Bede Weeps 1993
The very first time I heard Jez lowe singing A CALL FOR THE NORTH COUNTRY, a song that was to become something of an anthem in his “live” performance in later years, it must have been sometime around 1992 at a little club near Oldham, Lancashire, and while the overall effect of the song was pleasing enough, the actual meaning of the lyrics seemed to drift in and out of my understanding, with quotes from other songs and strange maxims of Geordie dialogue all meshed together to a mesmerising beat and a snappy guitar figure. One line leapt out at me that night however, probably as it came twice, in the first verse and the repeat – “I’m a windblown seed from the land of Bede”, he sang, and being an exiled Geordie myself, i immediately knew what Jez was talking about. St. Bede, the earliest of the British Christian saints, the writer of the first history of Britain, who walked the lands of the North Country in the 5th or 6th Century A.D., and who’s bones rest beneath the altar of Durham Cathedral alongside St. Cuthbert, the other northern Christian notable and sanctified hero.
A few months later, I saw Jez again and actually requested that he perform the song, “the one about St.Bede”, I remember saying. He looked puzzled and then laughed, but said he would sing the song, which he did. However, I listened in vain for the line that had hooked me. “I’m a windblown seed in a land of greed”, he sang, and that is the line that remained and ended up on the recorded version a year or so later. I could understand that the new line had a somewhat wider range of understanding to those not versed in the folk-lore and history of the North East, but nevertheless felt somewhat agrieved that such a symbol of Northern greatness had been exorcised in the name of universal appeal!
It was with some gratitude that about nine months later that I saw The Bad Pennies perform at the Beamish Mary Folk Club near Stanley County Durham. It was the first time I had seen the group, and here they were playing to a home crowd, and going down a storm, with a series of songs that were yet to be released on record alongside reworkings of familiar tunes. But it was the encore that floored me. I recall that Jez introduced the song as never having been performed before (though in retrospect it seems that the new album was already recorded but not yet available.) The song was BEDE WEEPS, and hearing the song again now on record still gives a frisson of amazement to jaded ears that anyone could have thought of this as a topic for a song. Jez Lowe constantly talks about finding an “angle” from which to write his songs, and this to me was a perfect example of that. Here was Bede, stepping into the late 20th Century like some ecclesiastical Doctor Who, and seeing what a mess had been made of the land that he must have known as green and pleasant, despite it’s natural hostility and wildness. Bede, weeping with frustration, anger, sorrow, as he calls for someone to stand up and be counted, but ultimately realises that the whole thing is futile. It’s a bleak end to a bitter album, with non-rhyming lines sung over a series of major and minor seventh chords, quite unlike anything else on the CD, or for that matter, anywhere in the Jez Lowe songbook.
The song was the last to be recorded for the album, and so probably the last to be written – only 3 Bad Pennies are involved in the recording, as the session was hastily put together to get the song down with anyone who was available, according to one who was there. Then suddenly, this was also the album’s title track. The cover art shows a metal sculpture of Bede himself, a work that is still on display at the Bede’s World Museum in Jarrow, Tyne and Wear. It’s a disturbing picture for a CD cover, again unlike anything else in the Jez Lowe album collection. It was later chosen for inclusion in the prestigious ELECTRIC MUSE VOLUME 2 collection, alongside Richard Thompson et al., though what electricity there was on this track came not so much from the instruments as from the sentiments expressed, in my opinion. The song itself didn’t stay part of the “live” repertoire for long. I requested it about three years ago at a solo gig and Jez claimed he couldn’t remember the words. As the band’s line-up changed, so the song was left behind. Moreover, the desperation expressed in the song soon became almost too much for those of us from North East England to accept. Surely, we felt, there must be some hope, some relief, other than tears. Tears are abundant throughout this album, and a more upbeat ending for it would have been an easier way out for all concerned. That “easy way out” is surely what we are all looking for, but just don’t look for it here.