Reviews

Roy BlackmanRoy Blackman
Album: A Northern Life
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 17
Website: http://www.royblackman.org.uk

Roy Blackman of Rotherham (famously, Hughie Green's "memory man"), has been writing original songs and poems for most of the past two decades - yes, he was a late starter (and is soon to celebrate his 80th birthday)! The ongoing project to record as much of his output as possible began with the CD Rotherham's Man Of Memories back in 2011, and here is volume 2, on which Roy treats us to a further generous selection of choice nuggets from his ever-expanding catalogue. He retains the tried-and-tested format of volume 1, where he introduces each item by convivially (and actually quite economically) expounding its origin. And, in common with volume 1, Roy explores a similar set of themes beloved to his personal sensibilities - affection for, and immense pride in, his native region; the history of South Yorkshire (and Rotherham in particular); local personalities and legends; and, of course, football.

The disc presents 13 songs and three poems from Roy's Ĺ“uvre. Of the songs, my own favourites this time round are Colliers' Monday (concerning a commonly-held miners' superstition), Lively Just Outside (memories of cinema-going in Sheffield during the Blitz), Clem Beckett (tribute to a local hero, Speedway ace and socialist), the poignant Letter From A Northern Mother (whose sincere affection of expression somewhat recalls the writing of Keith Marsden, methinks), and The Dawning Of My Life (the innocent plans and ambitions of a local lad due to sail away to the USA on the Titanic); of the poems, A Brief Moment Of Triumph (the epic tale of Percy Pyke of Heckmondwike) is truly destined for longevity, while Roy's serious side is well showcased on the evocative On Woodhead Road. Quite honestly, though, every single item on the disc is an absolute gem of perception, observation and expression, although it will take a lively mind of broad taste to get the most out of all aspects of Roy's songmaking, due to the sheer diversity of subject matter he explores. Marathon opus The Bonny Reds Of Barnsley is packed to the gunnels with minutiae that would doubtless mean much to those of the "football anorak" persuasion; personally (being a confirmed ludophobe!) it leaves me cold, but I can nevertheless appreciate Roy's skill in assembling all the facts surrounding Barnsley FC's victory in the 1912 FA Cup Final and fitting them around the infamous soccer theme tune. Whereas Why Can't We Play Crap Like The Germans? (penned only a few months ago) is self-explanatory and doesn't quite outlast its current-topicality in spite of its tongue-in-cheek twist. A similar fate may well befall the vicious satire of Porn Again Flower, entertaining though this opus undoubtedly is.

Now I'm hoping that the forthcoming projected volume 3 won't be long in coming, since it's slated to contain a significant number of known Blackman classics that somehow got missed out of volume 2's playlist. Also included on this volume is one brief humorous item performed not by Roy but by his late partner Doreen Bottomley, herself a poet of no little note.

Finally, then, as for the specifically technical considerations: the informal studio recording of almost all of volume 2 gives a very accurate and authentic aural representation of what Roy sounds like. To be sure, there are one or two slightly "creaky" moments, and little uncertainties of pitching here and there, but hey, nobody's perfect, and Roy is the first to admit that he's not a "great" singer (though I've heard worse on commercial recordings from more celebrated singers!); but his delivery is very much in the mould of the classic source singers of folk, and I'm convinced he would not be at all out of place on a future disc in the Voice Of The People series. In this respect, Roy's singing may in some quarters be considered an acquired taste; but he's a unique "character" and I'd say the taste is worth acquiring. The presentation of this CD is, like Roy himself, direct and unpretentious - what you see is what you get, with photos of Roy in his home environs and an honest personal commentary within. All the lyrics are available on Roy's brand new website (see below). The only drawback is that one needs to turn to the inside of the booklet in order to obtain the disc's tracklisting; ideally this should be situated on the rear cover. (For physical-CD availability details visit Roy's website; otherwise, digital downloads can be purchased from Amazon, CDBaby and iTunes.)

David Kidman

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