Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Jez Lowe & The Bad Pennies

Live: The Courtyard, Hereford

by Ian Mann

January 10, 2007


There was nothing earth shattering about the music but this was uncomplicated fare that harboured no such pretensions.

The Courtyard, Hereford - 4th January 2007

The first Nightjar Folk Club event of 2007 featured an evening of enjoyable music from North East based singer/songwriter Jez Lowe and his band. Lowe hails from Easington, Co. Durham and is fiercely proud of his roots. Most of his songs are written from a distinctly regional perspective and despite several humorous topical references reveal a nostalgia for an old North East that has by and large disappeared. Lowe himself is a strong singer and competent guitarist and also an engaging personality. His main musical foil is Kate Bramley who plays five-string violin and shares the vocal duties.

The line up is completed by two frighteningly young looking performers. Andy May plays the Northumbrian pipes which add to the authentic feel to Lowe’s compositions. The versatile May also doubles on whistle and accordion and contributes keyboard textures on some numbers. David Delahay’s fretless electric bass holds down the bottom end of the arrangements and he sometimes expresses himself by means of a satisfying low register growl. Lowe also features himself on other stringed instruments (mandolin etc.) plus harmonica.

The group kick off with the up tempo shuffle of “Latch Key Lover” with Lowe accompanying himself on harmonica and May on whistle. “Sugar Water Sunday” a description of an old Durham custom follows before May switches to pipes for “Will Of The People” a stirring ditty about a working class hero from West Hartlepool.

Lowe’s song “London Danny” has been covered by Fairport Convention. North Easterner Danny has made his fortune in London and returns home to find his girl has married someone else. The song is written from the threatened husband’s point of view. As Lowe puts it it’s “Jolene” for hard drinking Geordie blokes. Levity aside it’s very effective as is the achingly sad “Greek Lightning” a vocal duet with Bramley that also features May on accordion. Mike Harding considered the song too sad to play on his programme on Radio 2!

“Another Man’s Wife” is the mirror image of “London Danny” being written from Danny’s perspective.

Kate Bramley delivers a solo vocal performance on “The Waltzer” a song about travelling fairs. She shows herself to be a competent if unspectacular singer in addition to being a fine fiddler.

Lowe then undertakes the first of a number of mining songs “Cursed Be The Caller” before winding up the first set with the romping “High Part Of The Town” with it’s humorous lyrics.

The second half commences with the rousing “Back In Durham Gaol” whilst “Vikings” takes a wryly amusing look at Northumbria’s Scandinavian heritage.

Speculating on what the Vikings would think if they were re-incarnated in the modern world Lowe throws in some amusing and satirical modern cultural references and social comments.

The reflective “Regina Inside” is another solo vocal performance from Kate Bramley. It relates to the irony of the Queen’s visit to the North East following the pit closures of the 80’s and the end of a way of life.

Andy may then treats us to his solo spot a set of tunes played on the small pipes commencing with “Paddy Fahey’s Reel”. He is a very talented young man but not quite in Kathryn Tickell’s class yet.

“Fancy Goods” is a vocal duet between Lowe and Bramley and features some fine country style fiddle from the latter. Its something of a novelty song and amuses in a live context but you wouldn’t necessarily want to listen to it at home.

Two more mining songs follow, the poignant “Last Of The Widows” and the gritty “Black Diamonds”. Both are excellent.

The closing “Young Men Propping Up Walls” passes comment on the unemployment problems of the North East past and present.

The audience at this well attended event in The Courtyard’s studio theatre call them back for an encore. Although the audience participation in the choruses wasn’t all that Lowe would have liked the crowd were clearly attentive and appreciative if a little restrained. Lets face it- it’s Hereford, its January and most of us were sober.

The encore was the simple and charming “The Soda Man” a wistful tune based on a children’s skipping rhyme.

The audience went home happy. It had been a pleasant and entertaining evening in the company of the affable Lowe and his band. There was nothing earth shattering about the music but this was uncomplicated fare that harboured no such pretensions. At times I felt Lowe overplayed the archetypal hard drinking Geordie stereotype and some of the humour and bonhomie in the faster songs seemed a little forced. Many of his best lines came in the chat between the songs.

Overall the pacing of the show was good with the right mix of fast and slow, humour and pathos. The most memorable songs though were the slower, more emotional pieces such as “London Danny” “Greek Lightning” and the mining songs that were at the core of the evening. Although this was music with a social conscience there was no heavy political message and the band’s main motive was to entertain. This they did in a cheerful, unpretentious and value for money show.

blog comments powered by Disqus