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WildGoose Studios WGS403CD

This revival of A Day’s Work (first performed in 1995) shows Mick Ryan’s mastery of lyrics, music and the spoken word. The show (and CD) is about the move by a group of farm workers from the land to the Western front in the First World War. One of the workers is a conscientious objector and is shot for his beliefs.

The show opens in an English village, Christmas 1914, with Mick, Pete Morton and Paul Downes reciting the poem It’s All In A Day’s Work. In 1843, the old Duke of Wellington asked for a typical soldier’s name to put on new army pay forms – the poem about this is reprinted on the insert – Tommy Atkins was the name used of course. Flanders Tommy shows the boys marching off, full of hope. At the outbreak of war, many were still working the land. The song, Sons Of The Land, represents the life many left behind to do a day’s work in different fields. The Land I Love tells of the complex attitudes some had about the war, but all sharing the love of home.

The men in our story were all members of the same mummers team and Summer Is A Coming In Again reminds them of this. The Soldier’s Rest is based on an old photograph Mick saw on a pub wall – sung by a conchie and a mother whose son has enlisted. There was much debate about the supposedly Christian idea of a just war. The Call is a brief dialogue between a vicar and a conchie. Pro-war propaganda is reflected in Join The Game and the solo vocal by Greg Russell in Peace shows the determination of the conchie in his prison cell. The Long Farewell sung by Mick as the conchie’s father and Maggie Boyle as the recruit’s mother is extremely poignant.

Part 2 takes place mostly at the front in 1916. Flanders Tommy Part 2 contrasts the reality of the front with the expectations of 1914. Many a man prayed for a wound that sent him home in Gimme A Blighty. The Lark Above The Downs is sung by one deemed to be a coward and awaiting execution and is an expression of love of homeland and of hope. Cicely Fox Smith’s Home Lads Home has been slightly adapted to suit this tale and there is a bonus track not included in the show – Christmas In Nomansland. The show takes us from Christmas in the village in 1914 to the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The song about the Christmas truce is offered as a sort of free standing emotional coda.

Taking part are Mick Ryan, Paul Downes, Maggie Boyle, Matt Quinn, Heather Bradford, Pete Morton and Greg Russell. All are wonderfully strong singers and musicians who give their all to this project. Mick has the propensity to be able to write songs that really convey the message contained. This is another excellent piece of work.

Kathy & Bob Drage

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This album was reviewed in Issue 105 of The Living Tradition magazine.