Updated: Oct 10, 2021
When we first booked tickets to see Nick Lowe at Nells’ you could defeat COVID by washing your hands and singing Happy Birthday, Harry and Megan were much loved members of the royal family and buying petrol was a task that could achieved within the running time of a full LP of Nick's songs . If the delay achieved anything, it was to raise expectations significantly for the gig.
I’d never heard of Nell’s. It’s an anonymous club-like space above Sainsburys, just a couple of hundred yards from West Kensington Underground Station. It’s not made many concessions to comfort or luxury, but it handles the sight lines and sound (aka the important stuff ) well. It’s dark inside, and sends out an atmosphere that should reek of stale tobacco and spilled beer but doesn’t. We were seated three rows back from the stage. Slightly above us were a number of tables. Several were reserved, although whether that was by the band or by people with better skills for planning ahead I’m not sure. Between the tables and the bar it was standing room only, but with the crowd here to see Nick Lowe, there was never a danger of it turning into a mosh pit. Knees, hips and other joints would never allow that.
The crowd were there to enjoy a civilised good time. We were, let’s say, of a certain age - the age that says that getting home after midnight on a school night wasn’t going to cause problems the next day.
A small merchandise stall was selling a selection of Nick’s vinyl EPs and ‘Labour Of Lust’ for £20 a piece. It was staffed by two of the friendliest people I've seen behind tables at gigs and, don’t tell Nick, they slipped me a complimentary pack of Nick Lowe postcards. Apparently they’re not the biggest selling line they’ve ever offered!
They also told me what to expect from the support act, CC Adrock. Chaotic, loud and different were just three of the words they used with a smile on their face. They seemed to be looking forward to the effect he had on Nick’s fans in the same way that you prepare yourself to enjoy the discomfort of someone sitting on a whoopee cushion.
CC Adcock comes from Louisiana with his side man Jason. They look the part. In fact they look as if they may have left Louisiana in a hurry, just before the cops came calling. Nick had entrusted these men with the on stage care of his 16 year old son Roy (above), who played drums for them during the set.
All of this set the scene nicely . CC, Jason and Roy played a set of rollicking rockabilly blues. Roy made a lot of noise on the single snare drum just using the brushes. Jason flayed his double bass to within an inch of its life. CC’s guitar howled in accompaniment to his stories of dark deeds and unsavoury goings on in the Deep South. He worked the crowd well and left us smiling, revealing his true personality in his generous support for his fellow band members.
We were here for Nick though and his unobtrusive entry to the stage sent a ripple of anticipation through the club, and a few sedate whoops..
It couldn’t be much simpler. We had Nick, standing under a couple of spotlights on a slightly elevated stage, with an electric acoustic guitar. Out of these basics he fashioned a concert of charm with exceptional songs.
He started with ‘Man That I’ve Become’ and fluffed his lines. We didn’t just forgive him that, we loved him for it. For the best part of two hours - it felt much shorter - he gave us a guided tour of his greatest moments, spanning his entire career. It only served to emphasise that it’s a career where his greatest hits have been many, despite being criminally overlooked by the public at large.
Usually the words you don’t want to hear at a gig are : “Now I’d like to play a few new songs you may not have heard before.” Nick apologised for using them, but the songs he played including ‘Trombone’, ‘Lay It On Me Baby’ and an excellent cover of the Bee Gees / Dionne Warwick song ‘Heartbreaker’ more than held their own. Older songs such as ‘Cruel To Be Kind’ and ‘Heart of the City’ worked particularly well in stripped back acoustic form. Highlights for me were ‘Lately I’ve Let Things Slide’ for the backing vocals he added to his performance, ‘I’m A Mess’ for its hollowed out desperation, and an astonishingly moving version of ‘What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?’ But to be honest you can’t have highlights if you have no low lights and this was exceptional from start to finish.
As the show drew to a close Nick’s voice was beginning to crack. It’s just as well that his songs are well served by a voice oozing weariness and and emotion. He invited the Louisiana refugees and his son Roy back on stage for a rousing ‘I Knew The Bride’ and a Rockpile favourite, ‘When I Write The Book’. They went for it and we lapped it up.
The sign of a good show is that each song hits the spot, it doesn’t flag and you feel you’ve had a rapport with the performers. The sign of a great show is that in addition to all that you’re still talking about it excitedly hours later. If you see family or friends you come over all evangelical so they can share your excitement. You go to bed with tunes buzzing around in your head and when you wake up, new songs from the gig have taken their place. And the next day you’re filled with wellbeing and happiness.
Thanks Nick for a great show.