he has produced a number of successful artists, released a steady stream of albums over the years and is a regular fixture on smaller stages across the country.
The gig consists very simply of just Lowe and his guitar. He opens with the first track from his seasonal album, Children Go Where I Send Thee, a rockabilly take on the popular, bible-infused spiritual. The song is well-known for being performed by Johnny Cash (who was Lowe’s father-in-law), and there is something of Cash in Lowe’s performance – the rich acoustic guitar, the stripped back sound reminiscent of Cash’s American albums, the crooning voice, even if Lowe’s is an octave or so higher.
After the first song he attempts to distance Quality Street from being merely an attempt at cynical Christmas commercialism: “it’s a sleigh-bell free zone” he says, “and it has a long shelf life – you can use it next year and the year after that….” It seems that none of the songs have been written (or covered) with the express intention of making money or begetting a Christmas hit. They always hold onto a sense of humour – like Lowe’s second song Christmas at the Airport (“don’t save me any turkey / I found a burger in a bin”) and the child-friendly North Pole Express about Santa’s rocket powered sleigh.
The set ends with a cover of I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, minus the bells, the children’s choir, the glitz and glam-rock outfits – minus everything except Nick Lowe and his guitar – and the result is just as seasonal as the original. He has a strong voice, a cheerful manner and enjoyable songs: everything about the short performance, not least the fact that it is free, reminds the audience that Christmas does not need to be gaudy, kitsch or wrapped up in consumerism and money-making; what’s more important is the message, even if it is something as trite as spreading a bit more peace, love and understanding.
Photo: Giovanni Gallucci
For further information and future events visit Nick Lowe’s website here.
Watch the video for Christmas at the Airport here: