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ROY BAILEY - Below The Radar

ROY BAILEY - Below The Radar
Fuse Records CFCD407

That’s a heck of a fine title for an album.   It immediately conjures up in the potential listener, thoughts of the “samizdat” and of hidden jewels, that are a million miles removed from the (radar controlled) commercial airwaves.  Not for nothing did Archie Fisher say (when Roy had used the phrase in casual conversation with him): “What a great title for a CD”.

And Roy did not hang about: he decided to act on the advice.

But the question is, is it the album Roy thinks it is?   Is it that celebration of the non-mainstream?   And if it is that celebration, does he pull it off artistically?

Well the answer to the first part is an unequivocal yes.    Sure, I was familiar with the majority of the songs here, but they are assuredly not songs you would hear sung on the upper deck of the Clapham omnibus.  But the answer to the second question, is a little less emphatic.

In an effort to surround himself with a dream team of musicians, Roy bided his time and waited for them to each become free.    Though, that said, when the great Roy Bailey comes calling, I cannot imagine even such luminaries as John Kirkpatrick, Martin Simpson, Donald Grant, Andy Cutting and Andy Seward will hesitate in saying “yes” for any more than a nanosecond.    And these stellar names, indeed did him proud at every stage.

And talking of performances, nobody shines brighter than Roy himself.   Amazing to think that he is now 73 years young: and whilst that unforgettably special voice of his, does not have quite the power and cutting edge in the upper register, (of yesteryear), it still remains a formidable instrument.   It is a vocal milometer capable of going all round the clock, once again.  Look out Pete Seeger at 90.   Roy Bailey is coming up fast on the rails.

So then, the performances, are top-drawer: that is a given, throughout the CD.  I do have some reservations though regarding the song choices.  

Hey, I have always thought The Road To Dundee to be a beautiful song.  But golly, hardly one “below the radar”.     Indeed at one time, Max Boyce’s version was seemingly played wall-to-wall for about the best part of 5 years, on Radio Wales.    And, admirer though I am of the songs of Jim Page, I am not sure that one of the four of his compositions here quite cuts it as a song: Anna Mae, might have a heck of a story behind it, but methinks it does not have a big future ahead of it!   (As a song to receive cover versions, I mean.   That said, there is no accounting for artistes’ tastes.)

But those reservations apart, there are some lovely choices here.

Tom Paxton’s own version of his self-penned “How Beautiful Upon The Mountain” is a track rarely off my CD player, but Roy adds a little something to it in my estimation, not so much to the slight changes he makes to the lyric (with TP’s consent) “in order that the song connects with our experience here in the UK”, but in his British pronunciation of the name “Isaiah”!  Yes, you can’t know how refreshing that is to a British ear!   (Re the lyric changes though: in truth, I never had any trouble relating to Tom’s original lyrics, and whilst Roy’s changes work perfectly well, I feel vaguely patronised and talked down to.   Like I am too much of a dunce to get Paxton’s original words.   Which I am sure was not Roy’s intent, but hey, that’s what I feel.   Like he is messing about with the King James Bible, or some such!)

Great to hear again Timothy Winters: that Charles Causley poem set to Leon Rosselson’s tune.    Again, perhaps not exactly one’s first choice for “below the radar”: I have several recorded versions in my collection.  The Rosselson, the Barry Skinner, the Alex Atterson are just three that come to mind.   And best of all of course, the poem itself, read by the author on his Caedmon LP, “Causley Reads Causley”.

But whether it was down to Roy’s interpretation, I don’t know, but with this new version, I developed a whole new take on the lad Winters himself.

Whereas before, I had always found him a character worthy of my sympathy, I now – maybe it is my own advancing years giving me the perspective? – found him a positive HERO for surviving both his straitened family circumstances, and the educational establishment!

Nice to see a song by George Papavgeris featured.    Friends Like These has good sentiment, and a chorus that lends itself perfectly to Roy’s voice.

But I have left till last, the artistic high water mark of the album.   I refer to Ian Campbell’s The Old Man’s Tale.    This really was “below the radar” in that it was a song I had clean forgotten, but one which I saw Ian’s group perform several times, back in the days when I was a member of their Jug O’ Punch folk club in Birmingham.

I am stunned at how I had forgotten such a powerful song, and thank Roy for reminding me.  I promise not to forget it again.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 84 of The Living Tradition magazine.