Set at the turn of the nineteenth century, Jez Lowe’s first novel brings together characters from folk songs of the period, including the central figure of Dolly Coxon from the Tyneside song, “Do Li A”. The story attempts to explain why an impoverished woman from the Tyne quayside should have been celebrated in a song that has survived for more than two hundred years.
I’ve been aware of Jez Lowe’s folk songs for almost as long as I can remember, and have seen the man himself (with and without his band, the Bad Pennies), many times. Lowe has a wonderful gift for song lyrics and mixes a canny blend of humour and pathos that never fails to please.
In this, his first book, he explores one of the characters from the song ‘Do-Li-A’, and creates an intriguing tale of love, loss and hope that is steeped in history. His characters are authentic, and the sense of place is tangible as he takes Dolly from the quayside and throws her into a relationship with the foreigner Moss, whose past is as much a mystery as Dolly’s is not. Add in the green cuffs (the Ulster Dragoons), and the black cuffs (the North York Militia), who swarm over Newcastle en route to European wars bringing the threat of the pressgang, and the scene is set for a tale that could easily end in misery for those involved.
Though there are one or two formatting issues in the paperback, and way too many exclamations marks for my liking, this is a cracking good read that shows Jez Lowe’s talent for writing isn’t limited to folk songs.
As well as the book there’s a similarly-titled CD that’s well worth a listen, though it’s a little different to the man’s earlier recordings, of which there are many. Here are a few of my favourites…