Sleeve Notes for When Every Song was New by Mick Ryan and Paul Downes
This new album is due to contain more traditional material than past albums and contains many songs from Mick's past. It is supported by cello from Gill Redmond, and flute from Maggie Boyle as well as fiddle.
The working notes for the album are included here as a guide (but not necessarily accurate) to content
The idea behind this album is to return to songs which I simply picked up aurally on the folk scene, mostly during my teens at Swindon Folk Singers Club, but also at other clubs as I began to do gigs around the country with my first musical partner, John Burge.
There are, however, three exceptions to this rule.
The first is 'Summerwater', which is an original, but which nonetheless fits the concept of songs absorbed organically. From my earliest memory, my mother, who had as a child participated in 'choral speaking' groups, and had in fact won prizes at eistefodds (spelling?), used to recite narrative verse to me. One in particular has haunted my memory. I remember the title as 'Summerwater'. The story was more or less as in my song, and used to scare the living daylights out of me. Needless to say, I enjoyed the experience immensely. I have tried, for years, with no success, to track down the original poem in order to set it to music. Finally, I have given up and here tell the tale in my own verses!
The second exception is, what I have always called 'The Old Jig Jog'. My Irish grandfather left Limerick in the 1890s, and spent the following twenty years in, firstly Australia, and then New Zealand where, in 1915, he joined up, fought at Gallipolli, then on the Western front, before ending up back home. Unfortunately, I never met him. However, my auntie Maureen told me that he played the fiddle and sang. She recalled this song in particular, though she could only remember a few of the words and a bit of the tune. Nevertheless, I feel justified in piecing it together from what is, in fact 'Banjo' Patterson's 'Travelling Down the Castelreagh', on the grounds that it is 'in the family', so to speak.
The third exception was acquired quite recently from Mal Jardine, at 'The Bacca Pipes' Club, in Keighley, Yorkshire. Mal Wrote it with his father, Bill, some years ago. It is the only song either of them ever wrote, and Mal describes it, therefore, as 'the complete works'. It is included here for the very good reason that it demonstrates, I think, that, as far as the folk club scene goes, there is life in the old dog yet. I love this song.
The final 'exception' I will return to later.
So, to reiterate, the rest of the songs here I learned young and I learned quickly. Ted Poole, who with his wife Ivy ran the Swindon club from 1960 to 2001, told me that it soon became clear that I did not understand the etiquette of the folk club scene in that somebody would sing a song one week, and I would sing it the next. Certainly, a number of these songs I got (stole?) from Ted.
'The Grey Hawk' and 'Georgie Barnwell' are both from Ted's repertoire. The first is clearly an English country song for which there is a female counterpart entitled 'The Bonny Boy', which I once heard sung by Anne Briggs. The second is equally clearly a broadsheet ballad. It is referred to, and quoted from, by one of the characters in Dickens. So that gives some indication of its age and popularity.
What I have always called 'The Burning Thames', but is more correctly entitled 'The Lover's Ghost', I got it from a singer called Sylvia. She was a regular at the club when I was. To be honest, I do not remember her singing any other song. So it is scarcely surprising that I picked it up. The 'proper' version is in 'The Penguine Book of English Folk Songs', where it is says that it was collected from a Mrs. Cecilia Costello of Birmingham.
'The New York Trader' I learned from an anonymous floor singer in Swindon at some time in the early 1970s. This, too, is in 'Penguine', the notes pointing out that the song is often conflated with the similar, but different, 'William Glen'. Which is precisely what my source obviously did!
When I was in my teens, every guest who came to the club seemed to provide something new, to me, in style or repertoire. Two who had an immediate, and lasting, influence on me were Tony Rose and Tim Lyons, who seemed to me to exemplify English and Irish singing styles, respectively.
When Tony came to the club, I loved his singing. During the course of several repeat gigs, I picked up 'Limbo'. This sounds to me like a broadsheet. The 'Limbo', here, refers to debtor's prison. Though the 'Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue', of 1811, defines it more generally as 'prison or confinement'. The last verse is, perhaps, a little politically incorrect for this day and age, but 'different times'…..
When Tim came to the club, I was absolutely knocked out by his singing. I learned how to use vocal decoration by listening to him and, at the same time, acquired many of the songs he sang. Most, such as 'The Limerick Rake', 'Stick to the Crater', 'The Little Skillet Pot' and others remain in my 'private' repertoire on the grounds that, in my opinion, you would need to have a natural, as opposed to an assumed, Irish accent in order to do them justice. This, I think, does not apply to 'You Rambling Boys of Pleasure', which I seem to recall hearing was the source for Yeates' 'Sally Gardens'.
To my mind, one of the greatest songs ever written is 'The January Man', by Dave Goulder. I have no idea how I came to learn this song. Suffice to say that I already knew it when I heard it on a Martin Carthy album. I have not sung it 'out' before because so very many other people do it. Of course, the reason for that is precisely because it is so very fine. So now I think, "Why should I be left out?".
Every once in a while, the club, which met on Fridays, would decamp en-masse to the small village of Longcott, near Farringdon, Oxfordshire, on a Saturday evening, for a session. At some point in the evening the cry would go up, "Give us 'Knife in the Window' Bill". Whereupon a very elderly gentleman called Bill Whiting would get up and give us this song, a very local, and unique as far as I know, version of the widely known 'Hares on the Mountain'. It felt, somehow, important to me to be getting a song from a field singer. Whether there is really any difference between the 'field' and the 'revival' singer now seems to me less clear, and less important, but I still have an affection for the song.
To return to the final 'exception'. The learning, and singing, of songs has been a joy in my life which began in early childhood, accelerated at Swindon Folk Singers' Club, and has continued ever since. 'When Every Song Was New', the words my own, the tune mostly traditional, is my tribute to the folk scene which has brought me so much pleasure.
1 BECCLES GATES
3 ONE NIGHT AS I LAY ON MY BED
4 YOU RAMBLING BOYS OF PLEASURE
5 THE JANUARY MAN
6 KNIFE IN THE WINDOW
7 THE LOVER'S GHOST
8 THE OLD JIG JOG
9 THE LASS OF MAHARALEE
10 THE NEW YORK TRADER
11 THE GREY HAWK
13 GEORGIE BARNWELL/AMONG THE CROWS AND ROOKS
14 WHEN EVERY SONG WAS NEW