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Mike Lowe gives us the lowe down on his remarkable audio career

Phil Ward talks to Mike Lowe, who became a director at audio rental powerhouse Britannia Row in 1987

Just as Pink Floyd embarked on their Momentary Lapse Of Reason tour in the late 1980s, Mike Lowe joined the company that had grown out of the band’s ever-growing PA system into one of the world’s leading rental providers. It was the culmination of around 20 years’ experience on the road, beginning with looking after the gear for local bands on his native Merseyside while at school and, a little later, studying at Southport Technical College. He was soon a production manager before production managers existed, and broke into the US with another prog-rock giant…

What was your first little ‘shove’ onto the road?

I’d just got my driving licence at 17 and the drummer in one of the local bands I knew got some professional shows in Germany. They needed someone who did everything – van driver, tech, the whole one-man show. That was me. And during that trip I was offered another one… so I thought I’d do this for a couple of years and then get a proper job. Everything just rolled on from there, and I never did get a real job.

Some might disagree, but we know what you mean… how did it ‘roll on’?

In those days there was no Wigwam or Adlib, so if anyone got anywhere in the music business they moved to London. So that’s what I did, and continued one-man roadie-ing for a variety of acts. One of the first was a bass player and vocalist called Colin Norfield, who became a sound engineer for Pink Floyd. One real breakthrough gig was Emerson, Lake & Palmer, which lasted for about four years and got me into all sorts of scrapes in cahoots with their trucking chief – a certain Mr Bob Kelly. I once managed to wrap one of the huge artics across a roundabout in Zurich, with Kelly fast asleep next to me in the cab…

Are there any other particular artists that linger in the memory?

So many… Pink Floyd and David Gilmour shows are always very special. I count myself to be incredibly lucky to have worked with many of the greats who are no longer with us: Sinatra; Miles Davis; Ella Fitzgerald; Sammy Davis Jnr; Whitney Houston; Rory Gallagher; John Martyn. The list is long.

Which technical development has had the biggest impact on audio?

Electricity – followed by DSP.

What has been your greatest live experience?

Miles Davis starting a show at the Royal Festival Hall playing Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’ on muted trumpet. He began playing acoustically from the dressing room with a barely audible, thin sound that grew in volume as he walked the corridors to the stage. Still playing, he walked up the choir risers blowing his horn into the wood-lined rear wall and side of the stage, which amplified his trumpet acoustically. He then made his entrance and then walked down to the front of the stage. This had not been rehearsed. He worked it out after soundcheck. The only instruction that came out ahead of the show was ‘don’t put my mic in the PA until I hit the front of the stage’. The man was a genius.

It sounds quite a haunting experience…

Not quite as haunting as a show we did at the Albert Hall with Larry Adler in a wheelchair shortly before he died, duetting ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ ‘with’ George Gershwin. Alder was in a single spotlight with a piano keyboard playing itself: some punch tapes had been found from a piano that Gershwin had in his apartment in New York over 50 years before, and Gershwin’s playing had been digitised for this performance. I don’t think Gershwin was ever recorded playing one of his own compositions – just this paper tape.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

Liverpool in the ’60s – it was bursting with creativity, and all with great Liverpudlian humour. The singer for a band in The Cavern one night said in a thick Scouse accent – “We’d like to play a Four Tops number now called ‘Don’t Walk Away Renee’” – as opposed to René. Liverpool being the ‘capital’ of Ireland then, it seemed that everyone had an Aunt Renee, or Irene. The music, the art, the poetry and the humour just kept coming for years, and it was a wonderful part of my life.