IN CONCERT: Roy Forbes
Where: Upstairs Lounge, Oak Bay Recreation Centre, 1975 Bee St.
When: Saturday, May 28, 7:30 p.m. (doors at 6)
Tickets: $30 from beaconridgeproductions.com; $35 at the door
Roy Forbes has made his return following the longest break of his 50-year career, an 18-month stretch of inactivity due to COVID-19. That is a surprise unto itself.
Forbes, who lost his right eye to glaucoma when he was six, lost sight in his left eye following an accident at home in 2015. Now legally blind, the 69-year-old could have called it a day during the pandemic, with very little left to prove. Few among his legion of fans would have blamed the popular North Vancouver resident, had he chosen to retire. But he returned to music, and released his first new album of material in 14 years.
The two-time Juno Award nominee, who recorded as Bim until 1982, now has tour dates in support of the new album, Edge of Blue, including a stop Saturday at the Oak Bay Recreation Centre’s Upstairs Lounge. Fans often approach the Dawson Creek native and tell him they are overjoyed to see him on stage again; the feeling is mutual, Forbes said.
“Some of us have been hanging out with each other for almost 50 years. I was happy to get us all back together again.”
Forbes is performing solo at the moment, which is how many in B.C. will remember him from his early days in the Vancouver scene. He arrived in 1971 as a relatively untested talent known solely as Bim, but Forbes quickly asserted himself. Word of his singing, songwriting and guitar playing prowess grew, leading to several key shows and studio sessions, with everyone from David Foster, Richard Thompson and Rita Coolidge to John Lee Hooker and Santana.
“I’m more than capable of carrying it [solo],” he said. “Frankly, I like it that way. I can walk the tightrope on my own and make a little change in a tune, and I don’t have to worry about people following me.”
Not every show in the ’70s was a cakewalk for Forbes, whose music has always been suited to environments where listening — not partying — is a priority. As an upstart in the tough Vancouver scene, however, he didn’t always have a say in the matter. Genres were less defined back then, so he found himself on stage in some unforgiving environments.
“I opened for Jeff Beck at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in 1975, and the crowd was full of heavy metal guitar players who must have been thinking: ‘What the hell is this guy doing up there?’ ” he said with a laugh. “And then I pulled it out I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, a Hank Williams tune that I’d done for years, and won them over.”
Forbes has dabbled in the years since, from a Christmas album with Connie Kaldor and Norm MacPherson, to membership in the super-group UHF, with Shari Ulrich of the Hometown Band and Bill Henderson of Chilliwack. Edge of Blue, his first studio recording since 2006, arrived in 2020, and brought into the fold a host of Vancouver luminaries, from bluegrass mandolinist John Reischman and jazz pianist Chris Gestrin to multi-instrumentalist Claire Lawrence of The Collectors.
Forbes said it has been a fascinating journey thus far, from playing rock and roll in Dawson Creek to mining singer-songwriter territory around Western Canadian festivals. “There are a handful of us who are still doing it, who were doing it back in the day, and that’s cool. We just keep going. I lost my sight in 2015, but I was able to get back on stage within five or six months of my accident. I just kept going.”
Hitting the road with fresh material is a dream scenario for Forbes. His fans often demand to hear specific songs at each concert — Lifting My Heart, If I Were a Raven, or So Close to Home — so he will delve into Edge of Blue when he needs to quell the stream of requests, Forbes said jokingly.
“Those fans that I made in the ‘70s with those first records, those songs belong to them. The fans stuck with me when I did the name change in ‘87, and they are so loyal, through the ‘80s up until now. It’s a loyal bunch. And it really hits me now. I don’t know if it’s the 50-year mark, but the connection that we have, the fans and I, it’s deep. It’s really deep. It’s quite emotional sitting there, at the CD table, chatting with people and getting their story. The tunes have gone out there and they’ve done something. It feels really good.”