Bede Weeps 1993
The inclusion of male/female duets on Jez Lowe albums has been a regular feature in recent years. On the last studio album The Parish Notices there are two notable examples, SOD ALL and the title track, while on the forthcoming studio album we are led to believe that there are more to come, but this tradition began back in 1993 with the release of BEDE WEEPS, when two tracks, Just Like Moses and Greek Lightning, used the duet device to good effect. The former has already been dealt with in our Song of the Month feature, and so we turn to GREEK LIGHTNING, a song who’s popularity has re-surged in recent times, partly because of it’s inclusion on LIVE AT THE DAVY LAMP, and partly because of the version by Bob Fox and Fairport Convention on his recent debut solo album. Both of these versions lose the duet effect however, with lyric changes to accommodate a solo male voice. It was a duet between Jez and Bev Sanders that first breathed life into this song, and the two of them still perform it on the odd rare occasion that they appear on stage together. Perhaps that is the reason why that it has never made the transition into the repertoire of the current line-up of The Bad Pennies.
GREEK LIGHTNING tells the tale of a couple living in grim surroundings in the North of England, and how their dream of flying off to sunnier, warmer climes, and hopefully happier times, is thwarted by their very circumstances. Intrinsic to the song’s make-up however, is a grim humour that pervades the lyrics, which when performed by the old Bad Pennies’ line-up, sometimes gave way to pure slapstick between Bev and Jez. Solo, the humour is inevitably more subtle. The key line of the song is the repeated refrain, the second line of each verse, “Oh but your heart it was easily won”. This is lifted directly from the old Border Ballad, “The Fair Flower of Northumberland”, in which a rich lord’s daughter runs off with a lowly knight. This brings a new slant to Jez’s song, suggesting as it does that the woman in the song has perhaps walked away from a much better life for the love of a man with little or no prospects, but is adamant to the end that “I’ll never leave you”, no matter how bad things get. The coda of the song refers to the “Hot sands of Roker or Whitley Bay”, two somewhat austere seaside towns on the North East coast of England. Jez has been known to change these in concert, to “Redcar and Seaton Carew”, two equally salubrious resorts further south. All of these places were very popular holiday destinations thirty or forty years ago for local families, before the chance of cheap package tours to Greece and Spain lured their custom to more reliable climates.
The song is almost a “summer” version of the Pogues’ Christmas record “Fairytale of New York”, that was a big hit in the UK in the late 1980’s. Jez’s song was apparently written in 1993, just before recording sessions for BEDE WEEPS started, so inspiration could have come from there, but many of the songs on the album deal with similarly bleak relationship issues, so one can only guess at what suggested the subject matter in this case. The melody and guitar figure is unusual for a Jez Lowe song – the use of a flat-pick rather than finger-style was a first for him, when this song was recorded – and only the inherent humour of the lyric stops it from being almost too bleak to pull in the listener, something the composer must have been aware of at the time. He claims to have had the title itself for many years and was just waiting for an opportunity to use it, so this song looks like another case of Jez bringing together many separate ideas and moulding them into one whole, echoing again his long-standing maxim that “One good idea isn’t necessarily enough to make one good song.” Although GREEK LIGHTNING has never found a solid position in Jez Lowe’s solo repertoire, it is requested by the audience often enough to be a semi-regular addition to his concert programme. The phrase “by popular demand” seems to fit the bill.