Human beings singing together in harmony is a wonderful thing. Songs can be wonderful things. Medicine and doctors are wonderful things, too. What am I writing about? God knows… but it’s a wonderful life if you’re listening to The Folk Doctors. By Alan O’Hare.
Bands who have a lead singer and lyricist who doesn’t write the music they sing intrigue me. Michael Stipe comes immediately to mind, as someone whose melodic talent sits at the top of the musical tree, but who waits to hear something before starting work. It’s unique and clearly relies on the happenstance and happiness that occurs when two people connect. The Folk Doctors, a Merseyside/Irish duo specialising in levity and laments, are such an anomaly making an impression on the Liverpool acoustic scene.
They’ve just released debut album ‘Silent Shores’ – which opens up with the breezy blues of shipbuilding broadside ‘Birkenhead’ – and comprise the guitar playing of Merseysider John Armstrong and the singing of Irishman Ultan Mulhern. They make a beautiful noise and the harmonies are fantastic… but there’s something else happening here, too. Early demos sounded like Bob Dylan having a pint with The Clancy Brothers at The White Horse Tavern on Hudson Street in New York City. Listen to ‘The Hardest Working Man’, in its earliest form, and tell me your thought-dreams haven’t turned to mono… sure, the autumnal shades brought to the recorded version with violins and cellos are mournful, but the demo sounds like it’s been unearthed from under a thousand years of Mersey mud. It’s magical.
‘Silent Shores’ sounds great, however. Many songs contain bass, full drums, electric guitar, mandolin and banjo to complement the folk origins with coats of many colours, but it’s stripped down and singing softly – on the likes of the devastating ‘We Were Soldiers’ (“I’m the lucky one, I’m building roads, now I’m in The Labour Corps”) and the lovely title track (“night time brings the moon rise, its silver light in your eyes”) – where The Folk Doctors’ star shines sharpest. Having said that, the brilliantly-titled ‘The Nobility Of Rain’ floats in on an E-bow guitar figure and delivers its deluge under power chords and a classic top line.
The Folk Doctors got serious after writing a song together for a competition back in 2017. They didn’t win, but it mattered not a jot as the contest was catalytic for what came next… and we’d all be losers if these songs had remained unheard.
Pic by Tom Forshaw