Sleeve Notes for The Boatman's Cure by Paul Downes
Despite having played on around 250 albums in bands (The Arizona Smoke Revue, The Joyce Gang, The Brighton Taverners), duos (with Phil Beer, Mick Ryan, Maggie Boyle) and sessions, this is only Paul Downes’s 5th solo album. Here is the mix of traditional, contemporary and instumental material that you would expect from his live performances.
Paul is accompanied by a wealth of talent:
Paul Downes - vocal, guitar, banjo, mandolin (track 8)
Phil Beer - violin (tracks 1, 6 and 12), mandolin (track 5), acoustic bass
Maggie Boyle - flute, whistle, bodhran
Issy Emeney - melodeon
Keith Kendrick - concertina
Jackie Oates - violin (tracks 4, 5, 7 and 9)
Gill Redmond -’cello
1 HONOUR AND PRAISE
I am very lucky to have been the first person to record a John Richards song - (Did you like) The Battle - in 1976. John has regularly sent me new songs since then and this, among others, has been part of my repertoire for many years. What marks him out as a songwriter is his talent for seeing things from an unexpected perspective. Here, a sea captain’s vainglory turns to remorse in the face of tragedy.
2 FAREWELL NANCY
Though there are probably hundreds of variants of this song, inexplicably I have only heard this beautiful tune sung by the inspirational Mick Hanly in the mid 70s and the equally wonderful John Molyneux in the early 80s. Thanks to Graham Moore for spotting it.
3 BRAUNTON BURROWS
A few years back, my good friends and trusted colleagues, Show of Hands were making an instrumental album - The Path - to celebrate 25 years of the South West Coast Path. They asked me to contribute a couple of tracks - on classical guitar. Here are the steel-string versions. Knightley named the tunes as he gazed at the coast from Minehead to Poole Harbour. (On a map.)
4 THE OLD MAN’S RETREAT
Winner of the 2013 Spiral Earth Awards, it is heartening to see that the incredibly talented Nick Burbridge is at last getting the recognition he deserves. This song is not easy listening! I am indebted to Maggie Boyle for her lovely interpretation. Though we perform it together, I couldn’t resist singing it myself as well.
5 THE BOATMAN’S CURE
A song from George Ward of New York State. It is a testament of an expedition to the higher reaches of the Mohawk River in 1792. It was an endeavour that eventually led to the opening of the Erie Canal. The hard life of a boatman poling the “bateaux” through the weeds, like a punt, was ameliorated by vast amounts of alcohol. Thanks to Joe Stead for bringing back John Roberts’ recording from the US and to the rest of Kimber’s Men for not wanting to do it, allowing me to be the first person to sing it in the UK - probably!
6 DOWN AMONG THE DEADMEN
I cannot conceive of making an album without a Mick Ryan song. Here, I reprise a song that I performed in Mick’s folk opera The Pauper’s Path to Hope but this time with accompaniment and without the South-East accent and tramp’s outfit.
7 THE POOR OLD COUPLE
Yet another jolly song about female infidelity. How old would they actually have been? In their 40s? Adapted from a version collected by Robert Hammond from Mrs Searle in a Dorchester workhouse in 1906.
8 I HATE THE RAIN
Written by Bob Kirkpatrick, this poignant song gently observes the stark juxtaposition of opulence and abject poverty that I, too, have seen - particularly in Phoenix and Los Angeles.
9 THE BROKEN-DOWN GENTLEMAN
Otherwise known as Off to Epsom Races, this mournful song is a cautionary tale of profligacy. Like the better known Limbo, it has has the confessional tone typical of many broadsides but here there is no retribution - only resignation. This version was collected by Bob Copper from council roadworker George Attrill of Fittleworth, Sussex in 1954, though George Gardiner had found similar songs in nearby Hampshire some fifty years earlier.
10 LAMORNA COVE
11 THE ROAD TO CAMDEN TOWN
A lovely song by Maggie Boyle’s brother Kevin. It captures perfectly the feeling of their parents’ generation as they arrived from Dongal to post-war London to join thousands of their fellow countrymen escaping the poverty of their beloved homeland but desperate not to lose touch with its traditions. The tune is adapted from The Fairy Boy which can be found in O’Neill’s.
12 UNACCOMPANIED (accompanied)
Harvey Andrews wrote this song in 1970. When I told him I was thinking of recording it, he suggested that we might update it. We decided it was better left as a testament of the time. As it happens, little has changed anyway - apart from factory hooters and mink coats!