Lowe has visited Australia twice since 2009, each tour very different from the other. In 2009, he tagged along as a bass player for old friend Ry Cooder, stepping up to do a few of his own tunes as part of Cooder’s set. In 2012, Lowe returned to Australia with the band he’d toured and recorded with for many years. But sadly, in 2015, his longtime drummer Bobby Irwin died of cancer. Then in 2017, cancer also cruelly claimed Neil Brockbank, who had co-produced Lowe’s records and was a constant companion on the road as tour manager and sound engineer. Both were devastating losses for Lowe.
“The three of us were extremely good friends as well as work colleagues. We were very, very close,” says Lowe. “To lose them one after the other like that was quite a blow.”
It would take four men in Mexican wrestling masks to lure Lowe back on the road. And they – American guitar instrumental band Los Straitjackets – are joining Lowe in Australia next month for his Quality Rock and Roll Revue show.
The tour’s name echoes that of Lowe’s most recent studio album, 2013’s Quality Street – a Seasonal Selection for All the Family. Yes – a Christmas album. But if anyone can make a festive fist of it, it’s Lowe. Quality Street became a success “to everyone’s surprise”, he says, with typical self-deprecation.
How could it not be? His trademark dry humour is there in Christmas at the Airport, a gem told from the perspective of a fog-grounded traveller. “I should be at the table/ with all my kith and kin … don’t save me any turkey/ I found a burger in a bin.”
“I was very pleased,” says Lowe of the album’s success. “Last year I went into a Starbucks and [Christmas at the Airport] was playing on the Christmas muzak tape, in between Johnny Mathis and Tony Bennett.”
The Quality Rock and Roll Revue is a mix of Lowe’s older and newer material. When I last spoke to him in 2009, Lowe said he was trying to train his audience off his older material because he felt some of the songs were “a young man’s thing”. Has playing with Los Straitjackets enabled him to revisit some of those songs?
“Yeah we have actually,” he says. “I can do a lot more Stiff Records stuff with the Straitjackets. They’re really great musicians; they’re a proper rock ‘n’ roll group, so we don’t have to play really really loud to make it sound cool and swinging. It’s that really loud thing I can’t do any more – I never really liked it even at the time, to tell you the truth. But the audiences all went for it.”
To date, Lowe and Los Straitjackets have released two live albums, one EP (Tokyo Bay) and a new single, Love Starvation. Playing with the masked musicians has started to influence Lowe’s songwriting, as evidenced by the Shadows-like groove of Love Starvation.
And as much as he may not like it, it’s likely the older Lowe will continue to influence another potential up-and-coming artist, in his son, Roy.
“I think he wants to be in a band for a while, but I don’t think he’s got any sort of thoughts that it’s how he wants to make his living,” says Lowe. “But music is his main interest. I’m hoping he’s going to grow out of it and decide he wants to be a plumber or something, so he can make some real money.”
Nick Lowe’s Quality Rock and Roll Revue is at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney on February 16; Forum Theatre in Melbourne on February 18; The Tivoli in Brisbane on February 19; Astor Theatre in Perth on February 21; and The Gov in Adelaide on February 23. Tickets and more information at pottsentertainment.com.au