Born in 1943, in the city of Birmingham, but the formative childhood and adolescent years were spent in the wild countryside of Suffolk and the Cotswolds. His undergraduate years were spent in the study of Physics, but also the violin and piano. During the latter part of his undergraduate years, Cowie also studied painting as an external student at the Slade in London. Throughout this period (1961-65), Cowie began to compose in earnest. In 1964, he commenced composition studies with Alexander Goehr in London. By the late 60’s, his music began to appear in national and international festivals. In 1967, he was awarded a Chopin Fellowship to study with Witold Lutoslawski in Poland. But it was also his friendship with Michael Tippett, that further encouraged him to embark on a musical career that spanned more than music alone.
The 1975 premiere of his Leviathan, commissioned for the BBC Promenade Concerts, placed Cowie firmly on the ladder to a larger public recognition. Since that time, he has been commissioned and featured in major music festivals in the United Kingdom, Germany, Finland, the United States of America, Australia and Japan. In 1984, he was created the first Granada composer/conductor in residence with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, from which point he was invited to conduct major orchestras and ensembles in the United Kingdom and Australia.