Hugh McDowell, ELO Cellist, Dies at 65

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Hugh McDowell

The cello player at the heart of many early Electric Light Orchestra live performances, Hugh McDowell, has died, according to several online reports. His passing, on November 6, 2018, was confirmed by his former ELO bandmate, Mel Gale. McDowell was 65. He performed on the band’s recordings throughout the mid-to-late ’70s as they ascended the worldwide albums and singles charts.

Gale, a fellow cellist in the group, wrote on his Facebook page on November 7: “I’m sad beyond words to have to pass on the news that my old friend and fantastic cellist Hugh McDowell passed away last night after a long illness.

“We met in our mid teens and were close until we left ELO in 1980. He was a beautiful free spirit, had such a natural gift as a cellist and just a lovely bloke.”

McDowell was present at the very first ELO concert, which took place on April 16, 1972, at the Greyhound Pub in Croydon, Surrey. The lineup at that time consisted of Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne, Bev Bevan, Bill Hunt, Andy Craig, Mike Edwards, Wilfred Gibson, Richard Tandy and McDowell.

McDowell left ELO within the band’s first year and joined Wood in the latter’s new group called Wizzard, but returned to ELO after a short time. He then stayed with the group for several more years, credited as Hugh McDowall on the band’s 1974 album, Eldorado and on their 1975 follow-up, Face the Music. By 1976’s A New World Record and 1977’s double-LP, Out of the Blue, his surname was spelled “McDowell” in the credits.

Related: The inside history of ELO

Watch McDowell play a cello solo with ELO in 1978

Hugh Alexander McDowell was born July 31, 1953, in Hampstead, London, and began playing cello as early as age four. At 10, he won a scholarship to the Yehudi Menuhin School and he began performing professionally shortly thereafter. McDowell attended the Kingsway College of Further Education, the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and played with the London Youth Symphony Orchestra, the London Schools Symphony Orchestra, National Youth Orchestra and London Youth Chamber Orchestra.

ELO’s Face the Music, one of the albums featuring McDowell’s cello

McDowell as 18 when he accepted the invitation from ELO leader Lynne to join his new band. After his brief time with Wood in Wizzard, McDowell returned to the ELO fold and stayed in the group until 1979, until Lynne decided to stop employing a string section. McDowell later returned one more time to perform with Electric Light Orchestra Part II in 1991.

McDowell continued to play with various groups and classical music ensembles after leaving ELO, and guested on recordings by Mel Gale, Asia, Geoff Downes, John Wetton and others. He also did arrangements for various artists and worked on film, dance and theatre projects. He was also involved with computer programming and created a music composition program called Fractal Music Composer in 1992.

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3 Comments so far

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  1. Yoque
    #1 Yoque 9 November, 2018, 15:39

    Sad news. Two small corrections. 1. Hugh was 18 when he first joined ELO. As the article says ELO’s debut concert was on 16 April 1972 (the same day I turned 7). Hugh turned 19 in July. 2. Out of the Blue was released 1977, not 1978.

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  2. Fayez Abedaziz
    #2 Fayez Abedaziz 16 June, 2019, 13:51

    Hugh was a great talent, a seriously talented musician and he will be missed by us.
    He was also a good guy.
    He played and helped bring Jeff Lynne’s great compositions to life. Rest in peace, my friend, we will always remember you.

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