Tending the roots of music

It’s no surprise to fans of the CKUA Radio show Roy’s Record Room that Roy Forbes likes looking back at old music.

Performer and radio host

It’s no surprise to fans of the CKUA Radio show Roy’s Record Room that Roy Forbes likes looking back at old music.

Forbes regularly dusts off the 45 or 78 r.p.m. vinyls he’s collected on his travels and broadcasts their music to a whole new generation of listeners.

“I don’t think of my show as a nostalgia show,” said the radio show host. “I’m unravelling the roots of pop music.”

But, lately, some of the historic tunes that Forbes has been perusing in his spare time have been his own ­­— songs he’d written in the early 1970s, when Forbes was performing across Canada as the folk artist Bim, and even older ones composed while he was playing in his first rock band in his native Dawson Creek, B.C.

And it seems a pleasant revelation to him that these early tunes are none too shabby.

“I’m enjoying them now,” said Forbes, who’s contemplating doing a retrospective concert when he appears on Oct. 15 at the Elks Lodge in Red Deer. “It’s nice to see that some of these songs are still doing their job. Songs do have work to do — and these songs are still working.”

Take Talk Around Town, for example.

The song, recently re-recorded by U.S. singer Shawn Colvin, riffs on the human desire for fame or immortality. It can be appreciated for such fine lyrics as: “Everybody wants the chance to move another mind, leave a bit of truth behind.” But it can also send a shiver down your spine with the line: “Some people want to go out and try to stop time with a gun.”

Forbes wrote the song after John Lennon was assassinated in 1980 by a fan who couldn’t think of a better way to get famous. “That song just kind of spilled out of me,” he recalled.

While Talk Around Town continues to resonate because too many others have gone down the same dark road as Lennon’s killer, Forbes believes the song also works because it’s “multi-dimensional and can be appreciated on many different levels by many different people.”

The songwriter, who’s also known for his high, keening singing style, feels the same applies to other tunes he’s written, such as Leave It to the Lord, about a young man trying to figure out how to live his life, and the satirical country song, Spider, written in his teens.

Forbes said these tunes were created, not with an eye to posterity, but from being in the moment. “A song comes out of an idea, or a phrase, or something that somebody says, or a sequence of notes.”

He always jotted song ideas down in their first flurry, then stepped away. He returned to the music or lyrics later to fix what sounded clunky, or to rearrange an overly familiar melody line.

Tinkering with a song before it gels “will stop you in your tracks” and ruin the tune, said Forbes. “You’ve got to take the journey and arrive at your destination.”

Forbes teaches songwriting and knows of what he speaks.

His blend of folk, blues, country and rock tunes are considered among the most eloquent of his generation and have been covered by Shari Ulrich, Connie Kaldor, Heather Bishop Cindy Church, Susan Jacks, Mat Minglewood, Garnet Rogers, Sylvia Tyson, Valdy, and such U.S. performers as Colvin and Kathy Kallick.

Forbes regretfully admitted he doesn’t write as much as he used to; “Life’s so busy. I’m doing so many other things.”

He recently got together with Ulrich and Bill Henderson, the other members of the folk trio UHF, for a 20th anniversary concert in Vancouver. Forbes also has his radio show, his solo tours, and family obligations — he’s been with his partner Lydia for 41 years and the couple have a grown daughter.

“ I don’t believe I’ve run out of things to say — sometimes I think I haven’t said anything,” mused the 56-year-old.

The Central Music Festival Society presents: An Evening with Roy Forbes at 8 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 15, at the Elks Lodge in Red Deer. Tickets are $31.50 from the Black Knight Ticket Centre or Valhalla Pure Outfitters.


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