Monday, September 22, 2008

Working Class Music Festival

I really enjoyed the Sunday night session. I have been looking forward to it for months, the idea of Robb Johnson and Roy Bailey on the same bill, magic!

Al Baker was on first, a young man just out of Manchester University, radical, angry, zealous, but also funny and not a little charming. I particularly enjoyed the song, "I wish I had a Mohican", about the indignities of a Socialist falling in love with a young Tory girl and "Till the Fences Fall". He wore a black hat which reminded me very much of Boxcar Willie if such comparisons are allowed?

Tracey Curtis astounded the whole audience, by appearing to be aged about 16 or 17 yet telling us at some length about her four daughters and about her history years ago in a punk band! She sang lilting, melodic, haunting songs, some for her daughters, (“This is Rosa’s Happy Song” particularly delighting the audience) and another song which I did not get the title of, which went along the lines of “I am not proud to be British but I like the town I live in and the people who live there” which made reference to the many ways we can hurt each other, including war and unfettered capitalism.

Robb Johnson was on very good form, he did say at one point that he was not very famous, but he must be wrong there, he has always been famous in my household. “We are Rosa’s Lovely Daughters” rings out on a very regular basis for instance. And whenever I have seen Roy Bailey he always does at least one Robb Johnson number. I particularly enjoyed No-one Wants to Look Like You (Jack Straw) and you could not help being moved by his song about the Liverpool football tragedy at Hillsborough. We did our best to get the butterfly/chaos theory going, in the skies over the Picket, by joining in with a song called Up the Workers, hoping to encourage our Lady of Grantham to go to a better place. He came off stage about 10.30pm to set-off back to Hove to be ready to go back to work on Monday morning – that is dedication!

Roy Bailey is an old favourite of mine, and of many in the audience too. He is now 73 and getting a bit forgetful with some of the lyrics (although he had us wiping laughter tears away as he talked about forgetting the names of things and forgetting what he was going upstairs to collect and sometimes even forgetting whether he was on his way up or down the same stairs.) I particularly enjoyed his rendition of Crawford Howard’s parody of Willie McBride which he sang unaccompanied. This is not a skit of anti-war songs, but a skit on all the people who insist on singing it in pubs when they have had too much to drink and are maudlin and thus have turned it (according to Crawford) into the kind of song you never want to hear again. I was hoping for “You cannot break the oath of a Tolpuddle Man” but sadly it was not to be. He was funny, wise, warm and very well-received, a good half of the audience gave him a standing ovation and he delighted with “Rolling Home” for his encore.

He is having a concert in October to celebrate his 50 years in the business, more information here.

I sat next to a guy named Boris who told me he had come all the way from Switzerland to Liverpool for the weekend, just to attend the festival and had been to Friday night and Saturday night’s performance. He really enjoyed it although was a bit concerned that there were only two women out of the 15 or so acts he saw. Perhaps we women politicos need to learn to sing and write songs, or else we need to politicise those who are already doing it. He was very impressed with Liverpool and had flown straight to JLA from Switzerland so perhaps there is a new route there we can exploit.

I was also pleased that Richard McLinden came along with his colleague El, I didn’t see any other elected politicians, from any parties, but perhaps the politicians don’t have a history in Liverpool of engaging in musical solidarity or musical protest? I guess I have been a bit spoilt because as a close friend of Cath Ingham I have been taken along to see Raise Your Banners in Sheffield, Holmfirth Folk Festival and singer song-writers like Roy and Robb for years. I have also seen Roy with Tony Benn on the “Writing on the Wall” tour at least three times, including once at Labour Party conference in Blackpool about 15 years ago. I bought 8 copies of their double cassette tape in 1996 and every friend had it from me for Christmas that year, excellent I can highly recommend it if you have not heard it! I expect you can get it on CD these days.

All praise to Alun Parry for organising the weekend’s festival and Phil Hayes for hosting it, let’s hope it can become an annual event.

It was an uplifting event and gave my socialist faith a much-needed shot in the arm.

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