“HIDDEN PEOPLE” is an apt title for this long-anticipated debut CD from husband-and-wife duo Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman. They have been lynchpins of the UK’s burgeoning folk-acoustic revival over the last two decades – but a case, perhaps, of always the bridesmaid and never the bride.
Now, at last, it’s their turn to burst out from the shadows of their siblings and former musical partners to make a big noise in their own right. This bold and superbly – crafted album includes eight self-penned songs, one traditional arrangement and a poignant cover version. With Kathryn’s sublime voice and effortless delivery, Sean’s masterly guitar arrangements and the sonic quality of the production this CD, this is one the most eagerly awaited modern folk albums of the year.
The esteem in which they are held is reflected in the list of artists who queued up to make a contribution: Sean’s famous brother Seth Lakeman; the award-winning Irish singer Cara Dillon (who is married to another brother, musician and producer Sam Lakeman); Levellers’ lead singer Mark Chadwick; veteran folk troubadour Dave Burland, singer-songwriter Jim Moray, Megson’s Stu Hanna, Caroline Herring from the USA and Greta Bondesson from Sweden’s sister trio Baskery.
Steeped in the English tradition, Yorkshire-born Kathryn, 37, was a teenage sensation in a duo with Kate Rusby. They made the Folk Album of the Year in 1995, “Kate Rusby & Kathryn Roberts”, and Kathryn also won the first-ever BBC Young Folk Award as a solo singer.
They both teamed up with the three Lakeman brothers to form the folk -pop “supergroup”, Equation, which was signed to Warner Music’s cool ‘Blanco Y Negro’ label. Rusby and Seth then left to begin successful solo careers.
Equation, with Kathryn and Sean at the head, spent more than five years touring in the USA and performed at top venues from New York to Los Angeles. They played the legendary Newport Folk Festival, the Golden Gate Festival inSan Francisco, the Strawberry Festival in California’s Yosemite National Park, the Rock ‘N’ Roll hall of fame in Cleveland and concerts from Arizona to Seattle, Chicago to Denver, Boston to El Paso.
“We must have seen more of America than most Americans” says Sean.” An incredible experience and a unique musical education.”
Meanwhile, Seth Lakeman wrote his seminal “Kitty Jay” album, which led to a Mercury Music Prize nomination – and a musical roller coaster ride. Sean was at his elbow, playing guitar as Seth achieved international fame with subsequent albums. Gold and silver albums sit on Sean’s walls, as producer of Seth’s groundbreaking CD’s, one of which (Poor Man’s Heaven) became the rarest of things, a folk album in the Top Ten.
Like Kathryn, Sean’s musical pedigree is formidable. After emerging on the English folk scene as one of ‘The Lakeman Brothers’ he studied jazz and contemporary music at Leeds College of Music. But he learned more by staying at the Yorkshire home of family friend and guitar maestro, Chris Newman, and touring the UK’s folk clubs with veteran folk fiddler Tom McConville.
Kathryn and Sean have had a low profile as a duo over the last eight years. As Sean toured the world with Seth’s band, Kathryn has been busy at their hideaway Dartmoor home raising twin girls, Poppy and Lily, who are now nearly five. Now, finally, they have found breathing space to produce “Hidden People” for the Navigator label and will be heard performing live throughout the summer and autumn at festivals and gigs.
Kathryn’s vocals – lush, sultry and faultless – are the signature of the album. She has an extraordinary range, from husky to soaring. She also provides all the piano, keyboards, flute and woodwind. Sean contributes six-string guitar, mandolin, bass guitar, bouzouki and of all things “wooden ruler bass.”
The sonic quality of this CD is testimony to Sean’s impressive production and recording skills and demonstrates why other folk artists and bands like the Levellers have beaten a path to his door to employ his services as a producer.
The tracks on “Hidden People” range from Kathryn’s haunting lead vocals, to rousing a cappella harmony, mellow and heart-rending piano ballads, foot-tapping rockabilly beats, tunes with a world-music tinge and full-on folk-rock. Yet the core of the album is good old-fashioned story-telling.
“These are stories, first and foremost,” says Kathryn, but she warns, “My home-life is so ‘roses round the cottage door’, that I tend to prefer music with an edginess, so some of the tracks on the album are quite dark and brooding, to say the least.” The messages and meanings behind these songs belong to the “Hidden People.”