Seth Lakeman – The Met, Bury – 17th December 2021
“It’s like being on holiday,” says Seth Lakeman about his road trip with Joe Francis and Alex Hart. “The three of us in a van.”
“Like a dysfunctional family,” quips Alex…and we can all guess at who’s who. My money’s on Seth at the back saying “are we nearly there yet?“
After a fallow period, we suddenly have a glut of gigs. A glut of Seth in fact, having encountered him with the full band at Manchester’s Stoller Hall, promoting both the new Make Your Mark album and celebrating fifteen years of Freedom Fields.
Tonight, we’re down the road (literally) just a month later at The Met again as he completes a short run of intimate dates accompanied by Alex Hart from his touring band and with support from Joe Francis. Joe now operates solo as Winter Mountain, the former duo halved with the departure of Martin Smyth in 2015. A good mate of Seth, Joe’s perfect for the warm-up position as well as being handy to call on to man the merch desk and step up to add something to the main set. Earning his keep, he does a short four-song set, admitting that by the tour finale, his voice is a little shot. It adds a nice gravelly feel to Stronger When You Hold Me – one from the 2013 Winter Mountain album (I think there were even stories of couples having this as their first dance wedding song) and the lovely American Honey from his latest (physical release only!) CD. Nice harmonies from the audience on the latter too. Must have given him a warm feeling.
Stripped back to a two-piece setup, and occasionally solo, Seth sticks to the format of his recent band tour. It’s a chunk from the fifteen-year-old freedom Fields, a handful of new songs from Make Your Mark plus a few cherries dotted in. Any thoughts that the sound may be a little thin can be parked as Alex Hart’s harmonium and vocals add a real depth while she also selects from a couple of guitars and the two of them multitask with something at their feet to add simple percussion. Seth also seems to be triggering a few drones from a pedal of some sort so his solo The Hurlers that kicks off proceedings, is a full-on wall of sound.
1643 new lease of life from FF and Chris on lights has obviously had toe nod about the red lights from the mining disaster themed The Colliers where Joe steps back on stage to shimmy along and blow some mean blues harmonica. Amongst the combinations, Seth and Alex step slightly off-mic for Bury Nights. Not a tribute to all of us who’ve turned out )in Bury, on a Friday night) but the one from his Mayflower/Pilgrim’s Tale set, also performed on the shores of Windermere on the trip down from Kendal.
What’s soon pretty obvious is that the two-person set up is working remarkably well. Without a formal drum kit, no extra guitar and amazingly, no Ben Nicholls by his side on that looming double bass, the sound is fuller than you’d thought possible. Other considerations aside, it’s probably much more financially viable too! Maybe Seth has found his new normal with a new partner who’s got his back. However, it’s back to a solo viola version of Lady Of The Sea where Seth amazingly has a blank on the “When the news returned to the town” verse – I know how he feels as in the heat of the moment I find myself wondering what comes next too! He simply counters with a few bars of tune while it comes flooding back.
However, amongst all the tales, myths and legends from Dartmoor that inspired much of Freedom Fields and beyond, it’s the real-life tribute to the Solomon Browne lifeboat that provides the most poignant moment. Even more so this evening as we’re only a couple of days away – even more so with the fortieth anniversary of the disaster only two days away. And – having flagged up the emotion on Solomon, tonight, White Hare is exceptional. Having evolved into its current form over fifteen years, the song has matured into the perfect arrangement. Stark yet gentle, the four-string guitar notes are caressed out and there’s just enough of a hint of Alex’s backing to lift the vocal.
The set highlight, however, appears from nowhere. It’s a surprisingly effective arrangement of Coming For You Soon from the new album. Missing the fiddle from the recorded version, it finds Seth scrubbing out an ominous percussive rhythm as he sings of the valleys they betrayed. One that becomes increasingly intense, there’s a hint of Dylan apocalyptic fire or for a more contemporary analogy, adopting the sort of impassioned preacher delivery that fuels much of Martyn Joseph’s work.
The finale is a solo Kitty Jay. It’s his ‘Stairway’ and I wonder if, like his old pal Robert Plant, he’ll ever get fed up of playing his signature tune. He keeps it interesting by transforming the opening into an effect-laden psychedelic fiddle freak out and gets the deserved privilege of a solo bow as he leaves the stage at the close. His name on the ticket, him we’ve come to see. That’s before we get the trio together for some fun on the rollicking railroad tale of Last Rider and the “wave goodbye.” And – while misplaced words are on the agenda, some will be mouthing “dark spider” as they sing along. The hugs between them at the end are of musical camaraderie, genuine friendship mixed with a spoonful of relief that they’ve actually made it through ten dates. You worry these days when the gig you have your ticket for is at the end of a tour, so we’re probably all grinning inanely behind our masks.
Fingers crossed and God willing, Seth’s back on the road again in February with Benji Kirkpatrick. Another stripped back pairing – and one we’re liking the sound of very much.
The Hurlers – 1643 – King & Country – The Giant – Bury Nights – Bold Knight – Blood Red Sky – Lady Of The Sea – Shoals To Turn – Side By Side – Higher We Aspire – White Hare – Solomon Browne – Coming For You Soon – Colliers – Change – Kitty Jay – Last Rider.