"Valedictory" or swansong CDs are becoming quite the done thing… Coope Boyes & Simpson have just bowed out, with an album called Coda, and Roy Bailey has more than once said he'd be bowing out or retiring; once was with, em, an album called Coda, and yet he's released three albums since then! But on this new CD, a celebratory issue if ever there was one, he shows himself to be still well capable of drawing - and keeping in thrall - a massive audience in live performance. It was recorded at the long-running festival in the Oxfordshire village of Towersey (an event at which he has been playing for over half a century!), and marks the realisation of a long-term desire of Roy's to record a live concert. Even so, Roy asked "Ich" Mowatt to record it without telling anyone else - "since it might not work"! But work it most assuredly did, and the (necessarily edited) result forms the contents of this CD.
Roy's joined on stage by that excellent pair of collaborator-musicians Andy Cutting and Martin Simpson (whom Roy acknowledges as the driving force in this concert), further assisted by Marc Block on bodhrán, and also (specially for this concert) guitarist friend Ian Brown - thereby enabling him to "tackle songs I can't imagine doing when I'm singing solo" (as he puts it). Here, we learn, he's referring to Dylan's With God On Our Side, Tom Waits' In Our Neighbourhood and Sydney Carter's George Fox, all of which receive wonderfully stirring renditions, of a passionate, committed nature and style that are quintessential Roy Bailey. That's not to say that there's any lapse in passion anywhere in the whole set - these are songs as carefully chosen as ever, where every phrase - and syllable - clearly counts and draws meaning and nuance. Some of these songs, of course, Roy's been singing virtually since they've been written: his set opener, Si Kahn's tremendously empowering What You Do With What You've Got (his chosen "starter for ten" for the past 30+ years) invariably stirs his audiences into song (and here the crowd are left to their own devices for the final run of the chorus), while John Tams' Rolling Home is an eternally relevant and welcome, supremely rousing concert-closer the world over - especially, as here, with the enthusiastic endorsement of "free toast" for all…!
Between these bookends, a number of the songs forming the remainder of the set are (I believe) making their first appearance on a CD involving Roy. Exceptions are Si Kahn's Go To Work On Monday; the medley of Home By Christmas and Empty Chair (from Robb Johnson's Gentle Men suite); and Les Barker's beautiful, heartfelt and intense commentary At The Dawning Of The Day (which originally appeared on Les's 2006 Twilight Of The Dogs collection). And there's also the charming ditty Molly's Garden, penned by daughter Kit, who with granddaughter Molly joins Roy on stage for its performance at the must-do kids'-spot juncture. And in customary Roy Bailey fashion, one or two of the songs will be new to some if not all of any given audience - here, I suspect that Jon Fromer's Welcome, which concerns the displaced populations crisis, falls into that category.
The concert was clearly one of "those" occasions, and the audience were right in the palm of Roy's hand, so to speak. But that's exactly what you get at a Roy Bailey concert: his is a gift for direct communication and an easy rapport with any audience, and his is the integrity of the very heart and soul of folk music. The sense of atmosphere of this concert is brilliantly captured by the good Mr. Mowatt, the editing is unobtrusive (in that the meat and substance, and continuity, of Roy's introductions and links is preserved), and I can guarantee that you, like the Towersey audience, will be duly spellbound.
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