NEW MOONS ARMS
THE NEW MOON’S ARMS was one of a series of collaborations by Jez lowe and Bev Sanders in the early days of The Bad Pennies, described by Jez as “a lullaby for an old man”, and fittingly enough described in a recent review of the LIVE AT THE DAVY LAMP CD as a “sleeper”, a song that has gained in popularity and prestige in the decade since it first emerged, tucked away at the end of the debut Bad Pennies recording in 1990. It has only sporadically been performed “live” in concert over the years, mainly by Jez solo, and only in in the last year as part of the band’s stage repertoire, providing a highlight to the recent “live” collection.
There were apparently half a dozen songs that came out of the Lowe/Sanders collaboration, and three of them were selected for inclusion on the album. The collaboration was not a cut and dried system of operation, by all accounts: one song, WANNIE WIND, existed as a completed article for a while before Bev re-wrote part of the lyric at Jez’s request, while another, YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU, existed as a piece of music by Jez to which was added a collaborative lyric. NEW MOON’S ARMS appears to have been a complete collaboration, words and tune. In early 1990, The Bad Pennies recorded a session in Birmingham for BBC’s flagship folk music radio show at the time, Folk On Two. After the session, the group, Jez, Bev and keboard-player Rob Kay, drove back to Preston where they were staying that night, and at some point in the journey a slumbering Rob woke and looked out of the car window at the evening sky and declared “Look, the old moon is resting in the new moon’s arms!” What he had seen was a very bright new crescent moon with the shape of the full moon still visible as if it was laid in the curve of the brighter rim. The expression that he used was an old saying, one that appears in part in the traditional song “Sir Patrick Spens”, though none of the band realised that at the time. Bev describes Jez’s reaction to Rob’s words as his “lightbulb effect”, something that occurred whenever an idea for a new song suddenly came to him. The effect obviously reached her too, because by the end of the journey, both of them had formed an outline of a potential new song, and within a few days they were working on putting the composition together. The actual writing took place in part in the bar of the Black Swan in York, home then, as now, of the York Folk Club. Whether it was before, after or during a gig, no-one remembers. Bev’s idea was to base the story around an old woman, but they eventually went with Jez’s preference to centre it around an old man. Although the words were more or less completed at this point, the melody came much later, though again, no-one seems to remember where or when, but it was at that point also that the chorus emerged
It’s interesting to note that the reference to “coal” in this song is the only mention of Jez’s so-called main inspiration on the whole of the BRIEFLY ON THE STREET album, giving credence to his claim that the coal-mining aspect of his work has been exaggerated over the years. NEW MOON’S ARMS was the final song to be recorded for the album and owes much to Rob Kay’s keyboard arrangement, fittingly perhaps since his was the original inspiration for the song. It is to be found at the very end of the album, and it has always been Jez’s belief that the result has been that the song was overlooked by many listeners, due to the length of the rest of the album. Being the first CD they ever recorded, they decided to go for maximum content, and there is a feeling that a shorter album at that time might have made a stronger impression to listeners used to only an LP’s worth of music.
It is interesting to note that reviewers of the “live” album have often referred to NEW MOON’S ARMS as a brand new song, presumably having overlooked it the first time around. To these ears, if ever a Jez lowe recording was destined to be covered by other artists, NEW MOON’S ARMS is an obvious choice, yet, as far as we know, no other versions exist. We hear that Jez spoke about the song at length at a songwriter’s workshop at Victor Harbour Festival in Australia recently, following a question from a member of the audience specifically asking about it. We would be glad to hear from anyone who was there as to what exactly he said, ten years after it’s composition.
As a final tantalising thought, we hear that the Lowe/Sanders team has been at work again in recent months and that at least one new song has already resulted, though when and if we’ll ever get to hear it is anyone’s guess at this point.