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Dai Woosnam of The Living Tradition

reviews The Island of Apples by Mick Ryan & Pete Harris

Mick and Pete have been performing together since 1993 and this is their seventh album. That's an average of a CD every 21 months or so. Now, with many recording artistes, I'd be tempted to say, "slow down boys!" But not with this magnificent duo. One almost demands an ANNUAL fix.


Note, I said "duo". It is important to remember that Pete Harris is no "fifth wheel on the wagon". Yes, I know that everybody on the folk circuit talks about "Mick Ryan" as shorthand for the duo, and it is not meant as a mark of disrespect to Pete. But, as I have said before when reviewing their work elsewhere. I reckon that they should be billed alphabetically, since they both seem to bring their brand of magic 50-50 to the table.


I write this review having just seen the latest BBC screening from the Cambridge Folk Festival. How sad it is that instead of the usual suspects, a great act like this one is not centrestage there. Because, rest assured, these guys are world class. Maybe, instead of "duo", I should talk in terms of a "trio", since here they are joined by the talented Paul Sartin, on oboe and fiddle. And his presence is the musical icing on the cake here, as it is on so many WildGoose CDs. He must love the legendary culinary welcome in Doug and Sue Bailey's kitchen down there in Hampshire!


Indeed, mentioning Paul makes me think that perhaps we should not stop at "trio". For there is a fourth presence here. And it is that of the great Graham Moore, that Son of Dorset who - like Mick & Pete - should have had at least three Main Stage Cambridge appearances under his belt by now, if there were any justice in this world. Oh, AND a WildGoose recording contract!


True, Graham does not perform on this CD, but his A Tolpuddle Man is by some distance the standout track. And following it in my list of favourites here is The Labourer's Cause (which Mick co-wrote with him), and then Graham's Tom Paine's Bones. (We have just lost the inspirational Kenneth Griffith, maker of those singular, mould-breaking television documentaries: how he'd have loved to have had this last song as the "closing credits" song methinks, for his Tom Paine masterpiece.)


And mentioning these Tolpuddle songs brings me to something of a thread running through the CD: several of the tracks are from the five stage musicals that Mick has penned. And as someone who saw the live production of Tanks For The Memory a few years back, I have to say that the inclusion here of a couple of songs from it, is dearly appreciated.


What else to say? Well yes, there was a surprise track as there always is with a Ryan/Harris album. In this case it was The Boy Remembers His Father, a song quite new to me. I note that the fine words are by the late Sigerson Clifford, and that is a name I have looked out for ever since discovering that Mickey MacConnell based the lyrics of his unforgettable The Tinkerman's Daughter on Clifford's A Tinker's Tale. As someone who lost his own dad at just ten years and three months, I was truly moved by it.


As I was indeed by another new song to me: Mick's recently penned tribute to the great Cyril Tawney. It shows he has not lost one iota of his skill in penning a song.


Recommended.
Dai Woosnam