Lowe & the Bad Pennies
of Jez Lowe's extraordinary cycle of songs from Northeast England
has finally begun to percolate among North American folkies.
Brits and Europeans have been quietly celebrating Lowe's genius
(a word which, in this case, is no exaggeration) for years.
For instance, Lowe's lilting, wry account of life Back in
Durham Jail has been covered by no less than 14 acts. Lowe
himself has put out, by my count, 10 albums in the UK. Throughout,
his depictions of life in the coal towns of County Durham have
remained fresh, tuneful and, by turns, funny, angry and poignant.
It is uncanny.
Lowe comes by his delightfully thick Geordie accent naturally
(the temptation to break into parody of Lowe's northern vowels
is pretty much irresistable). But being born in Durham has
given him not just a distinct accent, but a distinct geographic
sense of tune: somewhere south of celtic but north of English.
Lowe's melodies don't quite sound like anybody else's. Yet
they sound like tunes that have been sung for years.
less than the tunes, Lowe's lyrics seem hued in the pits and
polished in the pubs, a splendid illusion for a songwriter
to pull off once or twice in a lifetime. Lowe has done it
again and again, re-creating northern coal-town life with
a cast of characters worthy of Dickens. There is, for instance,
Kid Canute, a 55-year-old, duck-tailed rocker still
living in the 1950s, 40 years after the fact; there is the
honeyman - what did they call those guys? - euphemistically
working on the Midnight Mail, who complains, "I might
have been a policeman, but I knew my father's name"; or the
Last of the Widows of the Duckbill Seam, finally "walking
with her miner lad again." Jez truly does write folksongs.
the last few years, Jez Lowe has toured and recorded with
The Bad Pennies (Bev Sanders and Billy and Bob Surgeoner).
The band's melodic, counterpuntal arrangements complete the
cycle of worthy lyrics set to infectious tunes, skillfully
performed. A sample of Jez Lowe and The Bad Pennies can be
heard on Old folksinger's pick, the cassette.
Lowe has one CD, Tenterhooks, available in North America
on Green Linnet (call 1-800-468-6644). Firebird Music in Portland
OR, USA, has re-issued another, Bad Penny, which was
first released in the UK in 1988. It stands up well. (To contact
Firebird Music, write PO Box 14785, Portland, OR, USA, 97214.)
A half dozen other albums are as good, but unreleased in North
America. They are, however, available from Lowe's longtime
British label, Fellside, in Workington, Cumbria, UK, CA14
contact Lowe himself at:
Box 25, Horden, Peterlee
Co Durham, UK, SR8 3YZ