Jez Lowe & The Bad Pennies – 26th January 2023

It’s been getting on for six years since Jez Lowe and his compadres played Baston – April 2017 to be precise and date/calendar nerds will also recall previous visits back in October 2014, June 2012 and February 2010. In fact Jez has probable earned a Baston long-service medal or, at the very least, a season ticket.

At the start of 2023 things are gradually returning to normal. Hopefully Covid-19 has been consigned to history and the traditional January delights of an albeit slightly slimmed-down Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival and frozen fenland skating fields have returned. However weather conditions have thawed over the past few days, so much so that tonight we had as warm and pleasant evening that could be wished for.

Jez’s collaborators are the Bad Pennies – Kate Bramley on a classy green fiddle, versatile Andy May on Northumbrian pipes, whistles and keyboards and David de la Haye on bass. Not only are the Bad Pennies fantastic musicians, they all have other lives. Kate Bramley is a theatre director, previously with Hull Truck and now with her own outfit Bad Apple Theatre Company (note the ‘Bad’ theme here!). Andy May not only plays Northumberland pipes he also makes them! And I’ll give you three guesses as to what David de la Haye does. Give up? Well, he’s an underwater sound recordist whose work featured in BBC Countryfile’s 100th episode. So here you have it – four musicians with a wealth of talent and varied expertise.

The foursome are deceptive. Their playing is smooth and easy, they fit together impeccably. Yet this is no accident, they have spent years together perfecting their seamless music. It’s modern folk music, not so much finger in the ear, more finger in the air, judging public mood and sentiment. Jez’s clever, witty lyrics are about fairness and justice – they’re about working people and the way that they are treated. He takes many a swipe at politicians and privilege, royalty and monarchs, without ever being harsh or aggressive – listen to This Is Not My Tribe. He lets his songwriting knife slice through the butter of injustice. He inhabits a musical Geordie land somewhere between Ralph McTell’s Streets of London and an L. S. Lowry Manchester painting.

Just listen to his opener A Call for the North Country and the subsequent Glad Rags Again to hear what I mean. He can even make light of trouble at a supposed happy fairground event – the lass he’s after ‘works in the fish shop, a mouth like an actress talking to a bishop”. His lovely twenty-year-old song Regina Inside, sung by Kate, compares a visit of Queen Elizabeth II to his home town of Easington to the life of a real person, a ‘real’ queen who’s lived a ‘real’ life. Greek Lightning and Black Diamond continue the theme of celebrating ‘ordinary’ folk.

The second half of the evening is more varied – Andy plays a couple of solo tunes and Jez returns to play The Feller in the Checkout Queue, a hilarious take on there being an ‘epidemic of experts’ everywhere you look. He follows that up with the marvellous Frozen Roman, the tale (and also a stage show) of a defrosted Roman soldier waking up in a world of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump! This was my personal highlight of the evening.

Years ago, when we merely had BBC and ITV, there were current affairs and satirical programmes such as Tonight and TWTWTW (That Was The Week That Was). As part of these singers often contributed ditties that reflected issues in the news. It’s a shame these shows no longer exist – Jez would be perfect to provide wry topical comment – and he would receive the national recognition that his work deserves.

Jez Lowe is like a Morecambe & Wise Christmas special – witty, incisive, lovable, comforting and bordering on national treasure status. There might be plenty of other stuff ‘on the telly’ but when the festivities have calmed down, you know that this is likely to be the best show you’ll see all year!

Text and photos by Toby Wood