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Review: Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies @ Lichfield Guildhall

North-east singer songwriter Jez Lowe, a favourite for Lichfield Arts, returned to the Guildhall with his band the Bad Pennies to play a set full of deeply-wrought songs and fine musicianship.

Playing guitar and cittern, Lowe was more than ably assisted by fretless bassist David De La Haye, Andy May on Northumbrian bagpipes, melodica, low and high whistles and keyboards, and vocalist and violinist Carrie McCloud.

Playing songs from their dozen albums, the concert was mainly concerned with a newer project which took as inspiration the life and work of miners once the mines had been shut down.

The genres shifted from narrative ballads, to bluegrass, country and western, traditional folk, and rock and roll vitality, mixed in with a lot of humour.

They started with two songs about work. Barnstorming was about nights out, while Cursed be the Caller with his Knock Knock was about the dreaded first knock that the miners had in the morning, before a low paid, back-breaking day of work underground.

The Pitmen Poets was a ballad both simple and musically diverse, before The Ballad of the Lath-key Lover was an upbeat bluegrass romp.

Weave and Worry was a vocal feature for Carrie McCloud. The Ex-pitmen’s Potholing Quiz Team was a bluegrass song, which featured inventive instrumental passages for violin and melodica. The affecting Calico was another song with hidden depths, while Gladrags Again was a song that matched a sad story to a happy tune.

The second half featured the protest song A Call for the North Country, before These Coal Town Days and Black Diamonds were both studies into the life of miners, both mourning their lot in life and also celebrating the work.

The American situation was addressed in a rare cover. Jean Richie’s The Alamein Don’t Stop Here Any More was a second song for Carrie McCloud, who also showed her violin prowess in the next piece, an inventive duet for Northumbrian bagpipes and violin in Fred Bignell’s March/The Cage.

The set concluded with another three songs about the mines. The Judas Bus looked at miners who broke the strikes in the 1980’s.

Jack Common’s Anthem was another well-written song, bringing a little known facet of life to greater public knowledge, while Sugarwater Sunday was a song about home brew and the leisure activities that were available to miners.

A well deserved encore, The High-part of the Town was a piece that poked fun at aspiration, but made a lot of political points.

In all, this was a fine concert, well thought out, with exemplary musicianship and singing from all involved.

A volunteer wrote this. Say thanks with a coffee.

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