20th August 2016
Willowfield Church, Belfast

There was a time, when the thought of Nick ‘Basher’ Lowe, the doyen of 70s pub rock, playing solo acoustic in a place normally reserved for prayer, would have been laughable. But on Saturday night in Willowfield Church, East Belfast, that’s exactly what we got. And it worked. Beautifully.

Nick Lowe has somewhat reinvented himself over the years from the bass playing roots rocker with Brinsley Schwarz, Rockpile and his “Jesus of Cool” days, to a purveyor of sharply scripted torch songs. From high energy rock’n’roller to a wonderful laconic crooner. While we were treated to songs from the man’s 40+ year career, it was the very relaxed later persona that dominated the night.

First up, A nod to Ken Haddock who provided an excellent opening half hour set, including his own lovely ‘The Day That Never Came’ and a great cover of Bruce Cockburn’s ‘Southland Of The Heart’. A timely reminder from Ken that his Supper Club has been running for twenty years in the Empire, on Botanic Avenue, and a fine way it is to spend a Sunday night.

At 9.00 o’clock, onto the stage walked a smart but casually dressed Nick Lowe, from a door normally reserved for the minister, and got straight to work, with two songs from his more recent albums – ‘People Change’ and ‘Stoplight Roses’.

Nick apologized for a late change of venue from another church, suggested that his acoustic guitar could not have competed with a marching band competition, due to be held near the first church. Willowfield Church, he further assured us had softer seats. This easy going engagement set the tone with the audience for the night, who perhaps intimidated by the ecumenical setting, (or the lack of a bar) seemed a little restrained, even reverential, in keeping with the surroundings, I suppose, but a bit quiet for a Nick Lowe gig.

A few older tunes followed, ‘Ragin’ Eyes’, ‘What’s Shaking On The Hill’ and ‘All Men Are Liars’, which contains the classic couplet –

Do you remember Rick Astley? He had a great fat hit, it was ghastly.

Nick’s forlorn search for a true love continued with ‘Until The Real Thing Comes Along’ and ‘Has She Got A Friend’. The slower delivered soul and country-tinged songs seemed to suit his soft croon extremely well.

A moving tribute was paid by Nick to an old friend and feted Irish guitarist Henry McCullough, who sadly passed away in June this year. He then played an emotional version of Henry’s ‘Failed Christian’ suggesting that anyone having difficulty squaring the song with the setting in a church, should “take it up with Henry” and wishing them “good luck with that.”

I’m a failed Christian, I don’t go to church
I smoke and I drink, and I lie and I curse.
It never got to me, your sermon and all.
You talked and talked, about nothing at all.

Our affable host continued with his best-known song, the classic ‘Cruel To Be Kind’. His brisk jaunt though his glorious back catalogue proceeded with the gorgeous ‘House For Sale’ and Rockpile’s ‘Without Love’.

Next up, a great version of a song that remains as relevant today as at any time since it was recorded 42 years ago, ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding’. Another song with a certain resonance in the Church Setting ‘I Knew The Bride’ finished the show on a high.

A two song encore of ‘When I Write The Book’ and the beautiful Elvis Costello penned ‘Alison’, which Lowe produced, along with the rest of ‘My Aim Is True’, and the night was gone.

So an excellent night of a lot of highs and one Lowe, of song and music from a master pop craftsman, amidst beautiful surrounding, with soft seats.

With more evenings such as this, I might spend more time in church.