Cruel To Be Kind; The Life and Times of Nick Lowe (Book Review)
In Will Birch’s latest book, Cruel To Be Kind; The Life and Music of Nick Lowe, not only does he tell Lowe’s story but that of Stiff Records and the genesis of power pop. In fact, we get a solid feel for the evolution of Stiff (Jake Rivera and Dave Robinson) being that Lowe and his label were symbiotic for a time. It’s a fascinating story as Birch takes us thru Nick’s school days, early Kippington Lodge, Brinsley Schwartz, Rockpile, solo, and into the Nick Lowe we know today – or thought we knew.
Birch does some incredible research here, speaking with other luminaries in the Stiff solar system; folks such as Chrissy Hynde, Chris Difford, Graham Parker and Elvis Costello. He peels back the onion skin on Rockpile and to a lesser extent, Little Village. And finally, the author spoke with the man himself and Nick did not disappoint, providing some insight into the writing process as well as some engaging commentary.
Here’s what’s especially great about this book for me – Birch had a front row seat back in the day when the Stiff marketing juggernaut was at it’s peak. As the story goes (told to me by John Wicks and glossed over in Will’s book), an early Stiff tour included The Records, for which Will was the drummer. Not signed to Stiff (or anyone) at the time, Dave Robinson asked Will, John and the band to back Rachel Sweet. In those days, Stiff had a revolving lineup, pitting one act against another to compete for the closing slot. And so, they made a deal. The Records would back Sweet if they could play their own set as well. This book is the rare instance where the writer was there – in fact, part of the action.
This, Birch’s third book, could loosely be viewed as a trilogy. His first, No Sleep Till Canvey Island, revolved around many of the same characters, the pub rock scene, and a sham company of sorts called Famepushers. Birch’s biography of Ian Dury, another Stiff luminary, makes a fitting part two. The story of Nick Lowe, the Sun in the Stiff solar system, can be the only logical way to conclude this story. Only one question is left unanswered: Where is Edward Molton?
Cruel To Be Kind, The Life and Times of Nick Lowe is a must for any Nick Lowe or pop music fan who remembers the last time music mattered. Even if you haven’t read Will’s previous books (and you should!), this one is a must read. Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble or Amazon.
In the meantime, enjoy this video of Nick singing his latest single, Tokyo Bay, taken at the most recent Yep Roc label showcase in Carrboro, NC.