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Tantobie Records TTRCD111

In bygone music hall garb – though still (of course) stripy T-shirt clad (see the cover of LT86) – Jez doffs a straw boater to celebrate “those who have helped keep the songs, the music and culture of North East England alive and well…including the legendary BBC Radio programme ‘Wot Cheor, Geordie’”. Those vibrant traditions and identity are the inspiration for so much of Jez’s output and this recording provides a mass of cultural references and connections testifying to his deep and respectful integrity for his regional roots. Presented as a homage to that legacy, using a radio cabaret style featuring bridging vocal jingles by guesting Hartlepool trio The Young ‘Uns, this album offers another new series of superlative songs by this great wordsmith. The consummately arranged soundscape for these is provided by his, present quasi established, Bad Pennies – Andy May (Northumbrian pipes, piano and harmonium), Kate Bramley (5 string violin and mandolin) and David de la Haye (fretless bass and percussion). The “full supporting cast” billed on the cover, features special guests offering additional vocal support, including Benny Graham and the Tyneside Maritime Chorus, and Hinny Pawsey on violin.

Again the verbal dexterity and poetic eloquence, often interweaving vernacular language and rhythms, is consistently clever – “suits and ties…smothered in smiles”, “a life left to fill or kill”, “strong bare knuckle on a long lean hand”, “streets of cold shoulders”, “a lark in the morning over fallow and till” and “mouths of the mob can mutter”. What a deep wellspring of creativity he has available! Characteristically profound and perceptive social and political commentary is made, always with heart and compassion, occasionally angrily, through imaginative story telling often using tragi-comic, ironic and other rhetorical devices. Eccentric characters often feature. In the roll-call we’ve flood fearful Noah Bryce (“an odd one as a lad”) converting his allotment shed into a Chinese junk “straight out of Rupert Bear” and his “bewildered wife” Annie. Then there’s suicidal football fan Geordie Bailey heading “tappy lappy for the bridge” and the Ex-pitman’s pot holing pub quiz team (“five grey haired deseperados” sitting with their shandies “all fit for a fight”).

Worth specific mention is the profound and poignant Judas Bus from the BBC Radio Ballads programme The Ballad Of The Miners Strike.  Brilliantly interweaving book-ended verses from The Blackleg Miner, with keening violin and a warmly sonorous tone from fretless bass, this has a deeply moving and, metaphorically (absolutely no clever pun intended) arresting quality. I saw Jez perform this live solo back in February and it was emotive, spellbinding and instantly unforgettable. Two pieces written for Kate Bramley’s Badapple Theatre Production Back To The Land Girls, and the very catchy, choir assisted, Hands Feet, an aspiration for an “end to troubled times”, are also very memorable. All of the lyrics are provided, which is a great asset to enjoyment, in a booklet accompanying this beautifully packaged and presented work.

Kevin T Ward

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This album was reviewed in Issue 87 of The Living Tradition magazine.