Reviews 2010

Woodman Folk Club - Reviews

Jez Lowe

7 May 2010

Trevor Durden

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The visit of Jez Lowe to the Woodman is (almost) an annual event that is looked forwards to with great anticipation. It was therefore with a spring in my step and a Jez Lowe song or two going round in my head that we took our seats to await the big event.

As ever, it fell to the resident artists to warm up the audience and Keith Judson, Bryn Phillips and Nothing To Prove did admirable jobs. Keith is so polished and accomplished that he surely should be given a feature night in the not too distant future. Bryn reintroduced us to a couple of old friends “That ‘Aint No Way to Stop a Train” and “Little Red Rooster”; both songs completed with sound effects provided by the Woodman faithful. Nothing To Prove offered “A Little Time” “The White Hare” and “Put Out The Lights.”

And so to Jez Lowe! 

Quickly establishing that we were in a singing mood the set kicked off with the highly topical “Will Of The People” which preceded “Small Coal Song”. I don’t recall having heard this before but it is a song about miners gleaning the small bits of coal from the seam for very little pay. The song has a haunted quality to it with the by line “This small coal will be the death of me!” Staying with the coal-mining theme the next song “Bare Knuckle,” dealt with the struggle of the workingman to overcome oppression. 

The Ewan MacColl Radio Ballads of the late 50’s and early 60’s spawned many great songs and just to prove that good ideas stay good ideas, the concept was resurrected in 2006. Jez was heavily involved in the project and the next song he gave us was “Taking On Men” This came from “The Ballad Of The Big Ship” and tells of the dream that shipbuilding might just return to the Tyne.

“The Ballad of Tusker Jack” (A mighty big man. What did happen to the foreman?) was the next offering before singing one of his best known songs “The Bergen”. “The Bergen” was a ship from Finland that sank off Tees Bay at the turn of the last century and the song is a lament by the widow of one of the seamen. “Gulls Eye” kept the nautical theme going before the first half finished with “The Vikings”. This is a great song with some very clever lines and basically tells of the relationship that exists between Scandinavia and the North East of England (“The accent strikes a chord)!”

Following an (over-long) interval we settled down for the major attraction. However I did not win the raffle so I had a little sulk until Jez was ready to restart.

The ever popular “Old Bones” started the second set to be followed by the wonderful “Last of The Widows Of The Duck Bill Seam. In 1951 an explosion ripped it’s way through the Duck Bill Seam at Easington Colliery; 53 men lost their lives leaving 53 grieving widows and families. There are echoes of Eric Bogle in the song (year after year their numbers get fewer) and so it is. The song is a lament that is made so much more poignant as Easington is Jez’s home village.

Staying with the mining theme Jez then gave us “The Judas Bus” that was born from the miners strike in 1984/5. The Judas bus being the transport used to take the non-strikers into the collieries. “We’ll Hunt Him Down” a song composed for the Darwin Project preceded “Greek Lightening.” This is a song of very much mixed sentiments. It starts out as a song of hope but descends into despair. – You promised to show me Greek Lightening and so my heart it was easily won! 

The evening was galloping on and without a great deal of preamble we were into “It’s A Champion Life” from yet another project (Winter Almanac) and then “Darling Of The Daughters” a song of sibling rivalry that arose from a Radio 4 project about Grace Darling. 

All too soon we had reached the final song for the evening and what better song could he offer than “High Part Of The Town”? This is a very vivid picture of life in the colliery village when Jez was growing up and some of the families around him. The lustily song chorus ensured the set finished with a bang. 

And so on to the inevitable encore! It would have been so easy for Jez to give us “Durham Jail” or “Latch Key Lover”, but typical of his professionalism he gave us a brand new song “The Ex Pitmen’s Pothole Pub Quiz Team”. He tells us this will be on his next CD. I can hardly wait.

Another fabulous Woodman night comes to an end and we wend our weary way home with a Jez Lowe song still going around in our heads.