Seth Lakeman, Warwick Arts Centre, 11/10/2012.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
Ian Mann enjoys a performance by the Seth Lakeman band with their guest Lisbee Stainton. He also takes a look at Lakeman's latest album "Tales From The Barrel House".
Seth Lakeman, Warwick Arts Centre, 11/10/2012.
As has previously been mentioned on these web-pages I first “discovered” Seth Lakeman’s music way back in 2004 when the then up and coming young folk artist appeared at the Courtyard Arts Centre in Hereford as part of a trio led by Oysterband’s lead vocalist John Jones. The now legendary trio tour also featured Benji Kirkpatrick, later of Bellowhead and a regular contributor to Lakeman’s later albums and tours.
Astute readers will have noted that this was long before Lakeman’s Mercury Music Prize nomination for his second album “Kitty Jay” helped to establish him as the “poster boy of British Folk” and almost catapulted him into the mainstream. “Kitty Jay” had just been released before the Hereford appearance and I recall that this was the first time I witnessed Lakeman performing the title track live, a mesmerising solo feature for voice, violin and stomp box. The tune remains a vital component of Lakeman’s live shows to this day and continues to thrill audiences up and down the land. I also remember buying “Kitty Jay” and the earlier “The Punch Bowl” and have felt rather proprietorial about young Mr. Lakeman ever since, keeping an eye on subsequent albums and enjoying several other live performances at the Big Session Festival, Brecon Jazz Fringe Festival and other local gigs at Brecon and Gloucester.
My attendance at tonight’s event came about as the result of Seth augmenting his regular band with the presence of guest singer and instrumentalist Lisbee Stainton. Stainton opened for Lakeman on his European tour in 2011 and had made such an impression that she was invited back to perform WITH the Lakeman group rather than merely supporting them. Stainton is an accomplished singer, guitarist and songwriter herself, something of a rising star with three solo albums already under her belt. My review of her show at The Courtyard in Hereford just a week ago can be viewed elsewhere on this site. My thanks go to Lisbee’s father and manager Clive Stainton for arranging my tickets both to that and to tonight’s event.
Joining Seth and Lisbee were Seth’s regular quartet featuring his brother Sean on various acoustic guitars and mandola, man mountain Ben Nicholls on double bass, banjo and Jew’s harp and the impish Irishman Cormac Byrne who flitted between a vast array of percussion instruments but still kept the sounds of the humble bodhran and cajon at the heart of the music.
Since the breakthrough with “Kitty Jay” Lakeman has released the albums “Freedom Fields”, “Poor Man’s Heaven” and “Hearts + Minds”, all good enough in their own way and peppered with good songs but there was a sense that his music was becoming increasingly formulaic and edging ever closer to rock. His most recent album “Tales From The Barrel House” takes a step back and returns to the more acoustic side of yore. Totally self played the record delivers a better balance of light and shade than Lakeman has offered for some time. It was this rediscovered softness that persuaded Lakeman to add Stainton to his touring party with her pure but powerful vocals adding greatly to the ballad items of a programme that explored the gentler timbres of the new album as well as delivering a sizeable selection of some of Lakeman’s more full blooded songs, all of them audience favourites, a kind of greatest hits if you will. This being a theatre/arts centre show there was an interval with Lakeman concentrating on the new recording in the first half and cranking up the energy levels and reeling out the hits in the second. It was a tried and tested formula that worked well and ultimately earned the group a standing ovation, although it has to be said that the hall was far from full.
The bulk of Lakeman’s output has been based around the myths and legends of his native Dartmoor and of the South West as a whole. “Tales From The Barrel House” stays true to the theme but is more concerned with honouring those West Country crafts and occupations that seem to be in danger of extinction - tin and copper mining, cider making, wood turning etc. Throughout the record Lakeman extols the virtues of the craftsmen and artisans and although not an overtly political songwriter also champions the cause of the poor and the dispossessed. Such a song is “More Than Money” , the opening track from “Tales” and which also began the show here. Inspired by the “breakers” who hewed minerals from granite rock the album version was recorded on location down the George and Charlotte copper mine near Morwellham, North Devon. Live the tune began with Byrne slamming out the rhythm as Nicholls and the Lakeman brothers made rock star style entrances. The volume and lighting were derived from rock too and the sound was initially a little muddy although this was quickly remedied. Lakeman’s music is highly rhythmic with the lines of Seth’s banjo and Sean’s acoustic guitar meshing with Byrne’s powerful rhythms and Nicholls’ earthy bowed bass. If this was Lakeman in his now familiar folk rock style the following “Blacksmith’s Prayer” offered a greater degree of subtlety with Lakeman paying homage to the art and dignity of the blacksmith and his disappearing craft. Not that the tune lacked impetus as Byrne struck hammer on anvil and added rhythmic drive on the bodhran.
Lakeman dug deep into the archives and switched to tenor guitar for an urgent, rollicking version of the murder ballad “John Lomas” from the album “Kitty Jay”. It was good to hear this old favourite again.
Lakeman then invited Lisbee Stainton to the stage to sing with him on the tender ballad “The Sender” from new album “Tales”. Their voices seemed to be well suited and this example of the gentler side of lakeman’s output was highly effective. Stainton picked up a banjo and Lakeman switched to mandola for a well received version of “Solomon Browne” which Lakeman dedicated to the RNLI. The song tells the tale of the Penlee lifeboat disaster of 1981 and pays tribute to the courage of the lifeboat men on the Solomon Browne who lost their lives in the attempt to save the crew of the stricken Union Star. Stainton’s vocals gave a real lift to the sad but rousing chorus.
From “Tales” the song “Apple Of His Eye” is Lakeman’s paean to the art of the cider maker, a surprisingly gentle appreciation that featured the drones of Nicholls’ concertina and Stainton’s harmonium with Lakeman picking out the melody of the tune on pizzicato violin. Lakeman then picked up the bow as the piece segued into the highly rhythmic “The Bold Knight” (from “Kitty Jay”), Byrne’s hyperactive percussion fuelling Lakeman’s violin pyrotechnics.
From “Freedom Fields” the heavily adapted traditional tune “The White Hare” was a particularly effective duet for Lakeman on tenor guitar and Stainton on banjo, their voices coalescing and harmonising on the haunting chorus. This represented a moment of quiet reflection before a storming quintet version of “Blood Red Sky” with Byrne’s cajon the backbone and with flashing red lights providing the spectacle as we were offered another glimpse of rock star Seth.
Stainton then left the stage for the quartet to round off the first half with a version of the traditional song “Setting Of The Sun” with Lakeman careful to credit the source from which it had been collected. Oysterband perform a different version under the title “Molly Bond”, it’s one of those traditional folk tunes that seems to have evolved into many incarnations. The musical highlight here was Nicholls’ bass solo, the big man brings a distinctive and very powerful presence to the Lakeman band.
This had been a well balanced first half that had focussed on Lakeman’s recent output whilst simultaneously referencing his past. Mixing electric and acoustic sounds it had offered good dynamic contrasts with Stainton’s contribution, particularly with the voice, adding a distinctive and very welcome element to the music.
The second half concentrated more firmly on the hits and favourites as Lakeman demonstrated his ability to work a crowd. Driven by Byrne on cajon and with Lakeman in fiery fiddling mode “The Hurlers” was an attention grabbing opener and this was followed by the insistent “Take No Rogues” with Lakeman on tenor guitar and with Nicholls again demonstrating his instrumental skills.
Byrne temporarily exited as Stainton returned to harmonise with Lakeman on “King And Country”, a song written for his grandfather. Stainton then picked up her signature eight string guitar, her voice dovetailing with Lakeman’s on “Changes”, a rare dip into the repertoire of 2010’s “Hearts + Minds”, an album that suffered something of a critical backlash. One of the album’s best songs tonight’s version featured Lakeman on pizzicato violin with Byrne’s bodhran and Nicholls bass pulse providing subtle rhythmic impetus and interest.
Stainton was less prominent in the second half and now left the stage as the quartet embarked on a run in of high energy crowd pleasers beginning with “The Colliers”, a tune based on the early 20thC mining disaster at Gresford in North Wales. Despite the grimness of the subject matter this is a rousing song with a call and response chorus which saw Lakeman exhorting the audience to sing and clap along.
“Mariners” went all the way back to “The Punch Bowl” and “Blood And Copper” was a furious hoedown with Nicholls on banjo and Lakeman on fiddle as the Waterford born Byrne mercilessly accelerated the rhythms seated astride the cajon.
With Nicholls on Jew’s harp “Race To Be King” was no less frenetic with the band subsequently quitting the stage to leave Lakeman to perform the one constant item in his repertoire, the stunning violin, voice and stomp box set piece “Kitty Jay”, a song guaranteed to bring the house down every time, as of course it did here.
This represented the climax of the second set but of course an encore was inevitable beginning with “Kitty Jay”‘s close cousin “Lady Of The Sea” which featured another bout of virtuoso violin bowing with Lakeman this time backed by the quartet. This then segued into something else but by now the whole hall was on its feet and I’d stopped making notes. Stainton returned playing banjo as Lakeman thanked his fellow musicians vigorously.
I’ve now seen Lakeman half a dozen times and have always admired his excellent singing and musicianship plus the energy and vibrancy of his live performances. However this was the best balanced Lakeman show I’ve yet seen with the gentler, more reflective moments contrasting well with his usual high octane approach. Now free of the interferences of a major record company (“Tales appears on Lakeman’s own Honest Oak imprint) Lakeman seems to exhibiting signs of a growing song writing maturity. His brush with the mainstream appears to be over but he’s a still a major artist with a substantial following who appears to be in it for the long haul. It’s quite possible that artistically his best is yet to come.
As for Lisbee Stainton this tour should help to increase her profile and bring her to the attention of a larger UK audience. This was only the second date of sixteen and although she appeared a little tentative at times I’m certain she’ll grow increasingly confident in her role as the tour progresses. She’s certainly an assured and chatty performer at her own shows - as last week’s gig in Hereford confirmed. Her partnership with Lakeman worked well and hopefully there will be an element of mutual benefit for both musicians.
Further tour dates are;
Festival, 14.10.2012http://www.canterburyfestival.co.uk/what%27s-on/world-music/seth-lakeman.aspx Sunday 14 October Canterbury Festival The Friars, Canterbury, Kent CT1 2AS BOX OFFICE: 01227 787787
Severn Theatre, 16.10.2012http://www.theatresevern.co.uk/WhatsOn_focus.asp?ShowId=975&sC=page10 Tue 16 October Shrewsbury Severn Theatre Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury, Shropshire SY3 8FT BOX OFFICE: 01743 281281www.theatresevern.co.uk
G Live, 17.10.2012https://glive.co.uk/online/default.asp?doWork::WScontent::loadArticle=Load&BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::article_id=5860CEA4-1C36-496C-93C3-A68B720664C1 Wed 17 October Guildford G Live London Road, Guildford GU1 2AA BOX OFFICE: 0844 7701 797 http://www.glive.co.uk
The Sage, 18.10.2012http://thesagegateshead.org/event/seth-lakeman-18-10-12/ Thu 18 October Gateshead The Sage St Mary’s Square, Gateshead Quays NE8 2JR BOX OFFICE: 0191 443 4661 http://www.thesagegateshead.org
Royal Northern College of Music, 19.10.2012http://www.rncm.ac.uk/whats-on-mainmenu-47/explore-whats-on-mainmenu-95/icalrepeat.detail/2012/10/19/1185/413/seth-lakeman.html Fri 19 October Manchester Royal Northern College of Music 124 Oxford Road Manchester M13 9RD BOX OFFICE: 0844 478 0898 http://www.rncm.ac.uk
The Baths Hall, 20.10.2012http://www.scunthorpetheatres.co.uk/performance/19124.aspx Sat 20 October Scunthorpe The Baths Hall Doncaster Road, Scunthorpe DN15 7RG 0844 854 2776 http://www.bathshall.co.uk
Corn Exchange, 21.10.2012http://apps.ipswich.gov.uk/PEO Sun 21 October Ipswich Corn Exchange 3 St Helen’s Street Ipswich IP4 1HE 01473 433100 http://apps.ipswich.gov.uk/PEO
Opera House, 23.10.2012http://www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk/whats-on/seth-lakeman/ Tue 23 October Buxton Opera House 5 The Square Buxton Derbyshire SK17 6AZ 0845 127 2190 http://www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk
The Queen’s Theatre, 24.10.2012http://www.northdevontheatres.org.uk/north-devon-theatres-showinfo.asp?showid=1162 Wed 24 October Barnstaple The Queen’s Theatre Boutport Street Barnstaple EX31 1SY 01271 32 42 42 http://www.northdevontheatres.org.uk
Town Hall, 25.10.2012http://www.thsh.co.uk/event/seth-lakeman-in-concert-1210/ Thu 25 October Birmingham Town Hall Victoria Square Birmingham B3 3DQ 0121 345 0600 http://www.thsh.co.uk
Hall for Cornwall, 26.10.2012http://www.hallforcornwall.co.uk/show/435/Seth%20Lakeman%20/ Fri 26 October Truro Hall for Cornwall Back Quay, Truro TR1 2LL 01872 262466 http://www.hallforcornwall.co.uk
Theatre Royal, 27.10.2012http://www.theatreroyal.com/prod-productions_details.asp?pid=1850 Sat 27 October Plymouth Theatre Royal Royal Parade Plymouth PL1 2TR 01752 230440 http://www.theatreroyal.com
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
The sun shines on the final day of an excellent festival.
Ian Mann soaks up the vibes at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.