Roy Bailey and Friends

Live Review | Sheffield City Hall | Review by Allan Wilkinson

After tonight’s ‘Rolling Home’ show, celebrating ‘50 years of dissent’, James Fagan said to me that it felt like we’d all been invited to a big house party around at Roy’s house.  I felt somewhat privileged to be a part of it, albeit sat amongst the couple of hundred or so friends and admirers in the audience, beneath the imposing City Hall in Sheffield, in the impressive Ballroom, which for tonight only, turned out to be an ideal extension of Roy’s house just down the road, where this many people just wouldn’t quite fit.  A few guests had gathered in the wings, each awaiting a call from the stage in order to join Roy for this very special celebration of fifty years of singing songs that matter, and of course, to assist in helping to celebrate fifty years of a life well spent, not least on a variety of worthwhile socialist causes.  With an introduction that included the quote “I attribute the fall of Mrs Thatcher to Roy Bailey”, Roy’s friend of the past thirty or so years Tony Benn, led a round of thunderous applause, welcoming the singer onstage to get proceedings underway with Si Kahn’s anthemic “What You Do with What You’ve Got”.  The first guest Roy invited onstage was John Kirkpatrick who joined him on his trademark accordion, to play Tom Paxton’s “How Beautiful upon the Mountain”, a song with a hymn-like quality and an uplifting chorus that had the hall filled with communal singing in no time.  The last time I saw Seattle-based songwriter Jim Page around these parts, Roy Bailey was in the audience, no doubt taking note.  A couple of Jim’s songs were performed tonight, tribute to Page’s excellent song writing, “Anna Mae Aquash” was sung and played by Roy and John and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”, which had none other than son-in-law Martin Simpson on guitar.  Roy introduced Martin with a reminder of something he said at his daughter’s wedding, that he didn’t feel he was losing a daughter as such; rather he was ‘gaining an accompanist’.  Each of the guests Roy invited up on stage tonight was given the opportunity to perform a song of their own choice. John Kirkpatrick chose his own song “In the Dreamtime”, sharing each of the lines of the song with Roy, with an Aboriginal-influenced droning accordion accompaniment, and Simpson chose the brilliant “Come down Jehovah”, one of many stunning songs to come from the pen of Chris Wood.  Martin Simpson could be seen variously during the evening, either side-stage watching intently as his father-in-law celebrated with his friends or alternatively up and down the hall with his daughter attached to his shoulders.  This was a family gathering after all, with each of its generations represented in one form or another.  Tony Benn’s contribution to the evening came in a short extract from The Writing on the Wall, a collaboration he did with Roy, which resulted in the two friends winning the Best Live Act Award in the 2003 BBC Folk Awards. In eloquent prose, Tony Benn addressed the room with factual accounts of the struggles against war and violence, in the words of those most affected.  Both moving and with some good humour thrown in, Benn’s gift for delivering speeches with honesty and integrity as well as with great personal conviction, managed to bring the audience to silence for a few moments, in order to reflect on the real reasons we are here.  The second half of the celebrations started with a few children’s songs such as “Skin” and “Busy Bee”, somewhat justifying why the children had been dragged out to sit in the company of a lot of ‘old people’ of a Sunday night with school in the morning.  I’m sure Roy’s celebrations would have an integral part of his life missing had the kids not been there too.  From the Elias Quartet, violinist Donald Grant joined the celebrations with some beautiful violin playing on Ian Campbell’s “Old Man’s Song”, which Roy has resurrected after a rare recording was discovered recently of him singing the song at the Bothy Folk Club in Southport.  Introducing the Scottish/American David Ferrard with the words “his father gave him his home, his mother gave him his accent”, Roy invited the Edinburgh-based songwriter up onstage to accompany him on “Visions of our Youth” before he was left to sing “Hills of Virginia” with some extraordinary violin playing by Donald Grant.   Roy Bailey has known Nancy Kerr all his life and together with husband James Fagan, the couple represented Australia with their performance of Alistair Hulett’s “Sons of Liberty”, which has been a popular song in the duos’ repertoire since it appeared on their 2006 album Strands of Gold.  The duo stayed on stage to help Roy out on Graham Moore’s “Captain Swing”, one of the songs from Moore’s musical Play The Tolpuddle Man.  Chumbawamba joined Roy onstage in order to perform a couple of songs from their current album The Boy Bands Have Won, starting with the gorgeous “Word Bomber”, which Roy was himself invited to sing on the album version.  That was followed by one of the most talked about songs on the album that is getting much airplay since the albums’ release; the cringingly accurate “Add Me”, that potentially has all of us MySpace folk sinking in our seats.  For this special occasion, Chumbawamba added a new verse especially for Roy, which alludes to Tony Benn stalking Mr Bailey, our national treasure.  With everyone gathered onstage for a finale of “Rolling Home”, Roy Bailey would not only have one heck of a memorable 50th jubilee to store in his memory, but also one of the best birthday parties to boot.  The final song of the night was one in which everyone joined in, and in perfect harmony too.  Happy Birthday Roy.