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Sleeve Notes for The Passing Hour by Mick Ryan & Paul Downes

The Passing HourThis is the fourth Ryan and Downes duo album. Mick and Paul have also worked successfully together on the albums of Mick’s popular folk operas The Navvy’s Wife, The Pauper’s Path and A Day’s Work. Prior to their current collaboration, they were both very well known in their own right.


Paul worked with Phil Beer, firstly as a duo and then in The Arizona Smoke Revue with Bill and Pete Zorn. He has played on literally hundreds of albums, and is widely regarded as one of the very best acoustic guitarists in any genre.

Similarly, Mick is considered by many to be one of the best singers and songwriters. In addition to writing several other successful folk operas, he was in the still fondly remembered band Crows and in a highly rated duo with Pete Harris, with whom he also recorded five albums.

This album combines more new songs from Mick, together with the best work of other writers and some excellent, but rarely heard, traditional songs.

Mick Ryan - vocals
Paul Downes - vocals, guitar, banjo, piano
Jackie Oates – vocals, 5 string viola
Kate Riaz - cello
Martyn Bradley - concertina

Track Notes

1 The Midshipman’s Boast
Helen North

Paul and I were doing a gig at Faversham Folk Club when we heard Helen North sing this.

2 The Lady Diamond
Trad., arr. Paul Downes

I learned this, about thirty five years ago, from Annie Fentiman. It sounds Scottish to me. In the long time I have been singing it, I will have changed, and Anglicised, the words.

3 The Passing Hour
Mick Ryan

I wrote this some years ago. It was so long ago that I now have no recollection of how it came about. It is, fortunately, self explanatory.

4 Bartholamew Fair
Trad., arr, Paul Downes

Forty years ago, I heard Terry Yarnell sing this on an LP by The Critics Group. I have never heard anyone else sing it, though Dave Burland used to sing The King George Hunt to the same tune.

5 All at Sea
Tom Lewis

This song of regret arose from a meeting Tom had with a man in America who had always wanted to be a sailor - but had never even seen the sea.

6 Song of Repentance
Trad., arr. Downes/Ryan

I found this in The Complete Irish Street Ballads (Collected and Annotated by Colm O’Lochlainn). I have never heard it sung.

7 Thankful Village
Mick Ryan

This arose from a conversation with a friend. Having seen my Great War folk opera, A Day’s Work, she told me the story of the ‘Thankful Villages’. These were those lucky places whose sons all came home alive from the war. It occurred to me that, while ‘alive’ was one thing, ‘and well’ might be quite another.

8 The Parson and the Pig
Mick Ryan

I was looking for the traditional song of the same title and, when I couldn’t find it, made up a new version.

9 Adieu, Old Friend
Steve Thomason

We heard Steve sing this lovely song of farewell at Topsham Folk Club. We just had to have it!

10 The Fowler
Mick Ryan

The idea for this came from a short novel by Rosemary Sutcliffe. Warrior Scarlet tells the story of a slightly disabled boy trying to become a man in a tough, bronze age, tribal world. A very moving moment occurs when he waits in the dawn to kill a swan as it rises above him from the edge of a lake. It is a thing of exquisite beauty that he has to kill in order to survive.

11 One Day
Mick Ryan

I read somewhere that, since the end of the Second World War, there has been only one day when, so far as we know, nobody was at war with anybody anywhere in the world. One day!

12 Last Will
Mick Ryan and Paul Downes

A friend, who had lived in Spain, told me the story of how the owner of her local bar had kept the last will that his grandfather had written the night before he died in the Civil War. She showed me her translation, which was the basis of this song. It was unclear for which side the man had fought. At this remove, I’m not sure it really matters any longer.

13 The Sea
Mick Ryan

This is from my (1998) folk opera, The Voyage. The show was about emigration to America from England and Ireland in the 1840s. Many of the emigrants had never seen the sea, and none of them could possibly have imagined the scale and ferocity of the ocean beyond the sight of land.

14 Oh! Swine!
Mick Ryan

The idea for this came from reading Lark Rise To Candleford. A certain chapter deals with the importance of the family pig to the diet of the villagers. Each family slaughtered their beast at a different time and shared the meat around amongst their neighbours. By these means, everyone had a bit of meat at all times. The book points out that every part of the pig was used, ‘except the squeak’! Given this very English origin, I really don’t know why I have written it in the style of a certain kind of Irish song, but there y’are.