With a special 15th anniversary edition of his breakthrough Freedom Fields album as well as a brand new album, Make Your Mark, to celebrate, Seth Lakeman has been hitting the road in an extended, two-pronged tour.
Playing tonight in Manchester’s Stoller Hall is the full band, comprising two of his Freedom Fields stalwarts – Benji Kirkpatrick (guitars/bouzouki) and Ben Nicholls (double bass) – plus Alex Hart (vocals) and John Blease (drums/percussion). It’s a slick, tight and well-balanced line-up of seasoned professionals, meaty and punchy in the backline, texturally rich and brim-full of vitality.
Coming in without support or preamble, the band fires off with ‘Love Will Still Remain’ from the new album, followed by ‘Blood Red Sky’ (from Poor Man’s Heaven), delivered with brio. ‘Side By Side’ and ‘Shoals To Turn’ follow, both amply confirming Lakeman’s stated aim for Make Your Mark to recreate the sound of Freedom Fields. Indeed, sonically, the two albums make for a highly complementary pairing.
The older songs have often been extended or rearranged for the live format. One such is ‘The Bold Knight’. Percussively driven, with flavours of eastern music, tempo shifts and a frenetic fiddle, it’s a big bold sound. From past to present, the hypnotically clip-clopping ‘Coming For You Soon’ berates the over-development of Dartmoor (and beyond) – “it’s a bit of a rant”, says Lakeman with characteristic restraint.
Following what he cheerily describes as “six very depressing songs”, the mood lightens for the current single, the Radio 2 playlisted, chart-friendly ‘Higher We Aspire’. Heading downbeat again for the 40th anniversary of the events of ‘Solomon Brown’, followed by ‘Bury Nights’ a delightful off-mic duet with Hart, perfectly demonstrating the beautiful complements of their voices.
After the interval, it’s the Freedom Fields half of the evening. Has it really been 15 years? There’s a confidence, a justifiable conviction, in playing the songs “in order” (from the original release, omitting ‘Band Of Gold’ and ‘The Final Lot’) and they storm through ‘The Charmer’, ‘Lady Of The Sea’ before a laid-back ‘Childe The Hunter’ with Kirkpatrick’s exemplary bouzouki seemingly channelling 60s spy themes. After a rousing ‘The White Hare’ and ‘The Colliers’, ‘King And Country’ raises the hairs on the back of my neck, as usual. Nicholls throws some rich jazzy breaks into ‘The Setting Of The Sun’ and ‘Take No Rogues’ and a hearty Plymouth contingent in the hall loudly cheers for ‘1643’. A stomping ‘The Riflemen Of War’ draws us to the inevitable solo conclusion, teased out into a demonically red-lit melodrama – it’s ‘Kitty Jay’, of course.
New song ‘Change’ already makes for great encore material, heartily welcomed by an audience now on its feet and stomping along. Followed by “our hoedown number”, ‘Race To Be King’, it wraps up the night – a vibrant whirl of 22 songs in just a couple of hours – on a well-earned high. And perhaps it’s felt like an uphill battle at times to enliven the audience, certainly, at times, Lakeman seemed faintly frustrated. But, hey, we’re all a bit rusty at this stuff and by the end he’d thawed us out, won us over – as the standing ovation showed.
By the time of publication, the band tour will be over, but Seth Lakeman and Alex Hart will be continuing as a duo through November/December. Catch them if you can – and repeat “C’mon, this is live music” until you remember what going out feels like and just let this fantastic music warm your cockles.
Artist’s website: www.sethlakeman.co.uk
‘Lady Of The Sea’ – new version, live: