The Chronicle

There’s something charmingly dated about this collection of songs from Roe. Although the title track was composed in 1990, there’s more an air of the year of her birth, 1930, and an atmosphere that evokes walking down a Kent country lane in the summer of 1930; perhaps because it sounds both traditional and very English. Her late husband John Bishop was an active member of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, so maybe it’s that influence.

She was born in North Kensington, and still lives next-door but one to her parents’ house. Her father was a fishmonger and her mother a butcher’s bookkeeper, and though she was no academic, young Betty, who left school having failed her school leaving certificate exams, was a junior exhibitioner at the Royal Academy of Music and in 1949 went there as a senior student. The CD features a number of guest singers: Sarah Leonard, Anne Marie Sheridan, Robin Tritschler and Stephen Varcoe.

To listen to, it’s a varied and interesting collection. Each song is just a singer (soprano, tenor or baritone) and piano (Nigel Foster throughout, though there’s recorder, French horn violin and in places), so it’s fairly simple. It’s all pretty slow and creates that nice atmosphere of being in another place.

The topics of the songs vary, though she seems to favour nature. There’s Shakespeare (“I know a bank where the wild thyme grows”) and more modern works; the title track is a reflection on life based on the seven ages of man, with the silver hound being memory, extending a text by Ursula Vaughan Williams.

Roe is also not afraid of mundane topics, whether it’s gardening –– “Tomorrow I shall dig the left-hand bed” –– or buses, in the humorous Scooting: “I was standing at the bus stop / Thinking ‘Surely  something must stop’ / Can they all be making for the terminus?”. Her solution to poor public transport? A child’s scooter.

Charming and very English, this is an entertaining set of songs.

—Jeremy Condliffe