MICK RYAN – Here At The Fair (Wild Goose WGS 428 CD)

Here At The FairMick Ryan is, as we all know, is a prolific song-writer and skilled at melding his ideas into shows or folk operas as he is happy to call them. Here At The Fair is his sixth such show and, as always, he has assembled a fine cast: Heather Bradford, Alice Jones,  Pete Morton, Geoff Lakeman and the trio Granny’s Attic – George Sansome, Lewis Wood and Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne.

Ryan’s shows are usually historical and/or political subjects so this particular fair is set up in a country town in 1850. Initially it’s all very jolly with the instrumentation featuring reeds and euphonium echoing the sound of a fairground organ. The various characters introduce themselves and comment on their lifestyles. Ryan is generous in sharing out the parts with Geoff Lakeman playing Doctor Maldini, the snake-oil salesman; George Sansome as a ballad-seller; Heather Bradford plays the fortune-teller Madame Lavengro and Pete Morton is allowed to go completely over the top as  Professor Sleary, the owner of the flea circus. Ryan plays Vincent Crummles, the showman, with Alice Jones as his daughter. Aficionados of Charles Dickens will recognise the names.

Gradually, a darker story begins to emerge. Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne plays the clown Steven Starling who, we learn, is searching for his father. The second disc begins with Maldini recalling the events at Peterloo and Madame Lavengro remembering the last great Chartist meeting. There are other missing persons in this story – is there a link between them? As the show progresses the characters confess the truth about the hardship of their lives in a travelling show, admit that their best days are behind them and confront the truth about themselves. Any more information would be spoilers.

Mick Ryan’s songs are always singable, which is why so many people borrow them, and even in the darker moments of Here At The Fair there is an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. Things may be bad now but they were good once. Sadly, in the words of ‘If Only’, there is no going back so everyone blinks back the tears and looks forward.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Worth It In The End’ – live:

Shrewsbury Folk Festival – tickets are now on sale

Shrewsbury Folk Festival
Kate Rusby

Tickets have gone on sale for the 2019 Shrewsbury Folk Festival as organisers have shared the first names to be added to the bill.

Weekend tickets to the four-day event, that will take place at the West Mid Showground from August 23 to 26, are expected to be in high demand. Last year the first tier of tickets were snapped up in less than 30 minutes and weekend tickets sold out a month before the August Bank Holiday event.

Two of the UK’s top solo stars Kate Rusby and Martyn Joseph will be topping the bill along with the legendary Oysterband and female supergroup Daphne’s Flight, who are returning after a triumphant performance in 2017. Scottish folk rockers Skerryvore have also been invited back after wowing crowds earlier this year.

Grace Petrie – photograph by David Wilson Clarke

Gary Stewart’s Graceland – a reworking of the Paul Simon classic – has also been signed up along with solo shows from Show of Hands frontman Steve Knightley, singer songwriter and activist Grace Petrie and appearances from The Phil Beer Band and Merry Hell.

Exclusive to the festival will be a special day of programming on its Pengwern stage by duo Chris While and Julie Matthews to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their musical partnership. The While and Matthews Takeover will see the pair curate performances on August 25th that will culminate in a big band show to close the night.

Granny’s Attic

Other acts will include Chris Elliott and Caitlin Jones, Edgelarks, Geoff Lakeman, Granny’s Attic, Mankala, Paul Downes, Rapsquillion, Reg Meuross, Track Dogs, the Urban Folk Quartet, and Winter Wilson. Festivalgoers will also be able to watch folk opera Here At The Fair by Mick Ryan.

Festival Director Sandra Surtees said many more artists are yet to be revealed.

“As ever the Shrewsbury line-up will feature some of the biggest names in folk, some popular performers that have been requested by our audience and a number of world and Americana acts.

“But the festival is about so much more than just the music – there’s so much to do during the weekend for all ages. The festival has its own magical atmosphere and we have many visitors who wouldn’t class themselves as ‘folkies’ but they just come to enjoy the relaxed and friendly atmosphere with friends and family and listen to great music.

“The festival continues to go from strength to strength with a devoted audience who return year after year, demonstrated by the fact that we regularly sell out in advance.”

The festival has four main music stages, a dance tent featuring ceilidhs, workshops and dance shows, children and youth festivals, workshops, crafts, food village, real ale, cocktail and gin bars and on-site camping and glamping.

There are also fringe events at local pubs with dance displays held in the town centre and a parade through the streets on the Saturday afternoon. Weekend and day tickets can be booked at  www.shrewsburyfolkfestival.co.uk/booktickets/.