Seth Lakeman, Stoller Hall, Manchester, 17th November 2021
One time golden boy of Folk, Seth Lakeman is becoming more of an institution. Time for his return to the live stageand the chance to tour with something he did during the lockdown – a celebration of fifteen years since the release of the Freedom Fields album.
That’s all to come though as the, so-new -it’s-almost-out-but-on-sale-in-the-foyer album, Make Your Mark, features in the opening half. It’s more like “old school Seth” says one of my long-term Seth watching buddies, along with the opinion that “he’s got the ‘son of the soil’ stuff out of his system.” Thanks Jan, that’s good news. An astute comment and well worth sharing and where the proof is in the tasting.
In a cheesy/ham-fisted segue, we can report that one thing he hasn’t ditched (…get it?) is the ever-present wingman with the double bass, Ben Nicholls. Benji Kirkpatrick makes a welcome reappearance too, taking a break from his recent elevation to the folk hierarchy with Steeleye Span. He also sports an impressive black electric axe that hangs with his armoury of acoustic stringed equipment. And a harmonica.
So amongst the new material, that includes Shoals To Turn and already sees Change elevated to encore number where it sits very comfortably side-by-side with the rabble rousing Race To Be King, the ‘single’, Higher We Aspire is a real jug band rocker. With three acoustics being strummed away, Benji Kirkpatrick adding some sweet lead lines on his bouzouki, it’s impossibly foot tapping. Singing of “the times before metal and machines” and of gathering harvests, there may be proof he’s still a rustic country boy and “the battle with the sky” we all know about from watching Clarkson’s Farm. With this cautionary tale – “the higher we aspire, the further we can fall, the stronger our foundations have to be” – and already we may have hit the highlight of the evening.
Love Will Still Remain is another high-impact new song – chosen as set opener – the ominous drone and stomp mark the importance of Alex Hart to the outfit. Adding her vocals to the harmonium drone, her presence in adding texture to the sound and allow Seth and Benji to Dance 9musically) on top, is a smart move.
We can also report too that hearing the new songs in general is the highlight of this first half. That’s despite Seth dipping into the catalogue for Bold Knight, Blood Red Sky and an off mic (the Stoller Hall is that sort of venue where going all organic is easy) Bury Nights with backup singer Alex Hart.
The aperitif knocked back, we could focus on the anniversary of Freedom Fields – many people’s gateway album following the Mercury nominated Kitty Jay. It’s an album that’s always featured strongly in any Seth set and hard to believe it’s been fifteen years since it appeared.
Ah, the days when Riflemen Of War would open the set with an extended outro and then he’d do a final encore playing Send Yourself Away solo. The number of times the fan groups (hello The Mire) would hope for 1643 before it finally made an appearance in recent times.
It wouldn’t be the same if The Colliers (audience participation – “many lost in the dark and dust as the colliers called out...”), Take No Rogues where Ben always has a double bass solo moment and Lady Of The Sea, tonight taken solo by Seth, missing the bubbling bodhran often provided by Cormac Byrne. The poignant King & Country and The White Hare have always been there or thereabouts too, so it’s more about the lesser known songs getting their share of the limelight.
Anyone who’s seen the lockdown stream of the full album performance will have an idea of how it goes. Tonight, it’s cut a little short – no Band Of Gold – but the trio of Take No Rogues and particularly 1643 and Riflemen Of War id a potent combo.Kitty Jay inevitably saved as the final piece and now in a form that sees the fervour of the main song topped and tailed with some eerie drones emerging from the fiddle. It’s the folk equivalent of Jimmy Page doing his Dazed And Confused sonic wizardry (only much shorter).
Two weeks on tour, and the penultimate date, Manchester got a show to remember. Gig fit again and raring to go; a new album with splendid new songs, even on first hearing and a new fire for the old songs. What more could you wish for.
And we might be back sooner than we think as Seth is playing ‘down the road’ at The Met in Bury just before Christmas. Watch this space.
Categories: Live Reviews