The lead singer of the band British Sea Power, Yan, reveals why he loves Lowry, the man and humanist - daily tragedies and all

Yan British Sea Power

Yan of the band British Sea Power, whilst on tour

It wasn’t until I read a biography of Lowry around a decade ago, that I really came to love Lowry a lot, rather than quite like some of his peculiar paintings. I was, I think, reading about Rothko at the same time and who seemed in comparison a much less fascinating figure. I expected the Rothko biography to be far more illuminating than the Lowry one. It wasn’t. Lowry’s life seemed a very unusual and fascinating story with great depth and intrigue, both magical and everyday.

He seemed a kind of Morrissey figure with his apparent lack of sex and his dwelling in daily tragedies and apparent deformities, only more humble. A kind of cheekiness mixed with sadness and an eye for how the world really was. I was drawn to the way he persisted, despite what to most would have seemed like a very bleak artistic future, and to how he seemed immune to pompousness. I suppose he was very northern which I can understand too [Yan grew up in Natland, a small village on the edge of the English Lake District].

To me, Lowry also has a wonderful and deceptively simple way with words, with quotes like ‘I am not an artist. I am a man who paints’, and:

It’s the battle of life - the turbulence of the sea I have been fond of the sea all my life, how wonderful it is, yet how terrible it is. But I often think, what if it suddenly changed its mind and didn’t turn the tide? And came straight on? If it didn’t stay and came on and on and on and on. That would be the end of it all.

He seems to sit somewhere between gritty everyday life and a kind of surrealism without either being compromised by the other which is a rare talent. Reading his quotations, I get a similar enjoyment to reading those of Oscar Wilde or even possibly more strangely listening to Frankie Howerd. 

I like this description of him by his friend and fellow artist, Sheila Fell, which seems to apply to both him and his work equally well: ‘A great humanist. To be a humanist, one has first to love human beings, and to be a great humanist, one has to be slightly detached from them.’

L.S. Lowry Blitzed Site 1942

L.S. Lowry
Blitzed Site 1942

© The Lowry Collection, Salford