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Arts & Culture: Let’s all celebrate the inimitable Andy Lowe

The U.K. transplant didn’t grow up in Northern Ontario, but for decades his songs have celebrated the people and the landscape of his adopted home
Sudbury musician and songwriter Andy Lowe started as an actor, but soon found a love of music. He came to Sudbury to star in a play at Sudbury Theatre Centre, fell in love (with the city and a woman) and stayed to live and write songs about the North.

He can sing just about anything, from sea shanties to The Beatles, but the songs he wrote and sings from the heart are the ones often requested when Andy Lowe plays at Fionn MacCool's on Thursday nights.

Sudbury Performance Group is planning to celebrate Northern Ontario stories with his songs such as "Albert & The Slag Pour," and "Hard Rock Miner" in a production called "No Fences" next January.

You can watch a video of Lowe performing below.

"It is exciting to have a musical about us," said the affable minstrel who has been captivating audiences for decades. 

And he feels like he's just getting started. His enthusiasm has never waned. 

"I have enjoyed being a musician because I enjoy playing in bars, making songs about the North. I never made a fortune, but I made enough to be happy."

He takes joy from meeting people from near and far as a regular performer at the Killarney Mountain Lodge where he has performed for the past 23 summers. He also entertains passengers from the Viking Cruise's Great Lakes Explorer when they stop at the resort town.

They like to hear Canadian songs by Gordon Lightfoot and Stan Rogers, he said.

"I have made all sorts of friends from all over … I am part of their holiday."

In between gigs, Lowe keeps busy enjoying life, taking walks in the wilderness with his wife, Stacy, and their three dogs, writing songs and recording them in his home studio.

He still has family in the U.K. and tries to visit his mom and siblings at least once a year. 

Lowe, who trained as an actor at the Guildford School of Acting at the University of Surrey near London, was hired in 1984 by Sudbury Theatre Centre (STC) artistic director Tony Lloyd for a role in an Agatha Christie mystery, "The Unexpected Guest." 

Then something unexpected happened to him. He liked Sudbury, fell in love, and stayed.

"I met this girl in Sudbury. I really like the town. I liked the size of it. I liked the people. I was struggling in Toronto, and I was offered a gig at the Fox and Hound" pub, which was located across from the theatre.

He performed at the STC in a number of productions, but by the mid-1990s, decided to pursue a career as a musician. Rather than be at the mercy of a director, he could be his own boss.

In 2006, Lowe was asked by Gordon Slade, a former Falconbridge president who had once worked as a shift boss, to write a northern song about the men of the deep.

Lowe wrote "Smiley's Crew," about the men who worked with Slade. Smiley was Slade's nickname. 

“The miner's life is not for everyone
It's a job that's for the hardy and the strong
May your lamp forever shine when you work down in the mine
Like the boys I'll sing about here in this song
Smiley is the super as you know
The Cheshire Cat gets help from Finger Joe
Stuttering Angus and Michigan Bill tell us where to muck and fill
And Billy the Bitch tells us where to go”

"Smiley's Crew" won first prize in the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame songwriting contest.

This past December, Lowe released a Christmas song, "Happy Now It's (Christmastime)" featuring Allan Walsh on saxophone. You can watch and listen to the song on Facebook.

"I would love to get Michael Bublé to record that one," said Lowe. "I had been wanting to do one but it is not as easy as you might think to write a Christmas song."

He wanted to steer away from clichés and instead "weave a song with words and music” about the way Christmas makes people feel.

“Once again it's Christmastime
Watching Hallmark movies, sipping mulled wine
Wrapping presents; put 'em round the tree
Maybe there's a special one for me
Celebrating with our family and friends
It's so wonderful to be with them again
Sending love to you and yours
Oh I'm so happy now it's Christmastime”

"I got wonderful feedback from my friends. It got a lot of views in a very short time,” Lowe said. “It is nice as a musician, when you write a song, that is means something to people."

When asked about the high point of his career, he is quick to answer. One of many highlights was attending a concert at Westmount Public School to hear a Grade 5 choir sing his song, "Bound for Northern Ontario." 

“I'm bound for Northern Ontario
For the maple leaf and the falling snow
For the lakes and rivers and the open road
I'm bound for Northern Ontario”

"I was the proudest person at that time. Years later, a guy came up to me in Killarney. He said, 'You're Andy Lowe. Can I buy you a pint?' I asked how he knew me and he said he was in that choir."

Does he have any advice for young performers?

"The audience is on your side," he said. "It took me 30 years to learn that. Once I accepted that, my performance anxiety almost disappeared. It changes the dynamic. I can just relax and not worry about making mistakes. I wish someone had told me that when I started.

"You love the applause and the laughs but getting up in front of people can be very difficult."

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer. Arts & Culture is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.