Henry Lowther

From Arts in Leicestershire magazine, 2013

Jazz and blues in Leicester and Leicestershire 2012 to 2013

Interview with Henry Lowther

Jazz trumpeter Henry Lowther was born in Leicester in 1941. In our interview, he talks about his early days in Leicester, playing at Woodstock, The Leicester Jazz scene and his advice to today’s young jazz musicians.

Jazz musician Henry Lowther

What are your earliest memories of Leicester?

I was born and spent the first years of my childhood in Boundary Road, adjacent to the old Aylestone Road gas works and some of my earliest memories are of the coal heaps behind the red brick wall across the road from our house and of the Victorian gasometers. As a child, I was fascinated by these and also by the little pannier tank railway locomotives that pulled the wagons of coal about. Another early memory is of a lounge area by the toilets in Lewis’s department store where my mother used to take me. There were two rose coloured mirrors facing each other on opposite walls and these created reflections that stretched images to infinity.

When did you get into music? Did you come from a musical family?

I grew up in a Salvation Army family and from an early age was surrounded by music and musicians. There were brass instrument players on both sides of my family and I was taught to play the cornet by my father. I was so young when I learnt to read music that I can’t remember a time in my life when I couldn’t. My mother also enjoyed listening to opera. My first jazz playing was also in Leicester, playing with students in the Queen’s Hall at Leicester University.

I’m told you played at Woodstock. Which artists do you remember most from that?

I played at the famous Woodstock festival in August 1969, with the Keef Hartley Band. We played on a Saturday afternoon. Whether you played or not depended on whether you could manage to get on a helicopter. We were never included in the Woodstock film because our brilliant (sic) manager wouldn’t let them film us without money up front! What a genius! During the two or three hours we were there I saw Santana and the compere, John Sebastien. The Incredible String Band were playing as we were leaving.

What do you think of today’s Jazz Scene?

It’s often said that jazz is dead but won’t lie down! In many ways this is true but it is also true that jazz is having a harder time than ever these days. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is a lack of interest and therefore a lack of exposure in the media. One possible effect of this is that, with some exceptions, the average age of the jazz audience is now about my age (in my 60s) and young people are not being attracted to the music. Jazz has always been a bit maverick in the sense that neither the media, the music industry, the broadcasters or the Arts establishment can decide what to do with it. Is it high brow art music or low brow light entertainment? Of course, it’s neither or both, some of it is and some of it isn’t. The present Government has not been supportive either, even obstructive, with it’s insane and irrational Premises Licence Act which came into force in November 2005. I know of a number of venues that no longer host live music events because they couldn’t be bothered with the red tape or weren’t prepared to meet the extra costs involved. On a more optimistic note, there are dozens of wonderful and many outstanding young jazz musicians emerging and they all do it for no other reason than the love of the music. In London there are now one or two venues which these young musicians run and organise themselves and, indeed, they are also attracting a young audience. I wish them all well! They deserve to be supported as much as possible.

Did you play any memorable Jazz concerts here in Leicester?

I’ve played in Leicester many times over the years, right back to my teen years, in Salvation Army halls, in the wonderful De Montfort Hall (playing the violin with the Leicester Symphony Orchestra), the old Granby Halls (with Manfred Mann), in pubs and in recent years in the Y Theatre. Perhaps the most memorable gig was 30 odd years ago when I played in the Queen’s Hall in Leicester University with a band called the BBC Radio Leicester Big Band. This was led by Roger Eames, who at the time was a BBC Radio Leicester producer. I was a guest soloist along with saxophonist Alan Skidmore and the brilliant drummer Tony Oxley. We were actually the support band for a quintet led by the legendary American bassist and composer Charlie Mingus.

Your band was called “Still Waters” – are they still playing? What happened to them?

Still Waters is still in existence even though we haven’t been doing a lot recently. We do have a couple of gigs in London in May and will be appearing at the London Jazz Festival in November. This latter gig will also be with the Royal Academy of Music’s Big Band which will be featuring compositions by myself and two other members of Still Waters, saxophonist Pete Hurt and pianist Pete Saberton.

Do you have a message for young jazz players in leicester starting out on their musical career?

Perhaps the most difficult question, particularly after my earlier comments! My advice would simply be to be determined to play, don’t give up, practice and above all to love and live the music. I’m not a romantic about jazz but Charlie Parker said it when he said, “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn!” Also, don’t play only for yourself but remember that there are other musicians on the bandstand with you. Listen, learn from and play with them! On a practical note, at one time I would say go to London because that’s where all the musicians are but now an additional problem is that many musicians can no longer afford to live there so they are now scattered all over the place so there is, sadly, less of a community than in the past.

Find out more about Henry Lowther on Wikipedia.

Author: Trevor Locke

Trevor Locke is a novelist and journalist and formerley editor of Arts in Leicester magazine