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Musician Roy Forbes performing again after loss of sight

Canadian folk icon Roy Forbes is performing again, after an accident at his home in December left him legally blind.

The Canadian folk icon lost what was left of his sight in an accident in December

Folk musician Roy Forbes plays his first hometown performance since he lost his vision in December. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Roy Forbes slowly makes his way across the stage to the waiting microphone. His partner, Lydia, leads him by one arm and he holds his white cane in the other.

Before beginning his first song, Forbes explains that he's lost his vision.

The free noon-hour performance in front of the CBC Vancouver building on Monday was his first show in Vancouver since an accident in December left him legally blind.

It was just before Christmas when Forbes was shuffling some boxes around in the storage area at his North Vancouver home.

"One slid and went 'wham!' — I probably had them piled a bit too high," said Forbes. "A stupid accident. It could happen to anybody."

An audience in front of the CBC Vancouver building enjoys a performance by Roy Forbes — one of his first since an accident left him legally blind. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"It just kind of slipped down and went 'wham' and everything went dark."

The box struck his left eye — the 63-year-old hadn't had vision in the other eye since it was lost to glaucoma when he was six.

'Through heaven and hell'

For months, Forbes underwent medical care, including three surgeries and two cornea transplants.

"The doctors just did everything they could. In the end there's just a tiny bit of vision over here," he said, gesturing to his lower left. "So, I'm basically — I'm a white cane guy now."

Roy Forbes performs some songs as his cane sits on a table next to the stage. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"I can tell when a light is being switched on and off, kind of like 'vip voop.' Occasionally, I can see my hand if I move it here a little bit, but essentially nothing to shake a stick at."

Forbes calls the six months after the accident a roller coaster, when he went "through heaven and hell." One day there was hope that his sight would return, the next, nothing.

Forbes said it was a bit of a 'release' to confirm that, in June, he could abandon hope and get on with learning to adapt as someone with no sight.

Singer-songwriter Roy Forbes entertains the crowd at a CBC Vancouver Nooners show on Monday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"It meant that I could carry on. You know, I had a direction to go, and that's the direction I'm heading, which is forward," he said. "I got a cane and I'm learning how to whack my way around."

Writing again

Forbes said he hadn't been doing a lot of songwriting for awhile, but since the accident, the songs have been bubbling to the surface.

He performed three new songs at the CBC Nooners show on Monday, and said he has more on the way.

Asked if his vision impairment would turn him into more of a stereotypical bluesman, Forbes answered that that some of his new songs are coming out much more upbeat.

Roy Forbes frets his 40-year-old acoustic guitar during a free performance in front of the CBC Vancouver building on Monday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"Songs have a mind of their own; they come out however they want," he said. I don't think I'll be heading to the blues; I'm just heading to the next song."

Though he said his daughter was suggesting a pair of dark Ray-Ban sunglasses to replace the regular glasses he still wears.

"We'll see, maybe I will. Mind you, it's just one more thing to keep track of."

'I feel like I'm home'

"Being here at CBC today, though, I mean this was my second home for, you know, what, 30 years?" said Forbes before his Monday performance.

"This is a perfect way for me to re-enter performing in Vancouver — the perfect spot. I feel like I'm home."

Forbes chooses to perform standing up, rather than seated in a fixed position.

"When I sing, it comes from the tips of my toes right out my mouth," he explained. "I like the freedom of the body moving and being able to do that and the same with the guitar, just moving the body around a bit when you're hitting a note you're really into."

An outline of small ridges on the stage keeps Roy Forbes in position in front of his microphone. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The folk icon relies on a border of small ridges around his position on stage to keep him in the right spot in front of the microphone. The guitar mic is swapped out for a direct line into his 40-year-old acoustic instrument. Otherwise, the performance is what one would expect from the veteran performer, and the crowd eats it up.

"I've dealt with various vision issues pretty well all my life, and I haven't really talked about it much. But this is a little extreme, and I'm grateful to be able to let people know what's going on with me now, so they're not shocked," he said.

Folk icon Roy Forbes adjusts his glasses. The musician has had no vision in one eye since childhood, but an accident in December left him with virtually no sight in the other. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

And while he's coming to terms with his new sightless reality, there's an inkling of hope he may get his vision back.

"There's something there, the eye still functions and technology races ahead at a million miles an hour, so who knows?"

But in the meantime, he'll be carrying on, writing new songs and playing some gigs. His next performance is at the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues festival on Aug. 20.

 "See you down the road folks. I'll be there. Come on out."