Ken Lowe gives us the low down on his life before and with Cool Connection.
“Don’t just sit there mulling over your past working life”, they said on the retirement course, – “find something you can do or something you’re interested in and get out there and develop it!”
The year was 1999 and I had just had a redundancy / early retirement deal from RSA which meant I could happily kiss goodbye to full-time employment, although I continued part-time for a couple of years on a consultancy basis. I had joined the Group in 1969 at the Thames & Mersey Marine office in Manchester and finished in the Overseas Underwriting Department in Horsham as Marine Technical Manager. The Department was closing down.
Having thought about this excellent piece of advice, an obvious choice of something to develop was my music. I had played the piano since a young age and had piano lessons for a few years during my early schooldays in Stockport but I was not well motivated, largely owing to the boring pieces my teacher gave me to practise. I had reached only Grade Three in the piano exams. However I went on to study Music to A-Level at school and learnt about musical theory, including chords. At the same time I taught myself to play pop and jazz tunes by ear on the piano, and armed with the newly-acquired knowledge of chords, started to add accompaniment below the tunes. I was particularly keen on jazz at the time (and still am) and particularly enjoyed listening to the great female jazz singers and to the musicians in the background who accompanied them on their records.
Although choosing a career, earning a living and subsequent family life led me in a different direction, I still sometimes played my favourite jazz tunes on our old piano at home, as a way of winding down after a day at work. Later on, after we had moved from Stockport to Horsham, I sometimes played piano or organ for services at the church that my family and I attended.
Fast forward to 1999 and with my new-found freedom and spare time, I looked for ways in which I could develop my music further. At that time I would never have imagined that in a few years time I would be accompanying a superb female vocalist, playing in hotels, pubs, restaurants, and yacht clubs, releasing albums and earning not-unreasonable extra money in the process.
I first came across a weekly gathering in Crawley called the ‘12-Bar Music Workshop’. This was (and is still) run by a talented multi-instrumentalist called Jim Pitts and was attended by, generally, 30 or so local musicians who brought their instruments and jammed along to tunes (mostly of the 12-bar blues variety) under Jim’s guidance. Using a
borrowed a keyboard at first, I soon bought myself a Yamaha electronic stage piano, which I still use today. Joining this group was invaluable, not only in learning to play alongside other musicians, but in gaining contacts in the local music scene.
Scratch bands were formed among the Workshop musicians to play for various functions, I was invited to act as deputy pianist in a local dance band, (Firefly) and a group of us formed a band, calling ourselves The Everglades, to work in a studio, rehearsing and then recording a group of songs written by one of the members. This was all superb experience, equipping me for what came next.
In early 2003, the kids having all left home, my wife Angela and I moved from Horsham to Seaview, Isle of Wight, where we had spent many happy family holidays. Although this meant a break-away from the Horsham / Crawley music scene, I felt reasonably confident that it wouldn’t mean the end of my musical activities.
A few months after we had moved and settled in, I started to look for opportunities. There was no equivalent of Jim Pitts’s Workshop on the Island, so eventually I decided to place a postcard ad in a music shop window. On that same day I had a phone call from a local guitarist who had seen the advert. We started to get together for jam sessions and he introduced his friend, a lady singer. We built up a set list and played a couple of concerts in a church hall and one or two gigs. A drummer (Roger) also joined us.
As often happens in bands, people came and went and a couple of years later I was working with Roger and a different singer, calling ourselves ‘Shades of Jazz’. We played locally on alternate Sunday lunchtimes in various venues but after a while, we parted company with our original singer.
Roger and I knew immediately who we wanted as our new singer. Queenie had sung with us a couple of times and we were really impressed by her natural style, superb timing and warm, distinctive voice. We were delighted when she agreed to join us and we re-formed the band as ‘The Cool Connection’ in May 2006, broadening our repertoire and playing
smooth jazz, blues, latin, soul and various contemporary and standard dance numbers as required.
Things started to take off on the gigging front and we were booked by some of the up-market Island venues. A saxophonist, Ian, joined in for occasional function gigs. About a year after we had formed, drummer Roger left needing a break from gigging. Queenie and I found that we could operate effectively as a duo and this widened the market amongst smaller venues and pubs. This seemed to suit everyone as we could still perform as a four piece when needed alongside the duo.
Many people asked us for CDs at gigs so we started doing some recordings and before long produced two album CDs for sale at gigs, ‘Just The Two Of Us’ and ‘Feeling Good’, each of 12 tracks. These were our first set of covers , then Original Cool followed – our
first attempt at writing our own material. We continued to record more albums including a collection of Sade song covers, ‘Licence To Love’ and “Cool Blue,” a set of blues numbers. Since then we have gone on to record five original albums and numerous covers marketing our own songs successfully to international artists.
Our repertoire has widened considerably and now approaches over 500 numbers, to include covers of songs sung by a wide range of artists, – everyone from Billie Holiday to Amy Winehouse, Paloma Faith and Nora Jones as well as Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra. We also add several instrumentals such as Senor Blues, Softly as in a Morning Sunrise, So What and Take 5.
One old song which we have covered since Day One is ‘Fever’, which we originally played in the style of Peggy Lee. In the middle of a pub gig, Queenie and I had the idea of doing a different version, to a more ‘funky’ rhythm. We performed our new version there and then, unrehearsed, and decided to record it as soon as possible to capture its spontaneity. I sent a copy to our local commercial radio station, Isle Of Wight Radio. It was played on their Sunday Night ‘Live And Local’ show and the presenter commented on how much he liked it. This and other favourable comments prompted us to try it in the downloads market and the track which we call ‘Fever’d’ has been released for purchase on ITunes, Napster, Amazon, Nokia and various other download sites. I have arranged further radio promotion on local / internet stations .
With the various activities of arranging new songs, working on our originals, rehearsing, promotion and marketing, not to mention the gigs themselves, music now takes up a lot of my time. I am enjoying every minute of it and sometimes think that one day I will wake up in the middle of a gig and it will all have been a dream. We have a huge amount of fun making music for ourselves and others to enjoy.
Many of our own compositions have been aired on radio in America Europe and the Far East and we have had songs covered by established international artists like Amanda Lear..Film tracks are in the pipeline as well as tunes for adverts and we have recently been invited to play at Ronnie Scott’s..So things as you can tell have moved on considerably for us!
See and hear us on www.coolconnectionmusic.com, Sound cloud, Face Book
and download sites and check out our musical ‘Galleriy’ compilation We are available for functions on the Isle of Wight, UK Mainland and abroad.