HAD AWAY GAN ON
The Parish Notices 1998
Apart from the introductory chant to “These Coal Town Days”, the coloquial slang of HAD AWAY GAN ON is the only time Jez Lowe has ostentatiously flirted with the strange language of North East England, the Geordie dialect, with it’s hybrid mixture of Scots, Scandanavian, old English and Irish.
Visitors to the area are sometimes amazed to find that people really do talk like that, and that comprehending local conversation is a mystery to all but those who have been brought up surrounded by it. And yet for the past few years audiences as far apart as San Francisco, Adelaide, Hong Kong and even Tunbidge Wells have found themselves enunciating these strange words from the North Country, and laughing themselves silly at the accompanying verses and wordplay. It was also a highlight of The Parish Notices album, though it’s inclusion was apparently a last minute decision.
Jez claims to have found the original inspiration for HAD AWAY GAN ON in a well-known blues song called “Diddy Wah Diddy”, not the song of (almost) the same name made famous by Manfred Mann in the ’60’s, but a much more ribald r&b standard often heard in UK folk and blues clubs, with a refrain that goes “Can anyone tell me what diddy whah diddy means.” An germ of an idea rested in Jez’s mind for quite a while, that a pastiche of that song but with a “Geordie” refrain might be a good idea for a song of some sort.
It was on his first trip to Australia in 1996 that the flesh of the song began to grow around this idea. He introduces it in concert as “a Geordie homesick blues from Sydney”, and he claims (and who are we to doubt him) that each verse of the song is based upon fact, the true incidents that happened to him on his first night in Sydney as he was shown around the city by Bob and Margaret Fagan, well known luminaries of the city’s folk scene (parents of James Fagan, bouzouki player extraordinaire). So we hear of the plane ride into the city, the customs man at the airport, the professor from the University of nearby Wollengong (where Jez played a concert during that tour) and ultimately the Scotsman hurling insults, which again was a true incident, wherein a well-known Sydney folky accused Jez of being a fraud from the South of England and quizzed him for an hour about Northumbrian pipe-tunes. Jez apparently survived this ordeal with flying colours. As soon as the locals heard this verse on Jez’s next visit, they all immediately recognised the incident, though the protagonist is still unaware of his notoriety as far as is known.
Other details of the song are clearly nothing more than artistic license (though the recently added reference to The Small Faces derives from a real-life confrontation with the late Steve Marriott at Hoddesden Folk Club in the early 1980s! Other than the fact that a jam session involving Jez, Marriott and Gerry Hallom ensued, we know nothing, or maybe all … or nothing…)
HAD AWAY GAN ON was apparently written some time in 1997 during a trip to Cornwall for a gig in Bude, according to the as-yet-unpublished notes accompanying the text in the forthcoming third volume of “The Songs of Jez Lowe”, and quickly became a concert favourite. In singing the song, as is his wont, Jez has added to and changed the lyrics somewhat, and though the song is among those featured on his current Australian tour, it has been sung less and less at gigs in recent times. It seems destined to have a similar fate to other “comic” songs from his pen, such as “Father Mallory’s Dance,” “The Midnight Mail” and “Davis and Golightly”, that eventually the laughs run out and the songs are discarded, the exception being “High Part of the Town”, which has been a constant stalwart for the best part of eighteen years!
We hear tell that a new one is on the way, however. Like a lot of recent songs, Jez has chosen to hold them back from public ears for the time being, and with no new album in sight, it could be that audiences may be hearing the curious lingo of HAD AWAY GAN ON for a while longer.