Contemporary folk songs, at their very best, offer an insight into the hardships, attitudes, and resolve of characters and events that shape our day-to-day lives. You can dress these songs up in inspired arrangements and intricate instrumentation but, at their very essence, the archetypal folk song is all about stories. Stories and people. Something such compelling songwriters as Eric Bogle, Si Kahn, Ewan MacColl, and Stan Rogers … all understood and mined so effectively.
James Keelaghan, too, burrows into that same rich seam with equal ability and comparable conviction. To quote Eric Bibb, the award-winning American acoustic bluesman, after listening to Keelaghan perform: “[You’re] a joy to hear, just beautiful. Reminded me of the best of the best of another time – Liam Clancy, Tom Paxton et cetera.” Less colourful but more succinct, Dave Marsh, the eminent Rolling Stone critic, simply described Keelaghan as “Canada’s finest songwriter.”
Truly, throughout a career that now spans almost four decades, the Juno and Canadian Folk Music Award winner has created a repertoire of incalculable importance – a unique body of work, either inspired by or drawn from the folk tradition. Ten solo albums flush with enduring lyrical relevance. Take the beautiful but heartbreaking ballad, Jenny Bryce, for example. From any point of view, it’s indistinguishable from the numerous traditional tracks covered on his disc A Few Simple Verses.
James Keelaghan grew up in a bungalow in northwest Calgary, AB, with six siblings, an Irish father, and an English mum. His brother Bob would develop into a noteworthy guitarist with the excellent, but now defunct, Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir. From his father, Jim, James developed a love of history. The family record collection provided further inspiration. Traditional folk LPs by the likes of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Séan Ó Riada, and Harry Belafonte certainly caught young Keelaghan’s ear. He still cites Belafonte At Carnegie Hall as a recording that changed his life at age six!
Incidentally, Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy would live in Calgary in the mid-‘70s where they recorded a weekly TV show that James and his father routinely attended. “They were stunning performers,” says James. “I can still hear aspects of Tommy Makem’s sound in my voice. He was a fabulous singer, fabulous.”
And so, another link in a storied musical chain was forged. James Keelaghan, as they say, is “a man you don’t meet every day.”
For the last thirty years, singer and songwriter Jez Lowe has taken his songs of life in his native North East England to audiences across the world, sometimes solo, sometimes with his band The Bad Pennies, and sometimes in a variety of collaborative and commissioned musical enterprises, all of which have made him one of the most hard-working and popular acoustic/folk artists of the present day.
A prolific producer of recordings, Jez continues with a successful series of stage shows, a fistful of outstanding reviews, and a renewed interest in his brand of pointed, poignant and powerful musical epistles from the North, that have brought him a nomination for Folksinger of the Year in the BBC Folk Awards, Album of the Year" Award in the US-based Indie-Acoustic Awards, and a Sony Radio Award for his contribution to the prestigious Radio Ballads series for the BBC, all over the last decade alone.
Jez and fellow Brit singer/songwriter Steve Tilston are currently in the studio recording a joint album for release later this year. There have been suggestions that the pair would be recording versions of their various well-known, previously released individual compositions for the project, many of which have been the backbone of their joint concerts, but now the rumour is that there will be new songs included too. Indeed, some new songs were featured in their last live show together.
As well as his own performances and tours around the globe, featuring Jez accompanying himself on guitar, cittern, mandolin and harmonica, Jez's songs also travel independently, thanks to cover versions by the likes of Fairport Convention, The Dubliners, Cherish The Ladies, The Tannahill Weavers, The McCalmans, Bob Fox, The Black Family, The Clancys and scores more folk acts around the world.
"One of the folk scene's great unsung heroes." - Mike Harding, BBC Radio "Lowe has earned the right to be counted among England's finest contemporary songwriters." - Daily Telegraph, UK "An excellent matching of old and new" - Q Magazine "Some of the greatest contemporary English folk songs since early Richard Thompson are coming from the pen of Jez Lowe" - Boston Globe "The best songwriter to come out of England in a long time" - Richard Thompson