Seth Lakeman

Live Review | CAST Theatre, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson

Northern Sky talks to Seth Lakeman about A Pilgrim’s Tale:

For the launch of his new album, A Pilgrim’s Tale, Seth Lakeman has chosen ten venues in locations very much associated with the Mayflower, starting in Doncaster, just twelve miles north of Scrooby, the birthplace of William Brewster, one of the Pilgrim Fathers who, with his family, sailed on the vessel four centuries ago. With a keen interest in the subject, the Dartmoor singer and musician has approached the 400th anniversary of this event by absorbing some of the available texts from this notable part of our history, even visiting and meeting the Wampanoag people of the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts whilst on tour with Robert Plant, which is really where the inspiration for this project derives.

Tonight at the CAST theatre, Seth Lakeman and three musical collaborators, Benji Kirkpatrick, Ben Nicholls and Alex Hart, performed the album in its entirety, complete with Nick Stimson’s recorded narration, read by actor Paul McGann, with no further spoken dialogue necessary. Earlier in the sound check Seth pondered “Do you think the audience will applaud between each of the songs?” I don’t think there was ever any doubt of that happening really, with the narrative continuing as soon as the applause faded after each song. It worked considerably well, especially in view of the fact that this particular line-up had only been rehearsing together for two days prior to the event. For much of the production we are treated to Seth’s familiar stomping exuberance and energetic presence, yet one of the most memorable performances of the set was the tender duet with Alex Hart on “Bury Nights”, a moment to consider the hardships of the pilgrims and an admirable reflection of the album version that features Seth’s sister-in-law Cara Dillon.

Both the narrative and the song performances kept the audience entranced throughout the performance , a combination of original songs, one or two traditional songs and some poetry set to music, along with the bold narration and period visual projections. The choreography of the piece remained uncluttered, with each of the musicians swapping instruments between performances; Seth alternating between fiddle and tenor guitar, Benji between bouzouki, guitar, banjo and side drum, Ben between upright bass and Jews Harp and Alex between harmonium and electric guitar, with little fuss.

After a short break, Seth was eager to speak to the audience, heading immediately for the microphone with “Hello Doncaster, what a great theatre you have here”. He seemed almost relieved that he and his small band had managed to get through the debut performance of A Pilgrim’s Tale unscathed and was now ready to give the audience something they already knew, delighting Doncaster with such songs as “Bold Knight”, “The White Hare” and “Lady of the Sea” with its infectious rhythm and irresistible refrain Hear Her Calling, to which the audience was only too willing to respond to in fine voice. There was the one brand new song, the closest thing Seth is likely to get to Hillbilly, being flanked by the two Bens on both banjo and Jew’s Harp, before vacating the stage for Seth to perform his signature song “Kitty Jay” solo. With a stomping kick drum and fiddle of fire, Seth made those sixteen years since he first recorded the song seem like no more than five minutes.

With the rest of the band returning to the stage, Seth and co concluded with “1643” from the Freedom Fields period and finally “Last Rider”, a fitting miner’s song to end another well organised, comfortable and entertaining evening at this fine theatre.