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Jez Lowe & the Bad Pennies

Word 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.

Jez 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.

No 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.

For 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.

Jez 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 3EW.

Or contact Lowe himself at:

Lowe Life Music
Box 25, Horden, Peterlee
Co Durham, UK, SR8 3YZ

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