Most of the tracks on The Island of Apples were written by Mick Ryan or Graham Moore, the exceptions being two traditional songs, The Banks of the Bahn' and 'Cupid's Garden', and 'Fresh Fish', the words of which came from Mick's sister. The themes are familiar to devotees of traditional song: war, toil, loss, love, emigration, hope and despair plus a carol, 'There Was A Man', written by Mick and arranged by Pete.
Seven items come from folk musicals: two from 'A Tolpuddle Man', two from The Voyage', two from 'Tanks for the Memory', and one from The Navvy's Wife'. If it is the mark of an excellent CD when phrases of tunes keep coming into one's mind at regular intervals, then this one is good as it happens with many of the songs on this album: they are already familiar.
It is always difficult to select a favourite track but on this occasion it is worth doing. 'The Song Goes On', written for a concert in memory of Cyril Tawney, promises to be a song that will go on, and it is likely to reach a wide audience for many years to come. It is a song devoted to a man who brought traditional music to thousands; if there had ever been any doubt, this album confirms Mick Ryan and Pete Harris's place alongside him.
Jacqueline Patten in "English Dance & Song"
Here are nine traditional songs, mostly well-known favourites such as "Spencer the Rover" and "The Plains of Waterloo", mixed with six of Mick's own songs, many of these written for his "folk-musical" about emigration, "The Voyage". Now, Mick is an accomplished wordsmith; I particularly admire "Long Hard Season" from which the album takes its title. The complex triple-rhyme scheme echoes the Irish theme of the storyline - but here my admiration becomes mixed, since the tune and harmonies in which Mick and Pete sing the song are Appalachian in style and hide rather than compliment the mood of the song, to my mind. I'd like to hear it done another way, I think. I'm not much of a fan of insistant, sing-along choruses either, and Mick's songs are strong on these - but here I know I'm out of step with the majority on the folkclub scene and this is the very feature likely to take these songs into the repertoire of many singers, where they well deserve to be. When storylines are as well written as these, though, I hate having them so frequently interrupted; it's interesting that not one of the traditional songs Mick has chosen to sing here has a chorus - why does he feel them so necessary to his own writing?
One other warning to purists: when it says "Trad. arranged ... " on this album, that means the words not just the tune. No, Mick hasn't found a new version of "Spencer"; he's polished up the Copper Family song a little bit - singer's privilege, say I. For myself, I shall continue to sing the old words, but I will listen with interest to see how long it takes Mick's little alterations to several songs here to turn up in Singarounds!
Ryan combines the ability, by no means universal even among the best known singers, to both sing a musical line and give full sense to the words. On this album, he performs his six own songs extremely well; these range in style from the firmly traditional on the opening 'I Won't Take That Lying Down' to music hall on 'Willy Worrell'. However the standards provide the biggest tests. 'Spencer the Rover' is taken slowly, more slowly for example than on Robin Dransfield's brass accompanied version, but it works very well. 'Plains of Waterloo' is sung unaccompanied, and at over six minutes is just the longest track; yet it compels the attention, as does the other unaccompanied material, the 'Recruited Collier' and the 'Leaves of Life'. 'Just As the Tide Was Flowing' is taken in brisk and straightforward fashion but is nevertheless sung with great subtlety. The lads save the rock 'n roll for the encore in the shape of the cheerful 'Come and be a Soldier', which features some fruity electric guitar.
This is a fine record by any standards, but especially welcome when for a long time now the overwhelming attention has been given to folk music from the Celtic parts of the British Isles. It is robustly English in the best sense, and I recommend it very highly.
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