Who: Seth Lakeman
Where: The Junction, Cambridge
When: Wednesday 21st March, 2012
So folk is fashionable, we all know that by now. No longer music just for pot bellied men with beer and banjos; the genre of ‘folk’ now seems to have taken on life of its own, spawning chart topping bands by the handful. Having said that, there’s not many out there that have the ability to combine some of the more traditional elements of folk – fiddles and storytelling – with a style that appeals to such a diverse audience as I witnessed at The Junction last night. Seth Lakeman does. Since going solo in 2002, Lakeman has gone from strength to strength; collecting awards, accolades and an almost cult following along the way. Based upon last night’s showing, there’s no sign of this slowing down.
Support was provided by Winter Mountain, an Irish/Cornish duo providing the kind of gently harmonious ballads reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel. Now on the folk based label owned by Cara Dillon and Sam Lakeman, these are certainly ones to watch. And then came Lakeman. Emerging onto the stage amidst moody, low lights and the slow, thumping beat of a drum, Lakeman and his band launched straight into the set openers ‘More Than Money’ and ‘Blacksmith’s Prayer’. Both taken from the newly released ‘Tales from the Barrel House’; his latest album is a collection of songs drawing on the stories of traditional, mostly forgotten trades. Prior to the gig I read that he’d not only penned and produced the entire album, but all musical input on the record was played by him as well, some feat. Returning to older material and picking up the pace, ‘Hurlers’ and then ‘John Lomas’ were clearly crowd favourites, before Lakeman slowed it right down with the touchingly sombre ‘The Artisan’ and the woeful ‘Solomon Browne’, based on the Penlee lifeboat disaster in 1981.
From here onwards the gig really took off. Moving through much loved anthems ‘The Colliers’, ‘Setting of the Sun’ and ‘Kitty Jay’, his stage presence growing by the minute. A wealth of instruments came and went, the jigs got faster, the thumping drums got louder and when Lakeman called for the crowd to “have a dance” they roared back their approval. As the room bounced from front to back, the sight of Lakeman hunched over his fiddle on stage, frenetically playing with broken bow strings flaying and steam billowing around him was one to behold, and you couldn’t help but be compelled to join in. The serene women I saw milling around beforehand had suddenly become wild eyed and animalistic as they screeched their adoration towards the stage, and as the main set ended, Lakeman and his excellent supporting band (including brother Sean) returned quickly, perhaps sensibly, to the howling demands for an encore. A barnstorming finish came by way of ‘Lady of the Sea ’ and ‘High Street Rose’, and then just like that, it was over. The lights went up, fangs and claws retreated.
Recently announced for the Cambridge Folk Festival in July, Seth Lakeman is clearly at the top of his game right now. Competing for the mantle of the king of folk music can’t be easy, what with every man and his dog claiming a stake – but if the result of it is artists as hard working, enthusiastic and as talented as Lakeman, then thank folk for that.