This double CD is the soundtrack of the show The Navvy’s Wife. It provides an insightful, incisive and highly entertaining tribute to the Kilroys of the pick and shovel. These were ‘The Men Who Built Britain’ to quote the title of the excellent book by Ultan Cowley (Wolfhound Press, Dublin, 2001) which was the springboard for this creation by Mick Ryan. The focus here on the Irish Navvy mirrors the book and reflects their mighty contribution as a large minority within this itinerant workforce. The title might suggest a narrow perspective, however, it is a fully rounded sound picture of the trials and tribulations, dreams and aspirations of these men as well as the wives, mothers and sweethearts who were left behind and not forgetting those women who camp-followed...
Mick Ryan is an outstanding singer, songsmith and musical playwright. He has assembled an impressive cast of singer/musicians to deliver this important piece of work. The cast consists of: Mick, Judy Dunlop, Roger Watson, Jackie Oates, Heather Bradford and Paul Downes. They all do justice to the themes and facets covered. There are 19 tracks on CD1, ie ACT 1, and 11 tracks on CD2, ACT2. The songs are linked sparingly with appropriate commentary and poetry creating an exciting and coherent whole.
Given the sheer volume of eminently singable songs, exemplary accompaniments and memorable tunes, regretfully, I can only give a sample here. The CD opens and closes with the robust and apposite ‘The Land Around You’ from Mick. Then there is the poignant ‘Navvy`s Wife’ from Judy which highlights the relentless grind and dangers of the job – ‘Same Old Labour For the Same Old Pay’. Songs of wit and humour, black and otherwise, abound. Some are done in rollicking music-hall style, which fits the bill both musically and emotionally eg ‘We get Allsorts’ sung by Heather which gives a landladies viewpoint. Then again ‘Here Comes Mick’ from Paul which bowls along with this chorus
‘And it’s lift it and shift it
Here comes Mick and here comes Paddy
Here comes Sean and here comes Tim
They’re the boys to move your mountains
They’re the boys who won’t give in’.
Highlights include Roger Watson singing ‘Just Like You’ where an old navvy reflects on his working life. Mick’s haunting ‘Something to show’ is another cracker illustrating loneliness and longing.
This production stands up well as a vivid listening experience and I have no doubt that as a visual performance its qualities can only be compounded.
The show was commissioned by and first performed at Chester Folk Festival 2006 and later with the present cast at Topsham Folk Club and Chippenham Folk Festival in 2008. For future performances see www.thenavvyswife.co.uk