Reviews 2014

Woodman Folk Club - Reviews

Paul Downes

Bryn Phillips 8 March 2014

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Paul Downes had originally been booked to play as a duo with Mick Ryan, but unfortunately Mick had to cancel and so instead we had Paul Downes as a solo act. I had seen Paul Downes several times before; originally in the Arizona Smoke Review and more recently with Mick Ryan, but I had never seen him perform alone, and so I was looking forward to the evening.

He’d brought two guitars and a banjo with him and several of us were in awe when he showed us his foldable guitar before the evening started. “Look” he said as he clipped it together and all of the loose strings tightened, “It’s still in tune. It’s amazing”. At that moment I knew it would be a good evening as here was a musician who loves his instruments and is happy to chat away about them.

He started off with some very nifty guitar work which was the intro to a powerful song “I am The Foe”. He followed this with “I Hate The Rain” the first of several songs from his new album, “The Boatman’s Cure” which he initially dedicated to the people who live on the Somerset Levels and then expanded to the rest of the country, following the wettest February in Britain since records began. Then out came the banjo which Mick Ryan had persuaded him to buy. I used to have a cheap banjo but this is a good one – and it sounded good as well. For once not a single banjo joke from Woodman audience as he gave an excellent performance of "Farewell Nancy", again from his new album. As the evening continued I was impressed by the breadth of the repertoire and musical styles. This included the bluesy “Cocaine Lil” sandwiched within a great version of Angie, Phil Ochs’ “There But for Fortune”, Steve Knightley’s “Exile” and even Benny Hill’s “The Andalucian Gypsies”. One song which stuck in my mind long after the evening finished was George Ward’s “The Boatman’s Cure”. This had a very catchy tune and as Paul said, "the chorus has got a note in it that you won’t get until about half way through the song". He was right, as the note in question was about two tones lower than expected, and this had the effect of lodging it firmly in your brain “The best cure for the river is a bottle of rum”. Another song which stood out for me was Harvey Andrew’s Unaccompanied, to which he provided a perfect banjo accompaniment. This is a song that I’ve always enjoyed, but this version gave it a new sense of desperation and urgency.

Paul Downes is rightly regarded as one of the folk world’s finest musicians, as evidenced by the number of musicians and bands he has accompanied over the years, but it was a treat to see him deliver a solo performance. The guitar and banjo playing came over as effortless, and the vocals were crystal clear. As well as the musical performance there was genuine empathy with audience.

Support for the evening was provided by Sunjay Brayne, Velvet Green, Barry and Corinne and Your Reviewer, who was also the MC for the night.

PS When Paul Downes discovered I was writing the review he asked me whether I would be reviewing the MC. When I said “No” he said “be sure to include a quote from me in the review then. You can say he was Very Good”. That’s too good an opportunity to pass up, so I haven’t.