Live Review | Leadmill, Sheffield | Review by Allan Wilkinson
As Seth Lakeman laboured his four strings relentlessly, on both fiddle and tenor guitar, and as sweat poured from his beaten brow, a certain fRootsy magazine editor whispered in my ear “what’s wrong with this crowd, why are they so subdued?” Perhaps it’s because a predominantly middle-aged Cambridge Folk Festival audience just wouldn’t allow themselves the pleasure of getting too excited this summer even though it must be said, the thumping rhythms that pounded upon Cherry Hinton’s freedom fields that afternoon had even the Sunday Telegraph brigade on their feet at last. A different story within the confines of the much smaller, darker, sweatier blacked-out rock stage of The Leadmill tonight, where the people of Sheffield were certainly up for excitement; nothing subdued about this crowd. Playing for around ninety minutes, Seth Lakeman’s band, consisting of brother Sean on guitar, Ben Nicholls on bass and Andy Tween on drums, brought to Sheffield a few selections from all four of Seth’s solo albums; yes even one from the largely forgotten The Punch Bowl of 2002, with “How Much” coming out to play. It’s easy to forget with such driving rhythms, almost every song a thumper, that this is still an acoustic band. The almost frenzied style which Lakeman has developed over the past few years has become his trademark and there’s now this niggling thought, that there’s a danger he might be stuck with it forever. This is what the people want and what his fans want. Kicking off with “The Hurlers” with its tribal drum opening, always highly functional, not least to get the crowds’ collective heartbeat aligned and going at a purposefully increased rate, the band appeared tight and ready to rock, albeit in a folksy rootsy way. Through all the highly stylised playing, Seth maintains a faithful allegiance to both the myths and legends of his homeland of Devon and Cornwall and the West Country in general, as well as more contemporary local themes, such as the tragic Penlee lifeboat disaster of 1981, chronicled suitably well in “Solomon Browne” from his current Poor Man’s Heaven album. “Have you all got Poor Man’s?” Seth enquired from the stage. The response informed him that the concessions stand had probably been busy during the support act. There was a large contingency of young teenage girls at the Leadmill tonight that was noticeably absent at, let’s say, the Roy Bailey gig I attended in the same city a month ago. Despite their loyal presence, Seth refuses to be groomed into the ‘folk poster boy’ that the industry would love to embrace, and continues to be a deliberately dedicated jeans and t shirt sort of bloke. No frills, no pop pretence, just your regular Devon lad having fun and making a difference. I first encountered the young Seth Lakeman when he, along with his brothers Sean and Sam together with Luke Daniels, became the sweethearts of the 1995 Cambridge Folk Festival as The Equation, where Kate Rusby had just departed before the band really got off the ground and with whom Cara Dillon made a memorable guest appearance. Most of this went largely unnoticed as my attention was drawn to a young Kathryn Roberts in a little black number as I recall, and I make no excuses in remembering little of Seth, whom I only vaguely recall as a nose sticking out of a pair of curtains. The boys and girls grew up and the hairstyles changed but I think those present at that gig realised there was something special about this young band and probably more in its component parts than the collective equation, and it’s come as no surprise that a decade or so later, Seth is trailing a blaze in the cross over folk/acoustic/inde music world. As with most popular artists and bands, not just now, but throughout the history of popular music, it’s the hits that bring out the most excitement and even though they can hardly be described as ‘hits’, the most familiar songs in Seth’s repertoire, “Kitty Jay” and “The Lady of the Sea” created a sea of bouncing heads, a great atmosphere and a damn good night. Well worth missing all the fireworks outside for.