Ray Hearne with Martin Simpson – What You Do With What You’ve Got

Live Review | The Greystones, Sheffield | Review and Photos by Keith Belcher.

In November 2018 we lost one of folk’s great most loved and charismatic characters, Roy Bailey. A yearly birthday bash featuring Roy at The Greystones had, over the years, become a greatly anticipated gig. What you Do with What You’ve Got featuring Ray Hearne was the first of a planned yearly series of concerts around Roy’s October birth date. Part of the proceeds from each show will be donated to St Lukes Hospice, Sheffield who cared for Roy and family so well in his final days. “What You Do With What You’ve Got” is a Si Kahn song much beloved by Roy and Dick Gaughan, Dick, not currently performing, regarded it as his safety blanket, opening each show with the song. Surprisingly, to me, sucker for predictability, it wasn’t played on the night.

Roy’s last performance was his birthday bash in October 2018. I think the last gig Ray did at The Greystones (or certainly the last one I saw) was 14th June 2016 . At that show the MC was one Roy Bailey who opened the evening with John Fromer’s song “Welcome” before welcoming Ray to the stage. On that night Greg Russell performed “What You Do With What You’ve Got”. Over the years Roy covered many of Ray’s songs creating friendship and admiration for Ray around the world in places Ray has not yet visited. I regard Ray as one of Yorkshire’s best kept secrets, possibly a closely guarded and protected secret. I am always amazed by the number of ardent folkies who have never heard of Ray Hearne. Possibly something to do with his apparent lack of live shows and minimal CD output. I’ve heard his gigs described as “as rare as rocking horse poo”. Quaint and earthy but possibly true. Unless I am missing the gig notifications he is not that prolific a performer. A tragedy in some ways as he positively exudes charisma, personality and warmth on and off stage. Roy Bailey was without a doubt the best person I have seen at getting an audience involved, he never had any problems getting an audience to accompany him. Ray has that same gift, involving the audience from the very start.

The MC for the night was Roy’s son in law Martin Simpson, one of the world’s best acoustic guitarists. Martin said that when he “got together” with his partner Kit, Roy said it was not so much losing a daughter, more a matter of gaining an accomplice. Martin paid tribute to Roy for many things, not least the songs that Roy introduced him to. It was one of those songs Rob Johnson’s “More Than Enough” that opened the event. Martin mused on the fact he could hear Roy “taking the piss” about his extended tuning. Anyone who has attended an event where both Martin and Roy were together will chuckle at that.

Many performers , before a show, will chill out in their dressing room or somewhere away from the stage. Not so Ray Hearne, sound check over and he is out chatting to and meeting his audience as old friends, which indeed many were and also making new ones. I don’t think he thinks of himself as anyone special, he seems to have no airs and graces. He is and should be thought of as special. Ray, after paying tribute to Roy, started with an acapella performance of Roy Blackman’s “The Sheffield Ship Canal” (non-existent) . It details a humourous fictitious journey from Sheffield under mast to the shores of darkest Rotherham wi’ a cargo of coal and clay. The song was written by one time memory man on Hughie Green show who later turned to poetry after 30 years in the steel mills.

Ray is a son of immigrants from Kilkenny settling in Rotherham while a child. He has developed a very broad Yorkshire accent which might make for some difficulty understanding to southerners or none Yorkshire dwellers. His second song “Pot Of Golden Tea” , about steel mills set the tone for the evening, mass audience participation was required and expected , with harmonies for good measure! Most of the songs throughout the evening were about the local area and its people, some relating to coal , some to steel, some just relating to folk. All of them rich with Ray’s effortless ability to tell a story and many requiring the audience to join in. A competent and able guitarist who admits he often “borrows” tunes and melodies from traditional and others songs to accompany his lyrics. Even when talking and singing about the tunes he had borrowed from, the audience sang along . Throughout the night there were a few new songs including one which might or might not be called “SOS for the NHS” with a hat tipped to the well known Police song at the end. Another new song, possibly “Democracy Of The Heart”, written especially about Roy. One of the songs featured the unlikely rhyming of ” bother ’em with Rotherham”!! Although the show raised many laughs and chuckles the songs covered the range of human emotions. One song in particular, “Nancy’s Pain” was introduced as the most downbeat song of the night, depicting a grim picture of mental illness and featured the refrain “out of sight, out of mind”, quite harrowing.

All too quickly 2 hours or more were over and we were at the encore . Time for some real guitaring said Ray. Enter Martin Simpson playing some very moody slide – I was going to do it , but we agreed…… quipped Ray mischievously. I have often heard Martin Simpson say I am having far too much fun. it really was true tonight, Martin having a huge grin throughout the show and obviously really enjoying himself immensely. One final song was never going to be enough so Ray’s two daughters Rebecca and Emily joined the stage after Ray lead the audience in a rousing 3 cheers for Roy Bailey. At Roy’s 80th birthday they sang Fred Small’s “Everything Possible” (it can be found on the CD What You Do With What You’ve Got, they felt it would be remiss to not perform it at this show. A truly beautiful ending to a very memorable concert . The closing lyrics say it all, a fitting tribute to Roy.

“And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you’re done”.