When the Roberts & Lakeman show opens with Sean Lakeman's throbbing guitar and Kathryn Roberts singing about Lady Erskine sitting alone in her room, you know you're at the beginning of a journey. A journey which will take you on a sometimes dark, sometimes emotional voyage through traditional English music, quality songwriting and superb musicianship from two consummate professionals.
There may be the odd deviation through their (mainly Sean's) observations on local offers for full body waxing and warnings about less wholesome alternatives to Ariel the friendly little mermaid which saw Sean Lakeman settling into an almost free form alternative comedian role in the partnership. The more light-hearted moments ("It's another saucy one but I know you're alright with that in Bury. I've seen your shops") were tempered with a set of material which combined their interpretations on the traditional 'Lord Gregory', 'Robber Bridegroom' and 'The Buxom Lass' with a selection mainly derived from their recent and highly acclaimed 'Tomorrow Will Follow Today' album. Yes, they do seem to delight and thrive when it comes to adapting some of the more smutty tales which are to be found in traditional English music. 'The Banishing Book' and its delightfully jolly melody belying the fact that the original innuendo drenched lyric perhaps owed more to Viz Comic than anything else.
As a duo their self penned material has moved up a notch since 2012's 'Hidden People' and how appropriate that they should return to the venue where the new songs were road tested back in October at the 2014 English Folk Expo event. Not wanting to waste the opportunity for some social or political commentary or even take a stab at a protest song, it was quite apt that the alternative stay at homes could have settled for a live election debate between the political leaders of the day. They may have done as well to listen and take heed of The Met's entertainment - infinitely more interesting and engaging; the title track of the new album and 'Down, Dog!' probably encapsulating in a few minutes alongside
Like the album, the show contained not a wasted minute nor note, yet without wanting to underestimate Sean's writing, playing and production contributions, not to mention his growing confidence in providing a light touch between songs, in the live show, Kathryn provides the cherry on the icing on the cake. Remaining at her painted electric piano to deliver 'A Song To Live By' and 'The Ballad Of Andy Jacobs', two songs which send the needle into the red when it comes to creating a song and a performance which you not only listen to but which you experience, her voice literally filled the theatre during 'Rusalka' and 'Huldra', the latter unaccompanied in its cautionary advice.
In the words of their encore song, seeing the wisdom of standing still, the Lakeman/Roberts partnership, aside from being an unpretentious and down to earth couple, they are the sort of class act at the top of their game and make it look and sound so easy.
Earlier in the day the pair descended on Head Records in Blackburn, as part of their 'tour' of local independent record shops. Commenting how cool it was to be performing next to a Paddington Bear promotional display and at the risk of over using the word, showcasing five songs from the new album.
The whole tour has also given a wonderful opportunity for Hattie Briggs to stand on a platform to a whole new and bigger audience - a twenty minute set of her self penned songs, plus Stings' 'Fields Of Gold' while accompanying herself on guitar and piano mark her down as one to watch. And if Hattie herself does some watching and making notes, then her tour will be a learning experience and a half.
Words & Pictures:Mike Ainscoe
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