Ken Hinchliffe. of Whats Afoot
reviews The Navvy's Wife by The Navvy's Wife CastI have always maintained the opinion that Mick Ryan's musical outpourings are of the highest quality and reliability. The Navvy's Wife has unquestionably endorsed that belief. The Navvy's Wife is a mammoth work. An outstanding piece of musical creation.
Quite clearly Mick Ryan, through the writings of Ultan Cowley and Terry Coleman, has thoroughly acquainted himself with the subject matter. Some years ago, I too read ‘The Railway Navvies’ by Coleman and can seriously recommend reading the book in conjunction with The Navvy's Wife. The Irish navvies (navigators) came to England for many reasons. Not least of which was to escape the Irish potato famine (1845-51). Or they were simply encouraged to make the journey, purely as a source of cheap and expendable labour. Whatever their reasons, I'm sure that they all hoped for a better life. The hardships, misery and uncertainty experienced by them are well documented but we know relatively little about their womenfolk; the misery and unimaginable indignities which they suffered.
To give life to his considerable creative talent, Mick Ryan has assembled for the making of this double CD, a company of musicians and singers all highly respected on the Folk circuit. The company being; Jackie Oates, Paul Downes, Judy Dunlop, Heather Bradford and Roger Watson. The entire recording of two CDs, comprises 30 tracks, some of them spoken word but mostly of song. Every track brilliantly written and perfectly performed!
I found the songs and spoken word, very emotive and meaningful. But because of and thanks to each artist's quality performance, never morose. After all, it is supposed to be a musical drama not a melodrama. It is so obvious from the vibrant performance of entire company, that they all felt a personal affinity with the song lyrics and the spoken word. We must at the same time be mindful of Mick Ryan perceptive casting of the company. Typecasting is an often an unacknowledged skill. And certainly for The Navvy's Wife, his casting is intuitively correct. It would be quite inappropriate for me to talk in terms of my favourite song, poem, artist etc. The performance, the presentation of The Navvy's Wife is a whole. It is whole because, from the first note to the last, the story of this period of our social history flows with perfect continuity.
The Navvy's Wife is the benchmark against which all other Folk musical dramas will be measured.