Roll on the Day is a sad, haunting ballad created by UK folk singer Allan Taylor.
It tells of the health difficulties suffered by a working man from the north of England struck down in retirement by a typical industrial disease.
In Allan’s own words;
“I wrote this song about an old man called Henry Johnson. I would occasionally visit Henry in his high-rise apartment in Leeds for what reason I’m not really sure; he seemed to derive little pleasure from my visit and I always left extremely depressed. Henry was typical of men who have spent their working lives in factories and coal mines in that he had breathed so much bad air, coal dust and general pollution that breathing had become difficult and painful.
I would find him during the day trying to sleep sitting in an upright chair leaning against the wall, because that was the only way he could breathe. The nights were a torment to him; when he lay down he could not sleep as his breathing was so laboured. He used to tell me how he would lie awake and say to himself, “Roll on the day, roll on the bloody day”.
For foreign readers I should explain that this expression has two meanings; the first, literal meaning is a way of wishing the day to come quickly. The second, less obvious meaning is a way of wishing for the day to come quickly, when it’s finally over, which is in fact wishing for death. Henry certainly wanted death to come quick as he would very often ask me if I could bring a revolver for him so he could shoot himself.
A few days after he died I sat at the piano and thought of the things he had said. The phrase “Roll on the day” kept coming back to me, and over the course of only a couple of hours the song was written.
I’ve performed this song regularly all over Europe, but the most poignant and powerful renditions, in terms of audience involvement have been in the Yorkshire and Durham mining areas. To hear the voices of a hundred members of a folk club, singing with such passion about a problem they are intimately familiar with is indeed a moving experience.
Note: I wrote a fourth verse for this song but forgot to sing it when I recorded it.”
It is a powerful song that always goes down well and I can often hear the audience singing along. I started performing this when I had worked out a guitar accompaniment that sort of fitted – although I am sure guitar aficionados would be able to spot how simple it is just picking shapes in DADGAD.
Philippa added some deceptively simple hurgy gurdy arrangement. I think it all came together when Niels and Sue joined in with lovely harmonies one folk gathering. It might even have been the first song we all sang together. And we added in the fourth verse that Allan Taylor originally forgot to record, although changed the order slightly to make what I feel is a better ending.
We practiced it, we performed it, we recorded it and we love it.
You can find a high quality recording on Bandcamp here. It’s also on iTunes and Amazon.
You can also listen on Soundcloud if you prefer.
I hope you enjoy listening to is as much as we did recording it.
Roll on the morning, roll on the day
I hear the old man softly praying, Roll on the day
As the dawn comes creeping, roll on the day
Another night not sleeping, roll on the day
Praying for another day, roll on the day
When it comes it wastes away, roll on the day
Every night you fight for breath, roll on the day
It hurts so bad you wish for death, roll on the day
Another long and sleepless night, roll on the day
Staring at the naked light, roll on the day.