From a personal perspective, I'm reckoning that I've racked up ten years pretty much of Seth Lakeman watching. Cause for celebration really. That first encounter in April 2006 was supporting Billy Bragg at the plush Bridgewater Hall and no stranger to the grander things in life, it's Seth's third time here at the Royal Northern College - "a bit more polite" than the days of playing the Academies in town and Cormac Byrne is a former student to boot.
So, taking stock, what's been learned from ten years of Seth watching. From the kitchen table recording of 'Kitty Jay' through to the high profile but ultimately unfulfilling big label backing and releases and return to his roots musically while adopting a more organic approach to recording, it's been quite a journey.
What's a constant though is Ben Nicholls who's always (I think) been a rock on his left side - always apart from the occasional solo venture/trio tour plus I've never seen Seth without Ben or with someone taking his place. Cormac seems a permanent fixture now after a period when the drum/percussion stool saw several deps filling in and Jack Rutter is making sure that we're not missing brother and long time musical foil Sean. In aparticular his multitasking instrumental prowess on guitar, banjo and harmonica and his generally wholehearted and animated presence has become part and parcel of the Lakeman touring machine.
Decent support bands have always been part of the package - Teddy Thompson, Sam Carter, Kim Churchill and Benji Kirkpatrick have all been on first and who'll remember Ben's Brother? Tonight, as of recently, it's Wildwood Kin who open the show. They're featured on the recent 'Ballads Of The Broken Few' album and naturally, they also feature in the main set, Seth getting real value for money. Having only encountered The Kin on 'Ballads…' the anticipated quotas of "oooohhs" and "aaaahhs" with which they coat that album are replaced by more songs and a variety in the instrumentation which comes as a pleasant surprise. Close harmonies are the signature of course but there's a pleasant surprise in terms of their arrangements which have a little more depth than anticipated. They also make an appearance mid Seth set for a little run of 'Ballads…' songs. The stripped back nature of the new material providing a contrast and a break in the regular set and seem probably more at home in a rundown shack type venue rather than a concert hall. 'Anna Lee' and the more arranged 'Innocent Child' are joined later on by the acapella 'Bury Me Deep', all three Kin and Seth stood back from the open mic allowing the voices to blend in a soulful gospel-ly approach. Aside from highlighting the new album, the back catalogue gets served as well as usual, possibly in reverence to the new songs. Almost half the set comes from his earlier work and some slower tempos seem the case - 'Riflemen Of War' and 'The Bold Knight come across much more relaxed and less frantic, yet there's a moment when the shift in pace on the last lap involves a sprint to the line. The railroad rush of 'Last Rider' and the segue of 'Lady Of The Sea' into 'High Street Rose' is now a well established get on your feet moment - a few brave souls making it down the steps to the front to loosen the atmosphere. And before his showpiece 'Kitty Jay' ends the set, the chance to step forward and play off mic adds a spontaneous intimacy which is set to become a regular feature.
After show he still meets and greets with an easy manner and keeps the social media ticking over with people who line up for a selfie, all of which adds up to a musician who has no pretentions or graces. As he reaches the milestone of hitting 40 and the responsibility of a young family you get the feeling that Seth Lakeman is comfortable in his own skin and the similar feeling that his fans who still come in numbers feel the same comfort.
Mike Ainscoe - Words & Pictures
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