CD review by Tony Smith
This double CD album of 23 tracks (counting ‘Introductions’) was recorded at the Biddick Arts Centre, Washington, Tyne and Wear, popularly known as The Davy Lamp.
Nearly all of these tracks were written by Lowe, except ‘The New Moon’s Arms’ and ‘You Can’t Take It With You’, written jointly with Bev Sanders.
The Bad Pennies are brilliant individually and with Jez Lowe’s leadership, they have great ensemble.
Lowe (vocals, cittern, guitar, harmonica) is joined by Billy Surgeoner (fiddle, keyboards, vocals, whistle), Judy Dinning (vocals, percussion, keyboards) and Simon Haworth (bass, mandolin, vocals, keyboards) with special guest Jake Walton on his trade mark hurdy-gurdy.
As you might expect with a live performance, Lowe includes many songs which have appeared in other albums.
Some of these are predictably the highly popular ‘Black Diamonds’, ‘The Guilts’ and ‘The Bergen’.
While most of the tracks are in a standard song form, for ‘The Soda Man’, female and male voices alternate.
The chorus of ‘These Coal Town Days’ could be a South African chant.
A refrain of ‘liars and cheats’ runs in the background of this a cappella song finding ‘tears in the eyes of the weak and the most strong-hearted, tears in the eyes of the miners and wives’ when coal towns decline.
You’ll never do better than the ‘Tom Tom’ – you’ll never do better than the drum is backed by percussion.
‘Old Bones’ reminds that if you try to please everyone by taking their advice ‘you won’t make old bones’.
It is better to live your life as you want.
‘London Danny’ is a poignant love song, the plea of an exhausted working man not to take his wife.
Judy Dinning sings in ‘Weave and Worry’ that ‘another day is done, we patch up their clothes and stitch up their wounds – one shift closes and the next logs on – and make them ready for tomorrow’.
Dinning also leads ‘The Military Road’.
The ‘Big Meeting Day’ is for colliery bands marching to ‘let their hair down with conscience good and clear it’s only once a year’.
This is a humorous tale about the distractions of the pub in the tradition of the day out song.
Another local song says ‘No. Never in the live long day/ you’ll not find me ‘Back in Durham Gaol’.
The cold baths and clothes that don’t fit are a deterrent.
When Lowe sings ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ when you go – grab what you can before it all hits the fan, the audience participates enthusiastically.
Other tracks include ‘Last of the Widows’, ‘Galloways’, ‘Sweep Horizons Clean’, ‘Another Man’s Wife’, ‘High Part of the Town’, ‘Just Like Moses’, ‘Greek Lightning’, ‘Kid Canute/ Scotty Moore’s Reel’ and ‘The New Moon’s Arms’.
Even allowing for my weakness for live albums, ‘Live at the Davy Lamp’ is exceptionally good listening.
It has meaningful songs, enjoyable instrumental breaks and great arrangements.
The album has superb variety and shows once again that Jez Lowe is a magical songwriter, arranger, band leader and performer.