CHICK HENDERSON’S MARCH
One of several songs from this mid-80s album that has remained a popular staple of Jez Lowe’s live repertoire up to the present day, CHICK HENDERSON’S MARCH is a jaunty, yet poignant song, with a catchy tune that revolves around a guitar figure in the popular folk tuning of DADGAD, but with an unexpected twist when the verse veers off into a different key, before resolving into the chorus. The song has rarely been covered on record, yet has long been popular among folk-club floor singers around the UK, attracted no doubt as much by the guitar part as by the catchy chorus.
But who was Chick Henderson, and why is Jez Lowe singing about him? It seems that Chick Henderson was the stage name of a popular dance-band crooner from the 1930s, real name Henderson Rowntree, a native of the town of Hartlepool on England’s North East coast. He sang with one of the top bands of the era, led by Joe Loss, and was featured vocalist on a huge hit record of the time, a version of BEGIN THE BEGUINE, that sold over 1000,000 copies. At the height if his stardom he went off to war, in the Royal Navy, and was killed in 1942 on shore leave, a victim, legend has it, of a British gun that went off accidentally. So Hartlepool lost one of its most famous sons.
Hartlepool was also the place where Jez Lowe went to school, and where he made his singing debut at the local folk club, held in the early ’70s at the Nursery Inn, and compered by a young man called Graham Whitley. Whitley was a journalist, photographer, singer, and record reviewer, who worked at the local newspaper, where by coincidence he shared an office with one Kevin Rowntree, nephew of Chick Henderson. Jez and Graham Whitley became close friends, going to concerts and festivals together throughout the 70s. In fact it was Graham who first approached Fellside Records with a tape of Jez Lowe, recorded at Hartlepool Folk Club in 1979, encouraging them to sign him up to a recording contract. This resulted in Jez’s first solo album, the original sleeve of which bore an illustration based on one of Graham Whitley’s photographs.
At a concert in Durham in 1982 Graham introduced Jez, somewhat ironically, as “The best thing to come out of Hartlepool since Chick Henderson!”, much to the amusement of the crowd. In talking afterwards, he convinced Jez that he should try writing a song about Henderson. (It’s possible that Whitley was influenced by Richard Thompson’s song “Al Bowly’s in Heaven”, though Jez wasn’t aware of this until much later. Whitley was a big Thompson fan at this time). So Jez started working on the song, rejecting one completed version (the melody of which he claims to have used later for the song “Boys of Belly Row”) and, according to producer Paul Adams, the final version was only completed on the day of recording in September 1984, when Lowe sat outside Fellside studio in his car, putting together the final verse. The song closed the GALLOWAYS album when it was issued four months later.
There is one final sad twist to this tale which heightens the poignancy of the song and suggests depths to the lyrics that may not be evident to the casual listener. For Graham Whitley never got to hear the song whose creation he himself had set in motion. In the early summer of 1984, while Jez was still working on the song, Graham died from injuries sustained in a car accident while returning from a folk club in County Durham late one night. The GALLOWAYS album bore a dedication to him.
— K A