Louisa Jo better known to most in the folk world as Louis Killen passed away late last week on August 9th. Lou went through a gender change a few years ago, according to a lovely tribute by Heather Wood in SingOut this was an almost lifelong desire. Lou was an incredible singer whose music I first discovered when trawling through the Topic records catalogue many many years ago. Ballads and Broadsides was the only solo album released on Topic before Lou left for the US. But prior to this Lou was to feature alongside the likes of Anne Briggs, Bob Davenport and more on one of the most influential albums of the early British folk revival programmed by A L Lloyd featuring songs from ‘mine, mill and factory’. Iron Muse (Topic 12T86) focused on industrial folk songs that were passed on mainly by word of mouth. One of the most memorable songs on there was powerful Black Leg Miners.
Lou had an unforgettable voice that was striking whether accompanied or unaccompanied as was proven when ‘Ship In Distress’ was used as soundtrack for a Toast video last year. The track featured on ‘Blow the Man Down‘ which included 24 seafaring songs from the likes of Louis to Cyril Tawney and Bob Davenport.
Lou also appeared in The Waterson’s 1965 documentary:
The following biography is taken from the official Louis Killen website
Born and raised in the heart of the industrial North East of England, he came early to a love of folk music. Nurtured by a singing family whose tastes ran from liturgical music to cowboy songs, Irish ballads, grand opera, blues, jazz, classical and local Music Hall, the dominant music in his life has been the folk music of the British Isles. Louis’s family background is predominantly Irish: his paternal great-grandfather brought his family from County Mayo to the banks of the River Tyne in 1852. His grandfather married a Scotswoman and his father an Irishwoman.
Though his ancestry is largely Celtic, being a native Tynesider has stongly affected his approach to music. Tyneside is an area that absorbs other cultures and converts them into its own – to this day, even after thirty-five years living in the USA, Louis’s speaking accent still denotes his roots. The mixture of Irish, Scots and English living in the coal-mining and industrial region known to the ancients as Northumbria sets it apart from the rest of England, pulling into it the musical traditions of all three countries while maintaining its own distinct musical style. Louis Killen draws on all four traditions to bring a wide range of folk music to his audiences.
To these four is added the Anglo-American tradition of deep-water shantying and sailor ballads common to both nations. Louis’s first-hand experience working aboard brigs, brigantines, schooners and sloops in the late ’60s and early ’70s put him in the forefront of the current revival of maritime music on both sides of the Atlantic.
In a career spanning over forty years, with more than thirty-five albums/CDs to his credit, Louis Killen’s influence as a performer, teacher and inspiration to others is unparalleled.
Both as a singer and as a concertina player – an instrument whose use for self-accompaniment he pioneered – his impact on the folk song movement is hard to overstate. He is the folksinger’s folksinger.
RIP Lou (10 January 1934 – 9 August 2013)