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

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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/