In 1976 Nick Lowe produced the first homegrown punk single released in the UK. Getting the jump on the Pistols & the Clash the Damned released “New Rose” in October 1976. Nick was the in-house producer for a new independent label. His “bash it out…we’ll tart it up later” approach matched the “if it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a f*ck” shibboleth of Stiff Records. It was the first release by the label, Nick Lowe’s debut solo record, which had invented “New Wave” music.
I had seen the final tour by Brinsley Schwarz in 1975. Still playing small clubs at the end of a long road, Nick had had enough, the band were as good as they had always been but “Basher ” was openly dismissive of any over-enthusiasm on the part of the audience. Before co-founding Stiff Dave Robinson had managed the Brinsleys who’s final LP “New Favourites of…” had been produced by Dave Edmunds. Lowe & Edmunds hooked up in Rockpile, so Nick was operating with a circle of friends. “So It Goes” is a crafty classic. Nick had written them before & would continue to do so up to right now. The band went along on the Live Stiffs tour in 1977. the single, “I Knew The Bride” , backing Larry Wallis on “Police Car” & off to the bar, leaving the hard graft to Costello & Dury. He was having fun again & the music was the better for it.
“So It Goes” was how musicians who were too old to be punks reacted to an injection of energy in British music, (the part played by cheap amphetamine sulphate should not be overlooked). There were other writers of well-crafted songs who knew that catching the zeitgeist of 1976-7 required a bit of oomph. Nick Lowe was a busy man in 1976. (Well, 6 months before I used the Z-word. Pretentious, moi ?).
Two of Nick’s former band-mates had joined the backing band of a singer from London managed by Dave Robinson. (This is getting a little incestuous). Graham Parker & the Rumour’s first LP, “Howling Wind”, produced by Nick Lowe, was released in April 1976 & it was pretty good. The Dylanesque sneer of Parker’s cynical lyrics were boosted by some tough & assured backing with a touch of R&B from the Rumour Horns. The Village Voice placed it at #4 in their 1976 best album list. It was not even the highest Graham Parker on the list.
At #2 was “Heat Treatment”, a 2nd LP from 1976. Lowe was too busy & Mutt Lange produced. It is a good record & “Pouring It All Out” must have been a single because it’s a terrific song. Was it a better LP than “Howling Wind” ? Answers at the bottom of this post please because I don’t know the answer to that. I got to see GP & the Rumour in 1977, the “Pink Parker” tour. The band tried a shot at the charts by covering the Trammps “Hold Back The Night”. It may have been that the band had been playing the same set for a year or it may have been that Southside Johnny & the Asbury Dukes absolutely rocked the house & stole the show. This was not just at the Birmingham Odeon but across the country. Parker hit a bump for a while, that early catalogue of songs could only take him so far. He & the Rumour would be back.
Joe Jackson was a classically trained musician who had worked as an arranger for cabaret bands. He saw the way the wind was blowing & his first 2 LPs, both from 1979, were stripped back & punchy. With the backing of a big label & a fine line in self-deprecation both “Look Sharp” & the single “Is She Really Going Out With Him ?” were successful in the USA. I saw Joe play in Manchester in 1979 when the first LP had just come around (Man, I got out & about in those days). He had a great trio behind him & put on a great show. There was a touch of artifice about the arrangements. That touch of reggae, those dynamics, but I mostly remember a really good night out.
“I’m The Man” is the title track of the 2nd LP. You can see that it’s a showpiece song. I was impressed by the lyrics in 1979, a lovely idea that those crappy crazes, from the yo-yo to “Jaws” are all invented & manipulated by the same evil spiv. I’ll buy that.
Joe used to live round my way in south London, we would nod to each other in the local shop. He played around with reggae before whipping out his jiving jazz roots. Like Nick Lowe & Graham Parker there was more fine music to come. I think that I have not finished with these guys yet.