Here at the Fair (double album)

by Here at the Fair cast

'Here At The Fair' is Mick Ryan's sixth 'folk opera'. It is set at a country fair, in 1850. Travelling showmen and women arrive to set out their stalls.

We meet: 'Vincent Crummles' (Mick Ryan), a character from Dickens' 'Nicholas Nickleby'. He is an actor manager, who has now fallen on hard times; Crummles' daughter, 'Ninnetta (Alice Jones), who is known to her public as 'The Infant Phenomenon'; 'Steven Starling' (Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne), a reluctant clown, based on the character 'Sissy Jupe', from Dickens' 'Hard Times'; 'Professor Sleary' (Pete Morton), another character from 'Hard Times'. Once the owner of a horse circus, he now runs a flea circus; 'Madam Lavengro' (Heather Bradford), a fortune teller; 'Doctor Maldini' (Geoff Lakeman), a snake oil salesman; 'John Smith' (George Sansome), a ballad seller; and an itinerant fiddler (Lewis Wood.)



These entertainers and outsiders tell their stories in a social and political context.

On the 16th August 1819, 80,000 people gathered peacefully at to hear the radical speaker, Henry Hunt, address a political reform meeting at Saint Peter's Fields, Manchester. Yeomanry tried to seize 'revolutionary' banners carried by the crowd. Cavalry were sent in to the ensuing tussle. At least eleven people were killed, and four hundred or more injured. The event became known as 'The Peterloo Massacre'.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, Chartism was an English movement for political reform. It advocated, by marches and petitions, 'The People's Charter', demanding, amongst other things, universal male suffrage and secret ballots. 'Great Petitions' were presented, and rejected, in 1840 and 1842. Finally, in 1848, another petition was organised, together with a march on London, and a 'monster' demonstration at Kennington. Hundreds of police were mustered. This, together with heavy rain, induced the leaders of the meeting to send the crowd away rather than risk another Peterloo.

It is against the context of these events, together with the poverty brought about by the agricultural slump of 'the hungry forties', and the brutal 'relief' offered by the workhouse, that our characters make their livings, offering entertainment and escape.

In the opening of 'Hard Times', Thomas Gradgrind, the blinkered proponent of a simplistic version of utilitarianism, demands, "Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life!"

Sleary, the circus owner responds with, "People mutht be amuthed. They can't be alwayth a working. They an't made for it. You muth have uth…Do the wythe thing…and make the beth of uth, not the wurth!" 

 

 

THE SONGS (All words and music by Mick Ryan, unless otherwise indicated.)

DISC ONE

  • Introduction extemporised by Lewis Wood
  • Here At The Fair (Lead vocal - Mick/’Crummles’)
  • Maldini’s Cure All (Lead vocal - Geoff/’Maldini’) (Words - Trad., adapted Ryan Music - Traditional)
  • It’ll Do (Vocals - the cast)
  • We Must Wander (Solo vocal - Alice/’The Infant Phenomenon)
  • The Old Joke (Solo vocal - Mick/’Crummles’) - The clown, ‘Steven Starling’, is in search of his missing father. ‘Crummles’ has seen him.
  • I Have Fleas! (Lead vocal - Pete/’Sleary’) (Words Ryan/Chaplin; Music - Trad.)
  • As For Me (Lead vocal - Heather/’Madam Lavengro’)
  • You Can’t Fool Me (Lead vocal - Cohen/’The Clown’)
  • Only A Ha’penny (Lead vocal - George/’The Ballad Seller’)
  • Worth It In The End (Lead vocals - Mick and Pete)

 

DISC TWO

  • I Was There (Solo Vocal - Geoff) -‘Maldini’, it turns out, was at ‘Peterloo’. So was his wife, but where is she now?
  • The Peterloo Hornpipe and Reel (Step dance - Alice)
  • Hope Was High (Lead vocal - Heather) - ‘Madam Lavengro’, it transpires, was at last great Chartist meeting, in 1848. So was her husband, but where is he now?
  • Dancing In The Light (Lead vocal - George) - ‘The Ballad Seller’ sings this tale in the third person. But is it his own tale?
  • I Can Remember (Solo vocal - Alice) ‘Ninnetta Crummles’ tells of the reality of hard times on the road.
  • A Good Old Gal (Lead vocal - Pete) - ‘Sleary’, the eternal optimist, reveals the fortitude which lies behind his ever cheerful demeanor.
  • If Only (Vocals - The Cast)
  • The Turning Of The Years (Lead vocal - Mick) - ‘Crummles’ finally admits to his daughter, and to himself, that his great days are long gone.
  • The First Stone (Vocals - The Cast)
  • Moving On (Lead Vocal - Cohen) - ‘The Clown’ at last accepts that his father is dead, but that life must go on.
  • People Must Be Amused (Lead Vocal - Mick) (Words - Ryan; Music - Mick Ryan and Paul Downes)
1
Here at the Fair short promo
Mick Ryan
This is a collection of samples from the songs in the show
2
Here at the Fair longer promo
Mick Ryan
This is a slightly longer 7 minute collection of song samples from the show

The Living Tradition

Dai Woosnam

This is Mick's sixth folk opera. It is set at a country fair in 1850. Travelling showmen arrive and tell their stories against the political background of the times, and the leading characters (played by leading names on the British folk scene) are given names that tell us that Mick is steeped in the works of Charles Dickens.

It has been a long road (42 years) since I heard my first folk ballad opera   Peter Bellamy's The Transports   and this stands comparison with the best. Of the two acts, I think I favoured the first act (CD) most, because it contains the showstopper songs. But the sadder Act Two with its references to Peterloo and the Chartists, certainly has its moments. (Incidentally, in Doug Bailey's liner notes for the CD, he might technically be right calling Chartism an "English movement", but that sentence sets this South Walian reviewer's teeth on edge. "British" would have been better, given the bravery of those many Welshmen who died in The Newport Rising in 1839.)

Standout songs: We Must Wander (gloriously sung by Alice Jones), I Have Fleas! (gorgeous euphonium by George Sansome), As For Me (fine diction from Heather Bradford), all Act One. And from Act Two, A Good Old Gal (most movingly sung by Pete Morton). But clear best track award goes to Worth It In The End, which closes Act One, with a chorus to die for: guaranteed to get the audience on its feet.

Apart from occasionally wanting a lyric sheet, a definite thumbs up from me.


Around Kent Folk

Vic Smith

Here is something that will prove to be an excellent memento of the folk opera by Mick Ryan which was such a success when it was performed at the Town Hall at last year's Tenterdon Folk Festival. The album had not been released at that time but it is on offer from Wild goose with exactly the same cast as performed it then.

The scene is a mid Victorian fair and we encounter the sort of characters that you might expect to find there  amongst them a sort of failing actor/manager (played by Mick himself) and his daughter (Alice Jones), a snake oil salesman/doctor (Geoff Lake man), a fortune teller (Helen Bradford), a seller of broadside ballads (George Sansome) and two characters from a circus, a rather contemplative clown (Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne) and a flea circus ringmaster (the ever effervescent Pete Morton). Mick has drawn on a number of novels by Dickens to form the character of the majority of the characters here.

Mick wrote almost all the twenty two songs in the show with only a little help from traditional sources. He has certainly assembled a fine cast and there are some excellent performance here. The historical context of the show is the "Hungry Forties" and the associated agricultural depression with references back to the Peterloo Massacre which would have been in the minds of many of the characters.

Having the three members of the hugely talented Granny's Attic to provide the accompaniments for most of the songs was a very good move; they provide an excellent musical underscoring for the proceedings.

Rock n Reel

Ian Croft

Here At The Fair is a double CD of songs from the show written by Mick Ryan (his sixth 'folk opera') and performed by Mick himself, plus Heather Bradford, Alice Jones, Pete Morton, Geoff Lakeman and Granny's Attic (aka George Sansome, Lewis Wood and Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne). All are classy performers and all get a chance to show their skills solo and in the chorus.

The first CD sees the fair being set up, as the cast enthusiastically introduce their specialities, from a clown to a flea circus to a snake oil salesman. They offer entertainment and escape. Escape from what is the focus of the second CD, which provides the context of the times (1850) with reflections on Peterloo, the great Chartist meeting and personal hardships. A favourite song, 'Moving On', led by Cohen B K is a beautifully poignant piece about there being no going back.

Mick Ryan is a master storyteller, with a wonderful ear for a tune and great rousing choruses. The singers are uniformly strong, and there's excellent instrumental support mainly provided by Granny's Attic. This is another magnificent piece of work from Mick Ryan and I just can't wait to see the show.

5 star review

Folking dot com

Dai Jeffries

Mick Ryan is, as we all know, is a prolific song-writer and skilled at melding his ideas into shows or folk operas as he is happy to call them. Here At The Fair is his sixth such show and, as always, he has assembled a fine cast: Heather Bradford, Alice Jones,  Pete Morton, Geoff Lakeman and the trio Granny's Attic � George Sansome, Lewis Wood and Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne.

Ryan's shows are usually historical and/or political subjects so this particular fair is set up in a country town in 1850. Initially it's all very jolly with the instrumentation featuring reeds and euphonium echoing the sound of a fairground organ. The various characters introduce themselves and comment on their lifestyles. Ryan is generous in sharing out the parts with Geoff Lakeman playing Doctor Maldini, the snake-oil salesman; George Sansome as a ballad-seller; Heather Bradford plays the fortune-teller Madame Lavengro and Pete Morton is allowed to go completely over the top as  Professor Sleary, the owner of the flea circus. Ryan plays Vincent Crummles, the showman, with Alice Jones as his daughter. Aficionados of Charles Dickens will recognise the names.

Gradually, a darker story begins to emerge. Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne plays the clown Steven Starling who, we learn, is searching for his father. The second disc begins with Maldini recalling the events at Peterloo and Madame Lavengro remembering the last great Chartist meeting. There are other missing persons in this story � is there a link between them? As the show progresses the characters confess the truth about the hardship of their lives in a travelling show, admit that their best days are behind them and confront the truth about themselves. Any more information would be spoilers.

Mick Ryan's songs are always singable, which is why so many people borrow them, and even in the darker moments of Here At The Fair there is an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. Things may be bad now but they were good once. Sadly, in the words of 'If Only', there is no going back so everyone blinks back the tears and looks forward.


Shire Folk

Barry Goodman

Mick Ryan's sixth 'folk opera' is set at a country fair in 1850 and tells the stories of a varied cast of characters against the political background of the times Chartism, the Peterloo Massacre, poverty, and the workhouse. Each character has his or her own tale to tell within the framework of the travelling show.

The cast includes Pete Morton, giving a spirited performance as the ringmaster, Geoff Lakeman as a quack doctor, Heather Bradford as a world weary fortune teller, Alice Jones as 'The Infant Phenomenon; plus all the members of Granny's Attic   Cohen Braithwaite Kilcoyne as a reluctant clown, George Sansome as a ballad seller, and Lewis Wood as an itinerant fiddler. Mick Ryan himself appears as the actor manager who has fallen on hard times.

The performances are well defined throughout, and the singing and playing is of the highest quality, as would be expected from such a talented cast. Mick Ryan's writing gets better with each show, and the characterisation in 'Here at the Fair' is striking. Lyrics and melodies are perfect for each of the protagonists, with a cleverly constructed early number ('It'll Do') introducing all the characters, each of whom subsequently takes a place in the spotlight, their individual journeys expertly charted through the songs performed both solo and in various combinations of the cast.

As is often the case with Mick Ryan's shows, there are a number of songs here that would stand alone, among them 'Only a Ha'penny; 'I Was There; 'Hope Was High; and 'The First Stone: Catch the show live if you can, but in the meantime you can enjoy this superb double CD set.