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 
John Richards 

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 
Trad 

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 
Paul Downes 

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 
Nick Burbridge 

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 
George Ward 

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 
Mick Ryan 

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 
Trad 

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 
Bob Kirkpatrick 

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 
Trad 

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 
Paul Downes 

Instrumental 

11 THE ROAD TO CAMDEN TOWN 
Kevin Boyle 

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 

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! 
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
FAREWELL NANCY
Though there are probably hundreds of variants of this song
Sample not available
BRAUNTON BURROWS
A few years back
THE OLD MAN’S RETREAT
Winner of the 2013 Spiral Earth Awards
Sample not available
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
DOWN AMONG THE DEADMEN
I cannot conceive of making an album without a Mick Ryan song. Here
Sample not available
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.
Sample not available
I HATE THE RAIN
Written by Bob Kirkpatrick
Sample not available
THE BROKEN-DOWN GENTLEMAN
Otherwise known as Off to Epsom Races
Sample not available
LAMORNA COVE
Instrumental
Sample not available
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.
Sample not available
UNACCOMPANIED (accompanied)
Harvey Andrews wrote this song in 1970. When I told him I was thinking of recording it

Folk Northwest

Derek Gifford

This is Paul's 5th solo album, not counting the 250 or so other albums he's appeared on as a session musician of course! This time it's the turn of Phil Beer on violin, mandolin and acoustic bass, Maggie Boyle on flute, whistle and bodhran, Issy Emeney on melodeon, Keith Kendrick on concertina, Jackie Oates on violin and Gill Redmond on cello to act as session musicians for him!

Although the title implies that this might be a nautical album there are a number of 'dry' songs too. The album opens with John Richard's 'Honour and Praise' giving Paul a chance to air his strong voice and is followed by the more gently performed version of the traditional song 'Farewell Nancy' which illustrates Paul's equally melodic tones.

Among the great songs on this CD there are two for me which are particularly outstanding. The first is Nick Burbridge's 'The Old Man's Retreat' which I've heard Paul perform with Maggie Boyle and is here given a stunningly atmospheric cello accompaniment by Gill Redmond. The second is Mick Ryan's 'Down Among the Deadmen' from his folk opera 'The Pauper's Path to Hope'. Well Paul had to include at least one of Mick's songs of course and this is a well arranged version of it.

There are a couple of atmospheric slow tunes written and beautifully played on guitar by Paul called 'Braunton Burrows' and 'Lamorna Cove' whose names will be familiar to West Country folk. Other songs which I particularly enjoyed were the title song 'The Boatman's Cure' written by George Ward of New York which I've heard Paul perform live (see my Live Review of him and Maggie Boyle at the Bothy Folk Club in a previous issue of FolkNW) and Harvey Andrews' classic 'Unaccompanied' which is still as relevant today as when he wrote it in 1970.

What more can I say? Well this is high class singing and playing; it has some delightful arrangements; the songs are well chosen for their variety of style and genre - in other words - it's a belter and well worthy of a place in your CD collection.

Bright Young Folk

Shelley Rainey

Paul Downes is a familiar face on the folk circuit, working with such folk luminaries as Phil Beer, Maggie Boyle, Mick Ryan and the Arizona Smoke Review, to name but a few.

Here he goes solo (with a few guests, including some with whom he has shared a stage) giving his fine voice the opportunity to showcase a selection of traditional and more contemporary songs. There is a nice balance of the two, punctuated with a couple of self-penned tunes.

The traditional songs include Farewell Nancy, here to a little known tune, beautifully enhanced by the mournful cello playing of Gill Redmond.

The Broken Down Gentlemen is a sorry tale, lamenting a mis-spent youth, with gentle accompaniment on melodeon (Issy Emeney), fiddle (Jackie Oates) and whistle (Maggie Boyle). Whilst The Poor Old Couple has a jaunty tune, disguising the fact that it is a sad tale of infidelity.

The album contains a fine choice of contemporary songs and gets off to a lovely start with the John Richards classic Honour and Praise accompanied by Phil Beer on fiddle. Others are by artists Paul works with regularly, eg Mick Ryan's Down Among the Dead Men which also features Phil Beer.

Rather more upbeat in tone is the title track, The Boatman's Cure, written by George Ward. Here a lively tune praises rum as a cure for a variety of ills.

The tunes, Braunton Burrows and Lamorna Cove, were named by Steve Knightley after points on the South West Coast Path. These gorgeous instrumentals are both played on steel-stringed guitar.

The Boatman's Cure is an album which is easy on the ear without ever being bland.

The Living Tradition

Nigel Schofield

Paul is an arch collaborator and in demand session player. It's appropriate, therefore, that he has assembled an impressive backing band for this, his fifth solo album: players on the album include Phil Beer, Keith Kendrick and Maggie Boyle. The backing they provide is at once inventive and supportive, enhancing and appropriate.

Anyone who has followed Paul's career will be aware of his remarkable musical taste. This collection of 10 songs and two tunes is impeccable in its song selection. From Honour And Praise (a revelation for those familiar with the song through the Fairport Convention version) to a revival of Harvey Andrews' Unaccompanied, these are songs which all see the world through the eyes of experience and maturity. Three are traditional songs; the rest are by contemporary writers. The bleakest (The Old Man's Retreat) and the most uplifting (Road To Camden Town) have obvious routes in his recent collaboration with Maggie Boyle, who included the first song on her most recent album.

Even though some songs   particularly the title track   lend themselves to full voiced chorus, Paul has chosen to maintain just a single voice throughout   a decision reflective of the empirical wisdom of the songs themselves, since, like the empathetic arrangements, it maintains full focus on the songs throughout.

This is a deep, rich album with performances that, through repeated listening, reveal greater and greater depth in their interpretations. This is a master craftsman of a performer, marshalling all his talents.

Special mention in closing of the two instrumentals which provide texture to the album. Quasi classical, Downes' originals, they were written for Show Of Hands but here emerge as breathtakingly gorgeous vignettes.

fRoots

David Kidman

Paul us arguably one of folk's unsung heroes, having played on around 250 albums in total including those of bands like Arizona Smoke Revue and The Joyce Gang, and in duo collaborations with Phil Beer, Mick Ryan and Maggie Boyle, while also releasing just four solo albums of his own � to which The Boatman's Cure is a proud successor.

Here Paul gives us a well-considered mix of traditional and contemporary song, exactly what you'd get in his live performances but with additional textural enhancement in the shape of delightful and well-judged contributions from Phil and Maggie, also Issy Emeney, Keith Kendrick, Jackie Oates and Gill Redmond.  Paul also intersperses a separated brace of piquant, gently intricate solo guitar tracks that revisit tunes he'd composed several years ago for Show Of Hands' 2003 album The Path.  Whatever the song, Paul invariably chooses well, to suit his vocal capabilities and sensibilities while giving deserved, often timely profile to the creations of other writers, notably Kevin Boyle (The Road To Camden Town), Nick Burbridge (The Old Man's Retreat), Bob Kirkpatrick (I Hate The Rain), John Richards' stirring anthem Honour And Praise, and of course Paul's current duo partner Mick Ryan (Down Among The Deadmen, reprised from recent folk-opera The Pauper's Path).

His expertise on banjo is also unquestioned, as his characterful disc-highlight takes on the poignant traditional Farewell Nancy and the more lively Unaccompanied (Accompanied), an early Harvey Andrews classic, both well demonstrate. Paul's choice of traditional material embraces both ends of the emotional spectrum, from the mournful cautionary tale of The Broken-Down Gentleman to The Poor Old Couple, which turns out to be a rather jolly song on the time-honoured topic of female infidelity.

There's no disappointment to be found in this reliable collection, for Paul has produced an ultimately most satisfying record whose qualities will stand the test of time and reaffirm his status as much more than the ultimate English folk session musician.  

EFDSS

Paul Rawcliffe

It is always great to see a seasoned musician still ploughing their way in the music world and for Paul Downes this is extra true. Paul has played folk music for most of his life so anyone picking up an album of his can expect the highest of quality. The Boatman's Cure is a prime example, but surprisingly is only his fifth solo album.

Twelve tracks led by Paul, his guitar and his strong vocals but backed by a talented team of supporters with well-known names such as Jackie Oates and Phil Beer. The tunes chosen are a good mix of sea songs and well-known traditional songs giving the listener a powerful sense of Paul's experience and wisdom in the folk music world. 'Farewell Nancy' for example is sung effortlessly and with confidence that adds to the relaxing atmosphere already being provided by the backing music. Other classics like 'The Broken-Down Gentleman' make a good revival with Paul's unique take on the song.  'Braunton Burrows' and 'Lamorna Cove' are fine instrumental tracks displaying his guitar skills. 'The Old Man's Retreat' is a sad tale that gives us a glimpse of how good a storyteller Paul is, and although it's a skill that can be learned, it also takes a large portion of natural talent. 'The Boatman's Cure' is also a story, but much more fun and lively, displaying a mix of abilities. As well as serious and sad there is also jolly and amusing, as with 'The Poor Old Couple' and 'I Hate the Rain'.

The album is a wonderful display of variety and finishes on a high note with 'Unaccompanied' starring the banjo, fiddle and vocals that plays one last foot-tapping song as a dessert.

Shire Folk

Mel Pitts

Paul Downes's solo performances, as well as collaborations with the likes of Phil Beer and Maggie Boyle, have given him an enviable position as a well respected performer on the folk circuit around the world. Guitar and banjo artistry and a clear, full voice are his trademarks and that's just what you get with this new album.

From the start on John Richards" Honour and Praise; we hear why so many people rate Paul so highly. He follows this with his own arrangement of the traditional 'Farewell Nancy; with an unusual but very effective blending of banjo with Gill Redmond's cello and Maggie Boyle's flute in my opinion the best track here. Paul intersperses the collection with a couple of self penned instrumentals, 'Braunton Burrows'and'Lamorna Cove; which are a pointer to his mastery of the guitar and also his West Country roots. Other stand out tracks are Bob Kirkpatrick's 'I Hate the Rain' and Harvey Andrews's 'Unaccompanied (accompanied); both social commentaries on modern life in the USA and Britain; Maggie's brother Kevin's pretty'The Road to Camden Town'; and the traditional cautionary tale'The Poor Old Couple.

There are also contributions from Phil Beer and Jackie Oates on violin, Issy Emeney's melodeon and Keith Kendrick's concertina in a delightful collection of traditional and contemporary songs from a master of his art. If I were to strike one negative note it would be that with both Maggie Boyle and Jackie Oates on hand, it is a shame not to have some harmonies on the vocals.