'At St.David's Hall......Anti-Something Roadshow.....it was really brill!'
'Who was there?'
' Can't quite remember....oh yeah, there was that Leon Rosselson, remember him?'
'Thought he was dead! What a songwriter!'
'Yeah.....wish I'd bought the album though.'
This is an adaptation of one intro by singer-songwriter Roy Bailey urging us to buy the album of the tour, the Anti-Capitalist Roadshow, which appeared at Level 3, St. David's Hall a couple of weeks ago.
Fortunately, I'd already purchased it on the way in, so didn't have to be chivvied.
I made the right decision, because the cd gives an insight into many of the songs performed, as well as other artists who didn't appear on that night but who, presumably, do at other venues.
In the words of Rosselson - who has been creating pithy, punchy political songs for decades - ' the Anti-Capitalist Roadshow is a collective of singers and songwriters plus one magician, opposed to the ideologically driven austerity programme imposed by this millionaire government on all but the elite and in particular on the poor, vulnerable and disabled.'
Sounds rather dour and tedious? Not at all! There was an unexpected variety from the artists present : Grace Petrie, Jim Woodland, Janet Russell, Frankie Armstrong, Roy Bailey and Leon Rosselson.
Themes and motifs were reflected and exchanged as all took the stage and sang, sometimes accompanied by others, sometimes asking the packed audience to join in.
Grace Petrie was a complete revelation to me: a 25 year-old who echoed Billy Bragg, but with better vocals and that rare ability of combining the personal and political so seamlessly, very much like Wales-based Tracey Curtis. The highlight of her set was a song about the Spanish Civil War, a departure from her response to current events.
Making an equal impact was Jim Woodland (many of his songs composed for a theatre group). Woodland's an excellent singer,who sounds uncannily like the late, great Kevin Coyne at times, and a songwriter who can deal with diverse topics in an emotional way, full of wit and indignation. Unfortunately, his superb ecological ballad 'The Trees Are Leaving England' doesn't feature on the album.
Janet Russell from Scotland is a powerful singer who generally interprets others' songs, such as Woodland's very moving 'St. Peter's Field' about the Peterloo Massacre and Rosselson's 'Olive Tree' about the Israeli oppression of Palestinians. Russell really brought out their bitter sadness.
Frankie Armstrong is now based in Cardiff and she sand almost exclusively a capella, interpreting songs of freedom and resistance like Brecht & Eisler's 'Proletarian Lullaby'. Her voice is rich and deep, though I found the songs rather samey and the range of melodies limited. She'd have benefited from more accompaniment.
Surprisingly, Roy Bailey didn't perform any of his own songs ( as on the album). His funny intros were welcome and his interpretation of Martin Whelan's 'Bread & Roses' was a real highlight, with its link between the struggles of Connolly's socialist republicanism and other leaders throughout the last century.
For sheer cutting satire and also all-embracing humanity Leon Rosselson is unique. He may not have the strongest of voices or catchy of tunes, but his words carry more strength than most.
A typical example is 'Looters', where he caustically turns the tables (like Tim Richards' poems in 'Red Poets' magazines) and questions who really are the looters. His conclusion - arrived at with much persuasive historical evidence - is that 'The Brutish Empire built on looting' sets a very bad example to those who got imprisoned for stealing the likes of two left trainers. He sees many museums as the 'history of the world in loot'.
One day Rosselson will be up there in the pantheon of singer-songwriters, but we may need a Revolution first!
The same applies to the wonderfully-talented Robb Johnson, still a teacher and, like Rosselson, a singer-songwriter who deserves widespread recognition.
Johnson wasn't at this particular gig, along with a number of others who appear on the album 'Celebrating Subversion', such as Peggy Seeger.
His songs are so lively and engaging, and he's a master of the telling chorus ; he can be both hilarious and angry, often in the same song. 'Rosa's Lovely Daughters' is his feminist anthem which refers to Reclaim the Night, but is frighteningly relevant today.
If the concert was both rousing and optimistic, then the album contains even more variety, with poetry from Ian Saville and a marvellous Tunisian song called 'Babour Zammar', which summoned up the vitality of the Arab uprisings.
A loose collective of leftwing singers and songwriters? Why can't poets in Cymru do that? Call themselves the Red Poets.
Now there's a thought...............
COZ I WOZ STARVIN
On'y stole coz I woz starvin,
never bin done f'r nickin
on'y stole one sandwich,
think it wuz chicken
I int got nothin ;
cut my benefits, carn afford nothin
no jobs goin,
ones that are int worth avin
Securitee ad me,
grabbed an pinned me
knee in-a back,
arm yanked up an killin
like I'd murdered somebuddy,
a psycho gone loopy
face t the ground
an a boot in the ead
in-a nick I'll eat better
an ave a tidee bed.