Obituary: Bram Lowe, the Norwich Beer Festival founder and ‘Mr Woodforde’s’
- Credit: Family Collection
His name was Bramwell Wesley Lowe and he was born in Norfolk back in 1934….but he became known and loved as Bram or, as the beer named after him was called, “Old Bram.”
Yes, we have lost a great character who developed COVID19 symptoms and died in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital on May 27. A man some of you reading this will have known for many different reasons.
Bram Lowe lived an extraordinary life…as a musician, a booking agent, bringing some of the biggest rock stars in the world to Norfolk, a landlord, tour guide, “Mr Woodforde’s” and the inspiration behind the first CAMRA Norwich Beer Festival in 1977.
Mention his name to people and the chances are they will tell you a tale or two about the life and times of the boy Bram.
From the stage, from behind the bar or in front of the bar…Bram was a one-off. But he could have been killed when he was just six.
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Born at Hoveton near Wroxham, he remembered standing on Wroxham Bridge in 1940 with a friend when a German aircraft opened fire on them. “My friend shouted to get down quick and we dived for cover under the bridge just in time to escape a hail of bullets,” he said.
Bram survived. Went on to Paston Grammar School and followed in his father’s musical footsteps. His dad was the Bandmaster of the Coltishall Salvation Army Band.
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He learned to play the cornet, trumpet and tuba, and loved his many years playing in the Aylsham Band.
“My love of music continued to be a major part of my life, often playing gigs with various dance bands in the 1950s, including a spell in London, where I got to know many well-known musicians
Including Ronnie Scott, Jack Parnell and Dennis Lotus,” said Bram.
When he visited Norwich he met an old friend Peter Brandish who had been running the Orford Jazz Cellar.
Over the next seven years he, and the great late Howard Platt, brought some of the biggest rock stars in the world to the little cellar along with some great local acts.
From Jimi Hendrix to David Bowie and local favourites The Continentals, Lucas and Garry Freeman & The Contours.
As for The Beatles. They were too expensive at £160. Jimi was only £40.
Bram became a founder member of the Campaign for Real Ale and the first chairman of the Norwich and District branch of CAMRA in 1961 when he ran the Red Lion at Wroxham. From there he joined Broad Tours and became skipper of a giant 100-seater cruiser doubling up as tour guide.
He was the leading light behind the first CAMRA Norwich Beer Festival in 1977 and was the organiser for the first three years.
“Living and working in Wroxham, I became friends with Ray Ashworth. We were both passionate about cask beer and members of the Bystanders Social Club in Norwich,” Bram recalled.
They helped to organise the first Real Ale Beer Festival in the country, which attracted a lot of national interest and plenty of people.
Ray was a keen home brewer living in Acle, and in 1980 he told Bram he was going to start his own brewery and during the next few months they set off visiting Norfolk pubs to sample and investigate the range of beers available at that time.
A tough job! But someone had to do it.
In 1981 Ray and his brewer friend David Crease established a new brewery in Drayton, named it Woodforde’s Norfolk Ales, and the first brew called Wherry was mashed on April 5.
Bram was just the man to promote the beers in his spare time and then, after the brewery moved to Erpingham and following a bad fire, he became Woodforde’s first full-time sales representative.
And then, in 1889, when the brewery moved again, this time to Woodbastwick, he was appointed the sales manager.
He was the perfect ambassador and became known to publicans across East Anglia as “Mr Woodforde’s”
“I have many happy memories of being part of the exciting growth of Woodforde’s Norfolk Ales and took great pleasure in seeing the brewery winning many awards for the beers,” said Bram.
The highlights were at two events at the Great British Beer Festival in London.
In 1992 Norfolk NOG became the CAMRA Supreme Champion Beer of Britain and four years later Wherry took the same honour at the show in Olympia.
Bram, who lived at Thorpe in his twilight years, had been married to Angela and they have three children, Robert, Catherine and Elizabeth.
There are 11 grandchildren… Miriam, Noah, Isaac, Adam, Hannah, Jordan, Jake, Joseph, Samuel, Rebekah and Eleanor.
So let’s raise a glass and, or a cup of tea, and drink a toast to “Old Bram” – he made his mark.
• With special thanks to Mike Betts.
• Coming up. Join us on a journey back in time to the swinging 60s… down those steep little steps opposite Curls (sorry Debenhams) to the awesome Orford…Norwich’s very own Cavern.
A rare honour
There was a special edition Woodeford’s beer named after him by the name of Old Bram.
The pump label bore a cartoon image of Bram holding an ear trumpet (illustrating his legendary selective deafness although he had actually suffered a perforated ear drum). The description, “not too strong, but a little fruity” was perfect.