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 tribute by Heather Wood in SingOut this was an almost lifelong desire.
Lou was a Geordie, born and bred in Gateshead, Tyneside. The family sang at home – hymns, cowboy songs, ballads, music hall, opera, and everything in between. Getting involved in the skiffle craze of the early ‘sixties, he then went on to become one of the founders of the Bridge Folk Club, in Newcastle upon Tyne. He became one of the major singers of the 60’s folk revival. Lou had a great repertoire of maritime songs, ballads, songs from his Irish ancestry, and of course the songs of Tyneside – mining, fox-hunting, etc. One cannot overstate the influence of Lou’s singing on a whole generation of revival singers of English traditional folk songs. His playing of the English concertina (he pioneered it as an accompanying instrument) was a prime example of how it should be done – never overpowering the song.
In 1966, he moved to America. For a few years, he sang with the Clancy Brothers. 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 revival of maritime music on both sides of the Atlantic. A few years back, he returned to Gateshead. I remember him singing The Rose In June at Dalton Folk Club in the late 90s.
RIP Lou (10 January 1934 – 9 August 2013)