Jez Lowe wrote this song in 1995, and for a song with such specific origins in the colloquial slang of the mining communities of North East England, it has proved immensely popular with audiences around the world, although at time of writing, there have been no cover versions of the song recorded, despite a great deal of interest having been shown by Jez’s fellow artists (Irish troubadour Andy Irvine, for one.)
Jez always introduces this song in concert as having the elongated title “I Wish I Had Someone to Put My Bait Up Now”, which gives a bigger impression of what the song is about. “Bait” is the name given by the miners and labourers in County Durham for their packed lunch, their sandwiches and flask of tea etc., traditionally prepared by their wives, and eaten “on the job” in coal mines, building sites, and other places of work where formal provision of meals weren’t a practical possibility. This practice is the same the world over, and each region seems to have developed it’s own terminology for the meal itself; so in Scotland it is known as “piece”, in Lancashire as “snap” and so on.
In County Durham, an extended use of the term “bait” developed, to refer to things of a romantic and ultimately a more crudely sexual nature. The question “Who’s putting your bait up” was a veiled inquiry as to the identity of the person with whom one was involved in a romantic liason. Again similar expressions of suggestive badinage are common throughout the world, and bring to mind the blues classic “Who’s stoking your fire?” When asked about the specific composition of his own song, Jez was typically vague; he had the melody and attractive chord sequence worked out for quite a while before adding the lyric, and the piece existed as nothing more than a piano instrumental for some time, (though Jez ecouraged Billy Surgeoner to play keyboards on the recorded version and subsequent “live” performances; Jez’s own keyboard work can be heard on the songs “Yankee Boots” and “Northern Echoes”, as well as other tracks with a less prominent keyboard backing, such as “Shippersea Bay” and “The Bergen”.)
The idea for the lyric of “Bait Up” emerged from a long forgotten conversation between Jez and old friend Kevin Bainbridge, during the recording of the BANNERS album in 1994. One hesitates to imagine the true nature of the conversation itself, but it apparently bore no resemblance to the finished song! The other germ of an idea that was incorporated into the lyric, according to Jez, was “in the shadow of the clock we stand”, a phrase that he had been toying with for even longer, and now gave direction to the form that “Bait Up” would take. According to a Bad Penny who was involved, the actual arranging of the song for the subsequent album developed into a rather heated situation. The original demo of the track still featured the song in a very minimal, ponderous state, whereupon Jez decided to bring in a rhythm figure that was eventually used on the track, but not without some dissension from certain quarters within the group. Later still, actually in the studio during recording, Bev Sanders’ off-mike “la-la-ing” against the instrumental section appealed so much to the others that it was incorporated into the arrangement as well, and she was compelled to do it for real as part of the track.
“Bait Up” remains in Jez’s repertoire, and in two very different forms: with The Bad Pennies, there is the (somewhat embellished) arrangement from the album version, as featured, recorded “live” in concert, on 1998’s 5-track promo CD, and also included with video footage on the multi-media section of the new LIVE AT THE DAVY LAMP album; Jez also occasionally performs a very different solo arrangement of the song with just voice and guitar, and also sometimes augmented by Bev Sanders’ harmony vocals on their rare appearances on stage together these days. The solo version was slated for inclusion on the aborted “live” recording from Sydney, a few years ago, and is worth hearing for the simply effective guitar part, quite unlike anything else that Jez usually plays, and possibly owes much to his original piano version.
To conclude, we hear with interest that another well-known singer-songwriter from the UK recently chose a line from “Bait Up” as being what he saw as a summing up of Jez Lowe’s attitude to both his life and his work. This singer had shared a songwriting workshop with Jez a few years ago, at which he heard the song for the first time, and noted the reaction to this line from both the audience and other fellows-writers present, as well as noting the feeling with which it was delivered. The line was “Times that make you happy just turn round and make you sad.”