Charlie Roby
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Charlie Roby


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"fRoots May 2006"

“...globally inspired, Ramble & Scuffle is a brave album... Best track, Yorkshire Shuffle, is affectionate roots rock of pedigree."

- Ramble & Scuffle

"fRoots The Essential Worldwide Roots Music Guide"

Li Robbins profiles an English songwriter in Canada

My roots are in the air
I stay nowhere
the baobab tree and me
sitting in the shade of my ancestry”
(From Roots In The Air, by Charlie Roby)

The words of the song refer to the nomadic Tuaregs of Northwest Africa. Substitute sycamore for baobab and they could well refer to Charlie Roby. This musician was born in Wigan, Lancs, and now resides in Toronto, Ontario, a move made after meeting his Acadian wife while both were living in France. More recently he’s spent a year travelling in Africa and India.

Roots In The Air is one of eleven songs on Charlie Roby’s debut CD Utopia Is Not Here. You’ll find another, called Home Ground, on the most recent Froots compilation. Roots In The Air expresses Roby’s fascination with “arbitrary lines on the map connoting borders” and with “the relationship between people and land and the place they live.” Home Ground was written with the all too vivid images of the war in Bosnia in mind. It’s about people’s elemental desire to live in peace, to “walk through the streets of a friendly town”.

Roby’s songs are almost always about the plight of others - nary a self indulgent love song in sight. (He does have some songs of that genre in his repertoire, but they’re written with a deft tenderness that cannot possibly be construed as self-indulgent!)

Nothing in Charlie’s formative days would lead you to believe this lad from Wigan would study sitar in India, participate in African drumming workshops in Toronto or play a mean set of spoons at Acadian parties. His early musical influences were bands like, well, The Beatles. He fondly remembers listening to the first live broadcast of The White Album on Radio Luxembourg with his radio tucked under the pillow. Guitars became a natural magnet, given the music of the time. Where he differed from your average guitar slinging youth was in his almost complete indifference to learning the riffs of the day. Although he admired heavyweights from Hendrix to Clapton he didn’t seek to imitate. When pressed he modestly acknowledges “my guitar playing has grown up in a very individual way.”

That guitar playing has a forceful presence, and yes, it is most idiosyncratic. Roby is quick to acknowledge his current admiration for the likes of Richard Thompson and Martin Simpson though. He’s particularly impressed by Simpson’s “remarkable range of influences, from English and Celtic folk to Indian classical traditions with all kinds of strange tunings.” He adds “you can hear the influences but the music is very coherent in its own right. I hope I’m achieving that in my own music.”

To walk into Charlie Roby’s apartment is to instantly sense those influences. A bouzouki is nestled in the corner, right next to a djembé (bought from Farafina in Burkina Faso no less) and a bodhrán. The lovely smells of cardamom and cumin waft through the cosy rooms; masks and carvings from travels adorn the walls. Roby credits many people, places and things with broadening his musical influences - from his wife who introduced him to the delights of Cajun music, to an early WOMAD album for the first time he heard music from Africa, to “some Irish guy” he met who opened the door to that rich musical world. All these strands are woven into the tapestry of the music he recorded, at home, for Utopia Is Not Here.

Some of Toronto’s leading “roots” musicians play with him (including drummer Andy Stochansky of Ani DiFranco's band on several tracks). What he figures he sacrificed by recording in the spare bedroom ("yes it would be nice just to play rather than worrying about where the mics are and whether the machine is running”) he gained in terms of not being a slave to the time-equals-money equation of the recording studio. All of which coming from a musician whose songwriting talents are as thoughtful as they are unconventional.

Where it is the musical side of Roby’s work that strikes you first (ranging from the pared down sound of voice and guitar on one piece to the multitracked guitars, sampled murli and flute of another song) it is the lyrics that get you thinking. Roots In The Air concludes: “Now the men from the South meet and tell us of the line. We no longer have free passage across the line. We are the nomadic people, we tell the time by the path and the shade tree, we move as the breeze with the seasons changing.”



Five years ago in F.R., Tony May described Charlie Roby as “an interesting talent”. This album, the first since then, demonstrates that the Toronto-based singer/songwriter has become very interesting indeed. Lyrically, his songs deal greatly with the conflict between old-established ways of life - particularly those of Nomadic peoples - and the alienating effects that modern technology cannot fail to bring.

Sounds heavy or unoriginal? Think again, because Roby has a knack of summing up situations in a couple of lines that hit home without preaching or supplicating; the detached but passionate observer.

Bass, drums and percussion, bagpipes and even Roby’s field recordings from Rajasthan provide a solid, lithe ground for his guitar and bouzouki, which range from complex fingerpicking to meaty powerchords. Andrea Koziol sings harmony on most of the tracks, complementing Roby’s strong phrasing. All in all, a good, thought-provoking listen.

Ian Kearey
- Utopia Is Not Here

"Penguin Eggs Spring 2006"

“...a guitar player and a good one at that. He is equally at home on acoustic or electric and the influences of his heroes (such as Martin Simpson and Richard Thompson) are evident in his playing. His backing players fit in really well and create a great musical backdrop for the songs.”

- Ramble & Scuffle

"more quotes..."

“This is exactly what Peter Gabriel would sound like if he didn’t have the resources to fly in master musicians from around the globe.” NOW Magazine

“CHARLIE ROBY bursts in like a lion, but never threatens to creep out like a lamb on his fifth album ‘Utopia Is Not Here’ that engulfs with its all-consuming passion and roots-charged energy. With a range of influences spanning Celtic, Arabic, African, jazz and blues, all adding their multi-coloured musical hues to his authoritative and strongly impressive rock drive. He’s also capable of sensitive and appealing acoustic led pieces that demonstrate further his versatility...” ROCK N’REEL

“:...the high quality and fresh approaches of the songs...” TORONTO STAR

...sledgehammer guitar playing and richly layered arrangements... An interesting talent.” FOLK ROOTS

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2006 Ramble and Scuffle Malandrin Music MALCD 0103

1995 Utopia Is Not Here Malandrin Music MALCD 0102

1990 Breath Forming Clouds MALC 101

1987 Water and Stone indie cassette

1985 Charlie Roby indie cassette



Ramble & Scuffle...

The CD features Charlie’s live rhythm section Larry Crowe (drums and percussion) and Stephen Bright (acoustic and electric bass)
Other musicians include Ben Grossman (hurdy gurdy and bodhrán), Paul Reddick (harmonica), Ron Korb (flutes), Ravi Naimpally (tabla & percussion), and Martha and the Muffins’ Mark Gane (guitar)...
Art direction and design by Juno Award winner A Man Called Wrycraft
Produced by Charlie Roby and Mark Shannon
Tracks from Ramble and Scuffle currently receiving airplay on CBC, campus/community stations across Canada and on eclectic shows such as Roots Around the World in the UK
Performances at clubs, concerts and festivals will support the CD release.
Charlie is also performing solo shows.


Charlie Roby was born in Northern England and has lived in Canada since 1982.
He’s also lived in France and has travelled extensively in India and Northwest Africa.
Charlie Roby’s music is hard to categorise - a unique perspective reflecting his experiences and his passion for music from all over the map.
The guitar has been Charlie’s main instrument since he was 14. Acoustic fingerpicking, searing lines on a Stratocaster, a range of altered tunings and an individual rhythmic style. Bouzouki, tenor guitar, looping devices...
fROOTS included the track Home Ground from Utopia Is Not Here on one of their influential cover-mount compilation CDs.
In the 1980’s Charlie was a hit on Canadian campus/community charts with some now very-hard-to-find indie cassette releases.