Seth Lakeman announces new album and UK tour

Seth Lakeman
Photograph by Caroline Rees

Multi award-winning folk singer Seth Lakeman will release his new album A Pilgrim’s Tale on February 7th 2020, in a year that marks four centuries since The Mayflower ship departed the UK. The album will be released amidst a selection of UK concerts where Seth will visit locations significant to the Mayflower tale, including dates in London, Plymouth, Immingham and Harwich. This stirring and beautiful record is narrated by the actor Paul McGann (Dr Who/Withnail and I/Hornblower/Luther), and features a host of guest performers including Cara Dillon, Benji Kirkpatrick, Ben Nicholls and Seth’s father Geoff Lakeman.

2020 marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower ship setting off to the Americas. The ship carried British and Dutch passengers with hopes of fresh settlement, and who were famously met by the Wampanoag first nation tribe upon their arrival. Bottling the spirit of the 17th century pilgrimage, Seth has written and performed a selection songs that shape a fictional narrative of the journey, informed by extensive research from text such as the journals of William Bradford, conversations with modern day ancestors of the Wampanoag people at the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts, and information sourced at the national heritage sites that still exists in the UK.

Chronicling the voyage and early settlement in these songs, Seth has created a drama that celebrates the history, but doesn’t lose sight of the journey’s tribulations. It stays sensitive to important facets of the story; the religious liberation that passengers were trying to achieve, the nefarious deeds enacted upon the Wampanoag, and the deaths that followed on both sides.

It’s a story Seth feels he is intrinsically linked to. “I didn’t have far to go for inspiration. The Mayflower Steps, on Plymouth’s cobbled Barbican streets are 20 minutes away from me. I fished from this quay as a boy, sang songs on tall ships tied up here and played music in just about every old sailors’ pub in this Elizabethan quarter.”

Furthermore, as one of the most celebrated members of British folk music, Seth is wholly qualified to replicate the trappings of traditional 17th century musical styles; whether it be through his vocals, stringed instrument arrangements, fiddle playing, or percussion.

The stories in the songs are told from a variety of perspectives, from personal accounts such as the opening number ‘Watch Out’ detailing deadly premonitions of a Wampanoag girl, to tales of the collective travellers in songs such as ‘Pilgrim Brother’ and ‘Sailing Time’, which march at a hopeful cadence reflecting their early optimism.

Close your eyes, and with each track you feel possessed by one of those 17th century characters; a crewman wrestling to control the ship, a pilgrim celebrating in rapturous faith, or the solemn Wampanoag tribesmen forlornly surrendering to the new way of life thrust upon them. Seth has married mood to pulsing rhythms in an immersive tale of struggle that, 400 years later, still holds an emotional impact.

Inspiration for the project came when Seth was on tour with Robert Plant, and paid a visit to the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts to talk to the Wampanoag that still reside in the area. It didn’t take long for the songs to form upon his return to England,

“After I travelled home from the “New World” to Plymouth, Devon everything happened in a quite mystical way. The songs came together so speedily and with exactly the vibe I wanted, and we recorded in a very short time in my studio at home on Dartmoor.”

To supplement the recordings, a between-song narration was written by associate director of Plymouth’s Theatre Royal, Nick Stimson, and read by Paul McGann. Seth was elated to have the prestigious actor on board.

“As we finished the album another quite magical thing happened, when Paul agreed to voice the narration between the tracks on the record. He pitched it perfectly.”

On top of Seth’s own vocal and instrumental performances (Violin, Viola, E tenor Guitar, Bouzouki, Drums, Harmonium) on the record, additional instrumentation is provided by some of the UK’s finest talents, including Irish vocalist (and sister in law to Seth) Cara Dillon (additional vocals & co-lead on ‘Saints And Strangers’), English multi-instrumentalist Benji Kirkpatrick (Vocals, Bouzouki, Guitar, Side Drum), long-time collaborator Ben Nicholls (upright Bass, Jew’s Harp), and Seth’s father Geoff Lakeman (additional vocals). The album was recorded at Seth’s Crossways Studio in Devon, and mixed by Richard Evans (New Order, Peter Gabriel, The Pogues).

To coincide with the album’s release, Seth will play live dates specially routed in a trail of towns and cities that, for various reasons, hold significance to the Mayflower journey. Locations such as Immingham – where Separatists made a dangerous escape from England to Holland in their search for religious freedom – and Dartmouth – where the ship was anchored for repairs – will be visited in this expansive tour.

February 2020 UK Tour

Wednesday 5th February – Doncaster, Cast
Thursday 6th February – Immingham, St Andrews Church
Friday 7th February – Droitwich, Norbury Theatre
Saturday 8th February – Gainsborough, Trinity Arts Centre
Sunday 9th February – Boston, BlackFridayars Theatre and Arts Centre
Tuesday 11th February – Harwich, St Nicholas Church
Wednesday 12th February – London Southwark, Cathedral
Thursday 13th February – Southampton, Central Hall
Friday 14th February – Dartmouth, Flavel Arts Centre
Saturday 15th February – Plymouth, St Andrews Church

MICK RYAN – Here At The Fair (Wild Goose WGS 428 CD)

Here At The FairMick Ryan is, as we all know, is a prolific song-writer and skilled at melding his ideas into shows or folk operas as he is happy to call them. Here At The Fair is his sixth such show and, as always, he has assembled a fine cast: Heather Bradford, Alice Jones,  Pete Morton, Geoff Lakeman and the trio Granny’s Attic – George Sansome, Lewis Wood and Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne.

Ryan’s shows are usually historical and/or political subjects so this particular fair is set up in a country town in 1850. Initially it’s all very jolly with the instrumentation featuring reeds and euphonium echoing the sound of a fairground organ. The various characters introduce themselves and comment on their lifestyles. Ryan is generous in sharing out the parts with Geoff Lakeman playing Doctor Maldini, the snake-oil salesman; George Sansome as a ballad-seller; Heather Bradford plays the fortune-teller Madame Lavengro and Pete Morton is allowed to go completely over the top as  Professor Sleary, the owner of the flea circus. Ryan plays Vincent Crummles, the showman, with Alice Jones as his daughter. Aficionados of Charles Dickens will recognise the names.

Gradually, a darker story begins to emerge. Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne plays the clown Steven Starling who, we learn, is searching for his father. The second disc begins with Maldini recalling the events at Peterloo and Madame Lavengro remembering the last great Chartist meeting. There are other missing persons in this story – is there a link between them? As the show progresses the characters confess the truth about the hardship of their lives in a travelling show, admit that their best days are behind them and confront the truth about themselves. Any more information would be spoilers.

Mick Ryan’s songs are always singable, which is why so many people borrow them, and even in the darker moments of Here At The Fair there is an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. Things may be bad now but they were good once. Sadly, in the words of ‘If Only’, there is no going back so everyone blinks back the tears and looks forward.

Dai Jeffries

Label website: www.wildgoose.co.uk

‘Worth It In The End’ – live:

SAM KELLY & THE LOST BOYS – Pretty Peggy (Navigator NAVIGATOR 102)

Pretty PeggyBased in Bristol, but born in Norfolk, Kelly stakes a claim for a Best Album nomination in next year’s Radio 2 Folk Awards to add to this year’s Horizon win. Backed by his six-piece live band, comprising Jamie Francis on banjo, fiddler/guitarist Ciaran Algar, percussionist Evan Carson, Graham Coe on cello with Toby Shaer and Archie Churchill-Moss providing woodwind and melodeon, respectively, Pretty Peggy their first album together, also features contributions from folk stalwarts Cara Dillon, Damien O’Kane, Mike McGoldrick and Geoff Lakeman.

Save for three numbers, all the material is traditional, refashioned and refurbished, opening with a rousing haul away tempo take of the whaling shanty ‘Greenland Whale’ that can’t help but bring Seth Lakeman to mind. Dillon and McGoldrick’s Uillean pipes complement ‘Bonnie Lass Of Fyvie’, the pretty Peggy-o of the title, a jaunty Celtic-hued version that successfully avoids sounding like any of the many previous recordings.

A tale of lost childhood love regret, the equally lively, thigh-slapping, fiddle-driven ‘Angeline The Baker’ has Appalachian roots and then comes the first of the original numbers, ‘When The Rievers Call’, a Jamie Francis song about the raids on the Scottish borders during the middle ages featuring, unsurprisingly, some fiery banjo work and again recalling that Seth Lakeman sound.

Returning to the traditional repertoire and featuring O’Kane on electric tenor guitar with a melodeon solo, ‘If I Were A Blackbird’ is a lovely, lilting and gently ripping take on the Irish love song, reversing the lyric’s genders and set to a tune based around Chris Wood’s ‘Ville De Quebec’. This is followed by the darkly menacing ‘The Shining Ship’, a suitably spooked and nervy six minute tale, sung in low, at times whispery tones with swirling sonics, of a woman lured aboard a ghost ship by her long lost lover and based on the 17th century Scottish ballad ‘Demon Lover’.

Featuring himself on piano and Shaer on fiddle, the only Kelly original is ‘Chasing Shadows’, another lively tune about understanding that “the deepest dark comes just before the dawn”, and one of the more contemporary sounding tracks. Then comes the comic relief, ‘The Close Shave’ being New Zealand singer Bob Bickerton’s variation of the traditional romp, ‘Barrack Street’, about a gold miner relieved of his treasure by a man posing as a woman.

The obligatory instrumental track comes with ‘Shy Guy’s Serve’, a jaunty fiddle medley of Shaer’s ‘Josh’s Slip’ and Algar’s ‘Rookery Lane’, before they dig into the more obscure pages of the Dylan songbook and turn up the volume for ‘Crash On The Levee’, a punchy and driving version of ‘Down In The Flood’ off The Basement Tapes. The penultimate number is another traditional English folk song, drums, fiddles and flutes pumping along sexually euphemistic ‘The Keeper’ with its call and response derry derry down chorus, the album ending with the intitially subdued but gradually gatheringly strident strains of The Rose, Kelly’s translation of the French song ‘Le Beau Rosier’, originally by Belgian outfit Naragonia with whom he played mandolin last year.

Having practised his art as a youngster singing to the family’s cows, in 2012 Kelly was a finalist for Britain’s Got Talent (the one won by Pudsey), at which time he said “I don’t want to make a mediocre album of covers just to sell as many as possible on the back of BGT…musical integrity is really important to me.” He’s clearly lived up to his words.

Mike Davies

Paul Johnson and Darren Beech caught up with Sam backstage at Cropredy 2018. It was the last interview of the weekend and a lot of fun! Have a listen below:

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 SAM KELLY & THE LOST BOYS – Pretty Peggy link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website.

ORDER – [CD]

Artists’ website: www.samkelly.org

‘Angeline The Baker’:

Back to Cropredy 2018 Interview Menu

GEOFF LAKEMAN – After All These Years (own label GLAK-01)

After All These YearsGeoff Lakeman isn’t quite as famous as his sons but he is a much regarded singer and songwriter, particularly in the West Country. At 69 Geoff has finally succumbed to the temptation to record an album, After All These Years, produced by son Sean. Geoff usually performs solo with concertina but with friends and family like his it must have been impossible to resist getting them on board, although the contributions of Jim Causley, Cara Dillon, Kathryn Roberts, Sam Kelly, Ben Nicholls, Jamie Francis, Seth Lakeman and Nic Jones are commendably restrained except when it comes to choruses. Geoff himself has the voice of, if not a young man, then a young man who has seen a bit of life – strong and characterful.

If you were a folk club regular in the sixties and seventies you will be entirely at home with this set. Not that Geoff is locked in the past as his cover of Reg Meuross’ ‘England Green & England Grey’ proves but the mix of material is such that if you don’t care for a particular song you’ll like the next one.

The set opens with ‘The Farmer’s Song’. It was written by Roger Bryant but easily could be one of Geoff’s as he demonstrates with the next track, ‘Tie ’Em Up’. Both are about the decline of traditional rural industries and while both writers were preoccupied with the plight of Devon and Cornwall the same stories are true all around the country. ‘Rule And Rant’ is a bit of obscure Cornish history involving an ingenious mine rescue. The traditional songs include ‘Ye Lovers All’, a song of romantic teasing from Ulster, the well-known ‘Jim Jones’ and ‘The Green Cockade’ a Cornish version of the song that may have arrived from Ireland and ‘Bonny Irish Maid’ – there’s a pattern developing here.

There are a couple of oddities. The first is the original version of ‘Galway Bay’ – not that song and certainly not the celebrated parody (I confess that I was rather hoping for that) – and the closing ‘Doggie Song’. This is the sort of encore that you’ll still find in folk clubs and probably means a lot more in Cornwall but is best not recorded. That aside, this is a splendid album to unwind with, think about and sing along to.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.geofflakeman.co.uk

‘Tie ‘Em Up’ – live: