17 Jul, 2007 Douglas James Cowan
An emotional day, I write this partly en route from the islands of sun and volcanoes to the land of mist and rain. Less a homecoming, the purpose of my visit is to say a final good bye to a great friend and work mate named Douglas James Cowan who died in Edinburgh last week.
Dougie’s death was brutal in the sense that it came entirely out of the blue, a man in his prime suddenly no longer within our midst, none of us who knew him can believe that anything so dramatic could our would occur to our good friend, especially as Dougie was anything but the dramatic type. He was far too sensible for histrionics.
The genius tab is too often bandied about to the extent that the term has lost much meaning, but within the world of Simple Minds and among all who have dwelled there for any length of time Dougie was certainly considered a technical genius. A gentle giant, he was perhaps the shyest man I have ever come across. He was also the calmest, being totally unflappable even when chaos had kicked in and looked set to takeover.
Cowan first turned up on our radar in 1978 (yes, that long ago!) when we went through from Glasgow to Edinburgh in a dilapidated mini bus, keen as mustard to have secured a support slot opening up the show for the band of the moment – “The Only Ones”. They were very good that night but they were not the only ones, as we ourselves played out of our skins and left the audience howling for more. During that gig I remember glinting over at the monitor desk at the side stage and seeing the tall frame of the boy I came to know as Big Dougie, nodding his head in time to the beat and concentrating thoroughly on providing me with a crystal clear sound.
It was the start of a working relationship that was to last easily more than twenty years, as he became an extension to both Charlie Burchill and Mick MacNeil, working with them through countless tours and recording sessions, making it possible for them to be come the creative forces that they became. Dougie to be honest “baby sat” them through it all and both would readily admit that without his technical skills Simple Minds would have been a much lesser group. No exaggeration necessary!
My sweetest memory was around the autumn months of 1980 when we were driving around Europe in the same style of cramped mini bus but with Dougie now sometime spending hours at the wheel as we criss crossed the continent. At that time we were supporting Peter Gabriel, an honour for sure, but for almost every night of the five week or so tour, we left the stage to resounding boos and jeers. Strangely enough none of us cared about that particularly. The sun was shining, we were young after all, and as a developing live group, we knew we were getting stronger each and every night. We kind of enjoyed the taunts of those who wished to see the back of us. We even enjoyed the hunger of the days spent trying to scramble enough money together to buy a sandwich and frites that would last us through to the next day. I guess it was as if we knew where we were going with our careers and we knew that nothing was going to stop us.
But we were going nowhere in fact, least without a great crew by our sides each and every night and to that extent we relied so much on the skill and support of all around us. In particular we looked to Dougie to ensure us the best technical conditions that would let us perform to our best. Astoundingly he never let us down once in more than twenty years of service.
I am entirely indebted to the people who put their life on hold for months – sometimes years even as with Dougie, and all in order to carry us as we trundle on in our fantastic voyage playing music worldwide. Douglas James Cowan above all dedicated most of his working life to Simple Minds and my fear is that is that I never really made my thanks obvious.
My thanks is massive nonetheless.