Seth Lakeman and Wildwood Kin live at Derby Cathedral

Seth Lakeman live
Photograph by Simon Burch

If Seth Lakeman was feeling any road rage from having spent eight and a half hours in a car during a delayed journey to the Midlands – cancelling an appearance at a record store in nearby Nottingham along the way – then he wasn’t letting any of it show.

Indeed, he was apologetic that the start of the show had to be put back by a quarter of an hour, giving the audience a little longer to wait for the first chance to hear the songs from his long-awaited follow up to Word Of Mouth, Ballads Of The Broken Few, which was released that very day.

Shorn of his band – but with the trio Wildwood Kin waiting in the wings – Lakeman promised that the arrangement would enable him to play some songs that lent themselves to his solo performance and he gave a whistle-stop tour through his musical odyssey to date, taking in ‘The Herders’, ‘The Courier’, ‘Bold Knight’, ‘Lady Of The Sea’ and ‘Portrait Of My Wife’, for which he encouraged audience participation by helpfully running through the chorus beforehand.

About half way through the show he stopped to introduce Wildwood Kin, the young female trio featuring Beth and Emillie Key and their cousin Meghann Loney, who he had invited to jam with him after they released their first EP and then asked to share the top billing to support his change of musical direction with Ballads…

From the very first note their influence on the music was immediate, their Americana harmonies shifting the geography of the music across the Atlantic, and it was also clear in their faces how genuinely they were enjoying themselves – they didn’t stop smiling. The overall effect was akin to spreading honey onto the songs, smoothing the edges of Lakeman’s famously strident delivery.

Their first song was the only cover on the album – ‘Anna Lee’, written by Laurelyn Dosset – and it was followed by ‘Willow Tree’, ‘Stranger’, a beautiful performance of ‘Silver Threads’, ‘Innocent Child’ and ‘Pulling Hard Against The Stream’, the album’s last song which, we were told, nearly didn’t make it onto the record at all.

Ballads Of The Broken Few is simpler and more wistful than the barn-storming folk that has seen Lakeman step into the mainstream – although ‘Meet Me In The Twilight’, the next song, is currently enjoying daily airplay on BBC Radio Two – and the Cathedral, which is one of a number of churches lined up for the tour, lent itself well for the evening’s show, not least because the acoustics lent the delivery a gorgeous richness.

What helped was the effect the setting had on the audience who, sat bolt upright in their wooden pews, were hushed into reverential silence, allowing the music to fill the air and wash over them. It also meant that they were confined to head nodding and hand-clapping for most of the show’s more up-tempo numbers before casting aside their reservations to stand, bob and whoop through the crowd-pleasing ‘Kitty Jay’ and, the final number, the breathless ‘Last Rider’, which would still be better suited to the surroundings of a barn, with dust flying, rather than the ecclesiastical setting of Derby’s largest place of worship.

No matter, the concert was worth the wait and it was a coup for the Cathedral, whose claims to fame include the oldest ring of 10 bells in the world and the final resting place of Bess of Hardwick and a couple of former Dukes of Devonshire, who would doubtless have been tapping their ancient feet inside their crypt along to the songs of a modern-day Devonian very much at the top of his game.

Simon Burch

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Seth Lakeman – Ballads Of The Broken Few link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

ORDER – [VINYL]

Artist’s website: http://www.sethlakeman.co.uk/

‘Willow Tree’ – official video:

For details of more events at Derby Cathedral go to:
http://www.derbyfolkfestival.co.uk/venue/derby-cathedral/

SETH LAKEMAN featuring WILDWOOD KIN – Ballads Of The Broken Few (Cooking Vinyl COOKCD644)

ballads of the broken fewIn keeping with his determination to record in unusual and inspiring locations, Lakeman set up shop in the Great Hall of an unnamed Jacobean Manor House, recording the tracks for Ballads Of The Broken Few as live. On top of which, he not only enlisted the services of legendary American producer Ethan Johns, but, having toured with them, invited Exeter based female trio Wildwood Kin (Emillie and Beth Key and cousin Meghann Loney) to be part of the project in providing harmonies.

The end result is arguably, if not necessarily his best (depending on your viewpoint), then certainly his most immediate and haunting work to date, the pared back approach proving the maxim that less can be more. The pacing throughout is slow and deliberate, imparting a reflective, melancholic air, the sound drawing on both English and Appalachian folk influences. Indeed, on the opening track, a slow march rhythm rework of the traditional ‘Willow Tree’ with percussive snaps and fiddle, the girls’ spooked cooing harmonies evoke Alison Krauss’s version of ‘Down To The River To Pray’.

It’s one of three traditional broadsides, the others being the equally stark and Appalachian coloured ‘Stranger’, and, backed just by fiddle drone and a percussive strummed guitar note, album closer ‘Pulling Hard Against The Stream’, a 19th Century moralistic song encouraging folk to support their fellows in times of trouble. There’s also a cover version, ‘Anna Lee’, the backwoods hymnal tale of a mother drowning after ignoring storm warnings written by Laurelyn Dossett and featured on Levon Helm’s Dirt Farmer,  that features just mournful fiddle, Lakeman and the girls’ harmonies.

The remaining seven songs are all originals, first up being the spiritual shaded ‘Silence Reigns’, featuring Johns on hurdy gurdy, one of the many striking numbers that suggest Southern Gothic tones, followed, in turn, by the strummed ‘Meet Me In The Twilight’, another track which, with its slow sway tempo and thematic content, conjures riverside revival tents.

Collapsing relationship number ‘Fading Sound’ harks more to the darker shades of English folk, a nervy, ominous number backed by a simple electric guitar riff with occasional burst of fiddle and the drums kicking in for the final seconds. The title track comes next, another spare, brooding listen, its bluesy chorus driven by a handclap worksong slow march rhythm, that again gathers power towards the end.

The final self-penned batch opens with the hypnotic thrum and mandolin-tinged ‘Innocent Child’, another steeped in the dank and dark corners of English folk, the girls’ harmonies reminiscent of The Smoke Fairies at their most fog-shrouded. Rather more restful and contemplative, accompanied by viola and fiddle, with understated Kin harmonies, the five-minute personal portrait ‘Whenever I’m Home’ is a yearningly poignant thoughts from the road ache. Which leaves the plucked fiddle accompanied ‘Silver Threads’, a song about enduring love as time passes, its naked vocal intermittently giving way to such full blooded refrains as “Every year that passes you will be an evergreen all etched against the sky, every day that’s granted for you and for me a tangle and twist of my twine.”

Raw, profound, simple yet resonantly complex, both a consolidation and a move forward, this surely has to be one of the leading serious contenders for album of the year at the 2017 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Seth Lakeman – Ballads Of The Broken Few link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

ORDER – [VINYL]

Artists’ website: http://www.sethlakeman.co.uk/

‘Stranger’ – official video: