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Seth Lakeman – Freedom Fields at 15: Live Review

An online bonanza with the man who was once tagged as Folk music’s golden boy. A full album set, encores, interviews and a couple of songs from the greenhouse / potting shed. A nice way to spend a comfy evening with Seth Lakeman.

The album that perhaps represents Seth’s finest realisation of the folklore, the legends and the battles of his native Dartmoor. And yes, the fifteen-year anniversary is a decent enough excuse to trawl the memory banks for the forgotten tracks of Freedom Fields to fill in alongside the handful that have been concert staples ever since. Here are some thoughts as the show plays out – posting from the front if not quite in the usual place at the barrier. Here we go reviewing as we watch – the equivalent of making notes during the show but straight to the website!

And it’s a rarer one, to begin with – The Charmer and we can marvel at Seth and Benji’s strings ringing out and there’s a front-row place for the double bass. Ben Nicholls on top form and it’s all sounding rather good. It seems odd to have Lady Of The Sea without Cormac Byrne playing his shotgun sharp bodhran but the views of Seth head back and working that fiddle are a familiar sight although again, the finish feels a little subdued without a fervent audience. We have to wait till the credits roll to find out that it’s actually Alex Hart (harmonium and vocals) and percussionistToby Kearney on the backline.

It’s regular Lakeman sideman Benji Kirkpatrick who’s on the other flank, adding some nice banjo to The White Hare. It’s a relaxed version before we get the drive of The Colliers. You can possibly hear a nationwide chorus doing the audience participation bit – similar to 101 Dalmations twilight bark – of “there were many lost in the dark and dust.”

King & Country is always a pleasure to hear – possibly the album highlight – and Ben Nicholls is up front again for Setting Of The Sun while Seth and Benji almost get into a Status Quo riff off. The tense drama and thrill of the chase that we all know so well from Take No Rogues – Ben by now appears to be heading for a man of the match performance with some rubbery basslines. However, do I detect a touch of hesitancy on Band Of Gold? One that even as a long-term watcher/stalker, haven’t heard in concert. It seems not quite as sprightly and sweet until the band add some subtle touches, not at all present on The Bold Knight. Always a ‘bold’ (naturally) and strident delivery.

We come right up to date with a couple of songs from The Pilgrim’s Tale. Saints And Strangers sees the fiddle tucked under the arm for a good plucking which has become quite a regular feature before things pick up with the rather jolly Pilgrim Brother.

And what’s this? A brand new song – “one for the farmers” – which is Change and rolls along in a similar style to Race To Be King; a strong beat and some lively banjo-picking before the band kick in and Ben Nicholls is on the jaws harp, the go-to instrument for a Lakeman barnstormer. Sam Kelly and his Lost Boys would rock the hell out of this one… You can imagine a sweaty Saturday night gig with Seth in a town near you and him asking “are there any farmers in tonight?!

Heading solo with Portrait Of My Wife, often taken off-mic at the lip of the stage so some element of novelty, seeing and hearing Seth sing this into the mic before staying solo for the one along with LOTS that he has to do. Could Kitty Jay be his signature tune? One from the mercury prize days so there’s a part of the song that harks back to those days. The flashing lights an alternative to the usual shadowy atmosphere that accompanies the drama of the song. The slow down and the restart that’s the fiddle equivalent to guitar-shredding provides the climax and the odd feeling of silenc rather than the roar of the crowd.

The outfit has probably warmed up by now so quite apt that it’s followed by the similarly rocking Last Rider – known to the Seth faithful as ‘glass/dark spider’ from the days when the enunciation was somewhat unclear. Benji’s back on banjo too adding that cotton-picking country vibe.

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Another couple of new songs make up the encores. Shoals To Turn (could be ‘one for the pilchards’) is one that’s a more brooding, ominous even, piece. The Giant, a thirty foot one no less, kicks off in a Solomon Browne-esque manner. They’re so new that a few glances at some crib sheets might be detected. And to be fair, along with Change, a decent enough teaser of what might happen with his next record.

For an added bonus there are a couple of acoustic songs from the potting shed (rather than the barrelhouse) – Watch Out and These Times (another new one). The latter is more akin to the rustic direction on Tales From The Barrelhouse and sounds alright bearing in mind what sort of acoustics you might find in a greenhouse. Makes an interesting addition to the rustic recording locations of late.

Oh – don’t forget a mini-doc where Seth spills forth in a friendly fashion on topics from Freedom Fields to the phone call from the man he calls ‘RP’ and recruitment to an exclusive band to one of his own lyrics that stands proud for him – hint, it’s the one that the fans always thought was about a porpoise… đŸ˜‰

Time will pass and like some of his iconic performances at the Minack open-air theatre on the rocks, the Stabal session could be one immortalised on some physical reminder – an EP of the new songs maybe and a bit of video…might keep us warm till the Summer comes and we can head into the freedom fields again.

Seth Lakeman online:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Youtube

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