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Roy Bailey - Past Masters
ROY BAILEY "Past Masters" Fuse Records CFCD403

Shortly before I received this CD, Roy Bailey filled my local folk club. Teachers, accountants and even civil servants battled for personal space and plastic seats. Shortly afterwards - slightly more testing - he played the Albert Hall. As he says in the notes, he must be doing something right.

This is not the definitive compilation, nor should we expect one yet. It spans only a segment of Roy's career, with digitally remastered tracks from "That's Not the Way It's Got to Be" (1975), "Hard Times" (1982), "Freedom Peacefully" (1985) and "Leaves From A Tree" (1988). But it's a meaty 71-minute reminder of how he achieved his present stature.

Start with the voice, among the finest of the folk revival. Listen to his vibrant power in two songs about the Falklands war (Dave Rogers' "The Malvinas" and Jim Woodland's "The Ghost") or his gentle command in Bruce Phillips' anti-ageist "All Used Up", my favourite in this collection.

Go to the challenging radical message, and the impeccable judgement in using songs which entertain as well as comment. Nearly impeccable. Whisper it quietly, but some of these songs go paddling in Lake Doleful, like Geoff Pearson's "Rain Forest Falls" and Violeta Parra's "Gracias A La Vida" (a translation would have helped). But these are outnumbered by zesters like "Streets of London" (John Hasted's reworking of "The Dublin Jack of All Trades"), "Song of the Leaders" (Geoff Pearson in better form about the Peasants' Revolt), and "Daughters of the Revolution" (Berni Armstrong's Highland women outsmart redcoats).

Mix voice, message and judgement and you get Roy's power to make us sense our kinship with each other through the ages and across the boundaries. This is often present on this CD, though a live recording with an ounce less dourness and more of his trademark anthems would show it more strongly. I saw no recording gear at my folk club - where, incidentally, under Roy's benign spell we stopped battling and yes, linked hands instead - but perhaps there was some at the other place ...?

In spite of my reservations, a raging buy for all Roy's fans.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 27 of The Living Tradition magazine.