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Derek Gifford of Folk Northwest

reviews When Every Song was New by Mick Ryan and Paul Downes

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.