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Arden hosts James Keelaghan and Jez Lowe

The two folk-roots singer-songwriters will sing duets from each other's catalogue
Canadian folk-roots artist James Keelaghan (left) and British icon Jez Lowe team up for a concert at the Arden Theatre on Friday, March 1.

Several decades ago, the venerable Tommy Banks gave singer-songwriter James Keelaghn one piece of advice — “Always play with people better than you.” 

Keelaghn followed through. After 30-plus years on the music scene, he is considered a Canadian ambassador of the folk-roots industry. Not only is he a gifted and outspoken singer-songwriter, recording musician and touring artist. 

He also splits his time showcasing other artists as artistic director of Summerfolk Music & Crafts Festival in Owen Sound as well as the artistic director of Stewart Park Festival in Perth. 

The Ontario-based Juno Award recipient is back on the road. This time with iconic British folk artist Jez Lowe. The duo performs at the Arden Theatre on Friday, March 4. 

Originally this concert was scheduled for March 2020. The twosome had completed their second show of a planned Canadian tour, when COVID hit, and Lowe had to hurry back to England before borders slammed shut. 

Lowe recently released his COVID album titled Pagan and in Dec. 2323, he put out Dancing in the Snow, a Christmas album of both old and new material. 

On the other hand, Keelaghan's latest effort is the 2024 Juno-nominated Second Hand released Sept. 2022. It's his COVID album, a project that united past ideas and co-writes.  

“I tried to record at home. We would get good renditions, but they weren’t snappy. After COVID we rerecorded it at the Treatment Room in Montreal. When you’re in a professional studio, so much more spark happens between musicians,” he said. 

Heather Kitching from Roots Music Canada wrote, “Second Hand contains some of the best songs he’s ever written. Some are story songs in the tradition of his finest historical ballads. Some are intimate numbers that feel raw and vulnerable.” 

The music establishment agrees. Second Hand was nominated for the 2024 Juno Music Awards as Traditional Roots Album of the Year. He's released 13 albums and received his first Juno in 1994 for My Skies.  

Delighted with the nomination, Keelaghan said, “I’ve had five nominations and one win. Hopefully this nomination makes it two.” 

Lowe and Keelaghan first met when they were booked to play at the Old Songs Festival in Albany, New York in 1996. A year later they found themselves on Australia’s same folk music festival touring circuit.  

By 2001, they formally partnered for a month-long haul tour across America and Canada. More importantly, since their first introduction, they’ve collaborated on multiple projects that pay homage to unsung heroes. 

“Jez and I are the same sons of different mothers. We write about similar things. We write about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. We have the same social conversations, and he has a great sense of humour. Jez is one of the funniest people on the planet. He inspires me to write, and I inspire him to write with a lot of humour and shared experiences,” Keelaghan said. 

Layered inside their music are strong political statements. 

“I always write political songs. Any song you write is political. It’s obvious when you look at our songs that we express our political views. A lot of songs proceed from a political point of view,” Keelaghan said. 

As a keen observer of current world events and an even more introspective wordsmith, he takes a long view of history. 

“Don’t mourn. Organize. There’s no denying we’ve taken steps back socially and politically. But I believe those are the dying gasps of a world that doesn’t deal with problems. There are always spasms before change.” 

He gives this statement weight by telling a story about his deep friendship with violinist Oliver Schroeder. Not only were the musicians good friends, but their mothers also had a close relationship with each other. One day the foursome had dinner at a restaurant, and as the two men stepped out for a smoke, the mothers continued a cheerful gabfest inside. 

“Oliver’s mother was born in Berlin. My mother was from London. Fifty years earlier they were bombing each other’s country. But here there were two women enjoying their time together. That always struck me. The resiliency of the human spirit can be resolved if we decide to make changes.” 

The current tour is laid-back with no agenda other than playing music, bantering and telling good stories and jokes. 

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $44. Go online to or call 780-459-1542.

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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