Legendary Sheffield ‘protest singer’ dies at 83

Roy Bailey
Roy Bailey

A legendary Sheffield singer once described as ‘the greatest living socialist folk singer of a generation’ has died at the age of 83.

Roy Bailey, who performed his last ever concert last month, spent decades using his music to explore issues including poverty, war and inequality.

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The talented musician, who played alongside Paul Simon, Pete Seeger, Billy Bragg and Tom Paxton during his career, was once described by the late Labour veteran MP, Tony Benn, as ‘the greatest living socialist folk singer of a generation’.

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But, in an earlier interview with The Star, Roy, who was a father and grandfather, said: “I'm not trying to spread a message, I'm just telling people in my songs that these are the things that make me laugh, cry and make me angry.

"If people see me as a political singer that's up to them. A lot of other singers share my world views, it's just that I express mine through my music and they don't.

“My songs are a comment about the world rather than a rallying cry for revolution. I don't think songs can lead a revolution.

"They are songs about ordinary life. If people label me as political then that says more about their politics than mine.”

The former Sheffield Hallam University professor, who used to perform benefit concerts for causes including the Stop the War Coalition, performed around the world.

In his academic life he played an important role in the development of sociology in Britain and was a published author on the subject.

In 2000, he was appointed MBE, although he returned the honour in 2006 in protest against British support of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

Posting on Twitter and announcing the death, Roy’s son-in-law, Martin Simpson, said: “My father-in-law, Professor Roy Bailey MBE (returned), died today aged 83.

“He was a beautiful singer and an unparalleled performer and never ceased to be a protest singer.”

In one Twitter tribute, Nina Hansell‏ said: “Such a great man who touched so many people and stuck to his principles. It is overwhelmingly sad.”

Jane Lithgow added: “Very sorry to hear this especially when the voice of protest has never been so greatly needed. Will sing louder.”

Peter Lord‏ described him as ‘a great, passionate, principled singer. Also a very delightful entertainer’.