Thanks so much to Simon Howles for the interview! I wrote about The Lowthers not so long ago and Simon was kind enough to get in touch and answer all these questions immediately. Sit down, and read about this obscure Manchester band from the late 80s, a band that included Roger Quigley from The Montgolfier Brothers.
++ Hi Simon! Thanks a lot for the interview. Were The Lowthers based in Manchester? Where are you based now?
The Lowthers were indeed based in the Manchester/Salford area, which is where I still live.
++ Was The Lowthers your first band?
The Lowthers were formed by the merger of two other bands. I was in a band called The Pop Stars with Frank (the guitarist) it was just the two of us and we only did one gig and a couple of demo tapes. The other band was called Of That Ilk from which Roger (drums) and Julian (bass) came. They got as far as supporting the Fall at a couple of shows. I knew Roger from college and when his band lost a couple of key personnel who went away to study at University, he suggested pooling our resources. I seem to remember me and Frank had already discussed amongst ourselves that this might be a good idea anyway, so it all fell together from there I think.
++ Why the name The Lowthers? Were there any other names that you considered?
The Lowthers were minor characters in the soap opera Coronation Street – Dr and Mrs Lowther. I think we were trying to tap into that Northern “kitchen sink” ethic that The Smiths used to great effect. It was difficult not to be influenced by the Smiths in mid/late eighties Manchester. The Lowthers line-up actually did a couple of gigs as Of That Ilk before we came up with a name that we were satisfied with. I think I decided I disliked the name pretty quickly after we changed it…I suspect the rest of the band did too. It’s not a very original name.
++ Who were the members of the band and how did you knew each other?
As mentioned already there was me and Fran, who lived near one another in South Manchester. I knew Roger from art college and we shared a liking for certain bands (mainly the Smiths). Julian was quite young and answered an advert for a bass player for Of That Ilk…I think…I’m not not sure. He left after about 6 months, as I think his parents thought that rock and roll wasn’t a good career move (good advice) and was replaced by Brendan. Brendan knew Frank somehow…I can’t remember where he knew him from.
++ What other bands from your town did you like at the time? How was the scene back then?
Manchester had a very healthy music scene in the eighties. If you liked indie music, it was arguably THE best place to be at the time. Personally I liked The Smiths, New Order, James, Stone Roses, Railway Children, Easterhouse, Laugh, The Fall, Happy Mondays etc. When the Lowthers started things were very much indie, but by the time we finished the beginnings of what would be rather dubiously tagged “Madchester” was starting to take shape.
++ How come you didn’t have a proper release?
No one fancied putting a record out for us, quite simply. We didn’t have a manager to take care of that side of things, and so concentrated on sending out our pretty shoddy demo tapes to various local labels. I remember pestering Playtime records – Paula (who ran it) damned us with faint praise and said we sounded like a poor quality Smiths…which we did much of the time. I think…and this is me reaching into a memory that is pretty vague…we were looking to build a following but we never quite had the momentum behind us.
++ I do know at least a friend of mine that owns a demo tape of yours. How many demo tapes did you made? Do you remember those recording sessions?
I’d be interested to know what is on your friend’s demo. I can’t remember how many demos we did. We went into the studio a couple of times, but we also recorded some demos in Rogers front room. I remember a review in the Manchester Evening News (they did a local demos review section) describing one as sounding like it was “recorded in a lake”. I can remember the two studio sessions – Mark E Smith funded the first one and showed up to offer an opinion. The second one was right at the end of our time as a band, and I remember it was done as a three piece, with me switching to guitar and vocals.
++ I wrote about you not so long ago on my blog, especially championing the song “Sylvia”. What a song! Was it based in a real Sylvia? What’s the story behind this song?
You’d have to ask Fran about that, as he wrote that one on his own. Myself, Fran and Roger all wrote songs…occasionally collaborating, but that one was music and lyrics entirely by Fran. If I may offer any insight into it at all, I would say that it’s in that same tradition of haunting songs as “Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” or “Yes It Is” inasmuch as it’s a “hymn to an other-worldly woman” – I don’t really want to offer any more than that as I believe it’s probably quite personal to Fran.
++ And how come you appeared on the “The Disparate Cogscienti” compilation that Mark E Smith was putting together?
Roger lived on the next street to Mark Smith in the Sedgley Park district of Manchester. My recollection is that he would pester him. Hence our description as “Fine British Mitherers” – I understand that the word mither isn’t well know outside these parts, but it basically means to pester, annoy, bother etc…
The NME review described us as the “only half decent thing” on the compilation…more faint praise! It also mentioned us being out of tune…which we were. And I think it’s too fast as well…
++ Aside from that you participated in the “Are You Ready” tape compilation with “Whoose Afraid”. How did that came about?
Now that I really don’t remember. Whoose Afraid was one of mine, although I’ve no idea whether the spelling of Whoose was intentional or not. It was recorded in the studio session when we were a three piece, I’m pretty sure of that.
++ You also sent me another song called “Loyalty”. Where did that song appear?
I’m not sure it ever saw the light of day beyond the band’s inner circle – as we collapsed shortly after it was recorded, so I’m not sure how it ended up on the internet. That was one of Roger’s tunes, although the original arrangement was much slower (and better in my opinion) but we disco’d it up a bit after spending a few weeks re-evaluating the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
++ How many more songs did you have? Which one was your favourite?
We had about a dozen songs…maybe more. There’s some I’m sure I’ve forgotten. I always liked playing Sylvia, Whoose Afraid and Loyalty. There was one called Up Out and Away which I liked, What’s Wrong With Jumping? was our usual live opener, and at the last gig we did a tune that I titled Rhombus which I liked because it had a bit of a groove to it and grooves and beats were coming in by that point. Sadly no live tape exists of that final gig…well if it does, I don’t have it.
++ You played some gigs before disbanding. Which gigs were your favourite and why? Any particular anecdotes you could share?
I enjoyed the last gig we did, simply because I remember we played well. We did a gig at York University which was quite funny – doing the whole “band on tour” stuff for the first time, getting a dressing room, and a rider (four cans of bitter) and larking about having photos taken on the campus. The first gig was did as the Lowthers was a real horrorshow as we were out of tune really badly. Guitar not tuned to the bass and me singing somewhere in between. Added to which, the other bands we played with had a loud and rowdy following that heckled us – we shouted back that the bands that they had come to see were shit. One of those bands was The Milltown Brothers, who went on to be quite popular, although I still maintain the opinion that I held about them when I was shouting on stage that night.
++ When and why did you decide to call it quits? Are you all still in touch? What did you all do after?
We fell apart through a whole load of petty shit that involved girlfriends and other teenage jealousies. Fran voiced an opinion that my singing wasn’t as good as it should be, so that may have contributed as well. Fran left the band, I tried to keep us together as a three-piece but it fizzled out. Me and Fran remained aloof for a couple of years, but we became good pals again without really acknowledging what had happened. He still records tunes, and I’m still in touch with him, but don’t see him as much as I should. I’ve kept in contact with Roger and even done a fair bit of music with him. He’s a very talented musician and records as Quigley, At Swim Two Birds and the wonderful Montgolfier Brothers – very popular in Spain and France I believe. He’s on Spotify if you’ve never heard his stuff – I even played trombone on one of his numbers. I’ve been in various bands since those days – a good live band called Lovewood that did a lot of gigs on the local pub and club circuit, and I was most recently showing off my drumming skills in a Joy Division tribute band (Joy Diversion – we’re on youtube somewhere)
As for Julian and Brendan – I have no idea, but I wish them well wherever they are.
++ Are you still involved with music? Do you have any other hobbies?
Yes, a little bit… see above. My other hobbies involve being a dad, reading history books, watching history documentaries and enjoying a good pint of bitter beer.
++ Looking back in time, what would you say was the biggest highlight of The Lowthers?
I suppose the highlight was just making music, being on stage, following my dream for a bit. The fact that the fame and fortune that I hoped for back then didn’t come along was definitely a blessing. As I’ve got older and read all the books by and about other bands I’ve come to realise that I would have hated it…loved it at first, but then really really hated it – I would’ve been a casualty that burnt out messily. So I’m glad that I dipped my toe into the water a tiny bit…I’m happy with that.
++ Let’s wrap it here, thanks a lot Simon. Anything else you’d like to add?
It’s been a pleasure remembering. I’m glad that you enjoyed the songs – we could have really used more people like yourself at our gigs.
The Lowthers – Sylvia