Last Mothering Sunday, on a trip to the magnificent ruins of Fountains Abbey, I was ambushed by an ear-worm that went round and round in my head all day and simply wouldn’t stop:
‘And as I gazed in wonder the towering walls did humble me, and never growing weary walked a thousand years today.’
It’s A thousand years today, from Caution to the Wind, Paul Metsers’ first UK album, written after a visit to Chepstow Castle. No surprise; the song’s apt to grab me whenever I’m among a pile of historic stones. But it’s also a nice example of his ability to write a chorus that lodges deep in the memory. It prompted to me to give the album another listen.
The title refers to the leap of faith that Paul took in leaving New Zealand, where he’d lived since a boy, to move halfway round the world and settle in Britain. One trigger for the move was that his partner Pauline is from the Lake District and wanted to return. A better known one was Nic Jones recording Paul’s song Farewell to the gold on Penguin Eggs, and that’s on here as well: first track on side two. It’s by far the best-known song on Caution, which is understandable; it gives the listener a vivid, sharp picture of prospecting in the New Zealand hills:
‘We sluiced and we cradled for day after day making hardly enough to get by’
Oddly, for me it doesn’t overshadow the rest of the album, perhaps because I know it all so thoroughly; perhaps I’d think differently if I came to it with fresher ears.
As a whole, it’s a nicely varied collection, recorded at Bill Leader’s studio in Halifax in January of 1981. Writer’s song evokes the numbness of a blank page and no ideas for how to fill it, until the magic finally happens. Sandy’s song is homage to the much-missed Sandy Denny. Crossroads is one of several love songs while The hunt and The seal children are more political, protest pieces. Thoughtful lyrics throughout, and a knack for a great chorus.
I’d remembered it, mostly, featuring Paul’s rather lugubrious voice and delicate guitar playing, which is how it was when he was gigging. But a closer listen reveals there’s more going on: Nic Jones adds guitar, fiddle and harmony vocals; Helen Watson sings and plays keyboards, and there are contributions from Steve Turner on concertina and Mick Doonan on uilleann pipes.
Farewell gave Metsers a rolling start, leading to ten busy years on the folk circuit and four more albums. He was, in those days, lanky and hawk-nosed, slightly dour, with a greying mop of hair but a still-black beard.
He retired from touring at the end of the 1980s and set up Sagem Crafts, making beautiful hand-crafted board games. He still writes, performs and participates in the local folk scene and there’s a collection of videos on YouTube. After a gap of some years, his songs are available on CD again, and as downloads via www.paulmetsers.com.