August 28 1944-October 14 2008
When Ray Lowry, who has died suddenly aged 64, designed the cover of The Clash’s third album, London Calling, in 1979, he effectively gift-wrapped several artworks in one package. First up was the music, played by a band who’d transcended their original punk beginnings, and who Lowry had accompanied on an American tour as what band leader Joe Strummer referred to as their ‘official war artist.’ Next was Pennie Smith’s blurred photograph of bass player Paul Simonen smashing his instrument onstage in New York. Smith had originally not wanted the picture used, and it was Lowry who persuaded her to sanction what’s now regarded as one of the most iconic rock n’ roll images ever. Finally, Lowry’s pink and green lettering, which emulated that on Elvis Presley’s first album, put everything brilliantly into historical context.
It was a history Lowry was steeped in, most notably in his one-frame cartoons in the New Musical Express, but also for a disparate set of publications. These included The Face, Private Eye, Punch, The Spectator, Manchester fanzine City Fun, New Society, Arena, The Spectator, Tatler and Loaded. Newspaper work included The Observer, The Guardian and The Times. Lowry’s palette was broadened for each outlet, his work maintaining a satirical scatological blur that bridged the counter-culture by way of early contributions to Oz and International Times.
Born in Salford, and raised by his widowed father, Lowry, no relation to Salford’s other artist of that name, was wooed by the first wave of slick-haired rockers who shook up the post-war urban landscape. He worked in ad agencies in Manchester and London, and experimented in abstract painting. London was swinging, and the counter-cultural doors were open for left-field talents like Lowry. Work with Oz and IT led to the underground influenced music press. By the time he met The Clash, who were supporting The Sex Pistols at Manchester’s Electric Circus, Lowry was an NME staple. He filed ‘visual reports’ from the 1979 tour that were awash with distinctively Swiftean flourishes.
Lowry was the next step on from fellow Private Eye contributor Gerald Scarfe, though not as grotesque. Nor was he as crazed as Hunter S Thompson associate Ralph Steadman. Lowry was more down-beat, his single frames capturing the beer-spilt grottiness of the back-room dives which punk made its adopted home. Lowry captured recession-era social mores with a dry bar-room philosophy mouthed by jaded by-standers caught in the rock n’ roll crossfire. Three collections were published; Only Rock and Roll (1980), This Space to Let (1986) and Ray Lowry - Ink (1998). A DVD and book, The Clash, Up-Close and Personal (2006), commemorated Lowry’s time on the 1979 tour. He also illustrated Johnny Green’s book, A Riot of Our Own.
Latterly Lowry lived as un-punk an existence as you could imagine in Waterfoot, a village in the Lancashire Rossendale Valley. While he still drew, towards the end of his life Lowry concentrated on painting, as seen in a recent exhibition at the See Gallery in Crawshawbooth, Lancashire. Other work was inspired by Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent’s ill-starred 1960 UK tour, during which Cochran was killed in a road crash. Both men were immortalised with a form of rock and roll mytholgy Lowry himself has become part of. Lowry, who was found at his home, is survived by his ex wife Christina, and his sons, Sam, Joe and Damian.