Mick Ryan & Pete Harris

Mick and Pete visited COMBS Middle School, Stowmarket, Suffolk when they were the Everyman Guests in November 2005.  Their presentations to Pupils about the First World War were particularly topical, and the advance liaison and planning with the school made the most of this fantastic opportunity.

The hardest act to follow is always one that has been successful. Having been treated to the highly talented duo of Nancy Kerr and James Fagan the previous month, we did not know what to expect when Suffolk Folk and The Everyman Folk Club kindly provided us with the opportunity to have a second bite of the cherry with Mick Ryan and Pete Harris. We didn't need to worry. The arrival of this experienced and talented pair provided another great experience for our pupils.

Mick Ryan & Pete Harris Whilst Nancy and James provided a workshop for a selected number of pupils, Mick and Pete's input was completely different. They had talked to us ahead of their visit and we had agreed that they would provide a thematic performance for a group of pupils with a narrative to link their songs. The theme chosen, rather appropriately for November, was songs from the First World War. They were not just ordinary songs, however; they were beautifully written by Mick and Pete and followed a logical, clear pattern. The children were encouraged to participate and the whole performance was both a learning and enjoyable experience. What was particularly successful was the way the story unfolded. It would have been too easy to follow the normal clich�d style that can sometimes happen when you deal with the emotive issue of World War One. Instead, there were poignant messages in a simple and beautifully understated manner which is a hallmark of the duo.

They were able to hold their audience captive throughout the performance, which was no mean feat considering that they were entertaining a whole year group, some of whom were watching their first live performers. It even captured the imagination of one hard-bitten teaching staff member, who had come into the room determined to catch up on some late marking only to down pen and books to rapidly join in with the children. Believe me, that takes some doing! 

Mick Ryan & Pete Harris One of the more surprising elements of the day came when I was talking to Mick and Pete prior to their first performance. They seemed slightly apprehensive about both the material and the age of their audience. Whilst both Mick and Pete have teaching experience, it appeared that it was the first time they had used the material for youngsters. This again proved to be no problem because, like all good musicians, they were great communicators and could soon relate to the children. I would also urge them to consider using this piece of work for other audiences, because the nature of the material and manner in which it was assembled is a very commercial product.

I can only reiterate what I wrote following Nancy and James' visit, namely that we feel privileged to have had the opportunity to have such talented performers in our school. Again, many thanks to Suffolk Folk and The Everyman Folk Club for their support, not only in making such quality entertainers available to schools but for providing such generous sponsorship as well. I would also recommend any others involved in education who read this article to take advantage of these opportunities as we have at Combs Middle School.

Ian Crissell, Combs Middle School 14.01.06