Article by Danny Hill
I'll only keep you half an hour,' I promise.
'That's good - I have to be somewhere for eight,' Andy Gower agrees.
There are few local artists that have been around as long as Andy Gower has. And now, as the singer-songwriter pushes forty, he has decided that the time has come for him to hang up his guitar for good. This news has sent shockwaves through the local music scene, with hundreds of fans and musical contemporaries alike expressing their wishes and cheerios in bucket-loads, many through courtesy of his MySpace page.
'There's been so much of a response it's unreal. I've had pages upon pages of emails - people from all over the place.' Gower is characteristically relaxed, and any preconceptions I may had had that Gower's early retirement from the music parlour is all just a simple flash-in-the-pan, have all but evaporated.
This particular impression, however, is not without precedent. Gower is no stranger to periods dwelling in the live music wilderness. During the late 90s, after playing in numerous bands, Gower then decided enough was enough. It wasn't until he hit his thirties, playing privately for a few friends, that he rediscovered his thirst for live music. Since then, Gower has gone from strength to strength - his act culminating in Radio 2 airplay with the catchy This Town, plus earning plaudits from TalkSport's James Whale ("like a musical Lowry") as well as lending support to acts up and down the country such as The Lightning Seeds, Stephen Fretwell, Paulo Nutini and Scott Matthews, amongst many others. Impresssively, he has earned comparisons to Billy Bragg and Noel Gallagher for his rythmic, melodic, acoustic-guitar playing and singing style.
Gower is not simply a part of the furniture of Stoke's burgeoning music scene, he is the Grand solid oak armchair at the foot of the dining-room table, a song-writing/performing tour-de-force that any city would be proud to call their own. What I wanted to know, along with many others, is this sudden departure really true, or just another flash-in-the-pan?
Apparently not, Gower explains. 'Ultimately, it just feels like the time is right to stop,' Gower says. 'I also want to stop while it's good. I do have good memories, I've had a bit of success, played some amazing gigs. I just want to keep it like that and bow out now.'
Andy is nostalgic as he remembers the early days of his solo career. 'I remember one of my first solo gigs at The Sugarmill - I was halfway through one of my songs and was sure we were undergoing on-stage sound problems. It wasn't until I realised people were singing back every word that I realised what was going on. That was quite a moment.'
Gower refuses to look back in regret, or to rue missed opportunities. True, his album I Live & I Wonder shifted hundreds of copies locally, and he may have been unable to replicate this sales-shift further afield.
'It's a shame not many more people are going to get to hear it,' he says. 'It's a shame there's not many people selling records these days on the simple basis that they like your music.'
But fame and fortune has never been too heavily on the singer's agenda. For Gower, it's not about chasing the dream - for him, the dream has all been about embracing the opportunity to do what he loves doing, and few would argue, that he's actually quite bloody good at it.
Andy Gower's love of music is apparent as he talks animatedly of current acts around the area, including The Sport (formerly Agent Blue), who I mention I haven't yet seen. 'You should go see 'em,' he enthuses. 'Great songs. Great band.' Here's To The Atom Bomb: 'Good lads, they've just released an E.P.' and The Control (a band I admit I'd never heard of). 'They've only done about two gigs,' he adds. 'Loads of energy and attitude. The lead-singer's only fifteen - he's still in school!'
Gower is also the owner of the Tremolo Rehearsal Rooms in Stoke, that holds regular showcases at The Sugarmill. The next is scheduled for July and will feature new acts such as Rumour Has It and Dressed To Kill.
As for the future, Andy dismisses the idea of a final gig. 'I feel these things are done for the artists' themselves and not for the fans. The idea sounds a bit cheesy to be honest.' But don't write him off just yet. 'I'll still be around, now and again… Once a year, maybe, if somebody asks me.' Ironically, the day after Andy announced his news, the one and only Ocean Colour Scene were in touch with an offer of a support slot. 'It was tempting,' he says, smiling. Which only serves to confirm what I have come to believe - this time Andy Gower really does mean to bring the curtains down.
And who is set to grab the Andy Gower mantle? He laughs at this. 'Who knows? It's up for grabs.'
And what, I ask, is the important appointment for eight o' clock that Mr Gower must keep - the England match? An exciting new band? 'Nah, it's Springwatch, mate, with Bill Oddie init? I never miss a show.'
Some things, it seems - much like the music of Andy Gower - are sacrosanct.