About Ray

About the man - written by Bob Dickinson

Ray - photographed by Andrew Farrington

I first met Ray Lowry in 1977, in the offices of New Manchester Review, a fortnightly, alternative, left-wing, news and listings magazine which, mistakenly or otherwise, decided they’d let me write for them. Ray, well known for his work on the New Musical Express and Punch, liked the Review enough to contribute a regular cartoon strip, Only Rock N Roll. Equally hilarious were Ray’s frequent one-off cartoons, which were often placed in the magazine’s Street Life section, featuring political gossip and rumour, on page three. These one-offs contained insightful gems of satire, often aimed slap-bang at the mass-media we all wanted to change. In November 1978, for instance, at the time the Daily Star began printing in Manchester, Ray drew a bunch of cynical old hacks gathered round a large desk, with one of them saying, “We’ve started this paper in the north of England to try and break the Fleet Street stranglehold, to provide much needed jobs for print workers and mainly because we believe they’re dumb enough to buy it up there.”

But the same issue also featured Ray reporting back from a press conference with the Clash, on the eve of the release of their album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope. Here Ray admitted “I just gave up the attempt to steer a conversation. It wasn’t that Strummer was difficult, just that all the questions I’d hurriedly cobbled together just weren’t relevant.” Self deprecating, honest, enthusiastic, but at the same time deeply angry, Ray’s approach to the fallout following punk, became increasingly significant. But as the bleak economic situation in the north got worse, the Review was destined to go bust.

I next encountered Ray on the short-lived Manchester Flash. Those of you with long memories may recall this as an expensive disaster in local alternative publishing, but Ray’s column allowed him to vent his verbal spleen as vehemently as a latterday Jonathan Swift. In October 1981, commenting on rising unemployment under Thatcher combined with the increasing risk of getting blown to smithereens in a nuclear war, Ray asked, “Is this what we really want? Isn’t suicide a much more British solution to our present difficulties? There is, after all, a tradition of working class suicides in this country but nuclear explosions are something alien – a continental style drastic measure, anathema to our long established customs and habits.”  I still wish at some point Ray would publish his own Modest Proposal, or a series of them, perhaps, to address the state of the nation in 2008.

After the Flash, I migrated to City Fun, a post-punk fanzine that had been doing its thing since 1978 and would finally peter out in 1983. And guess whose cartoons they published? Ray’s, of course, and I am fairly sure he will not have been paid for them, because no-one else got paid anything. Fanzines, to be fair, are a labour of love, and are done because their makers believe in them - or believe in them, shall we say, more than the selling of advertising space. But for someone of Ray’s reputation and experience to have contributed his work to City Fun shows you exactly how strongly he kept on supporting the alternative press at a time when social tensions in the UK were to lead to all-out rioting in many cities including Manchester and Salford, including right outside City Fun’s own offices (which are now available, dear readers, as flats, I noticed recently, as I swept past on the bus).

When, in the mid 1980s, the fortnightly magazine, City Life, took up the challenge that had defeated the Review, to produce an events fortnightly for Manchester, it was Ray Lowry who again provided them with regular cartoons – one of which, (“It’s those irresponsible idiots on cloud nine again!”, uttered by an angel ramming a broomstick upwards into the belly of a passing cumulous, on which a party of pissed lost souls is in permanent progress),  I’ve now got framed on my wall.

What I never knew about, till a couple of years ago, was that along with his earlier namesake - the guy with the initials L.S. - Ray also painted, in oils, and in colour. I heard he was working on a series, inspired by Eddie Cochran’s 1960 UK tour, which had culminated in a horrific car-crash outside Chippenham, Wiltshire, which fatally injured Eddie and seriously hurt Gene Vincent and Eddie’s girlfriend, Sharon Sheeley. I saw some colour photocopies from Ray’s project, and they looked amazing. Then, travelling up to Crawshawbooth to look at the body of work from which this exhibition was being selected, I saw other paintings – bright Manchester cityscapes, bacon and egg swastikas, and, delightfully, some stuff indicating a fiery interest in yet another Lowry, the Wirrel-born wanderer, Malcolm Lowry, author of Under the Volcano, that great fictional account of alcoholism, self-destruction, Mexico and magic.

What would it have been like, I wonder, to have had all three Lowrys, Lawrence, Malcolm and Ray, together in one bar-room? Bloody noisey, I expect, but exhilarating.

Bob Dickinson

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