Writing is finally on the wall for Roy and Tony

Tony Benn and Roy Bailey
Tony Benn and Roy Bailey

FOR 23 years, Sheffield based folk singer Roy Bailey and former Labour politician Tony Benn have been performing their show, Writing On The Wall, around the country.

The combination of Roy’s stirring songs and Tony’s thoughts from a lifetime in British politics won them Best Live Act at BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2003.

Now it looks as though the collaboration has come to an end.

Roy, who lives in Nether Green, has described an emotional evening in London that looks like being the final concert of Writing on the Wall.

The duo had been due to appear at King’s Place in York Way only for Roy to discover on the morning that the former minister and Chesterfield MP - 88 next week - was ill. It was decided that Roy should carry on by himself.

“I explained and apologised for Tony’s absence and set off to talk about the history of Writing on the Wall and what our intentions were in performing the show. I sang the songs in the order they would come in the programme.”

Towards the end, Roy was called to the side of the stage where Tony Benn had suddenly appeared. “He was intent on apologising himself to the audience and he said, supporting me. I was very moved and couldn’t hold back the tears. As we stepped, or rather shuffled, arm in arm on to the stage there was a roar and everyone was on their feet applauding and shouting their welcome. It was so moving, I think we both were very emotional.

“Indeed I think the emotion swept the whole audience.”

Tony spoke briefly of almost 40 years of friendship and collaboration “and said some really kind words about me - I wept! I think we both knew that this was likely our last appearance together on a concert stage, anywhere. His voice was strong and his words were the right words!”

Roy, aged 77, a former academic at Sheffield City Polytechnic, whose has performed around the world, said Tony had insisted on coming, against advice.

“Tony left almost immediately the concert ended with his usual question ‘Was I OK?’ I just hugged him. His boundless optimism, energy and enthusiasm for the show and indeed, for life resulted in the comment: ‘I’m not dead yet – so we might even manage another concert somewhere!’”

The two men first performed together in 1976, and the first concert of The Writing on the Wall, “an anthology of dissent in words and music”, was based on Tony Benn’s book of the same name, was at the Labour Party Conference in 1991.

He has described Roy as “the greatest socialist folksinger of his generation”.