NICK Lowe once penned a song called When I Write The Book. Thirty-odd years later, we’re still waiting. Elvis Costello may have recently published his own voluminous memoirs, but his old partner in crime isn’t remotely tempted to follow suit.

“Having to tell my own war stories fills me with despair, really,” Lowe sighs. “Actually, the writer Will Birch is doing a book about me. I sort of disapprove of it. Partly because I think that ship has sailed, but also because I think it’s the kind of thing that should come out only after you’re dead.”

Plenty of fans will beg to differ. One of the finest story-shapers in the business – both in song and at the back of the tour bus, where his legendary yarns became known admiringly as "mile-melters" – Lowe’s life has hardly been shy of incident. A committed combatant in the pub-rock, punk and new wave wars, solo and as part of Brinsley Schwarz and Rockpile, he also produced Costello’s early run of classic albums (“Oh, I just waved my arms around and told a few jokes,” he insists.)

His hits include Cruel To Be Kind, So It Goes, I Knew The Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll) and (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding – the latter delivering a million-dollar windfall when it appeared on the soundtrack to the 1992 Whitney Houston vehicle, The Bodyguard. For a period in the 80s Lowe was Johnny Cash’s son-in-law, after marrying Carlene Carter. He later pledged fealty by writing the pitch-perfect The Beast in Me for the Man in Black.

Now 68, Lowe dismisses much of this with a self-deprecating sigh. His attitude to his career is “very mixed."

"Mainly I’m filled with regret, I think. Missed opportunities and wasted time and things like that. There are some opportunities I haven’t let slip, I suppose. I’ve met some great people, and not only worked with them, but in some cases become friends with them as well. I don’t know if pride is the right word, but that’s a source of pleasure, certainly.”

He tends to give the past short shrift, but in recent years Lowe has, at least, reached an amicable accommodation with his current status as an urbane elder statesman. With his glasses, grey quiff and sensible suits, he projects the weathered, slightly mischievous elegance of a gentleman safe-cracker. Not for him the dyed hair and inadvisable trousers of the ageing rocker, nor the indignity of trying to keep pace with the latest trends. His stock-in-trade has become soulful, understated and beautifully crafted standards, rooted in early rock and roll and country.

“You know, John Cash said to me once, ‘What you have to do, Nick, is be yourself.’ And I was really disappointed! I thought, Man, the old be-yourself routine? Can’t he do any better than that? But John was dead set on this. He said, ‘You have to embrace the things that are wrong with you. Don’t try and hide them, it’s all part of you.’ At the time, it went in one ear and out the other. Now that I’ve become one of these old gits, of course, I really get it. You have to present yourself in an elegant a way as possible. Once you do that, people will listen to what you have to say. They can sniff a wrong ’un, especially if you’re trying to project a certain kind of soulfulness, and sing songs which have an element of truth about them.”

It works. Lowe was a highlight at last summer’s Southern Fried, Perth’s annual festival of roots and Americana music, where he performed with Paul Carrack and Andy Fairweather-Low. “It went down a storm,” he admits. “They really did like it, us knocking out the hits and a few obscure country tunes.” As with most things Lowe does, playing with the trio is much harder than he makes it appear. “It’s a lot of fun, but to get it good you have to really bear down on it. There was some talk about us trying to do a record, but writing new songs is a completely different deal.”

Lowe’s most recent album, Quality Street, came out in 2013. It may well prove to be his last. “You can always change your mind, but I sort of feel that I’ve done enough of them now,” he says. “The records that I know how to make are incredibly expensive – you need a real studio with real musicians. That’s why nobody does it like that anymore. You can make a pretty decent record in your bedroom now, and many people do. ‘Pretty decent’ is the new sh**e!”

There’s another reason. In the past three years, Lowe has lost several close collaborators, among them ex-Faces organist Ian McLagan, drummer Robert Treherne, and co-producer Neil Brockbank. All were dear friends. “The people I play with seem to be dying all too rapidly at the moment. That’s part of it. The grim reaper has been so hard at work around me lately, and my little gang are heading for the exit doors.”

He continues to write, collaborating regularly with songwriters in Nashville, including a recent session with the Black Keys’ singer, Dan Auerbach, which yielded one keeper. “I always stick a couple of new songs in the show, just to show people that I’m concentrating, but I must say the urge to tell people something seems to have left me. Even if it was something people already knew, to find a way of putting it in a song that they’d never heard before, that used to be great fun. It was something I’d spend a lot of time working on. Well, that urge seems to have gone.”

His energies are required elsewhere. Fatherhood, rather late in the day, and a settled second marriage have played havoc with his work-life balance. “When I go off on tour, it takes me two weeks prior to that to turn into the bloke who does the shows,” he says. “If I put the wrong plastics in the recycling bin, my wife always says to me, rather tartly: ‘You’ve already left, haven’t you? You’re not here anymore.’ And she’s sort of right, because the guy who does the shows can’t do the bins. He doesn’t know how to empty the bloody dishwasher or how to take the kid to football – and he’s not remotely interested in doing it, either.

“Then when I come home from tour, I get bollocked for not getting the right thing from Tesco. I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve just got back from having my back patted and told how bloody marvellous I am. Give me a break here!’ The older I get, and since the boy came along, it takes a great deal of effort to change backwards and forwards. Unless I just want to be a terrible dead beat, of which there are quite a lot in the musical world. Deadbeat dads! All of that definitely has a bearing on how easy it is to create anything new.”

The "boy" is Roy, Lowe’s pre-teen son. “He’s really musical. He has a pretty good voice, but his main thing is the drums. He’s turning into quite a useful little drummer.” His dad is open to Roy’s musical recommendations – up to a point. “Some of them are really great, but a lot of it just sounds like compressed washing machine noise.”

Lowe returns to this year’s Southern Fried alone: just one man and his guitar, and a bunch of songs which, he admits in a rare display of satisfaction, are an awful lot better than he often allows.

“When I do my solo shows, you can’t fill out the sound like you do with a band, so they’ve got to be good songs. There’s no fat at all. It’s quite amazing that things I wrote when I was a kid, when I didn’t really know what I was doing, are actually very good. Things like Without Love, which John [Cash] recorded. I sometimes think, 'Bloody hell, how did you manage that? It’s pretty good!'” He’s getting carried away now; time to rein things in. “Of course, it was written at the same time as lots of other old nonsense that didn’t get off the ground at all…”

Six Nick Lowe albums, spanning 1982-1990, are released digitally via Yep Roc today. He plays Perth Concert Hall on July 28, as part of Southern Fried and Kelvingrove Bandstand, Glasgow, on August 10 with Paul Carrack and Andy Fairweather Low.