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Sleeve Notes for The Island of Apples by Mick Ryan & Pete Harris

The Island of ApplesA collection of songs in traditional style mainly written by Mick himself but including some traditional and some from other writers. Nearly all the songs are accompanied by a full range of instrumentation.

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Track Notes


1 The Labourer’s Cause
Words and Music - Mick Ryan

In 1834, six farm labourers from the village of Tolpuddle, Dorset, were sentenced to seven years transportation, at the behest of their local squire, James Frampton. They were convicted of ‘administering an illegal oath’, but their real ‘crime’ had been in forming a union branch. From the ‘folk musical’ ‘A Tolpuddle Man’, this song asserts and celebrates the universal nature of their cause.

2 The Land
Words and Music Mick Ryan

In 1943, the people of the beautiful coastal village of Tyneham, Dorset, were given three weeks notice to move out. The Army needed the area for training, preparatory to ‘D-Day’. The people left their homes sadly but hopefully, reassured by a written promise that they would be able to return after the war. The army is still there, the village a picturesque ruin occasionally accessible to tourists. The land, as the song attests, remembers what is lost; and the place has an almost tangible ‘atmosphere’. This is from Mick’s show telling this story, ‘Tanks For The Memory’.

3 There Was A Man
Words and Music - Mick Ryan

A Christmas carol, written to order at the request of Peter and Pauline Burnette, good friends, and members of ‘The Sheffield Folk Choir’.

4 Cupid’s Garden
Trad. Arr. Harris

Learned, like many another great traditional song, from the immortal Copper family of Rottingdean, Sussex.

5 Life
Words and Music - Mick Ryan

Also from ‘Tanks For The Memory’, this tries to express the feeling of someone packing up to leave their home, not knowing when, or if, they will return. Anyone who has ‘cleared’ the home of a recently dead relative will know just how poignant the smallest items can be.

6 The Island of Apples
Words and Music - Mick Ryan

This tells the story of King Arthur. The island in question is now called Glastonbury, Somerset. It really was an island before the surrounding wetlands were drained. Legend has it that Arthur was raised there in secret, and returned there to die after his last battle. It is said, however, that he is merely sleeping, and will return when England is in her hour of greatest need.

7 Tom Paine’s Bones
Words and Music - Graham Moore

A very fine song about the great English radical, author of ‘The Rights of Man’ and ‘Common Sense’. He died in America, in whose revolution he had played a prominent part and to where he had fled from post-revolutionary France, where he had been considered too radical. Some years later, his bones were brought back to England in the keeping of William Cobbett. Cobbett’s maidservant, taking them for kitchen rubbish, threw them out. Paine remains an icon of the Left to this day.

8 The Boy Remembers His Father
Words - S. Clifford, adapted Mick Ryan; Music S. MacMathuna, adt. Mick Ryan

Mick heard this song sung by Seamus MacMathuna at ‘The Wexford Singing Weekend’ in about 1993. He was much moved, both by the song and the performance and in particular by its telling refrain “the swish of your boots through the grass”. When we remember the dead, it is the little things we recall most vividly. The song was perhaps given additional poignancy by the fact that Mick’s late father had been born and raised about ten miles away. Seamus had set Sigerson Clifford’s beautiful poem himself. Mick has taken typically English liberties with the words, while adding a ‘B’ part to Seamus’ original tune. The poem is to be found in ‘Ballads of a Bogman’.

9 The Banks of the Bahn
Trad.

This was learned from Sean Cannon, and comes from the north of Ireland. Anyone who has been to South Armagh will recognise the description of ‘those lovely green mountains’ as especially vivid.

10 Here Comes Mick
Words and Music - Mick Ryan

Whilst putting together ‘The Navvy’s Wife’, his latest show, Mick was reading Ultan Cowley’s comprehensively authoritative, lucidly written and beautifully illustrated ‘The Men Who Built Britain: A History of the Irish Navvy’. Here he came across an English plasterer’s fulsome tribute to the speed, strength and endurance of his Irish labourer. This song is based upon that testament of respect.

11 When We Take ‘em Over/ Sailing West
Words and Music - Mick Ryan

This pair of songs is from ‘The Voyage’, Mick’s show about emigration to America in the 1840s. The first is sung by the sailors. The transport ship owners were paid for embarking the emigrants not for delivering them. Their safe arrival, therefore, was a matter of indifference to those who carried them ‘over’. The second is sung by the emigrants, who sail ‘in hope and desperation’.

12 Fresh Fish
Words - J. Ryan; Music and chorus - Mick Ryan

‘Developed’, as it were from some comic verse by Mick’s sister. This is, bizarrely, apparently based on real events!

13 A Tolpuddle Man
Words and Music - Graham Moore

In 1989, Graham Moore asked Mick to write songs for a putative show about the ‘Tolpuddle Martyrs’. Mick greed, but also suggested that Graham might write some as well. When Graham said that he had never written songs before, Mick assured him that he was nonetheless capable of doing it. Next day, Graham came round to Mick’s house with this, his first ever song. As the first person to hear this great anthem of hope, Mick tends to feel proprietorial about it.

14 The Song Goes On
Words and Music - Mick Ryan

This was written for performance at a concert in memory of the great Cyril Tawney which was held at the Sidmouth Folk Festival in 2005. We think it is self-explanatory.