Protest singers aren't always producing angry slogans to give their audience a sense of solidarity: there are some who can make you consider an issue in a new light by using well-constructed lyrics, a tuneful melody, humour, and a gently persuasive voice.
Such a catalyst is Jez Lowe, a British singer/songwriter, who is touring Australia.
Lowe writes specifically about life in his native north-east England, but there is such truth and universality in his writing that it appeals to audiences across the world. He is to folk song what British screenwriter Jimmy McGovern is to television.
Lowe writes — with a hand that is both subtle and powerful — of prejudice (“Keep Them Bairns Away”), peace (“Bloodstained”), animal rights (“The Big Fear”), the dismantling of industry (“Taking on Men”), and corporate greed (“Bare Knuckle”).
He also looks at the long-lasting social consequences of forced unemployment in “Idle Time”, singing: "We are the sacrifice that dare not speak its name."
Lowe’s songs are by no means heavy-handed in their approach; there’s a deal of northern humour in his songs, such as “It’s a Champion’s Life”. He has a quirky way with words, singing in “Spitting Cousins” that "we got colour television but real life turned grey".
There are playful ditties — “it’s the little things about her that I miss most, like her toenail clippings on the living room floor”, he sings in “Latchkey Lover” — and a surprising life-affirming message in “The Ex-Pitman's Pot-Holing Pub Quiz Team”.
Many of Lowe’s songs have historical themes, but while there's a reverence for the past, there's also an understanding of the present, and how the two are intertwined.
Many recent compositions have been in connection with the contemporary series of BBC Radio Ballads for which he has written about 40 songs. Lowe’s latest album Wotcheor! — his 15th — is inspired by the people and the culture of North East England. It is presented in a “radio cabaret” style, in homage to the legendary 1950s BBC Radio show Wot Cheor Geordie.
While steeped in the traditional sound of the Northumbrian region, Lowe’s melodies and arrangements sparkle with freshness and originality. That, combined with the richly satisfying lyrics, jolly choruses, an engaging stage presence, a gently persuasive voice, lively instrumentation on guitar and cittern, makes a great entertainer.
BBC Radio 2 said: “Jez Lowe is one of our finest songwriters.” The London Daily Telegraph added: “Lowe has earned the right to be counted among England's finest contemporary songwriters.”
[Visit www.jezlowe.com for more information. Tour details: Mar 26 — house concert, Brisbane, Qld; Mar 26 —Notes, Newtown, Sydney; Mar 29 — Braidwood Folk Club, Braidwood; Mar 30 — Merry Muse, Canberra.]