When Every Song was New

by Mick Ryan & 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 several musicians: 

MICK RYAN - Vocals

PAUL DOWNES:- Guitar, Five string Banjo, Tenor Banjo, Mandolin

Maggie Boyle:- Flute, Bodhran

Gill Redmond - Cello

Keith Kendrick - Concertina

Tom Leary - Fiddle

Paul and I were born in the same year, and we both first came to folk music in our teens. Paul went to Exmouth Folk Club at the age of thirteen, became a regular there and, shortly after, at the 'Jolly Porter' club in Exeter. Meanwhile, I went to the 'Swindon Folksingers' Club' at the age of sixteen and, like Paul, quickly became absorbed in the learning and singing of songs.

The idea behind this album, then, is to return to those songs which were, almost without trying, absorbed from the folk scene during these early, formative, years.

One of the four exceptions to this, in that it was acquired fairly recently, is 'BECCLES GATES'. Mal Jardine of the 'Bacca Pipes' club in Keighley, Yorkshire, wrote it with his father, Bill, some years ago. It is the only song either of them has ever written, and Mal therefore describes it as 'the complete works'. It is included because it demonstrates that, as far as the folk club scene goes, there is life in the old dog yet.

The late great Tony Rose was a native of Exeter and was often to be heard at 'The Jolly Porter'. Frequently booked at the Swindon club, he exemplified the best of English style singing, and was a big influence on young singers in the south west. It was from Tony, then, that Paul and I picked up 'LIMBO'. 'Limbo', here, refers to debtors' prison. However, the 'Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue', of 1811, defines it more generally as any place of confinement. The last verse might, perhaps, be seen as a bit politically incorrect for this day and age, but 'different times…..'.

'ONE NIGHT AS I LAY ON MY BED' is a night visiting song which was collected from Mrs. Marina Russell, in Upwey, Dorset, according to 'The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Given the currency of this collection in the 60's and 70's, this will have been where the folk club floor singer who was my source would have learned the song.

One of my biggest influences is the great Irish singer Tim Lyons, and I acquired a number of songs from him. Most of these remain in my 'private' repertoire as they seem to require a natural, as opposed to and assumed, Irish accent to do them justice. One song to which this constraint does not, in my opinion, apply is 'YOU RAMBLING BOYS OF PLEASURE'. This, allegedly, was the source for Yeates' 'Sally Gardens'.

Surely one of the greatest songs ever written is Dave Goulder's 'JANUARY MAN'. It was widely sung in the 1970's, and has been recorded by dozens of singers, most notably by Martin Carthy. Neither Paul nor I can recall where we heard it first though.

Every so often, the Swindon club would decamp mob handed to 'The Bricklayers' Arms', in the village of Longcott, Oxfordshire, for a Saturday night singing session. Invariably, at some point, the cry would go up, "Give us 'KNIFE IN THE WINDOW'  Bill".Whereupon, an elderly gentleman by the name of Bill Whiting would sing this version of 'Hares on the Mountain'. At the time, it seemed important to have got a song from a 'field singer'. Whether there is really much difference between the 'field' and the 'revival' singer seems less important now, but the song is still a good one.

The song which I have always referred to as 'The Burning Thames', is more correctly entitled 'THE LOVER'S GHOST'. I got it, at the club, from a singer called Sylvia who, to my recollection, rarely sang anything else. Scarcely surprising, then, that I just 'picked it up'. The 'proper' version is, again, in 'Penguin', where it says the song was collected from a Mrs. Cecilia Costello of Birmingham.

The second exception to the rule of being 'absorbed' from the folk scene is what I have always called 'THE OLD JIG JOG'. My father's father left Limerick in the 1890's, and spent the next twenty years firstly in Australia, then in New Zealand where he finally joined up, fought at Gallipolli, then on the Western Front, before ending up back home in Ireland. I never met him, but 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, it is pieced together here from what is, in fact, Banjo Patterson's 'Travelling Down the Castlereagh'.

Another song mentioned by Auntie Maureen was 'THE LASS OF MAHARALEE', of which she could remember only the title. I picked it up somewhere along the way, though I didn't sing it out until taught the tune properly by Pete Harris.

I got 'A NEW YORK TRADER' from yet another anonymous floor singer in Swindon. This, too, is in 'Penguin'. The notes there say that the song is often conflated with the similar, but different, 'William Glen'. This is, obviously, what the folk club source did!

Swindon Folk Club was run, from 1960 until 2001, by Ted and Ivy Poole, who are still regulars at the club. As a result, there are a number of Ted's songs here. One of these is 'THE GREY HAWK'. This is clearly an English country song. There is a female version called 'The Bonny Boy'.

The third 'exception' is 'SUMMERWATER'.  From my earliest memory, my mother, who had as a child participated in a 'choral speaking' group, used to recite narrative verse. One in particular haunted the memory. I recalled the title as 'The Ballad of Summerwater'. The story was more or less as here, and used to scare the living daylights out of me. I tried, for years and without success, to track the poem down in order to set it to music. Finally, having given up, I wrote my own version of the tale.  Having first explained the problem of finding the original poem, the song was 'premiered' at a Whitby Folk Week ballad session. The moment it finished, however, Mike Tickell stood up and began to recite 'The Balled of SEMmerwater'!

Another song, learned 'without meaning to', from Ted Poole, is 'GEORGIE BARNWELL'. This is clearly a broadsheet balled. It is sung in snatches by one of the characters in Dickens, which gives an indication of its popularity at the time. The song flows into ‘AMONG THE CROWS AND ROOKS, an original tune by Paul.

The fourth, and final, exception refers to the learning and singing of songs, which has been an abiding joy. For both Paul and me, this began in childhood, accelerated at our respective folk clubs and has continued ever since. Though the traditional songs here come from my repertoire, Paul was very familiar with nearly all of them, which bespeaks a shared musical experience and culture. 'WHEN EVERY SONG WAS NEW' , with new words to a tune adapted by from the traditional 'When This Old hat Was New', is a tribute to the folk scene which has given us both so much pleasure.

Words and Music Mal and Bill Jardine
Trad., arranged Downes and Ryan
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Trad., arr. Downes and Ryan
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Trad., arr. Downes and Ryan
Words and Music Dave Goulder
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Trad., arr. Downes and Ryan
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Trad., arr. Downes and Ryan
Words and Music - Banjo Patterson
Sample not available
Trad., arr. Downes and Ryan
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Trad., arr. Downes and Ryan
Trad., arr. Downes and Ryan
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Words and Music - Mick Ryan
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Trad., arr. Downes and Ryan
The tune composed by Paul Downes
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words and Music - Mick Ryan
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Jacqueline Patten

Mick Ryan and Paul Downes are wellestablished and respected performers in the sphere of traditional music. Noted for their song-writing and arrangements, their fine voices and, in Paul's case, instrumental skills, they are familiar names throughout the country.

Their ability to engage audiences through their professional, yet relaxed, approach, and their influence on younger performers, as well as contemporaries, is far-reaching. It is, therefore, interesting to consider what influenced them and from where they drew inspiration. With this album they return to the songs which were 'absorbed' from the folk scene during their formative years.  Of the fourteen tracks, nine are 'Trad. arr Downes & Ryan'. For a number of these, the source is attributed to floor singers in the folk clubs around Swindon and Exmouth where they developed their interest in traditional music. The Swindon Folk Club run by Ted and Ivy Poole, and The Jolly Porter, Exeter, with particular reference to Tony Rose, were regular venues attended. Mick was near Swindon, Paul in Exmouth. Several of these songs can be found in The Penguin Book of English Songs, for example 'One Night As I Lay On My Bed' and 'The Lover's Ghost'. It was a common source for songs at the time.

The tracks that are not 'Trad' are Dave Goulder's 'January Man', which epitomises the folk songs of this country so well that it is deserves to be included alongside the songs found in The Penguin Book;

'Beccles Gates' a recent addition to the repertoire, written by Mal Jardine and his father, Bill; 'The Old Jig Jog' pieced together from a song by Banjo Patterson, plus two by Mick and an instrumental by Paul. The album is of their usual high standard. It underlines the rich heritage found in this country.

Folk Northwest

Derek Gifford

This is yet another fine album from these two well known artists who have delved into their personal song 'archives' to produce a work that includes the songs that they've absorbed from the folk scene over their many years of performing in it. In other words, they're old and experienced enough to become their own revivalists!

Mick leads the vocals, of course, and still leaves me wondering where exactly does he breathe? Paul plays guitar, five string banjo, tenor banjo and mandolin in his usual highly accomplished way.

They are joined by the equally experienced and talented Maggie Boyle on flute and bodhran, Gill Redmond on cello (nice touch that on a few tracks), my old mate and fellow 'Three Sheeter' Keith Kendrick on concertina and Tom Leary on fiddle. With a line up like that you know this is going to be something a bit special.

The material is mostly traditional but the opening track 'Beccles Gates', although sounding traditional, was written by Mal and Bill Jardine of the 'Bacca Pipes' folk club in Keighley. Another contemporary song included is the classic 'January Man' written by Dave Goulder. This is more usually sung unaccompanied but Mick and Paul have decided to perform it with guitar accompaniment. To say it works very well is a gross understatement as Paul's gently driving guitar part gives it an original slant.

There are a number of versions of well known traditional songs and of these the ones that caught my ear are 'One Night As I Lay On My Bed' with Paul's sympathetic guitar enhancing Mick's rich voice; 'Knife in the Window' which is an unusual version of 'Hares on the Mountain' learned from a source singer from Oxfordshire with Gill's cello accompaniment adding to Paul's lively banjo playing; and 'The Grey Hawk', which I've featured in my own 'Birds in Folk Song' manuscripts and is good to hear sung out for once and is especially notable with a light flute part from Maggie backing Paul's guitar.

A well known Australian song from the writing of Banjo Patterson called 'The Old Jig Jog' also makes an appearance. The fast tempo of this song requires Mick's clear diction to stand out more than ever. No album from these two would be complete without some of their own compositions. Paul's piece is a tune called 'Among the Crows and Rooks' which follows the song 'Georgie Barnwell'. This tune gives an opportunity to call on the full 'band' to let rip. Good stuff!

Mick's songs are 'Summerwater' a haunting tale based on a poem that Mick heard his mother recite and the final and title track 'When Every Song Was New' based on an adaptation of the tune to 'When This Old Hat Was New' and sung jointly by Paul and Mick. I'm sure this song will soon be taken up by that stalwart bunch of singaround singers who can spot an appropriate 'session song' like this but, of course, they'll have to buy this stunning album first in order to learn it!

Actually it's worth buying just for the photographs of Mick and Paul as young lads that are featured in the inset.

Bright Young Folk

Emily Bright

Ryan and Downes require little introduction: each with an extensive repertoire of traditional music, the creation of this duo unites the distinctive baritone voice of Mick Ryan with the strings prowess of Paul Downes, who performs the guitar, five-string banjo, mandolin, tenor banjo, and vocal harmonies on the album.

Together contributing to hundreds of albums over the decades, both independently and as a duo it cannot be stressed how much Ryan and Downes have contributed to the folk scene across Europe and the USA. A compilation of both traditional and non-traditional songs, When Every Song Was New has been released by WildGoose records in 2013.

The charming Beccles Gates and Among The Crows and Rooks demonstrate beautiful and tight vocal harmonies and melodic instrumentation to give a gentle, lilting rhythm. With the sharp twang of the banjo, the bouncy traditional song Limbo gives a more international, ethnic vibe to the album. Similarly, The New York Trader is a traditional uplifting and plucky song with the twang of American tones that support its namesake.

The simplicity of traditional songs like One Night as I Lay on My Bed and You Rambling Boys of Pleasure allow Ryan's voice to soar in the spotlight. Along with The Greyhawk, The January Man - written by Dave Gaulder - is a soft song with storytelling, lulling tones that are sweetened by the introduction of the whistle and flute. Similarly, the namesake of the album When Every Song Was New boasts Ryan and Downes' pretty and illustrious vocal harmonies.

Knife in The Window and The Old Jig Jog are uplifting and jolly traditional songs that particularly show off Downes' vocal harmonies as well as his quickness and skill on the mandolin. Quick and bright, The Old Jig Jog and Georgie Barnwell welcome the patriotic and nostalgic depth of the accordion.

The Lover's Ghost is as haunting as its title, guitar & vocals, slow-paced, whereas the absence of any instrumental detraction in the a capella ballad The Lass of Maharalee highlights Ryan's wonderful voice.

Written by Ryan himself, Summerwater stands out as the centrepiece for this album. This catchy and layered piece introduces the bodhran for the first time and is quick to set one's head a-nodding.

Ryan's deep, strong and throaty voice trills life and soul into these traditional songs with a story-telling style. Warm and instantly recognisable, Ryan's voice epitomises all that is folk and traditional music. With the sweet and nostalgic Western twang of Downes' stringed melodies and rhythms, this album balances beautifully whilst showcasing the duo's experience and skills at their best. Perfect for the traditional folk lover, When Every Song Was New is a truly classic collection of the very best folk songs.

The Living Tradition

Dai Woosnam

It is always an honour to have any work by these two very considerable artistes come one's way for review. I have reviewed work by Mick in his Pete Harris days, and also a previous album with Paul. So I sat down to listen to this, fully expecting to be entertained. And I was. The question is though, how much was I entertained? But before we look at the contents, let's start with a look at the raison d'etre for the CD.

Both Mick Ryan and Paul Downes were born in the same year, and both came to folk music in their teens, and quickly became absorbed in the learning and singing of songs. As Mick says in his liner notes: "The idea behind this album is to return to those songs which were, almost without trying, absorbed from the folk scene during those early formative years".

A laudable aim. But one not without its inherent dangers.

It is a given, of course, that the songs any professional performers select as seminal for them, are possibly quite the opposite when it comes to the tastes of the potential CD purchaser, some four decades later! Indeed, whilst their choices here are perfectly fine   and mostly familiar to me   none of these songs were the ones that really floated my boat in the many years I attended folk clubs up and down the country. (But then, hey, that is perhaps why they are "household names", whereas even my postman does not know mine!)

What really matters is not so much the choice of songs, as the performance of them. And that is top notch, as we have come to expect from both these artistes down the years. Mick's voice has never been better and stronger, and Paul of course is a master of guitar/banjo/ mandolin. And he is joined on instrumental accompaniment by a stellar cast (in alphabetical order): Maggie Boyle on flute and bodhran; Keith Kendrick on concertina; Tom Leary on fiddle; and Gill Redmond on cello. A feast for the ears.

Both Mick and Paul generously attribute some songs to floor singer sources at their first home clubs: The Swindon Folksingers' Club and the Jolly Porter at Exeter, respectively. Though in his really marvellously informative liner notes   a hallmark of WildGoose as a label, are such quality notes   Mick goes on to say that these floor singers usually had the same source: The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Like almost everyone I knew in the early 1960s, I too had my own dog eared copy. I seem to recall it cost me 3/6 (171/2 pence!) Just for the record, the new edition   admittedly in sturdy hardback and much more handsome   has an RRP of �25. I make that 143 times the original price! Sometimes I wonder if life isn't really just a bizarre dream.

Nine of the 14 tracks are shown as "Trad. arr. Downes & Ryan". Of the remainder, two are written by Mick; one is an instrumental piece written by Paul; and the remainder includes Dave Goulder's evergreen, The January Man plus an old Banjo Paterson song. (I wish I could be given a quid for the number of times I have seen Banjo's surname given a supernumerary letter T, as in the misspelling in the liner notes here. But then, I should get off my high horse and realise that spelling is perhaps a fifth rate art, soon to be replaced by txtspk.)

This is an album to delight their legion of fans, even if jaded old me might have wanted a few slightly more compelling songs in their selection.  Buy it.


David Kidman

This teaming of two of the very finest artists on the folk scene has thus far produced two well-received CDs, Grand Conversation and Away In The West, and here's the third, which celebrates the happy coincidence that both Mick and Paul were born in the same year and both underwent their folk scene apprenticeship at roughly the same time. When Every Song Was New also intentionally returns to several of the (traditional) songs which each of the men absorbed, almost without trying, during those formative years.

Paul provides inventive, judicious and intensely sympathetic guitar (or occasionally, banjo) backing, for which the term 'accompaniment' is considerably inadequate! Some further embellishment is provided, selectively and delectably, by Maggie Boyle (flute, whistle, bodhr�n), Gill Redmond (cello), Keith Kendrick (concertina) and Tom Leary (fiddle).  Particular successes among the traditional songs are You Rambling Boys Of Pleasure (learnt from Tim Lyons), Knife In The Window (a version of Hares In The Mountain from the repertoire of Bill Whiting) and a beautifully phrased account of The Lover's Ghost. An a cappella rendition of The Lass Of Maharalee also comes off well, even if Mick's normally smooth timbre shows occasional signs of wear in the early stages of the song.  Disc highlights include the strictly nontraditional items in this collection. Dave Goulder's January Man is masterfully evoked by Paul, while the place-name-bedecked chorus song Beccles Gates (by Mal and Bill Jardine) is an attractive opener. Others are from the pen of Mick himself, including the disc's title song (a sincere tribute to the folk scene which has given Mick and Paul so much pleasure), and a brilliantly animated retelling of the ballad of Summerwater.There's an appealing consistency in this set of performances, partly emanating from Mick and Paul's common cultural heritage during their early years on the folk scene and partly due to the men's assured, confident delivery of their material. Only occasionally do I feel that Mick's trademark legato style over-extends some of the bar-lines and thus the lyrical aspect of the melodic line, but that's a minor concession when considering his keen interpretive insights.

All in all, this is a disc that will please lovers of traditional song, and will serve to reassure doubters that the art of creative reinterpretation has not disappeared from the contemporary folk scene while musicians like Mick and Paul are still around to carry forward that tradition.


Maggie Moore

This is a beautiful CD, full of traditional folk songs to which this duo have returned, harking back to their earlier careers on the folk scene where they gathered material from many a floor singer in the clubs. Mick is the main vocalist throughout, using a very simple straightforward style which I find really refreshing and also extremely respectful to each song   both the words and the music.

Paul adds an accompaniment (as well as occasional vocal harmonies) which, whilst being entirely at one with the singing and never intrusive, is nevertheless beautifully executed and accomplished, using a combination of guitar, banjo, and mandolin.

I have to confess I have not seen this pair perform (I don't get out much), so I have nothing with which to compare this offering of theirs. All I can say is that I like what they do very much. I also love their choice of guest musicians, who join Paul with accompanying each track. They are: Maggie Boyle on flute and bodhran, Gill Redmond on cello, Keith Kendrick on concertina and Tom Leary playing fiddle.

I also very much enjoyed their choice of songs... One Night as 1 Lay on My Bed, The January Man (a lovely version), Knife in the Window, The Lover's Ghost, and Mick's own song and the title track   When Every Song was New etc.

Folk Monthly

Kath Deighton

There can't be many folk music lovers who haven't come across Mick Ryan and Paul Downes and marvelled at their musical talents. In recent years Mick has been touring the country to great acclaim with folk musicals A Day's Work, The Voyage, Tanks for the Memory, The Paupers' Path and The Navvy's Wife, all of which were written by him. He has always, however, had a great love of traditional songs and ballads picked up from his many years of visiting and performing in folk clubs.

Paul Downes is a top class musician and plays guitar, five string banjo, tenor banjo and mandolin. He has played in bands, duos, solo and as a session musician, featuring on around 250 albums.

The idea behind this album is to return to those songs which were absorbed during Mick and Paul's formative years at folk clubs, with just four exceptions. The first song on the album Beccles Gates is one of the exceptions, having been acquired recently. The song was written by Mal and Bill Jardine and you are instantly aware of Mick Ryan's clarity of diction and his amazing ability to hold a perfect note longer than seems physically possible! Other non traditional tracks are January Man by Dave Goulder, and Summerwater and When Every Song Was New, both written by Mick, but adapted from remembered words and tune. There is also an original tune Among the Crows and Rooks, written by Paul.

The album has been sensitively recorded and feels close to a live performance. The accompanying musicians are Maggie Boyle on flute, whistle and bodhran, Gill Redmond on cello, Keith Kendrick on concertinas and Tom Leary on fiddle and these enhance without dominating, particularly the flute on You Rambling Boys of Pleasure and the cello on Knife in the Window. The Lass of Maharalee is performed unaccompanied and showcases Mick's voice to the full.

The album notes are interesting, with photos of Mick and Paul through the years. I would heartily recommend this CD, particularly to those who like songs with stories, sung and played brilliantly.

Around Kent Folk

Kathy Drage

Mick & Paul were born in the same year and came to folk music in their teens and quickly became absorbed in the learning and singing of songs. The idea behind this album is to return to those songs learnt, almost without trying, from the folk scene in those early formative years. There are 4 exceptions  'Beccles Gate', 'The Old Jig Jog', 'Summerwater' and the title track (both written by Mick) which is a tribute to the folk scene which has given them so much pleasure. Mick is a fine singer of traditional songs and author of 6 folk musicals. Paul is an accomplished guitarist, singer and composer playing in many bands and on around 250 albums. Trad songs include 'Limbo', 'Knife In the Window' (a version of Hares on the Mountain), 'The Lovers Ghost', 'New York Trader' and 'Georgie Barnwell' which flows into a tune by Paul  'Among the Crows & Rooks'. Our favourites are 'The Grey Hawk' and Dave Goulder's' January Man'.

Listening to this CD gives the greatest enjoyment of songs, superbly sung and played by this wonderful duo.


Oz Hardwick

Mick Ryan and Paul Downes were, the sleeve notes tell us, born in the same year. As for what year that was, they're keeping schtum. On this excellent release, however, they're revisiting their teens to dust off a selection of songs mostly learned through the process of osmosis in folk clubs. The resulting selection makes for an enthralling set of songs, many familiar, others less so.

Ryan has one of those, deep, polished voices that commands the attention, whether it's on the wryly confessional 'Limbo' or the broadside 'Georgie Barnwell'. Each song is given its own head, presented with a commanding lack of fuss. In Downes he has a perfect accompanist, with some particularly engaging five string banjo on the supernatural 'Summerwater' and the

aforementioned 'Limbo'.

'Summerwater' is one of the few deviations from the overall backwardslooking theme of the album, being a Ryan original. Another is the title track, a nostalgic reminiscence of first discovering the tradition, which I have already heard in the repertoires of club floor singers. And so the wheel turns.

December 2013