The Parish Notices 1998

“This song is so sad,” ran Jez’s introduction to The Parish Notices at a recent concert, “That even Leonard Cohen was depressed when he heard it!” A disarmingly frivolous preamble to what is a harrowing tale of prejudice, homophobia and tragedy, put together eloquently in three short verses and four lines of chorus. Ralph McTell was heard to admire this song due to its concise, exacting nature, and such concise and understated qualities are precisely what Jez Lowe encourages from fellow songwriters at workshops and discussions, while acknowledging that he himself often falls well short of that mark in his own work.

Apparently, The Parish Notices suffered from a notable lack of these qualities in its earliest incarnations. One of the songs pencilled in for inclusion on 1995’s “Tenterhooks” album was entitled “Good women and true” and, while it surfaced during initial rehearsals for the sessions, it soon was put aside. Whatever the structure and melody of that song, it seems that the story and characters within it were those that eventually appeared under the title of “The Parish Notices”. Members of The Bad Pennies recall the song being discussed at this time, and Jez also talked about the song and the struggle he was having with its composition, on an Australian radio show a year later, at which time he still referred to it as “Good Women and True”, from the chorus/refrain that seems to have been part of the piece from the outset.

The origins of the song lie in events that took place in Jez’s hometown of Easington in the early 90s. Two local women, having both suffered from abuse within failed marriages, set up home together. Eyebrows were raised, but nothing was said until the younger of the two fell seriously ill. In a very short time the young woman died, and this being the height of the AIDS epidemic, conclusions were drawn in ignorance and fear, and the surviving woman was pilloried by certain factions in town, oblivious to the fact that the illness had been leukaemia. The remaining woman, standing apart from the other mourners at her friends graveside, looked at the disapproving faces and delivered a blistering speech of rebuke to all concerned, so the story goes.

Jez probably heard about the affair while catching up on the news from friends in his hometown. It was some time before Jez decided to try and commit the tale to song and, in doing so, later admitted to leaving out certain details, for example the presence of a child in the proceedings, for fear of “making the whole thing just too tragic and beyond singing about”, as he said on that Aussie radio show.

In 1997, The Parish Notices was completed and became the title track of the new album. The play on words was subtle, but effective, and gave the song an even greater impact than the haunting arrangement evokes. In “live” performance, the nylon-strung guitar is substituted by Jez’s regular acoustic with a chorus pedal, and Billy Surgeoner’s saxophone is replaced by a plaintive tin-whistle passage, without any of this impact being lost.

— KA

As much as anything that Jez Lowe has written in the last twenty years, The Parish Notices, to these ears, shows the breadth of sensitivity and skill needed to lift a song and its writer a little above the many into the realms of the not so many. A good place to be.

— R Ratcliffe

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