Ray Lowry: Cartoonist best known for his work in the rock music press

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Although best known for his distinctive and often rather surreal cartoons for Punch, Private Eye and many other publications – especially in the rockmusic industry – over the past four decades, Ray Lowry also worked as a journalist, illustrator, designer and oil painter.

He was born in 1944 in Cadishead, near Manchester, the youngest of three sons of Jack Lowry, who was employed at the Irlam Steelworks, and his wife Vera (who died when Ray was 16). Lowry left Urmston Grammar School at 15 and started work in an advertising agency in Manchester. He was self-taught as an artist, his first cartoon being published in the Manchester Evening News around 1967.

There then followed a period working in St Ives, Cornwall, and London before he had some cartoons published by the underground magazines International Times and Oz. He turned professional cartoonist in 1969 – contributing to Punch (for which he later also drew covers), Private Eye and Mayfair – and later also drew for The Guardian, Manchester Review, Mojo, Vox, Arena, Tatler, The Big Issue, New Society, Time Out, The Observer, City Fun, The Independent, Loaded and The Spectator, among other publications.

Lowry was particularly well known for his work in the music press, notably in the 1970s and 1980s for New Musical Express, for whom he drew (from 1977) the weekly strip “Only Rock ’n’ Roll”. He also worked occasionally as a music journalist – including (for NME) the first British interview of Cyndi Lauper – and wrote and illustrated a monthly column for The Face for three years. In addition he made a half-hour promotional video with the grunge-rock band Gaye Bykers on Acid and designed the cover for their album Drill Your Own Hole (1987).

Lowry first met the punk rock group The Clash at the Electric Circus in Manchester in 1976, where they were appearing as part of the Sex Pistols’ infamous “Anarchy Tour”. Lowry became friends with the group and was subsequently invited to accompany the group as “War Artist” (in lead singer Joe Strummer’s phrase) on their 1979 tour of the United States.

Lowry later designed the iconic record sleeve for The Clash’s third album, London Calling (1979), illustrated the 1997 bookARiot ofOurOwn: Nightand Daywith The Clash by the group’s road manager Johnny Green (with the journalist Garry Barker), and he also contributed in 2006 to The Clash – Up Close and Personal, aDVD and book set which tells the story of the 1979 US tour. Writing of Lowry’s jokes about the music industry, Simon Frith described him in New Society as “a jaded rock ’n’ roll fan... cynical and angry... Lowry’s real hate-figures aren’t businessmen but the Sunday Times bourgeois pop person”. His other drawings often featured the juxtaposition of historical andcontemporary images, combining, for example, Nazi rallies and Hollywood, estate agents and the Napoleonic Wars, the raising of Lazarus and electrical repairs (“Sorry, He doesn’t do toasters”), and variations on the Titanic and Hindenburg disasters. He had a distinctive, energetic and sketchy style produced using a Gillott nib with Indian ink and wash, signing his work “RLOWRY”, in capitals.

In addition to his cartoon work he was a keen and prolific painter in oils – notably urban landscapes of Manchester, as well as abstract and pop art – and shortly before his death he had completed a series of colour images inspired by the ill-fated 1960 British tour by the American rock ’n’ roll stars Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent.

This formed part of a major retrospective exhibition of all aspects of his work – the first ever – at the See Gallery in Crawshawbooth, Lancashire this year.

Examples of his work are held in the Prints and Drawings Department of the Victoria & Albert Museum, the British Cartoon Archive at the University of Kent and elsewhere, as well as in the personal collections of music and arts celebrities such as Damien Hirst, Patti Smith and the late John Peel. In addition to the See Gallery retrospective he held one-man shows at the Gallery Downstairs, Burnley and the Cartoon Gallery, London, and examples of his work appeared in Punch 150 at the Royal Festival Hall in 1991, Private Eye Times: 1961-1996 at the National Portrait Gallery in 1996, Private Eye at 45 at the Cartoon Museum in 2006, and elsewhere.

He produced three collections of cartoons – Only Rock ’n’ Roll (1980), This Space To Let (1986) and Ink (1998) – illustrated The Penguin Book of Rock &Roll Writing (1992), Rock Talk (1994) and Funny Talk (1995), and designed the cover for Elvis –TheNovel (1996) by Robert Graham and Keith Baty.

Of medium height and slight build, Lowry was clean-shaven with formerly curly brown hair, and spoke quietly with a strong Lancashire accent. Fond of his local Boddington’s beer, he was also very much a part of the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle that featured in much of his work and was, in the words of his friend and fellow Lancashire artist, Liam Spencer, “a kind of punky, maverick, Renaissanceman”. A keen amateur photographer, he also enjoyed walks in the Lancashire countryside with his dog Barney.

Mark Bryant

Mark Bryant Raymond Lowry, cartoonist, designer and painter: born Cadishead, Lancashire 28 August 1944; married (one son, two stepsons); died Waterfoot, Lancashire 14 October 2008.